On the Rise of the Great Demons: Lessons for America from the Epic Puranas, Part 1

Posted on Updated on

Kamsa, a major demon,  usurped power when he threw his dad in prison. Watch out, dad.

It is painfully obvious to anyone who has studied any history, modern or ancient, that humanity seems to require convulsing in a cataclysm every 70 to 80 years, and that each generation has to learn by excruciating experience the deeper meanings of freedom,  repression, and the tug-of-war between the cosmic light and dark forces ever-grappling for control.

But India’s great sages buried powerful truths and teachings in the narratives of their greatest epics, and these have the power to help prepare and sustain those feeling disempowered in times like these.

Since November 8th , not a single day has gone by without delivering some new blow to order, decency and integrity.

Those dismayed over the past year, watching the rise to power of one who indisputably embodies so many of the qualities of adharma (unrighteousness), previously attributed to various demons of scripture, myth and human history, may do well to wrestle with the cycles shown us in timeless texts and stories of India.

The themes that pervade the great stories can lend an empowering context to what is, by all other measures, a stupidly unnecessary repetition of history being played out here in the US and abroad.

Some argue (or voted for) this attack on “the old order”, seeing it as necessary, and taking comfort in viewing the breakdown of established orders as a pre-requisite to the arrival of a Golden Age. That’s a belief held by people on both sides of the electorate. I will leave all the conversations about the dissolution of unsustainable institutions and the breaking apart of the old order to other writers, as it is already much-discussed in countless blogs before and after the election.

The Wars of the Gods & Demons

The struggle between forces of light and forces of darkness is recognized in all ages and religions. The Bible speaks of the endless wars between “powers & principalities”; the wars of Angels and Demons.

St. Michael the Archangel


Lord Murugan / Kartikeya, General of the Deva’s army

In the Vedic tradition, the same is reflected in the unending cycles of  wars between the Devas & Asuras (demigods & demons).

Even our beloved 20th Century myth-makers, J.R.R. Tolkein (Lord of the Rings)  and George Lucas (Star Wars)—both of whom knew more than a scosche about world religions and archetypes—recognized that the forces of darkness are never completely eradicated.

When defeated, the evil energy, though cast out of power, bides its time in hiding, regrouping and slowly gaining influence till it bursts forth in a newly empowered, newly awful form. It was no accident that the first Star Wars movie was followed by The Empire Strikes Back.


Demons 101

The Great Demons of India’s Puranas (epic stories) are very reliable. Brilliant and talented; they enter each story endowed with one or another special quality of strength, intelligence, or fortune of birth.

Always, they have arrogant ego in plentiful supply. That’s a good part of what makes them Demons.

There is much talk in the Puranas of the Demon culture, in which things normally considered to be against dharma (righteous behavior) are accepted as norms for Demonic values. In one of the central creation episodes, demons are given exclusive rights over alcohol,  as its proper custodians, while the divine nectar of immortality (amrita) is denied them, despite their many attempts to gain control of it.

The balance of the universe depends upon each force in creation knowing its proper realm, function and its limits. That the Demons exist at all is simply a part of creation; a necessary part. That God loves them, too, impartially, is also a part. The Devas, (literally “light beings”) are half-brothers to the Demons.

The problem always begins when some Demon or other begins to cross his limits.

Limits are a big thing in Vedic teaching.

For example, the ocean doesn’t cross its limits. When it does, as in a tsunami, vast destruction ensues. Keeping within the limits of one’s allotted role in life is a major part of righteousness, and figuring out one’s unique dharma (righteous response to any situation) is based on the duties ascribed to one’s roles in life combined with the situation at hand, and is the subject of some thousands of pages of teachings.

The Quest for Immortality & Power

Any self-respecting great Demon performs endless austerities to win the grace of God and ask for a boon. In some texts it is written that they may sit in tapas (austerities of worship) for thousands of years.

Let’s just say that they know a thing or two about the Law of Attraction, and concentrating on a goal.

When Brahma or Shiva eventually responds, manifesting in order to grant their desire, the Demons’ requests always start from the same place:

“Make me immortal!”

“That’s off the table, ask for something else” comes the reply.

The Demon thinks hard and, impressed with his own cleverness, uses pretzel logic to ask for some set of conditions that guarantees he can never be killed; or he asks for a special weapon that will make him invincible—or he asks for both.

By demon logic, if invincible, he can’t be killed, thus, he can never die. And, if invincible, he also gets to conquer all of creation! Everything in the material universes will be his!

Tathastu,” God replies, “So be it.

Sometimes, even when the Demon doesn’t ask for a special weapon, he gets one anyway, like a little bonus, because God is pleased with the intensity of his devoted worship.

Also, because God plays the long game, and has a grand sense of karmic humor. Tathastu! Hahaha. Go enjoy yourself.

Hahahah, I’ve outwitted God! the Demon crows to himself.

Triumph tastes sweet! During his Victory Tour, the Demon wastes no time trying out his newly acquired powers by terrorizing everyone for yojanas around (A yojana, as you may guess, is a very long distance).

A Golden Age—For Demons, That Is

When a Demon takes control, a few things are a standard part of the script(ure).

The Demon may actually be a fervent follower of some form of God, (after all that’s how he got his powers), but he realizes that freedom of worship will lead to trouble. Worship of anyone other than the Demon’s god or, better yet, the Demon himself, is quickly forbidden.

I’m the Greatest Demon who has ever lived!” is his cry. His courtiers need to affirm that loudly and often, and woe unto anyone who dares say otherwise.

The Demon sets to work conquering earth, heaven and the nether worlds. And conquer he does.

Truth gets turned upside down. Asat (untruth) becomes the new version of Sat (truth). At least to the Demons, who operate in their own culture.

Persecution of the wise, the sages, is a prime requirement. The sages hold Sat, truth and wisdom, and truth itself must be crushed. Especially, sages must not be allowed to pray, as a Demon knows very well that authentic spiritual power can be used against him.

Absolute fealty is required, and the Demon looks to make vassals of all near and far. He’s usually spoiling for a fight, and wants to test his mettle against all other powers.

For a time—often a very long time—Demons enjoy their ascendancy. The Great Demons even knock the reigning demigods out of heaven.

Watching the the formerly powerful eat crow is a necessary a part of the mix. Ravan, one of the greatest of all Demons evah, kept the presiding gods of the nine planets prisoners of his will. In some versions he keeps the god of Death in chains. Humiliation is a tool to be employed when the currently powerful begin to cross their limits, or in this case, disagree with the Demon king, or imply that he’s not, mirror, mirror on the wall, the greatest of them all!

Ravan with his 10 heads.


Much blood flows, and in the Puranas, the Demons enjoy many hearty laughs at the expense of the suffering masses, and especially the suffering light forces. (Mastering the arrogant laugh is an important part of Demon Training).

Now it’s the turn of the Devas to roam in exile, to be humbled, to wait again for their moment, even to be forced into hiding.

And there’s nothing they, or anyone, can do about it.

No, not until the story has played itself out; not until it’s Time.

Even the divine incarnations, the Avatars, the savior heroes, do not appear early on in the stories to assist the gods or to help mankind in restoring balance to creation; not until the suffering is acute beyond measure; not until the demonic force has consumed its karmic fuel; not until it’s Time.

Eventually, inexorably, the wheel of karma turns. What you give out comes back to you.

The accumulated bad karmas come home to roost, and the Demon “gets theirs”. The magic boon itself, for which he worked so hard and which he exploited against his perceived enemies so vigorously, turns on him. Like a drug, that which gave him power becomes the root cause of his downfall and destruction.

(Note to self: Don’t ask for boons.)

When his arrogance and evil deeds have weakened all his powers, the Devas —who may have had a few lessons of their own to learn—get Cosmic Assistance, and the Great Demon meets his spectacular end.

And as is the case with Goddess Durga, some Demons can only be taken out by a female.

Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva combined their energy to bring forth Mata Durga, whose first job was to slay the invincible Buffalo Demon

Take Your Place on the Great Mandala as It Moves Through Your Brief Moment of Time

With many variations on a theme, age after age, yuga after yuga—and yugas are very lonnnggggg periods of time—the Great Demons take their turn at holding sway over creation.

For those of us so stunningly and unexpectedly thrown out of power, we do not know if this particular exile that has come upon us (and our counterparts in other countries) will be 4 years, 8 years, or a yuga. We don’t know if the threats to the way of life we value will be annihilated in part or in full, slowly or quickly. We just know it’s coming.

The recently dis-empowered are handling their exile by pointing fingers at each other, accusing, throwing intellectual tantrums, indulging in arrogant remarks and self-recriminations, using purity tests, scrambling, and chaotically, searching for the next great leader, and girding for a fight that, as yet has no cohesive center.

That’s part of the story too.

All the great Hindu epics deal with this theme: Out of the Palace, Into the Forest.

Those thrown into forest exile undergo a crucible of transformation. They, too, have to bide time.

Just as the forces of darkness do not bide their time idly, so we can learn from the actions of those who have passed their exiles profitably.  

This is not to say: “Give up in apathy; wait your turn passively; nothing can be done about it.”

This is not to say: “Give in to the Demon.”


This is about broadening the context for dealing with the coming years from “how can this be happening” to riding the energy of the stages of a cycle of creation.

“They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.”

That Bible verse is not something said at the zenith of one’s power, but in the times when power feels utterly lost.

Inhale and exhale, dark and light, the Great Wheel turns.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Out of the Palace, Into the Forest: How to Spend an Exile

©2016 Rev. Nettie M. Spiwack


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s