Shedim (Hebrew: שֵׁדִים) are spirits or demons in Jewish mythology. However, they are not necessarily equivalent to the modern connotation of demons as evil entities. Evil spirits were thought as the cause of maladies; conceptual differing from the shedim, who are not evil demigods, but the foreign gods themselves. Shedim are just evil in the sense that they are not God.
They appear only twice (always plural) in the Tanakh, at Psalm 106:37 and Deuteronomy 32:17 both times, it deals with child or animal sacrifices. Although the word is traditionally derived from the root šwd (Hebrew: שוד shûd) that conveys the meaning of “acting with violence” or “laying waste” it was possibly a loan-word from Akkadian in which the word shedu referred to a protective, benevolent spirit. The word may also derive from the “Šedim, Assyrian guard spirits” as referenced according to lore “Azazel slept with Naamah and spawned Assyrian guard spirits known as šedim”. With the translation of Hebrew texts into Greek, under influence of Zorastrian dualism, shedim were translated into daimonia with implicit negativity. Otherwise, later in Judeo-Islamic culture, shedim became the Hebrew word for Jinn with a morally ambivalent attitude.
Judaism and Kabbalah
Origin of Shedim
According to one legend, the shedim are descendants of serpents, or of demons in the form of serpents, alluding to the serpent in Eden as related in Genesis. To others they are descendants of Adam and Lilith. Another legend said that God had started making them, intending for them to be humans, but did not complete their creation because He was resting during the Sabbath. Even after the Sabbath, He left them how they were to show that when the Sabbath comes, all work must be viewed as complete.
Shedim are said to have had the feet and claws of a rooster and share some characteristics both of humans and angels. Like angels, they know the future and have wings, but like humans they eat, drink, procreate and die. They can also cause sickness and misfortune.
Supposedly, sinful people sacrificed their daughters to the shedim, but it is unclear if the sacrifice consisted in the murdering of the victims or in the sexual satisfaction of the demons. To see if the shedim were present in some place, ashes were thrown to the ground or floor, and then their footsteps became visible.
The shedim are supposed to follow the dead or fly around graves.
There are many things that one is admonished not to do in order to avoid invoking shedim, such as whistling or even saying the word “shedim”. Judah ben Samuel of Regensburg wrote in his will and testament that one should not seal up windows completely because it traps shedim in the house.
The shedim are not always seen as malicious creatures and are also considered to be helpful to humans. They are said to be even able to live according to the Torah, like Asmodeus.