demons versus daimons and how world-building works

This post sort of rolls back on last week's post: Grimoires: A Brief Overview. Authors of grimoires often sought to make the arcane familiar in a bid to control more powerful supernatural creatures. The need to write down and understand the preternatural world stemmed from the theory that one cannot command that which one does not understand. In order to understand a thing, humans must name it, categorize it, and make some attempt to assimilate the thing--no matter how foreign--into a more prosaic conceptualization for the sake of our finite minds.

So it went with demons versus daimons.

In the Western Christian tradition, demons are equated with fallen angels. Demons are the epitome of free will run amok, meaning that bad things happen to those who use free will to rebel against God's supreme will. The angels warred, and the losers were consigned to Hell. These fallen angels, now called demons, form an infernal hierarchy that some consider to be a parody of the Heavenly hierarchy; although I believe the infernal hierarchy is less parody and more of a way for humans to wrap our aforementioned finite minds around this concept.

Language, as discussed in last week's post, gives us power. With both the spoken and written word, humans have a method by which we can record, remember, and communicate complex thoughts to one another. Demons, on the other hand, are spirit and lack the basic corporeal means with which to communicate. They have no tongue, lips, teeth, or vocal chords with which to emulate speech. Since there is power in the word (i.e. language), and demons are deprived of language through their spiritual nature, they must possess a creature with vocal chords in order to communicate with the mortal world. They retain the need to speak, to argue, and to influence the mortal world but can only do so through humans.

Daimons, on the other hand, are linked to the Graeco-Roman concept of daimones, (known as daemones in Latin). Apuleius's De deo Socratis identifies daimons as nature spirits. Just as gods occupy the natural sphere of ether, and mortals occupy the earthly sphere, so are daimons said to occupy the sublunary regions. Daimons can be either good or evil and are not automatically consigned to one aspect or the other, unlike fallen angels/demons, which are automatically assigned a chaotic evil designation based on their rebellion against God.

Daimons lie outside the scope of Christianity's narrow vision of angels and demons to reflect something akin to a different species, or entity, of supernatural creatures that rule the terrestrial regions. Proclus, a Greek Neoplatonist philosopher, indicated in his writings that daimons ruled fire, air, water, earth, and the underground region. This is in direct contrast to the Christian narrative, whereby the fallen angels, or demons if you will, are enslaved in the underground regions of the earth, far from the Heaven they sought to rule. Daimons, as rulers, see no need to conquer Heaven, whereas the fallen angels/demons seek to return.

So when I looked into the differences between angels, demons, and daimons for Los Nefilim, I wanted to step outside the normal Christian themes of angels and demons, which automatically conjure allegiances between good and evil. I wanted to move beyond those boundaries and into the more neutral realm of daimons.

So I asked myself a series of questions: What if there were three distinct species: mortals, daimons, and angels? How would the groups interact? What if one group (the angels) were the invaders of the earthly and sublunary regions? Would the daimons fight back for their existence? By what means would they fight their wars? And how were the mortals entangled in these affairs?

All of these questions were the seeds for the world-building that I did for Los Nefilim. As I answered each question, I developed and kept notes and created a new angelology and daimonolgy. In the end, my world-building became my grimoire for the Los Nefilim stories. Within Los Nefilim's world, I know the angels and their properties, the fallen angels and their ruling stars and angels, and of course the daimons--the old nature spirits that exist within the sublunary regions. These creatures, both the benign and the wicked, the natural and the supernatural, became characters in their own rights.

And that is how world-building works for me. One question leads to another until I've established a firm foundation for my mythology. Everything after that is just having fun.

grimoires: a brief overview

The written word has always carried a certain power. Early attempts at spell casting include include written prayers and talismans designed to assist the bearer in everything from finding sexual fulfillment to warding off disease--two things that sometimes went hand-in-hand in the days before penicillin.

From clavis inferni, 18th century

From clavis inferni, 18th century

With spells being somewhat complex, and the various number of gods/angels/demons and their numerous properties more so, many enterprising individuals sought to write down all of the pertinent information for future generations. Some of the earliest known forms of these writings go back to Mesopotamia, where the spells were inscribed in cuneiform on clay tablets. The ancient Egyptians also preserved their magical system, which was later influenced by the Macedonians when Alexander the Great invaded Egypt. Macedonian culture and magical beliefs merged with those of the Egyptians to form new belief systems.

During the third century BC, the Library of Alexandria began to flourish. The librarians--compulsive collectors of words that they are--in all likelihood preserved magical texts alongside what our twenty-first century minds would call more scientific texts.

Of course, it was only a matter of time before enterprising individuals began to compile all of these various incantations and spells into volumes. In order to give authenticity to the secretive nature of the proceedings, these volumes were sometimes encoded. The authors used multiple languages (Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and cipher) to keep the grimoires out of the hands of the uninitiated. This added to the mystique of the forbidden texts.

Grimoires were usually a combination of astrology, common herb lore, and sympathetic magic, mashed together with with angelic and demonic hierarchies compiled from Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature and testaments such as The Book of Enoch, The Testament of Solomon, etc. Nor were all grimoires Judeo-Christian. The Ghāyat al-Ḥakīm was an Arabic book of astrology and magic, which was written in Al-Andalus and eventually became known as The Picatrix.

Grimoires regulated and outlined the proper spirit, day, and hour by which certain rites should be performed. Sigils and names were highly important to each ritual, which was to be given the same deliberation as any High Mass. Care was needed, because should the magician call forth a spirit that he or she could not control, then their soul was forfeit.

This esoteric knowledge was once considered sacred or profane, depending on your viewpoint and/or ties to the Church. Texts, such as the manuscript found and examined by Richard Kieckhefer in his book, Forbidden rites: a necromancer's manual of the fifteenth century, are still being discovered in libraries. Finding an intact manuscript can be rare, because during the early fourteenth century, the very possession of magical writings was illegal and might bring the owner under suspicion of witchcraft. Most of these texts, when found, were burned ... sometimes along with the owner if it could be proved that the individual used the texts to work magic. At the very least, mere possession of the manuscript could bring a prison sentence.

As I said earlier, there is power in the written word.

Nowadays, researchers and casual readers can find many of these texts online. Other web sites, such as Res Obscura, address specific texts in detail.

I must warn you, though, to be careful out there. Some things, once summoned, cannot be banished. However, just in case you're looking to explore more about grimoires and magical texts in general, you can check out some of these books:

Davies, Owen. Grimoires: a history of magic books. Oxford University Press, 2010.

Kieckhefer, Richard. Forbidden rites: a necromancer's manual of the fifteenth century. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997.

Mollenauer, Lynn Wood. Strange revelations: magic, poison, and sacrilege in Louis XIV's France. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006.

writing deaf characters

I don't often do "how to write" posts, because there are many other authors that do it so much better. However, I do notice that a lot of people are trying to more inclusive with representation in their stories, and I think that's a great thing. Writing inclusively means that the author gets the opportunity to learn about other people, which quite often leads to a more empathetic understanding of one another.

A lot of people will say "I'm not your Google." I rarely say that, because algorithms are based on a person's search history, and if someone is deft at wading through the mass of online information, this usually isn't a problem. However, given the number of "informative" faux sites that are little more than opinions disguised as information, I'm usually okay-dokey with pointing people to good resources.

Occupational hazard, I guess.

So if you're thinking of placing a deaf character in your stories, this might be the right post for you. I'll give you a few hints based on my own experience, which may or may not be the same as others. Hearing losses are variable and people have different coping mechanisms, depending on the type of loss that they experience.

As the author, you will have to spend time learning about hearing loss. You can do this by speaking to an audiologist. The reason I suggest an audiologist rather than someone who is deaf is because the audiologist will be able to give you a broad overview of the types of hearing loss, and how each different type affects the person's life. Once you know what kind of hearing loss you want to represent in your story, then is the time to contact an individual with that type of hearing loss.


What type of hearing loss does your character have? Is it conductive, sensorineural, or mixed? Each type of loss will affect hearing differently, and this, in turn, will affect your character's lifestyle and ability to communicate.

How badly does the hearing loss affect speech discrimination? Speech discrimination is quite simply an individual's ability to understand the spoken word. If your speech discrimination is one hundred percent, you can understand every word someone speaks. People with hearing loss will have a much lower percentage of speech discrimination and will have to make communication adjustments, which I will cover below.

What ranges can the person hear? Can your character hear high pitches, or only low tones? Knowing what they can hear will easily direct you to what they cannot hear.

So when you're writing a deaf character, you need to establish the individual's level of hearing from the beginning of the story. Even if you never tell the reader all of these things, the author must know how the deaf person will interact with the outside world.

For example: I have lost the higher ranges and can only hear a few of the lower pitches. So when I'm in a crowd, the noise is a lot like rushing water or a meaningless roar. Individual sounds are lost to me. Also, I don't know how it is for other deaf people, but quite often, I can't tell the direction of loud sounds. When out in the public, I am hyper-aware of my surroundings and other people, because I derive my cues from hearing people.


Lip reading. Some people tend to think that lip reading is easy. It's not. I do it exceptionally well, it's sort of like my superpower, because I've been lip reading since I was twelve. Not many people can lip read to perfection, or at least no one I know can do it. Hearing is as dependent on the brain as it is on the ears. Sound goes into the ears and the brain tells us how to interpret that sound.

Enunciation is the key. That, and it takes a lot of focus and energy on the deaf person's part. I have to associate a person's lip movement with the sounds that I can hear, and (going back to pitches and the tones I can hear) that will differ from one person to the next. Sometimes I can't understand someone at all until we've communicated for a few minutes. The longer they talk, the easier it is for me to connect their words with their lip movements. I may pick up 8% of the words being said and fill in the rest through context.

There are a lot of mental gymnastics that go into lip reading, and those can make a person tired. I have to take breaks during long conversations. Also during events like conventions, it's terribly difficult to go from one panel to another with no breaks. I tend to shut down in the evenings by reading books or writing, which doesn't require the same focus as communication.

Hearing aids and cochlear implants. Devices are great, and there are a great variety on the market today. Just remember: hearing aids are not hearing miracles. Hearing aids assist a deaf person by raising the sound level, and there are many different devices on the market today. Cochlear implants work in a completely different way. Some people use neither, others use a combination of hearing aid and implant. Again, this will vary depending on the type and range of hearing loss.

Sign language. Not everyone who is deaf understands sign language, and not everyone who understands sign language can understand sign language by people from other countries. Even in America, American Sign Language (ASL) will have regional variations. Black American Sign Language is a different dialect of ASL that developed during segregation. While the American Sign Language system is based on the French system imported to America by Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and his French teacher, Laurent Clerc, it is not a universal language.

Body language. Deaf people are usually able to read body language much better than hearing people. Even from a distance, I can usually detect subtle forms of body language that can cue to me to the tone of a conversation between two people. That is why in my stories, you will find many references to my characters and their body language.


When searching for sources, look for .org websites. Here are two to start you off if you're in the U.S.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

National Association of the Deaf

Ageism in SFF

Here lately on Twitter, I've noticed people pointing out the ageism in SFF--sometimes as much as every other day--with little witticisms such as:

Jesus, won't you old people die so we can have your jobs? or
Why did they let  [insert name] moderate a panel? Didn't they know s/he was ancient? or
Isn't [insert name] old and NEAR DEATH?

Those are paraphrased, of course, and just a sampling. There have been several variations on the theme over the last few weeks from many different accounts.

Still, those things weren't said by the kind of users that we would normally call trolls. The people that made these remarks were folks that I thought were sensitive and empathetic to others. That's what stunned me.

I didn't think I needed to point out to this particular group that there are a lot of people, such as myself, who are over fifty and are very liberal. Nor should I have to tell them that advocating people should die to open up the job market isn't funny, especially given how many people over fifty suffer from depression.

To be truthful, I don't believe that I deserve instantaneous respect for the number of years that I've managed to stay alive. Respect is something earned, not given. Likewise, I don't believe that I deserve anyone's derision simply because I'm older than you, nor does anyone else.

If you have a problem with something someone says, focus on the problematic language, not their age. One has nothing to do with the other, because if someone is saying (for example) racist things, those racist thoughts have been a part of that person long before they reached the age in question. Misogyny is just as prevalent in the twenty- and thirty-something young men I see online as it is in older men. Age is moot when it comes to prejudices.

I do know I've lost a lot of respect for several people over the last two weeks, and once lost, earning back that respect back can take years.  Neither do I expect apologies.  Silence will be the overwhelming response to this post, but don't tell me that there is no ageism in SFF, not after what I've recently witnessed.

[Guest Post] Kitsune and the Game of Kitsune-Ken by Beth Cato

One thing I love about Folklore Thursdays is the chance to explore the folklore behind modern stories, so I try to reserve Thursdays for posts that are folklore related. Beth Cato is with us today to talk about the Japanese folklore surrounding the kitsune--a type of Japanese werefox that I first encountered in M.L. Brennan's fabulous Generation V series.

Beth's latest novel, Breath of Earth, also features those trickster kitsune in an alternate version of 1906. Check out the blurb:

In an alternate 1906, the United States and Japan have forged a powerful confederation—the Unified Pacific—in an attempt to dominate the world. Their first target is a vulnerable China. In San Francisco, headstrong Ingrid Carmichael is assisting a group of powerful geomancer wardens who have no idea of the depth of her power—or that she is the only woman to possess such skills.
When assassins kill the wardens, Ingrid and her mentor are protected by her incredible magic. But the pair is far from safe. Without its full force of guardian geomancers, the city is on the brink of a cataclysmic earthquake that will expose Earth’s powers to masterminds determined to control the energy for their own dark ends. The danger escalates when Chinese refugees, preparing to fight the encroaching American and Japanese, fracture the uneasy alliance between the Pacific allies, transforming the city into a veritable powder keg. And the slightest tremor will set it off. . . .
Forced on the run, Ingrid makes some shocking discoveries about herself. Her powerful magic has grown even more fearsome . . . and she may be the fulcrum on which the balance of world power rests.

Amazon     Barnes and Noble

Kitsune and the Game of Kitsune-Ken

My novel Breath of Earth was released this past Tuesday. It is steampunk fantasy with a unique twist on alternate history: a military alliance between America and Japan has likewise blended their cultures. Japanese-inspired fashions are all the rage in San Francisco. It is customary to switch to house slippers when indoors. Food, language, architecture--the cross-pollination of Japanese culture is everywhere, along with a massive influx of Japanese immigrants.

People aren't the only entities to venture across the Pacific Ocean. The world of Breath of Earth features not-so-mythological magical creatures that are often labeled as fantastics. It's not uncommon to see fairies flutter about the garden, or an iron-shod pooka forced to pull a rich man's cart. Japanese fantastics are present as well, including kitsune.

If you play video games or watch anime, you're already familiar with kitsune to some degree. If you see a fox with more than one tail, that's a kitsune. Even Sonic the Hedgehog's friend Tails would count. Kitsune are fox spirits and tricksters of a nefarious sort. Stories vary a great deal, but to speak in generalities, they can shapeshift, seduce men or women, and even steal human bodies. A kitsune gains another tail with every century of life, with nine-tailed foxes regarded as incredibly powerful and dangerous. As part of their fox nature, they are afraid of dogs.

If you have ever heard the Japanese phone greeting of "Moshi moshi"--the equivalent of "Hello"--that goes back to an ancient test against kitsune. The foxes are said to be incapable of pronouncing "moshi moshi." Therefore, if you say that to a faceless person over the telephone and they can't repeat the phrase back, that means the person on the other end is a kitsune and impostor.

I stumbled upon an interesting way to introduce kitsune within my book.

Early on in the revision process, my agent suggested that I show more bonding between my heroine, Ingrid, and her mentor and adoptive father, Mr. Sakaguchi. I wondered if there was some kind of game they could play together. That's how I discovered the game kitsune-ken.

Kitsune-ken is a hand game not all that different from American games like Rock, Paper, Scissors. As I describe it in chapter 1 of Breath of Earth:

[Ingrid] knelt to face him and tilted an ear toward the Graphophone, her hands poised in midair. Simultaneously, she and Mr. Sakaguchi clapped hands to a beat of three. She quickly moved her hands to make two Vs atop her head--fox ears--while at the same time Mr. Sakaguchi briefly rested his hands on his lap. 
Ingrid cackled. She won that round--a kitsune's magic could bewitch a chief. Mr. Sakaguchi's face twitched as they began the clapping again. This time, she positioned her hands as if on a rifle, with her right hand on a trigger and her left extended like the barrel of a gun. Mr. Sakaguchi made fox ears. The hunter's gun could kill the kitsune. She won again.
"At least try," she teased.

This was one of those remarkable moments when a surprise historical nugget worked seamlessly into my existing manuscript. The YouTube video was especially helpful because not only could I see the geisha demonstrate how to play, but I could listen to the shamisen music as well.

If you want to learn more about kitsune, the Wikipedia page is a good place to start. Be sure to scroll to the bottom to the reference section and look for a downloadable old book called Kitsune — Japan's Fox of Mystery, Romance, and Humor. You'll learn how to identify kitsune possession and how to, ahem, be medicated after intimate relations with a fox spirit.

For a more modern, academic exploration of the subject, Karen A. Smyer's The Fox and the Jewel: Shared and Private Meanings in Contemporary Japanese Inari Worship is a fantastic read that explores the role of the fox throughout Japanese culture and religion.

* * *

Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger series from Harper Voyager, which includes her Nebula-nominated novella Wings of Sorrow and Bone. Her newest novel is Breath of Earth. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat.

You can follow Beth at her website or on Twitter.