This dictionary covers, in one volume, over 1800 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.