Before Mammon toppled from heaven to hell, he was “more interested in heaven’s [golden] pavement” than its celestial leader. Not surprisingly, he carried his lust for wealth with him into the brimstone abyss, where he is still scheming up ways to manipulate humans into adding to his treasure.
Who is Mammon?
Mammon is a demon who, according to Christian theology, embodies one of the cardinal sins: greed. In fact this demon’s monstrous greed is so powerful that innocent men can be sucked into it and corrupted, so that they too focus their attention on building up worldly treasure instead of virtues that they can carry with them into the kingdom of heaven.
Although Christians during the Middle Ages often personified Mammon, there is no consistent image of the greedy demon. He has been shown as everything from a lumbering red-skinned demon of colossal size to a glorious emperor, modeled after Julius Caesar to a crooked, bony old man who could easily blend in with ordinary people.
The most surefire way of recognizing Mammon is by watching out for ostentatious displays of wealth. He will always find a way to flaunt his wealth, whether it is encrusting himself in precious jewelry, wagging bags of money under your nose, or inviting you to visit him in his treasure-filled lair.
Mammon’s greatest power is the influence he can exert over the human mind and heart. He inspires envy, greed, and lust so potent that even good men can be driven to corruption. Usually, Mammon’s evil grip leads to obsession; once you fall under his spell, you will struggle to focus on anything other than the treasure he has used to tempt you, and you will do almost anything to get your hands on it. Because of this ability to monopolize a person’s energy, many theologians described Mammon as “enslaving” men.
During the Middle Ages, many common people considered Mammon to be a deity, albeit, a black-hearted deity. Even church leaders distinguished him as a powerful lord over the demon hordes of hell, naming his as one of the “Seven Princes of Hell.” In this position of power, some theologians estimated that Mammon would have as many as 6,660,000 demons under his control, waiting to spring into action when he decided to execute one of his dark plans.
Over the years, several alternate identities have been proposed for the “Prince of Greed.”
Beginning with the emergence of Christianity under Roman rule, many early Christians tried to find a way to fit the villainous Mammon, against whom Jesus and his disciples preached, in with their Roman heritage. Some people associated Mammon with Plutus, the Greco-Roman god of wealth. Not only was Plutus lord of a magnificent fortune, which could easily turn a man’s hurt sour from envy, he was also associated with the underworld because mineral wealth and bountiful crops came from the depths of the earth. Thus, ancient Plutus made a reasonable match for the new Christian demon, Mammon. Others associated Mammon with Julius Caesar himself because the mighty emperor controlled Rome’s wealth and claimed to be a god.
Approximately three hundred years later, as Christian ideology became more complex and the Roman gods of old were left behind, a new alter-ego appeared. Gregory of Nyssa, a bishop of the Roman Catholic church, claimed that Beezlebub and Mammon were one and the same. Since Beezlebub was one of the most dreaded demons of the time, this connection reinforced the people’s terror of Mammon (wealth).
Although the etymology of the world “mammon” can be traced back to the Aramaic dialect, it had little historical significance until it was taken up by early Christians. Clearly, the word has always meant “wealth,” but the dark connotation—and even personification—of the word seems to be a purely Christian invention.
The most commonly sited reference to “mammon” in the Christian Bible comes from the Sermon on the Mount, as related by Jesus’ disciple, Matthew. Matthew says:
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”
Thus, the tone is set for Christians to resist and despise mammon, who would place a barrier between themselves and their God.
During the Middle Ages, superstition and belief in the supernatural was rampant, affecting everyone from peasants tiling the earth to bishops in gold-embroidered robes. Christians took their crusade against the dangerous influences, against which Jesus had warned them, to a whole new level by interpreting these influences as living, plotting demons of hell. They published volume after volume of text, detailing hell’s demons, their particular powers and habits, and their complicated social order.
This classification of demons began with Alfonso de Spina’s Fortalitium Fide, which divided the demons into ten groups. Spina put Mammon in a high position as one of the “demons who attack saints.” Specifically, he was responsible for tempting great men with greed. A century later, Bishop Peter Binsfield presented a new classification system for demons, this time emphasizing the sins which demons inspired rather than the type of victims they attacked. He popularized the idea of the “Seven Princes of Hell,” each of whom matched up with one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Mammon, naturally, matched up with greed.
Today, most versions of the Bible have eliminated Mammon by translating his name to simply mean “money” or “wealth.” Few Christians believe in the old demon as a living entity, determined to come between them and god, yet they still honor the ancient lesson: focus on serving God rather than amassing worldly wealth.
Mammon has fared better in fictional literature. He appears in several classic titles, including John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Ben Johnson’s The Alchemist. He has also found a niche in role-playing games, popping up in the likes of Dungeons and Dragons and Final Fantasy.