Nature of Demons
No, I don’t believe that demons are physical Buffy-like demons that might appear in your living room with an ax. I take a far more psychological approach to the concept of ‘demons’ – demons are thought forms similar to Jung’s archetypes. I believe them to be personifications of concepts like fear, rage, desire/lust, gluttony, envy and all those emotions people would like to cast out of themselves.
Demons of Antiquity
In just about every culture, there is some type of ‘trickster’ archetype. He just happens to be far more prevalent in Christian culture since without Satan, Jesus’ death and resurrection has little meaning. This gets into a theological discussion of what God is, if he is omnipotent how can a being like Satan exist, and what power does Satan really have, among infinite other things, but my point is that if the devil did not have the power to tempt mankind to sin and fall away from God, Jesus’ coming to save mankind from sin (ie Satan’s influence) would not be as powerful. (These concepts have been debated by Church Fathers, theologians, and philosophers for the last 2 millennium and of course are for more complex than this.)
If you look at the evolution of the personification of evil over its evolutionary course – whether you are talking satan, belial, lucifer, mephisto, lilith, or whatever, they are all manifestations of concepts that humanity has grappled with since the beginning – ie bad things (or evil) happen to good people whether that involves natural disasters, theft, war, murder, jealousy, gluttony, rage, etc.
Back before modern medicine, people labeled that which they didn’t understand as ‘supernatural’. Now we know that microscopic organisms cause illness, or that subtle injuries and deterioration of the brain cause abnormal behavior. Madness, schizophrenia, dementia, and the like are now treated by psychiatrists, whereby once those that suffered from these and other mental ailments were labeled ‘possessed’. Additionally, the power of suggestion/belief/fear breeds these lines of thinking… the Witch trials are a prime example of this. Just look at how many innocent people were labeled possessed and executed.
Summoning a Demon
The Goetic demons are portrayed in a more symbolic language – ie you summon a demon that will give you this result. However, if you actually read about the Goetia & other works, it and its authors explain the ritualistic language is metaphoric (read Crowley’s Liber Aba: Book 4). The idea of ‘magick’ and summoning is more subtle and practitioners The original concepts of ‘summoning a demon’ came from the Faust legend during the Middle Ages/Renaissance which, like the garden of Eden, was a parable on the dangers of knowledge, particularly in the Protestant Reformation era. Yes, there are numerous “black magick” grimoires that contain rituals to summon demons and Lucifer himself. While fascinating reads, these will not teach you to summon a demon to do your bidding.
Magickal SummoningsTypically when people use the term ‘summoning,’ they are describing some type of Goetic/ceremonial, sex magick and/or BDSM rituals (typically of a Golden Dawn, Thelemic or similar ideology) in attempt to contact one of the Goetic or similar demons/spirits. The practitioner/sub enters a self-hypnotic trance/subspace and can see an ‘entity’ in a mirror. Most believe that ‘entity’ to be a thought form, though you will find some who claim that it is independent. As with anything, there are different schools of thought on it. However, all would agree that you aren’t going to get a full blown Buffy demon to appear in your living room to do your bidding.
Similarly, there are older traditions dating back to the Middle Ages/ Renaissance that use a child to see demons and entities in oil spread over a bright surface such as glass, a sword, a mirror, etc (see Third Air and the Nature of Demons)
I suppose I fall into the school of thought that ceremonial aspects are just prep for getting you focused internally, as are the sigils, scrying, focus mechanisms, etc. ‘Summoning a demon’ simply means opening up aspects of your psyche that were not open to you previously. That’s why it takes either some type of altered state (via sex, pain, starvation, drugs, etc) or intense, internal focus via meditation, yoga, kabbalah, etc to get there. That’s also why it’s one of those dangerous, painful things – you are meeting your fears, intellect, ego head on to work through your own personal ‘demons’ – not unlike psychoanalysis.