Towards An Indo-European Theory Of Demonology – Chaos, Devourers, Outsiders, Messengers and Monsters


Something I have long meant to pen is a sort of explanatory typology for ‘Demons’ in Indo-European understanding. There’s almost certainly an entire book which could be written upon the subject – and it is undeniably significantly intriguing. After all, many a great and epic myth requires a suitably monstrous foe in order for the Hero to seriously shine. And, perhaps more importantly, our understanding for what is ‘demonic’ helps to inform our perception of the cosmos and our place therein. In short – we know more about the Divine and how to behave, by knowing what *opposes* the Divine and what characterizes such invidious insurgency against the Divine Rule. 

This piece is not going to be that book, and instead shall take a much *briefer* (hopefully) perspective to broadly sketching out some important foundations for our perceptions upon this matter. 

Now the first thing to do is to set out the two *broad* ways to think about what (or who) is a demon, and what *makes* them a demon in the first instance. These are, to paraphrase somewhat, the ‘Genetic’ perspective (which we might suitably sobriquet as ‘Fantastic Racism’), and the ‘Deontological’ one (which effectively concerns itself not with one’s species – but more with what one *does*). The truth is rarely so clear-cut as to entirely fall into one or the other immediate camp – with it being quite fairly arguable that in mythic terms, one’s species may significantly incline (or, for that matter, actively *disincline*) one toward the mindsets and malefic overt conduct which might be construed as ‘demonic’ in its ambit. 

To begin with the ‘Genetic’ – there is a persistent perception that what makes a creature a demon, is belonging to some race of beings which are suitably described as ‘demon’. This is obviously a circular argument, and as its definitional foundation we must look to the more specific lineages of heredity that these ‘demons’ are said to spring from. A good example for this is handily provided for us by the Gylfaginning, speaking in relation to Ymir – 

“And Jafnhárr answered: “By no means do we acknowledge him God; he was evil and all his kindred: we call them Rime-Giants. Now it is said that when he slept, a sweat came upon him, and there grew under his left hand a man and a woman, and one of his feet begat a son with the other; and thus the races are come; these are the Rime-Giants. The old Rime-Giant, him we call Ymir.”

So, as we can see – in this perspective, this particular clade of demons are demons because they are of demonic descent from a demonic, indeed ‘ur-demonic’ progenitor who is the quite literally foundational opposition to the Gods and Order during the Nordic Cosmogony. 

It’s certainly a relatively straightforward approach … yet how well does it scale?

And the answer is – not very. 

For straightaway we encounter the obvious problem that not all demonic races (or, for that matter, mythological races more broadly speaking) have such clear and obvious lineages to tell us where they ‘fit in’. More to the point, there’s no ‘ambiguity’ in here – no ‘give’. Which matters, because when we consider the *broader* category of the Jotunn [‘Giants’, although interestingly, ‘Devourers’ is probably a rather more apt translation … and resonates with Sanskrit ‘Rakshasa’, as we may see shortly], we see that it is not really feasible to regard a being as a demon simply because it is a Jotunn. Otherwise we should quite rapidly end up in the scenario of certain Gods being regarded as ‘demons’ or in other cases rather actively consorting with same (like, literally having consorts of such stock). It just doesn’t make sense, and is of little actual, tangible utilization for anybody. 

In order to provide *meaning* to a labelling of ‘demon’ (and I am aware that this is a co-option of the earlier Ancient Greek ‘daimon’, and therefore quite the mislabelling in the first instance), we must therefore look beyond the seemingly hopelessly broad category of race (the ‘fantastic racism’ I spoke of much earlier), and toward something both more and yet less ‘foundational’ to the being in question.

Namely, their orientation towards – or away from/against/actively undermining – the Gods and Cosmic Order (Rta / Orlog / Dikaiosune etc.). Now, as I have said – there is quite some scope for a ‘both, rather than either’ approach to these rubrics – so, in the Ymir’s Rime-Giant descendent instance above, we can say that they have plausibly inherited their progenitor’s essence-tial opposition to Cosmic Order and the Gods. However, this can also lead us to some rather interesting theological and mythological waters when we consider those aforementioned Hindu Rakshasas who *are* demonstrably ‘demons’, thought of as ‘demons’ in terms of a race, and often descended in particular from prior and mightier demonic forces likewise … yet nevertheless have some choice, moral agency, and may either ‘overcome’ a ‘demonic nature’ to become a pious and righteous servant of the Gods – or, perhaps more interestingly in some ways, attain some level and orientation of piety, yet nevertheless wind up ‘on the wrong side’ of the (Cosmic) Law. 

A fascinating exemplar for this is Ravana, the antagonist of the Hindu Epic – the Ramayana. Now, Ravana is a Rakshasa … in fact, not just any Rakshasa – he is an Emperor of their race, and depicted as ruling over a rather magnificent kingdom. Ruling, it should be noted, with considerable wisdom and skill, so that it had become very wealthy and powerful as the direct result. Ravana was also, as it happens, of Brahmin origins (because in the Hindu understanding, even our demons may be Priests), although had voluntarily ‘patched over’ to the Kshatriya Varna in order to engage in his imperial vision (and even to this day, there is apparently a community of (human) Brahmins in India’s Northwest who claim descent from Ravana as their ancestor). Why I mention Ravana here, is because he was also *pious* – following an encounter with Lord Shiva and His Divine Household in which Ravana .. bit off *well* more than he could chew, and was humbled for it, Ravana became a great Shaivite devotee – composing and then performing a beautiful hymnal, the Shiv Tandav Stotram, which we still sing to this day in His Honour, in amongst other devotional engagements. Shiva was pleased by this, and consequentially rewarded His devotee with His Own Sword – Chandrahas, the ‘Glinting Laughter/Smile of the Moon’ (so named due to its curvature resembling a white toothed crescent of a smile .. and also because He *always* gets The Last Laugh), although with a condition placed upon the boon that while it was wielded in service of righteousness its bearer and his cause should prosper … but should it be drawn for evil purposes, then the Sword should abandon its erstwile wielder, and presage his impending Doom. 

You can presumably imagine what occurred next – as this indeed came to pass, due to a character-flaw of Ravana which lead to his kidnapping Rama’s Wife, Lady Sita – and thus precipitating Rama’s quest and war-effort to recover His Bride from the demon’s clutches, which also featured the slaying of Ravana and the setting afire of his island kingdom of Lanka via the tail of Hanuman during the course of the attempted torture of the latter. 

It should therefore be tempting to presume that what we had seen there was a sort of inescapable destiny of mytho-genetics – the demon chose a demonic approach , was offered the chance at redemption, yet ultimately came to demonstrate his innate nature and fail in its adherence, dooming him to divine destruction as the never-really-in-doubt outcome. 

Except this is quite clearly not the case. For fighting on the side of Rama *against* Ravana, we find Ravana’s own brother – Vibhishana. Described as an eminently righteous figure by word and by deed – indeed, it would appear by essence as well – the fact that Vibishana is Ravana’s own close sibling shows once again the tangible limitations of the ‘genetic’ approach. It is, in short, no sure substitution for the deontological perception where actions and orientation actually are held to matter (more) than where one may so happen to start in life.

What we arrive at when considering the case of Vibhishan is the tacit awareness that just because a figure may be a ‘demon’, this does not *necessarily* mean that they may *act* like a demon, nor deserve to be treated as we would presumably treat a demon, given the customary perceptions and valuations of this term. 

Which is partially because the term ‘demon’ is simply not really fit for purpose in an Indo-European comparative schema – it is too heavily loaded, and too un-nuanced ; vulnerable not only to the Abrahamic prevaricating postulations of prejudicial moral absolutism (i.e. “anything not our very specific God is a *demon* if it is powerful/engaged with – so *your* so-called ‘gods’ …”) , but also to the darkly reflective and invidiously insidious counterpart of anti-Divine *demon-worshippers* and active agents of Chaos attempting to insist that there’s ‘no real difference’ between Gods and Demons except ‘where one happens to be standing at the time’, thus opening the gate to all manner of perditious perfidy. 

This is why I personally favour that afore-emphasized ‘deontological’ view upon the subject. Precisely because it all-importantly *preserves* the understanding that there *are indeed* forces arrayed ‘against the Gods and Cosmic Order … whilst also having some considerable flexibility and accomodation for variance in terms of how we might recognize what and/or whom are arrayed on one side or the other. 

So, for instance – in amidst the Retinue of Rudra, we find quite an array of ‘spooky’ (the Latin term ‘Obscuras’ is more relevant, yet doesn’t translate easily) beings, including several clades that in other contexts are designators for the demonic. And yet … precisely because these *particular* examples of those species are to be found within Lord Shiva’s Armies and Household, it is decidedly inappropriate to attempt to infer that they would be ‘anti-Divine’, ‘anti-Cosmic’, ‘anti-Order’ as the result. Quite the contrary, in point of fact. 

This does open up a potential complication in the rollout of the definitional rubric, insofar as *humans* who are, themselves, declared opponents of the Gods and Cosmic Order – may, under this more ‘flexible’ yet perspicacious definition of demonhood … be regarded as demons as the result of their behavioral and philosophical proclivities. In a certain sense, that is clearly incorrect, as humans are humans rather than .. well .. particular varieties of non-human sapient species nor spirit; however, in other senses, it is not entirely inappropriate – the bounds between different groupings have ever been somewhat blurry within the realms of mythic antiquity, and the *most vitally important* element to the understanding .. that of their determined opposition to the Divine and Cosmic Order … is most definitely emphasized via such identifications. 

However, ‘purpose’, ‘proclivity’, and ‘paternity’ are not necessarily so unsubtle or straightforward as one might, perhaps, like. And an overreliance upon these rubricae in absence of the broader contextual consideration may lead to wrongheaded outcomes just the same – and for precisely the same reasons – that the ‘genetic’ approach is to be consciously and conspicuously used with caution or (better yet) outright eschewed. 

A grand example for this is provided for us by none other than the Vedic serpent-demon Vritra – an almost archetypal expression of the Demon-Dragon of the Water whom we meet in other guises elsewhere within the Indo-European mythology with such iconic saliency contra the Striker/Thunderer Deific. 

You would think that this creature would be an uncontroversial and uncomplicated Demon both by ‘genetics’ and ‘deontology’. And to a certain extent, perhaps, there is some validity to this view – however the devil, as ever, lurks submerged within the deeper detail. 

Vritra does not simply spring up out of nowhere. Vritra is created by the God Tvastr, as part of a ‘revenge gambit’ for Indra having slain His Son, Trisiras. Trisiras, a Brahmin, is regarded as having become a threat to Indra due to his power – and while some would suggest that the killing of Trisiras was a somewhat ‘justified’ action by Indra due to Trisiras’ providing priestly services also to demons *as well as* the Gods … this does not get around the fact that the killing of a high Brahmin such as Trisiras is a fairly direct strike against the immanency of Cosmic Order here in this universe of ours. Hence why it attracts the incredibly serious sanction of Brahmahatya – Brahmanicide – directly personified as a terrifying black female form pursuing the commitor of the atrocity in the manner of a Greek Erinyes (these evidently were, in PIE times, the same mythic understanding – Cosmic Order comes with Its (or, rather, Her) Own ‘Ultimate Enforcement Clause’) , and had it not been for the warrior-priest Trita Aptya carrying out the actual death-blow with His weapon (variously described as an axe, a form of … it is difficult to translate, fire-prayer-blade? I keep meaning to write a specific piece on the Weapon of Trita Aptya) then Lord Indra would have been in *seriously* dire straits. 

To return to the situation of Vritra more directly – the issue this presents for our nascent typology is that Vritra is quite demonstrably the bespoke creation of Tvastr, springing out of a ritual fire as that aforementioned ‘revenge gambit’ by a prominent and powerful God against another. We may even think of Vritra in relation to the ‘consequence’ for the earlier sinful conduct of slaying Trisiras (‘necessary sin’ or otherwise). So how can this be a ‘demon’, deontologically speaking?

Well, whilst it would be *tempting* to simply revert back to the notion that ‘What Is Opposed / Held Hateful By The Gods – *That* Is A Demon’, and point out that there is quite the confederation of Divine Might Who come to the aid of Lord Indra in smiting Vritra. Indeed, I have a subtle suspicion, when the verses in question are read in cohesive context with the surrounding material from other Vedic Hymnals that what had happened was that Tvastr’s revenge gambit had spiralled out of control, and produced an immensely powerful foe who ran amok and had to be forcibly beaten back into the subservience of the grave. 

This is not the place to expand upon that particular skein of potential interpretation in depth nor detail, but it *does* dovetail rather nicely with the ‘deontological’ reasoning for regarding Vritra as a demon. For we find Vritra’s actions to be fundamentally Chaotic – as expressed, for instance, via his disrupting of something as foundational to the ongoing existence of life in this universe of ours as the water-cycle. Drought has ever been taken as the signifier that the universe is ‘out of balance’ and that neglect has ensued for the proper practitioning of our place (or, in this case, *somebody’s* place) within the Cosmic Order. A grand example being the circumstances leading up to the emanation of the Goddess as Shakhambhari – wherein a certain demon managed to erase the knowledge of the Vedas and thus the Sacred Rites from the minds of mankind, thus preventing sacrifices from occurring and leading to similar devastation of the natural world. There, the solution was to be found via the Goddess re-irrigating the land – figuratively speaking – with the rivers of blood of Durgamasur’s demon army, Personally driving them back from the Gates of Heaven and restoring the knowledge of practical, applied piety to the minds of Mankind alongside this. For we are, verily, Twice Armed when we fight with Faith. 

Suffice to say that when Indra fought Vritra, it was a case of God against Demon – even despite this latter having been dispatched to do just exactly that by a God Himself. A circumstance with intriguing resonancy with what we find in Hesiod’s Theogony, wherein of  the Hydra it is said – “whom the goddess white-armed Hera nourished because of Her quenchless grudge against the strong Herakles”. 

Now this leads us on to another complication for a simplistic conceptualization of the notion of ‘Demon’ in the Indo-European mythic comparanda – their ‘Monstrous’ nature. 

Monster, is from the same root as ‘Demonstrate’ – and interestingly, the ‘Mon’ within this is a form of PIE ‘Men’ (i.e. Spirit, Mind, Mental Activity .. and a potential root for ‘Man’/’Men’ as our species (self-)designation … a perhaps rather better one than ‘Doubly Wise Man’ (‘Homo Sapiens Sapiens’), but, then, I digress). It would be tempting to misread this and suggest that the Monster is thus a spirit sent amongst us, especially given the truly terrifying force of certain other ‘Men’ derived figures in our theology – consider The Manyu, foremost of the Vedic War Gods, or Minerva for instance. However this is, as I say, quite the eminent misreading. The PIE ‘Men’ formulation in question is the *causitive* one. 

The ‘Monster’, in other words, is something sent to ‘Demonstrate’ something – it is sent to *Cause Us To Think*. Moneo, in Latin, is ‘To Warn’. Monstrum is taking that ‘Warning’ and making it an Instrumental. The sending of the Monster is something designed to implicate that, to put it bluntly … “Stop Doing What You’re Doing”. Or, potentially, that it is already far too late to abide by the earlier portents of doom (‘Judgement’), and now the only thing left to do is beg forgiveness and placate the Angry Gods. 

In the sense of the ‘signifier’, the Minotaur is of obvious saliency here – conceived, as it was, as a very deliberate revenge by Poseidon against Minos’ impropriety in withholding a particular fabulous bull from the sacrifice. “Since you love this bull so much…”, indeed. What had resulted from that union was a perversion of  the natural order – and a deliberate one, so as to represent the tacit and tangible consequence for the *earlier* perversion of the natural order undertaken by the arrogant mortal king. Contrapasso, we might suggest. 

However, a somewhat different ‘Monstrous’ typology is what intrigues me in these circumstances – that of Cetus, or, rather, the Cetea (i.e. in plural) … a term which also gives us our modern ‘Cetacean’ (i.e. ‘Whale’), and which referred in Classical times to the formidable sea monsters dispatched by Poseidon to enforce His Judgement upon certain upstart mortal regents and realms. Intriguingly, in both of the major cases – that sent against Troy in reply to Laomedon’s refusal to properly pay Poseidon for wall-construction, and that sent against Ethiopia following Cassiopeia’s boast as to the beauty of Andromeda – what we find is that the sea-monster is to be assuaged via the sacrifice of a young maiden. Perhaps this may help to inform the later Christian-era understandings around rescuing such a maid from being slain by a dragon, as we see with St George. Of further interest for us is that in both cases, what we see is that this sea-monster is confronted by the Striker/Thunderer in the pseudo-euhemerized Greek understanding – Herakles fights the Cetus sent against Troy, Perseus fights the Cetus sent against Ethiopia. 

It would be tempting to suggest that this is therefore a ‘disruption of the Cosmic Order/Balance’ as the result of an intercession by the Striker/Thunderer ‘gainst His Father’s Divine Will … yet while it is unquestionably the case that we find the Striker/Thunderer (Herakles, Indra, Thor, Hanuman, Perseus, Krishna, etc.) hailed as the ‘Friend to Man’ and our Protector and Intercessor in such dire circumstances, I do not think it right to extend this typological explication further to such an an-ordained conclusion. In the case of Herakles at Troy, it is the case that Cetus is slain – however, Laomedon then proceeds to replicate the exact same failing which he had committed with regard to Poseidon, refusing to pay Herakles for his (and Troy’s) protection. Thus leading to Herakles making war against Troy and slaying Laomedon. The cycle is complete, the Divine Judgement is carried out anyway, following the mortal’s refusal to *learn the lesson* which had necessitated the sending of the Cetus in the first instance.

In the case of Perseus in Ethiopia (or, if you like, in a location rather further north – some have suggested Jaffa, others have suggested somewhere on the Atlantic coast of Africa instead), king Cepheus had demonstrated his recognition of the serious of the situation and the impossibility of defying the Gods by being prepared to actually go through with the sacrificial offering of his own daughter. Although as it happened, Perseus’ arrival and extraction of a promise from Cepheus’ of Andromeda’s hand in marriage should He manage to successfully slay the Monster – means that the offering of Cepheus’ daughter to the Divine effectively wound up taking place in a rather different (and happier) sense than had perhaps been anticipated by many (we may, perhaps, compare the averted human sacrifice of Sunahsepa in the Vedas to this occurrence – wherein the child of a certain unscrupulous figure is *not* killed in offering to Varuna, and an abject moral lesson is bestowed to all in consequence).

The precise mechanism via which Perseus managed to slay the creature is a matter of some slight disagreement within the Classical canon – the major and dominant accounting which has come down to us, features the utilization of the decapitated head of the Medusa to petrify the Cetus; however, other depictions have the utilization of Perseus’ Sword, or the hurling of boulders making a prominent appearance. This is of interest, intrigue, and import for us due to what it may represent and resonate with in more archaic and underlying Indo-European terms. To start with the rear and work our way back to the front – boulders or stones show up as a somewhat straightforward correlate for the Thunder-Weapon. Herakles slays (or, at least, enduringly incapacitates) the Hydra via dropping a very large rock upon its head in at least one account, we likewise have the Vajra being regarded as a Meteor (for the purposes of orbital bombardment – just to be sure) when utilized against the similarly draconic Vala, there are certain ‘stone’ understandings similarly for Perun and Perkunas of the Balto-Slavic mythologies. We have also demonstrated capaciously elsewhere how the Weapon of the Thunderer/Striker in Greek iconographic depiction may be portrayed as a Harpe – as seen in the hands of Herakles in the oldest visual representation of the Hydra-slaying, for instance. Why this is relevant is due to what – in Vedic terms at least – the weapon known as the Vajra *actually is*. For it is no ‘mere’ Thunderbolt (insofar as such a thing, such a descriptor could ever be applied to something as majestic as the Lightning) – rather, what makes the Vajra utilized in the Vritraslaying into, well, the Vajra … is that it is a congealed force of Cosmic Order, a weapon quite directly formed as the active (re-)immanentizor of Cosmic Law (and hence requiring Saraswati Vak’s contribution in order to become properly empowered in the first instance). Thus, it is the most excellent weapon to utilize against foes formed or acting in the forment of Chaos against the Divine Order. It is quite literally Anathema – and Antithetical – to them. 

The Medusa’s Head, meanwhile, we have plausibly connected to a perhaps different sort of ‘device’ than one might otherwise realize in these circumstances. The Greek mythic presentation of the decapitation of Medusa by Perseus has an array of most intriguing resonances for what we find in the Vedic understanding of sovereignty-conferring rites (see my earlier ‘The Sea Horse Of Sovereignty – On Hellenic Poseidon , Vedic Varuna, Scythian Thagimasidas , And The Essential Equine Elevator-Empowerer Of The Ancient Indo-European King’). This fits with the co-occurrence of the Gorgon’s Head insignia not only in the hand of Perseus … but very prominently upon the chest of Athena, and worn also by Zeus, as the Gorgoneion. There, likewise to its occurrence in human terms upon quite an array of ancient coinage etc., it stands for Sovereignty, the righteousness of rulership with duly empowered Divine Force. The Gorgoneion in mythic terms, pertains to the ‘Terrifying Face of Thunder’ seen on the Sky Father and Athena (c.f my previous ‘Ghora – Gorgos – Yggr – The Terrifying Face of Thunder’) and evidently also as a broader typology. In this sense, once again, we find that the proper antidote to the monstrous circumstances caused via a *breach* of the Divine Law, an infringement against the Cosmic Order, is the restoration of Order via we may say – suitably ‘weaponized’ means and *understanding*s in train. 

In other words, what makes the ‘Demon’ typology potentially somewhat applicable to the Cetus occurrences is not so much their purpose(s) as the manner, mechanism, and morality with which they were seemingly legitimately seen off. Even though sent as rather brutal consequences of the breach of piety and propriety, it was the *upholding* of piety and propriety … the hard-edged radiancy of Cosmic Order … that ultimately brought them low and restored a more favourable situation to the lands and (in the case of Kepheus, at least) leaders in question. As we would say in Sanskrit – Dharmo Rakshati Rakshitaha. ‘Dharma Protected, Protects’. 

Now this notion of ‘proper order’, and the breakdowns in same leading to an influx of Maleficarum (or, at least, other undesirable sendings) is what effectively underpins the archaic Vedic perspective upon Rakshasas in a ritual metaphysical context. 

Again, an entire book could be written upon this particular subject – and this brief (A)Arti-cle is not that. As I have already gone on at quite some length, I shall endeavour to restrict myself to a simple explanatory excerpt (or three) from one of the ritual manuals in question [in this case, Shatapatha Brahmana III 8 2]:

“14. And where he skins (the victim), and whence the blood spirts out, there he smears it (the bottom part with blood) on both ends with (Vâg. S. VI, I6), ‘Thou art the Rakshas’ share!’ for that blood is indeed the Rakshas’ share.
15. Having thrown it away (on the utkara), he treads on it with, ‘Herewith I tread down the Rakshas! herewith I drive away the Rakshas! herewith I consign the Rakshas to the nethermost darkness!’ Thus it is by means of the sacrifice that he drives away the evil spirits, the Rakshas. And as to its being rootless and severed on both sides,–rootless, forsooth, and severed on both sides, the Rakshas moves about in the air, even as man here moves about in the air rootless and severed on both sides: therefore it (the grass-end) is rootless and severed on both sides.”

The core idea here is that the Rakshasas, too, are getting a ‘share’ of the sacrifice – but it is one which is specifically demarcated, may almost be thought of as ‘offal’, and is thrown *out* of the ritual space to where the Rakshasas are  to be found *outside* of where the sanctified sphere, the habitable zone, the hallowed expanse where the ritual’s actual operations are to be occurring. 

As I have covered in various of my previous works – Indo-European cosmology is a fantastic thing, built around the notion of the ‘Mesocosm’. The universe entire is the ‘macrocosm’ – it is the broad *big* expression of the space, the pattern. The *ritual space*, however, is a ‘microcosm’ – it is a miniature resonancy of that macrocosm, arranged in a very similar manner. And I say that it is a ‘mesocosm’, too, because the microcosm and the macrocosm are not, in truth, ‘separate’ spaces – but the one affects the other, and vice versa. 

In its way, it may be thought of as a cartographic rendition of what Mircea Eliade termed the ‘Eternal Return’, and what I have spoken of elsewhere as ‘Mythic Recurrence’ and ‘Mythic Resonancy’. The pattern via which the universe has become arranged, we see the ritual space arranged to resonate with it more closely – and this is done according to the mythic formulae whereby The Gods did this *first*. 

A good example of this in practice is to be found elsewhere in the Shatapatha Brahmana [specifically, I 1 2]: 

“2. He then restrains his speech; for (restrained) speech means undisturbed sacrifice; so that (in so doing) he thinks: ‘May I accomplish the sacrifice!’ He now heats (the two objects on the Gârhapatya), with the formula (Vâg. S. I, 7 a): ‘Scorched is the Rakshas, scorched are the enemies!’ or (Vâg. S. I, 7 b): ‘Burnt out is the Rakshas, burnt out are the enemies!’

3. For the Gods, when they were performing the sacrifice, were afraid of a disturbance on the part of the Asuras and Rakshas: hence by this means he expels from here, at the very opening of the sacrifice, the evil spirits, the Rakshas.

4. He now steps forward (to the cart), with the text (Vâg. S. I, 7 c): ‘I move along the wide aërial realm.’ For the Rakshas roams about in the air, rootless and unfettered in both directions (below and above); and in order that this man (the Adhvaryu) may move about the air, rootless and unfettered in both directions, he by this very prayer renders the atmosphere free from danger and evil spirits.”

And, perhaps rather more directly, SB X 2 5:

“1. Now as to the building itself. He builds between the two (performances of the) Upasads [literally: ‘Sieges’ – figuratively, ‘sacrifices’]. For at that time the Gods were afraid lest the fiends, the Rakshas, should destroy that (Agni’s body) of theirs (built) there. They saw these strongholds, the Upasads, to wit, these worlds, for these worlds are indeed strongholds. They entered them, and having entered them, they completed that body in a place free from danger and devilry; and in like manner does the Sacrificer now, after entering these strongholds, complete this body in a place free from danger and devilry.

2. And, again, as to why he builds between the Upasads. At this time the gods were afraid lest the fiends, the Rakshas, should destroy that (Agni’s body) of theirs (built) there. They saw these thunderbolts, the Upasads, for the Upasads indeed are thunderbolts: they entered them, and, having entered them, they completed that body in a place free from danger and devilry; and in like manner does the Sacrificer now, after entering those thunderbolts, complete this body (of Agni) in a place free from danger and devilry.”

Now that is rather remarkable, because rightaway we have the sacral rites referred to almost as ‘cities’ or spaces of settlement and hospitability figuratively “under siege” from these demonic would-be disruptors from without and beyond. 

The point around Sacrifice as ‘Thunderbolts’ (a most marked weapon indeed in the slaying of the Demonic) being what the ‘outsider’ fears, is reiterated in SB VI 3 2:

“5. He (the Adhvaryu) then says (to the Hotri), ‘Recite to the fires being led forward!’ For at that time when the gods were setting out to spread the sacrifice, the Rakshas, the fiends, sought to smite them, saying, ‘Ye shall not sacrifice! ye shall not spread the sacrifice!!’ Having made those fires, those bricks, to be sharp-edged thunderbolts, they hurled these at them, and laid them low thereby; and having laid them low, they spread that sacrifice in a place free from danger and devilry.

6. Now, what the gods did is done here,–even now those Rakshas are indeed smitten by the gods themselves; and when he nevertheless does this, it is because he thinks, ‘I must do what the gods did.’ And so, having made those fires, those bricks, to be sharp-edged thunderbolts, he hurls them at whatever Rakshas, whatever evildoers there may be, and lays them low thereby; and having laid them low, he spreads the sacrifice in a place free from danger and devilry.

7. And as to why (he recites) to the fires,–it is because there are here many fires, to wit, those layers; and as to (his reciting) to them being led forward (pra-har), it is because he hurls (pra-har) them forward (as thunderbolts).”

Now why I have chosen to illustrate the conceptry of ‘demon’ in Indo-European mythic comparanda with these excerpts is quite simple. Because with our ‘mesocosmic’ understanding of the ritual space and sphere firmly in mind, what we quite easily see here is that the true place of various demons is the ‘outer darkness’, so to speak – the areas *outside* and *beyond* the more habitable zone which we, ourselves, so happen to inhabit via the Grace of the Gods and our temerity in exercising dominion over the space. And I do say ‘temerity’, for in truth it is not really ours, so much as under our mid-level stewardship – something often forgotten by the sorts of people who are decidedly subconsciously and outright metaphysically uncomfortable with the notion of something, some beings ‘above us’ in the grand scheme of things. But again I digress. 

In the course of the Vedic texts, we find this brought up in various ways. One of the most prominent – and a particular favourite of mine – is RV X 108 , dedicated to the Wolf-Goddess, Sarama. I shall not go through each line of the Hymnal here, but suffice to say that it details in ‘dialogue’ format, an occurrence whereby this She-Wolf of the Gods is dispatched on a mission to recover a stolen wealth of Cows. The Cows in question having been taken by the demonic Panis. ‘Miser’ would be one viable translation for ‘Pani’ – it is interestingly deployed in an array of contexts as a term for humans as well as this particular race of demons. The sense being conveyed is ‘Tight-Fisted’ (indeed, Pani (with the short ‘a’ sound – पणि) – to refer to the demon – may perhaps be related to the Pani (with the longer ‘a’ sound – पाणि) that means ‘hand’), a ‘non-giver’ – although interestingly, in addition to a ‘thief’, it came to refer likewise to a ‘market[eer]’, a ‘trader’. Evidently the suspicion of businessmen is something of quite archaic Indo-European precedency! 

And just as the natural antidote for crass modern materialism of the sort hard ‘baked in’ to our contemporary (socio-)economic paradigm is Faith (and Friendship – sodality) – so, too, do we find this to be the most formidably fearsome weapon with which the Panis are threatened by Sarama. Her stern retort to the proffered violence of the Panis against Her being worth quoting, if for no other reason than I find them resonantly cool:

“Even if your wicked bodies, O ye Paṇis, were arrow-proof, your words are weak for wounding;
And were the path to you as yet unmastered, Bṛhaspati in neither case will spare you.”

And, in reply to having it pointed out that the Panis’ stronghold is both well-fortified and well-guarded – 

“Ṛṣis will come inspirited with Soma, Aṅgirases unwearied, and Navagvas.
This stall of cattle will they part among them: then will the Paṇis wish these words unspoken.”

[What is being implicitly referenced here, as with the Brihaspati comment above, is the well-known Vedic mythic occurrence wherein a certain mountain is rent asunder by Brihaspati and potentially also His Priests Whom He had trained in His mystic arts – an occurrence directly recalled in the Ynglinga Saga, as I detailed in ‘On Odin Brihaspati As Song-Smith – The Sung Seizing Of The Wealth Of Cows’, thus evincing its archaic (Proto-)Indo-European saliency]

The Panis also attempt to ‘tempt’ Her to join their side – which She rejects in favour of Her Loyalty to the (side of the) Gods; and it is uncoincidental, I would surmise, that Her hailing of the shared bonds of sodality extant upon that Side of the Gods and Priests (i.e. the bringing-together of the supporters of Cosmic Law) is what immediately precedes the Panis being sent fleeing off into the far distance, and the recovery of the stolen wealth of Cows – “Kine which Bṛhaspati, and Soma, Ṛṣis, sages, and pressing-stones have found when hidden.” [RV X 108 11]

Now as for where this mountain fortress is loka-ted … 

The place where these Panis are to be found, is ‘beyond the River Rasa’ – the River Rasa in question being an encompassing, indeed ‘circular’ (if not ‘all-encircling’) flow [c.f RV IX 41 6], yet which also appears to run high in the mountains … and potentially, per very viable interpretation of the subject which we shall not get into in this piece (I have digressed *far* too frequently, as it is!), up in the *sky* as well (and it should be recalled that for the archaic Indo-European – the Sky is *also* Sea, sailable upon, even). What is relevant for us to know here is that it is that eminently familiar Indo-European cosmological concept of water as ‘liminal space’ between one world and the next – or, at least, around one world, and with uncertain territory inhabited by strange creatures to be found outside the watery boundings thereof. 

It is a seemingly somewhat inhospitable, rugged, rocky, and potentially even rather ‘barren’ – certainly, it lacks various of the features which characterize the much more eminently habitable lands which comprised the main ‘sphere’ of Vedic civilization. This *could* – and often is – be taken as the mythologization of a terrestrial, earthbound locale; something advanced in concert with an euhemerization of the Panis to have these refer to the Parnoi referred to in Greek sources as living in Central Asia (the same people who would become the Parthians of the much-famed eponymous empire later on); however I do not think that is entirely likely, for reasons we shall address in a moment. This is NOT to say that there is no scope for the ‘bleeding over’ nor ‘blending together’ of ‘sidereal’ terrestrial peoples and places with the mythic, cosmological sphere – quite the contrary, as I covered in ‘The Gryphon – Indo-European Guardian of the Golden Realm’ (and there are most certainly occurrences where a term utilized for demons or some other mythic race in the earlier scripture is *also* used to refer to what appears to be a human tribe later on). It is just that the mythic sphere (or, at least, the core kernels of the relevant conceptry) comes *first* – and then ‘affixes itself’ to the relevant terrestrial topography and its inhabitants. 

We can tell this, in part, due to how well the conceptry around this place beyond the River At The Edge of the World aligns with the Nordic understandings for Jotunheim and Utgard. These are, likewise, found *outside* the human-inhabitable space, indeed Útgarðar quite literally refers to this in its name – ‘Outside’ [the] ‘Enclosure’; which references the duality in Nordic social and philosophic conceptry between Innangarðr (‘Within The Enclosure’ – under the aegis of Law, amenable to civilization and capable of habitation for humans) and Útangarðr (i.e. the opposite – a fitting place, and conceptual space, for demons as well as outlaws of the more human kind). It should come as little surprise to find that the duality between Midgard and Utgard is functionally that the same as between the inhabitable world bounded as the ritual space in the Vedic ritual mesocosm, and this ‘outside-the-ritual-space’ inhabited by the Rakshasas et co within that same aforementioned schema. 

Most certainly, the notion of the ‘space beyond Law’, an evident semi-literal (in mythic terms, at least) ‘Here Be Dragons’, is definitely appropriate for both Vedic and Eddic understandings. Although, as we find in both mythological schemas – it is not the case that these realms are *entirely* beyond the reach of the Gods – ventures by particular of Their Number within that space most definitely can and do occur, and lead to significant misery or outright death and destruction for those who would seek to stand against Them even out there on the demons’ ‘home turf’. In a sense, we may perhaps suggest the maxim –  “No world shall be beyond My Rule; no enemy shall be beyond My Wrath.”

Within the habitable band of the universe, *under* Law, life is liveable for us – precisely because of this fact. And it is *kept* liveable via our adherence and active, continual re-immanentization of the Law – as well as the Divine protection, Divine vigilance that guides and avails us in this sphere. 

Outside of this zone, it is less habitable – for humans, but assumedly also for other things, too. Hence in part why the latter are so frequently regarded as carrying out attempted incursions *into* the Realm-Under-Law to make off with what treasures or sustenances as they may carry (with the additional purpose in their disruption of Rites of attempting to *weaken* the Law’s Rule here, weaken the Gods, and weaken Us – all of these, their direst foes – all at once) ; thence, either to drag these ill-obtained gleanings back to their own realm, or alternatively to set the groundwork for a more enduring stab at the invasion and desecration of our own. And as we have previously described, the conditions of the Law’s weakening being correlate with the deterioration of the liveability of the world and ascendency of the demons, therefore implies that this is why their own ‘exterior’ realm beyond the boundaries and the borders of this world is likewise so bereft. [Indeed, while I suspect rather strongly that the direct reasoning for ‘Rakshasas’ as ‘Devourers’ has to do with the aforementioned raw-flesh placatory offering they receive in the Shatapatha Brahmana style ritual conceptry aforementioned some distance above (and leaving aside, for the moment, the vexed question of whether ‘Raksha’, as in ‘Sentinel’, ‘Protector’, ‘Watchman’, Defender’, ‘Guardian’ has some bearing upon what has developed, etc. – therefore ‘Rakshasa’ as what is warded against), and/or their stated desire to ‘destroy’ the rites in question (etymologically, PIE ‘Hretkos’, referring to destruction, appears the likely root for ‘Rakshas’), this notion of ‘devourers’ (as noted above, a sense shared with the underpinning term for ‘Jotunn’, intriguingly also from the same root as modern English ‘Eat’) may additionally refer to the idea of ‘devouring’ the fabric of Law within our world). 

It is the sacral action occurrent within the mesocosmic span of the ritual space where we act to uphold and to radiate Cosmic Law out into this world around us – hence, assumedly, in no small part why it is that we find ‘pillars’, ‘posts’, and other conceptual resonancies for the Axis Mundi (that which is also Yggdrasil and gnawed upon by demon-dragons as noted in the Grimnismal, etc.) in the heart of various of these spaces. Miniature, microcosmic – or, as we *should* more properly say, ‘mesocosmic’ – resonancies for *the* Pillar, *the* Column, *the* major both support for and immanency of Cosmic Order that is so constantly under assault from Beyond. 

In truth, it is not so simple as to approach the matter of what/who is or is not a demon upon the basis of cosmic geography – any more so than it was apt to render it a matter of ‘genetics’ and ‘heredity’, as we have earlier seen. There is much depth and nuance to our ancestors’ cosmological worlds-view, and this is not the place to address this in anything like the dimensionality which it most truly deserves. 

A more fulsome exegesis should also seek to more directly address some of the Greek cosmological and other comparanda which is quite directly relevant for attesting our typology; and, for that matter, give voice to some of those ‘exceptions’ to certain generalized perceptions which help, by contrast, to actually affirm the underpinning rules in question (for instance, the situation pertaining to ‘mountainous realms’ within the mythology – and how we find the Divine Realm *likewise* thusly described; or yet additional exemplars for what are thought of as ‘demons’ actually acting in the Divine employ, etc.).

No doubt, in the future, we should return to these themes in earnest.

For now, it is enough. 

And in closing, let me quote a few particular lines of RV X 87:

“19 Agni, from days of old Thou slayest demons: never shall Rākṣasas in fight o’ercome Thee.
Burn up the foolish ones, the flesh-devourers: let none of them escape Thine heavenly arrow.
20 Guard us, O Agni, from above and under, protect us from behind us and before us;
And may Thy flames, most fierce and never wasting, glowing with fervent heat, consume the sinner.
21 From rear, from front, from under, from above us, O King, protect us as a Sage with wisdom.
Guard to old age Thy friend, O Friend, Eternal: O Agni, as Immortal, guard us mortals.
22 We set Thee round us as a fort, victorious Agni, Thee a Sage,
Of hero lineage, day by day, destroyer of our treacherous foes.
23 Burn with Thy poison turned against the treacherous brood of Rākṣasas,
O Agni, with Thy sharpened glow, with lances armed with points of flame.
24 Burn Thou the paired Kimīdins, burn, Agni, the Yātudhāna pairs.
I sharpen Thee, Infallible, with hymns. O Sage, be vigilant.
25 Shoot forth, O Agni, with Thy flame demolish Them on every side.
Break Thou the Yātudhāna’s strength, the vigour of the Rākṣasa.”

Jai Jatavedas. 

2 thoughts on “Towards An Indo-European Theory Of Demonology – Chaos, Devourers, Outsiders, Messengers and Monsters

  1. Pingback: Of Monsters And Demonstrations – An Excerpt | arya-akasha

  2. Pingback: Towards An Indo-European Theory Of Demonology – Chaos, Devourers, Outsiders, Messengers and Monsters – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

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