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Non-western Demonology

Such beliefs are, of course, by no means limited to the West. Islam conceives of the demon Iblis as Allah's prime adversary, aided by a host of malevolent spirits called jinn (the English word "genie" derives from this Arabic word), who are capable of all manner of mischief. Moreover, a great many non-Western cultures also share a belief in demonic figures. In Japan, demonic figures that have the ability to possess human beings and cause them great harm are called oni. There are a great many varieties of oni, not all of whom are really evil; however, most of them are at least mischievous. Among the more dangerous oni are animal spirits, including fox spirits, who are believed to be especially malevolent and are held responsible for a wide variety of personal misfortunes. Moreover, they are extremely difficult to exorcise. Similar folk beliefs can be found throughout East Asia, Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Africa, the Caribbean, and Oceania, as well as the Americas.

Hindu mythology is replete with demonic figures, the most famous of whom is the evil raksha, or demon, Ravanna, king of Sri Lanka, and abductor of Sita, the devoted wife of the demigod Rama. Indeed, the plot of the ancient Indian epic known as the Ramayana, which spread throughout much of Southeast Asia during the early centuries of the common era, turns on Rama's conflict with Ravanna and Sita's eventual rescue—once again, an account of an epic struggle between good and evil, although Ravanna and Rama are not conceived as siblings.

In the high Andean plateau, or altiplano, of Bolivia, as June Nash reports, the local miners believe that the mountains are haunted by a demon called Huari, whom they refer to as Tio, or "Uncle," and who must be propitiated to avoid cave-ins and other calamities. This reflects another important dimension of demonology: the propitiation of evil forces and beings so as to preclude disaster and misfortune.

A further example of this ambiguous attitude toward evil figures can be found in Afro-Caribbean religions such as Santeria and Voodoo, where the orishas, or deities, are considered both evil and beneficent, depending on the context. Both good and evil manifestations of the gods are found in the pantheon and are regularly the recipients of sacrifices. Although for the most part absent in fully evolved Judeo-Christian demonology, this ambiguous attitude toward evil and the propitiation of what we might consider demons is an integral element of folk religious beliefs in a great many parts of the non-Western world—as well as in classical antiquity, where, for example, the ancient Greek god Pan was both benevolent and capable of creating havoc, whence the English word panic.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Cyanohydrins to Departments of philosophy:Demonology - Osiris And Seth, Ahura Mazda And Angra Mainyu, Satanism, Non-western Demonology, She-devils And Female Demons