27 Of The Most Frightening Demons — And What Makes Them So Horrifying

Published December 15, 2023
Updated December 18, 2023

From infamous fallen angels like Satan to supernatural beings worshipped by the occult, meet some of the worst demons from history.

Throughout history, the word “demon” has been used in a variety of contexts. In most instances, a demon refers to an evil supernatural entity, typically from Hell, who can possess, attack, or otherwise torment a person. But this definition is not a one-size-fits-all descriptor of demons.

In ancient Mesopotamian religion, for example, demons were deities who served a litany of purposes. Some, such as the demon Pazuzu, controlled the wind and could bring destruction — but also served to ward off other malevolent and scary demons. Others, like Pazuzu’s rival Lamashtu, tormented pregnant women and terrorized unborn and newborn babies.

The modern understanding of demons, however, largely arose with the conception of demonology as perpetuated by figures such as King James VI of Scotland, Dutch physician and demonologist Johann Weyer, and the anonymous author of the grimoire The Lesser Key of Solomon.

Pazuzu Demon
Ördög Demon
Mammon Demon
Aamon Demon
27 Of The Most Frightening Demons — And What Makes Them So Horrifying
View Gallery

Learn about some of history's scariest demons in the gallery above, then read more about the early study of demonology below.

History's Early Compendiums Of Scary Demons

Demonology is, as the name suggests, the study of demons. It is referenced in both religious and occult circles, and generally covers the hierarchy of demons, their powers and limitations, attributes, and various names. Some also refer to it as a branch of magic dealing with malevolent spirits.

One of the earliest prominent examples of a demonological text was Johann Weyer's Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, or the False Monarchy of Demons, which was released in 1577. Weyer's text lists in total 69 demons in their hierarchy. (The Ars Goetia, the first book of the anonymous grimoire The Lesser Key of Solomon, would later raise this number to 72 demons.)

Even before the publication of Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, Weyer had already established himself as a predominant scholar in the field of demonology upon the release of his most influential work, De Praestigiis Daemonum et Incantationibus ac Venificiis, or On the Illusions of the Demons and on Spells and Poisons, back in 1563.

Demonology Writer Johann Weyer

Public DomainJohann Weyer, a physician who wrote extensively on demons and witchcraft.

So who was Johann Weyer and what led him to demonology? According to a 1993 publication from the University of Iowa, Weyer was a Dutch physician whose work has largely influenced the modern-day field of psychiatry.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Weyer largely opposed the ongoing fear surrounding witchcraft in Europe. He spoke out against the persecution of people who were accused of being witches, and pioneered the idea of treating a mentally ill person with compassion and empathy.

But it was the publication of Daemonologie by King James VI of Scotland (later known as James VI and I) in 1597 that solidified the study of demonology in history. And his goals were far different from Weyer's.

King James' Role In Demonology And The Witchcraft Panic

Daemonologie was published several years before King James' version of the Bible, and it contained three books that served in part as a philosophical dissertation on magic, sorcery and witchcraft, and spirits and ghosts. The text also included King James' classification of demons, which stemmed from the king's involvement in the 1590 North Berwick witch trials.

The book begins:

"The fearful abounding, at this time and in this country of these detestable slaves of the devil, the witches (...) hath moved me to dispatch in post, this following treatise of mine (...) to resolve the doubting (...) both that such assaults of Satan are most certainly practised, and that the instrument thereof merits most severely to be punished."

In essence, Daemonologie largely supported the ongoing persecution and trials of accused witches in King James' territories.

Book About Demons

Wellcome Library, LondonThe title page of King James' Daemonologie.

As explained in the study "James VI The Demonologist King," James claimed that many of his sources for the work were based on the testimonies of confessed witches, past cases from history, and, of course, the Bible.

King James' goal with Daemonologie was not to create a definitive classification of demons or inform the masses of the "true nature" of magic, but rather to prove that the Devil was enacting his will on Earth — and to justify witch hunting and witch trials throughout Europe.

He used Biblical teachings to convince Christians of the existence of witchcraft, and amassed numerous dissertations on magical studies to draw comparisons between ancient magical practices and beliefs and the Devil.

Demonology In The Modern World

Despite its centuries-old roots and a modern understanding that many historical witch trials had not targeted actual witches, demonology is still alive and well today — and so are legends of scary demons.

Perhaps the most prominent example of modern-day demonology can be found in Ed and Lorraine Warren, who were self-proclaimed demonologists who involved themselves in a number of high-profile alleged hauntings, including the Amityville Horror Case and the Enfield Haunting.

Of course, the Warrens are controversial figures, with The Hollywood Reporter releasing an account that detailed the alleged abuse the Warrens inflicted on each other and on an underage girl who Ed pursued an inappropriate relationship with, despite meeting her when she was just 15.

There have been other people in the modern age to affix to themselves the title of "demonologist," but the Warrens are certainly the most well-known.

That said, the field of demonology itself is becoming more obscure in the modern, secular world. What remains of this field are a few medieval manuscripts that have survived the passage of time. However, the influence of demonology on popular culture is not going away anytime soon, especially since The Conjuring franchise is one of the most popular in the world.

After learning about scary demons from history, read about the Zozo demon, the Ouija board spirit. Then, see 30 disturbing images found in a Persian book on demonology.

Austin Harvey
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
Citation copied
Cite This Article
Harvey, Austin. "27 Of The Most Frightening Demons — And What Makes Them So Horrifying." AllThatsInteresting.com, December 15, 2023, https://allthatsinteresting.com/demons. Accessed June 13, 2024.