The Routledge Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses, Devils and Demons

The Routledge Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses, Devils and Demons

The Routledge Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses, Devils and Demons

The Routledge Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses, Devils and Demons


This dictionary covers, in one volume, over 1,800 of the most important deities and demons from around the world. From classical Greek and Roman mythology to the gods of Eastern Europe and Mesopotamia, from Nordic giants to Islamic jinns and Egyptian monsters, it is packed with descriptions of the figures most worshipped and feared around the world and across time. Fully cross-referenced and featuring two handy guides to the functions and attributes shared by those featured, this dictionary is the essential resource for anyone interested in comparative religion and the mythology of the ancient and contemporary worlds.


A basic element in all religions is the awareness, both intellectual and emotional, of man's dependence on non-human powers: powers which we conceive as personal, and vis-à-vis which we normally stand in a reciprocal relationship. Gods and demons are the forms taken by these powers, their hypostatizations, as it were, in the shape of light and darkness, sun and moon, fire and water, bird and snake. the divine can reveal itself in all the phenomena of nature, just as the demonic can. But it is not only from without that the numinous presents itself to man: it can arise spontaneously in religious experience as an 'exponent of feeling' (Wilamowitz-Moellendorf), and it can be divined as 'a dark abyss…which is not accessible to our reason' (Rudolf Otto). the images generated in the human mind are, then, representative of stages reached in man's understanding and in his knowledge of himself; in a certain sense, indeed, every divine image has traits which identify it as a self-projection of mankind. As ideal beings, the gods are what man would like to be; but they are also what he, in his spatiotemporal imperfection, cannot be.

Every religion has its own conventions and symbols which serve to express the functions, the aspects and the spheres of competence of the members of its pantheon. and this means that the conscious and unconscious nexus of conventions specific to any one religion is hardly, if at all, accessible to believers in another religion, or to those who believe in no religion at all. Thus, even for the ancient Greeks the animal gods of the Egyptians were shocking and revolting. and modern man, proud as he is of his reason and logic, fares no better when he is called upon to recognize an authentic view of God in the often and-in the most literal sense-obscure rites and images of an alien religion.

Above all, we must not fail to recognize that the concepts 'god' and 'demon' are by no means evenly weighted in the various religions. the innumerable deities of Hinduism and Buddhism carry about as much significance as angels or saints do in monotheistic religions. There are mortal gods, gods who die (like Balder and Osiris) and demonic beings whom death cannot touch (for example, the Devas). the borderline between gods and demons is fluid (see Asura, or the Nymphs); and with the Christianization of a people, its erstwhile deities can be devalued to the status of devils (as in the case of Pan or Dabog) or accepted into the corpus of Christian saints (for example, Brigit Köndös). From the largely anonymous mass of spirits, gods and demons are distinguished by being more sharply and individually characterized, as shown, for example in the bestowal of names upon them.

The present reference work offers a conspectus of all the more important supernatural beings who have acquired 'personality' in this sense, both in the pantheons of the

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