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A Field Guide to Demons: Fairies, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Spirits

A Field Guide to Demons: Fairies, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Spirits

by Carol Mack, Dinah Mack
Watch your back! . . . How to spot and identify demons and other subversive spirits . . . And what to do next. Demons, fairies, and fallen angels are everywhere. They lurk at crossroads, crouch behind doors, hide in trees, slip into beds, wait in caves, hover at weddings and childbirths, disguise themselves as friends, relatives-even disguise themselves as you. They


Watch your back! . . . How to spot and identify demons and other subversive spirits . . . And what to do next. Demons, fairies, and fallen angels are everywhere. They lurk at crossroads, crouch behind doors, hide in trees, slip into beds, wait in caves, hover at weddings and childbirths, disguise themselves as friends, relatives-even disguise themselves as you. They are powerful; they are protean; they are enchanting. And, to the uninformed, they are often invisible. This illustrated guide-the first of its kind-reveals the remarkable permutations of the demon and fairy species worldwide. Packed with lore about each demon, detailing its origins, the culture surrounding it, and its reputed antics and exploits, A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Spirits is a fascinating exploration of global mythologies. Perfect for the armchair traveler and the intrepid, seasoned demon-spotter alike, this complete guide to subversive spirits offers a behind-the-scenes look at the devilish mishaps, impish irritations, and demonic devastations that punctuate our lives.

Editorial Reviews

David Rothenberg
The usual suspects are all here, but the unusual ones are more interesting....This book is an indispensable guide to creatures that fools don't think exist....Take it with you wherever you go and you will be able to identify at once that black cat that crosses your path.

Product Details

Arcade Publishing
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
5.87(w) x 1.00(h) x 9.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



Tiamat, of the Babylonian Epic of Creation (first millennium B.C.E.), is an ancient sea goddess who gave birth to all. Part glistening cosmic serpent, part winged animal, her image may superficially appear more dragon than demon. But within, she holds the essential DNA of all demonic species: the dark, creative, turbulent, protean spirit of the unconscious deep.


When skies above were not yet named
Nor earth below pronounced by name
There was water

and Tiamat mingled her salt seas with the fresh waters of Apsu, her consort, and bore populations of gods who lived within her darkness until finally Apsu could no longer bear the disorder and clamor of the young gods. He attempted to destroy their offspring. Naturally enraged, Tiamat collaborated with her son and destroyed Apsu. Generations passed until her great-great-grandson, the solar god Marduk, challenged her dominion.

    Marduk was a perfect hero. He had four eyes and four ears and could breathe fire. In preparation for the battle, Marduk made a bow and arrow and a huge net. Carrying a spell on his lips, an herb in one hand that worked against Tiamat's poisons, and a mace in the other, he mounted his terrifying storm chariot and marshaled the seven winds to follow him into battle.

    Tiamat was infuriated. From her rage came forth monsters, demons, horned snakes, bull men, fish men, filled not with blood but venom. Herarmy was radiant and terrible. She appointed Kingu, a monster offspring, to be her spouse and to lead her brood into battle. But Marduk challenged her to single combat. He caught her in his net and then sent evil winds toward her. She opened her mouth like a mammoth cave to swallow them, but the winds were of such power her jaws were forced to remain open. The winds distended her belly. Marduk entered and saw within her an entire army of gods, snakes, and demons. He shot his arrow. It split her heart in two. She perished. He stood on her body and smashed her skull with his mace.

    Then Marduk sliced Tiamat in two like a cosmic clam, and raised one half of her to become the roof of the sky. He bolted it to hold the waters in check. With her lower half, he created the earth above the subterranean waters. From her eyes he created two rivers; from her udder, mountains and foothills. From her saliva he made rain and clouds; from her poisons, fog. After Marduk named each thing and set the stars and gods in their places, he created man out of the blood of Kingu, poisonous spouse-creation of Tiamat.

    This Epic of Creation was read annually at the Babylonian new year's festival, and since most of it featured the slaying of Tiamat by Marduk, the supreme god of their pantheon, the story was naturally told from his point of view. The ancient goddess is seen as demonic in the eyes of the new hegemony: male sun god defeats dark feminine life force of chaos and creates civilization.

    Yet without her essence nothing could be created. Tiamat is primordial chaos. Homo sapiens can only walk about and build civilizations in an ordered universe, and so Tiamat must be divided and named, but within and of Tiamat is all life. From this inchoate broth come tides, fish, birds, flowers, weeks, night and day.

    Water is, with rare exception, seen as female and quintessentially Tiamat, and its anarchic, untameable spirits surface globally. Despite its terrific dangers, we also arise from these fertile depths both in body and consciousness.



The Mermaid is a species of human size, rapacious, saltwater femmes fatales (though they've also been sighted in lakes and as far inland as many coastal fishes). The characteristic shape of the Mermaid distinguishes it from afar. From ancient sailors we hear, "It is a beaste of the sea, wonderly shape as a mayde from the navel upwarde." The Mermaid always has shining hair streaming in wavelets over ample breasts and very fair skin — a skin so strong, however, that it could be used for making soles of boots that would last three years or more. Her seal-like lower torso that ends in one or two fish tails is conveniently hidden by surf. The species is long-necked and comely with distinctive voice and luring song.

    From ancient Greece come three supernatural spirits whose images and attitudes contribute to the development of the Mermaid: Skylla ("Bitch"), the six-headed monster with triple rows of teeth in each canine mouth who could devour six sailors at a time when their ships sailed close enough to her cave; the Sirens, with women's heads and bird bodies, later seen with fish tails, who sang irresistibly (it was to avoid the Sirens' lure that Odysseus had himself tied to the mast and wore earplugs); and most important, the fifty Nereids, ancient sea fairies who lived in an underwater kingdom but came up to the surface to play. Nereids, who had whole human bodies, were often seen riding naked upon sea monsters that resembled dogfish. They were considered responsible for shipwrecks and storms, and, like the Sirens, had irresistible singing voices. They were fickle. They were never what they appeared to be. They were slippery and incredibly dangerous. And they were enchanting.

    There has been some debate as to whether the Mermaid is utterly malicious or just forgetful about human ability to breathe underwater. The available information is ambivalent at best. With oblivious impulsivity (a demonic trait), she is said to grasp her mortal lover so tightly that he is crushed to death. Call her irresponsible rather than malevolent. In some lore she shows a bit of remorse by heavy sighing at the loss. There are tales of men lured to the dazzling undersea kingdom of the sea-fairy-type Mermaid who do manage to live and to return to shore, but when they have stayed dry awhile, they so miss the subterranean depths that they pine to death.

    Sighted singing on rocks, combing their long hair, with looking glasses in hand that wink in the sunlight, they are irresistible to sailors far from home and desperate for female company. Sailors' maps have been found with spots marked "Here be mermaydes!" written with obvious enthusiasm, but none of these seafaring cartographers has lived to tell his Mermaid tales.

    Mermaids habitually eat their victims after drowning them. From Portugal comes a seventeenth-century sighting that claims they eat only the nose, eyes, tips of fingers, and private parts of their prey, and toss the rest on the sand, where the dismembered corpses are eventually found. On the other hand, once in a while, a human man follows a Mermaid to her world beneath the waves and lives underwater in splendor. (This is the sea fairy branch of the family, indistinguishable at first glance from their demonic cousins, but generally fatal in the end.)


    One night a man was walking along the beach and saw a group of Mermaids and mermen dancing in the moonlight. Their sealskins, which enable them to live at the depths of the sea, were piled up on the sand beside them. After the dance each Mermaid and merman picked up its skin and dove into the water.

    One of the Mermaids forgot her sealskin, and the man found it and took it home. The next day when he returned to the water he saw a beautiful maiden crying on a rock. She was weeping over the loss of her sealskin; without it she could not live in her home beneath the sea. The man had never seen such a beauty and he fell passionately in love with her. When she begged him to return her skin, he refused, asking her instead to live with him. He promised to love her so much that she would forget all about her watery dwelling. She realized she could not change his mind, and so agreed.

    The two were married and had two children. The man was happy but his supernatural wife wanted nothing more than to return to the depths. Every day she would sit on the rocks and gaze sadly at the water. One day her son found the sealskin that his father had hidden, and he innocently brought it to his mother to ask her what it was.

    She wept with joy. She kissed her son for the last time. "Farewell!" she called, as she ran across the sand. At that moment the man saw his wife running toward the water, sealskin in hand, and hurried to stop her. But he was too late and she never returned to him again.

    At their best, such as in this tale from the Shetland Islands, mermaids are not reliable. In most tales of Mermaid capture it is usual for the kin to retaliate by causing heavy mists, storms, gales, and shipwrecks, cutting off all trade and livelihood to the coastal human community.

    The famous German tale of Undine reveals the true nature of a wild sea fairy:

    A fisherman and his wife lost their beloved young daughter, Bertha, who fell into the lake and presumably drowned. During a tempestuous storm the following evening, the grief-stricken couple heard a knock on their door, and in from the winds and torrential rain came a pretty laughing child who said she did not know where she had come from but she had fallen into the lake and her name was Undine. The couple raised her as their own and tried to ignore her wayward disposition and her habit of running wild through the rain and singing, although it caused them great anxiety.

    One evening, when the child had grown to young womanhood, a knight named Hildebrand passed by the cottage. He was lost and seemed quite sad because of his hopeless love for a proud young woman named Bertha. A sudden storm raged outside and the knight was forced to stay for several days until it had subsided. He became enchanted by Undine, and finally proposed marriage. (The true story: When Bertha fell into the lake, the sea fairies decided to send their own Undine to be raised by a human family, marry a human man, and thus gain a soul. They delivered Undine to the bereaved couple and sent Bertha farther down the lake to a childless noble couple who raised her as their own.)

    Undine worried at the wedding ceremony that "there must be something extremely awful about a soul," but out of love she went on with it and seemed to undergo a radical change. She became oddly tender, meek, and helpful and even seemed content doing domestic chores. But after a short time there was a reunion of Bertha and Hildebrand and he realized he loved Bertha still. He spoke angrily to Undine, although she warned him never to speak to her harshly — especially near water—because the result could be dreadful. In response to his cruel outburst as they were out boating, she fell into the lake, saying only "Woe" as she vanished into the water. Hildebrand made plans to remarry, but on his wedding day he saw the door of his bedroom chamber open very slowly and watched in terror as the spirit of Undine entered. "You will die," she said quietly. Then she took him in her arms and kissed him to death.


    Some say placing barrels on the side of ships discourages the species from getting too close. Once they do there's no getting away, so it is important to be well informed. There are aberrant, gentle mermaids who behave benevolently to sailors and even share their supernatural skills and buried treasures, but they are exceedingly rare and have received inordinate amounts of attention. This overreported variety may have originated in the Middle Ages when sightings were frequent and there was debate in the Church as to whether or not a mermaid, who was part animal, could gain a human soul and whether her status changed if she married a human being. The Hans Christian Andersen tale "The Little Mermaid," which evolved from this Undine tradition, has propagated a pasteurized, radically denatured spirit in an unlikely story with a mawkish ending in which the mermaid herself becomes the sacrificial victim. Not only did Andersen remove the spirit's ability to sing or speak and her wish to bite, he tamed her, and rather than seek revenge at her betrayal, she opted to turn into foam. And why? To gain a human "soul" at some future time. Andersen's mermaid is a Christianization of a sea spirit that is incredible to anyone acquainted with genuine accounts of this ancient, ferocious, proud, exuberant, and unremorseful species.

    The Guide sets Thackeray's literary account of the species in Vanity Fair against Andersen's disinformation:

They look pretty enough when they sit upon a rock, twanging their harps and combing their hair, and sing, and beckon you to come and hold the looking-glass; but when they sink into their native element, depend on it those mermaids are about no good, and we had best not examine the fiendish marine cannibals, revelling and feasting on their wretched pickled victims.



The Merman, male of the species, is said to have a powerful, attractive upper torso, a fish bottom, and a hollow look in his eyes. He is reputedly always lusting after human females and carrying them off whenever possible, making it a general rule of thumb that "no woman should adventure to come near the sea, except her husband were with her."

    It is said that the Merman keeps the souls of drowned sailors or humans under pots or in cages in his underwater palace at the very depths of the sea, lake, or river.


    Once there was a Merman who befriended a neighboring farmer, some say a miller, and invited the human being to dine with him in his underwater palace. The neighbor accepted the invitation, and found himself fathoms deep, enchanted by the magnificent rooms all filled with golden treasures, the floors made of pearls, emeralds, rubies, and the walls of shells studded with jewels, all blazing with light from huge crystal chandeliers. After a sumptuous meal, the man was about to leave when he noticed many pots overturned on the floor in the long halls. He asked what the objects were for, and the merman replied casually that they held the captive souls of the drowned he was known to keep. The neighbor said nothing, but he was deeply disturbed by the proof of such rumors and could not forget it. Sometime later, when he was sure the Merman had gone out, he carefully descended and again came to the enchanting palace. He retraced his steps to the long halls and there, one by one, he overturned the pots and all the souls floated up through the water to finally be delivered.


    Nothing is said of the fate of the human neighbor after his exploit, however, since mermen and mermaids are well known for their vengeful natures, and since the weather, mists, rains, and floods are influenced by these spirits, it can only be assumed that inclement weather arose and the farmer may have found himself in the depths again as prisoner. The sign of the cross can help, as can metal objects such as knives to avert the species, and various food offerings and lit candles may placate the mermen under normal circumstances.

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