Hey y’all, new pet project. I love mythology, demons, religion, history, literature, all that jazz. As a result, I really love the Persona series, and its parent-franchise Shin Megami Tensei as an extension of that. To that end, I wanna delve into the backgrounds and mythologies of the personas in Persona 5, because that’s the one I’ve been playing recently.
To give you a very quick rundown, personas in this game are representations of an aspect of personality. They take the form of figures from mythology and they are used in battle to cast spells and use skills. They are recruited in one of two ways. The first is by negotiating with them in battle. After knocking your enemies down with a critical attack you can talk with them, and potentially bring them over to your cause if you say the right things. Alternatively, you can fuse two (or sometimes more) personas together to make a new persona. This persona will gain some skills from its parents and can also get a power boost based on your progress in the game’s social aspect.
Let’s start with the Fool arcana.
The Fool represents innocence, divine inspiration, madness, freedom, spontaneity, inexperience, chaos and creativity
Obariyon / Piggyback Demon
This demon is a yokai (a term for supernatural spirits and monsters) from Japan. Known as the ‘piggyback demon’ it leaps onto the backs of travellers and becomes unbearably heavy. Their name translates roughly to “give me a piggyback” and it’s what they shout as they leap onto unsuspecting travellers. Differences in dialects mean that this demon has different names in different wards. There is a belief that if a person is able to carry this heavy demon all the way home, they will find that it has turned into a sack of gold coins. This is thought to be a metaphor for putting up with difficult children, as putting up with their demands may lead to reward. Children are selfish and burdensome, but in the end worth the effort. Apparently.
The Obariyon is quite a recent addition to the franchise. Within the Persona series, it often learns punching moves and the ever-useful Dekaja which is used to nullify any stat-boosts the enemy may have accrued. They can be encountered as enemies only in the Mementos dungeon.
High Pixie / Prankster Leader
This persona is a high-rank version of a persona from another arcana, namely the pixie. These are described as being the leader of a swarm of pixies and defenders of the Seelie Court, and are known as skilled defenders, fiercely loyal. Fairies, in British and Irish folklore, can be categorised into either the Seelie or Unseelie Court (a holdover from the Germanic dichotomy of light elves and dark elves). Seelie comes from words that mean happy, lucky or blessed in the old languages of England and Scotland. The Seelie court is the light court, and is known to be kind, to repay the good deeds of humans and to warn them when they have been offended.
In Persona 5, the High Pixie is a useful persona for the time that you can acquire her as she has a high magic stat and learns the useful Diarama (strong single-target healing), Media (group-healing) spells, along with some wind magic. They can be found in the third storyline dungeon of the game. In many games, the High Pixie actually evolves from the regular Pixie (evolution being a very rare occurrence in these games), and is often the first evolution a player will experience.
Decarabia / Vicious Pentagram
One of the 72 demons of the Goetia, listed as number sixty-nine (nice). The Goetia is a practice that involves the summoning of demons (specifically those summoned by the Biblical King Solomon), and many interesting books have been published on the subject. Famous occultist Aleister Crowley published the Lesser Key of Solomon in English, bringing these demons into the 20th century.
Decarabia is described as a Great Marquis of Hell that takes the form of a pentagram star when summoned, though does have the ability to take the form of a human. He knows the properties of all herbs and stones.
Decarabia is often associated with Fire spells in Persona, and is consistently a spellcaster in the SMT franchise as a whole. It can be found in the fifth story dungeon and uses a clever technique of summoning a wall protecting it against physical attacks, something that it is weak against.
Legion / Fused Ghost
Legion is an amalgam of demons from Christianity named for the Roman legion, which consisted of between 3000 and 6000 men. In the New Testament, Jesus crosses the Dead Sea and encounters a man who is possessed, living amongst some tombs. When confronted the man tells Jesus that he is possessed by multiple demons (notably telling Jesus their name, something often important in traditional exorcism), saying “We are Legion, for we are many.” The demons beg Jesus not to send them away, but to send them into a herd of pigs nearby. Jesus does this, and the large herd of pigs charge into the sea, killing themselves. This is used by some scholars to demonstrate that animal kindness and environmentalism is not a tenet of Christianity, along with Jesus’s famed cursing of a fig tree.
Legion is a popular figure(s) in popular culture, often being referenced with his trademark catchphrase and quirky ‘many things inhabiting one form’ nature.
In Persona 5 Legion is one of the few demons that can only be found in the Mementos dungeon. It is often a dark-aligned demon, learning the instant death Mudo, Mudoon and Mamudo skills along with annoying status effect skills such as Paral Eyes and Negative Pile.
Ose / Cruel Leopard
Like Decarabia above, Ose is one of the 72 demons of the Goetia. Unlike Decarabia he is a President of Hell, not a Great Marquis. Like Decarabia, Ose in the Shin Megami Tensei series takes his form from his description in the Goetia, as one who can shapeshift into the form of a leopard. It is said his power is to reveal the truth behind divine mysteries.
Ose is one of the longer-standing demons in the series, and is primarily a physical attacker, as you may guess from the swords. In Persona 5 he does a good job of this, being able to buff the party’s strength whilst also being able to choose single-target and multiple-target attacks. He can also inflict the rage ailment, which makes an enemy attack relentlessly without using their skills. This pairs well with his Counterattack ability, which will send the damage right back at his enraged foes.
Bugs / Stalking Puppet
Bugs, or Bugbear or Bogeyman, is classified as a Welsh mythological creature in Persona 5, a fact I absolutely did not know. They are used by parents to frighten their children into good behaviour and are often used as representations of terror. The Bugbear specifically was imagined as a demon bear that ate small children, hence the… small skulls inside it.
The concept of the Bugs is not one specific to Wales though, and if you head to the Wikipedia page for it you’ll find that scaring children into obedience with the threat of demonic ingestion is a phenomenon found the world over, like fried dough and bladed weaponry.
The Bugs is a very rare demon in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise, found only in four games, only two of which made it over to the west (Persona 5 and Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers). It’s a mid-level demon with little identity in its moveset. It can inflict psychic damage, debuff the enemies’ agility and use both physical and gun attacks. Notably, Bugs is made via a fusion of three demons who each represent a part of its identity.
- Pixie, a quintissentially British demon;
- Hariti, an Asian demon who eats children;
- Pisaca, a Hindu demon who feasts on flesh.
Dionysus / Hedonistic Braggart
Famed Greek god of wine, theatre and fertility. He is also known as Bacchus in the Roman pantheon and is the root of the word Baccanalia which is just sublimely fitting.
In some circles he was known as the Liberator, in that through the acts associated with him (read: getting pissed) a person is freed from their usual selves. To this end, his divine mission was to end worry and care. Within Greek mythology, he is one of Zeus’s many, many, many, (read: many)* offspring. His mother was a mortal woman, Semele.
Dionysus is associated with the Thiasus, or ‘ecstatic retinue’ who were often portrayed as drunken revelers. Most prominent of these were the maenads, who were human female followers who dressed in animal skins and knew how to frolic. They would hold Bacchanalia where they would revel in ecstasy for hours, culminating in great feats of strength and madness, such as uprooting trees or tearing apart a bull with their bare hands and eating its flesh.
In the Shin Megami Tensei series, Dionysus is often associated with electric spells and the ability to cause fury in his foes. Notably in Persona 5 he is able to inflict a foe with despair and then follow it up with Psiodyne, which deals extra damage against foes with mental afflictions. He is very often a high-leveled demon.
Black Frost / Evil Snowman
This demon is an evil version of the Shin Megami Tensei mascot Jack Frost who almost always takes the form of a very low level demon. According to the Persona series, a Black Frost is born when a Jack Frost wishes for power after remembering that it is, indeed, a demon. It is quite an iconic character in the series, being playable in Devil Survivor.
In many games, he is created through advanced fusion almost always consisting of a fusion between Jack Frost, Pyro Jack and King Frost.
Unsurprisingly, Black Frost is associated with ice skills, learning Bufudune, Mabufudyne and in Persona 5, Diamond Dust, which is the ultimate ice attack. Interestingly though, Black Frost has also been consistently associated with fire magic too, possibly signifying his demonic nature. He is often a mid-level persona thanks to his constituent parts being quite weak, but in Persona 5 he is the highest level Fool persona you can acquire without being at the very end of the game or being in New Game+.
Vishnu / The Ultimate Fool Arcana
Vishnu is widely known as one of the major gods of the Hindu pantheon and is one of the Hindu Triad along with Brahma and Shiva. He is known as the preserver of the universe and legends say that across time he will make 10 appearances to strike down evil and preserve justice.
This god has his origin in Vedic mythology where he assisted Indra (God of War and Weather) defeat Vritra (a dragon who stole the world’s water). His first appearance in Hindu mythology was as an avatar, a fish, which spoke to the first man and warned him of a Great Flood. In response, the first man took his huge ship and filled it with plants and animals before taking it to the mountains to avoid the high water levels. He is the husband of Lakshmi, and also has a form that is the fusion of himself and Shiva, Harihara (who is the final boss of Digital Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner).
Vishnu has many appearances in the series, with many different forms. He often has control of healing magic and electric spells, but has also been associated with sleep magic, holy death magic and wind magic. In fact, in Persona 5 Vishnu is the only demon who learns Vacuum Wave, the ultimate wind magic.
Vishnu is often a very important figure in Shin Megami Tensei games, joining the party in Shin Megami Tensei, fusing with a main character in Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse and being an optional boss in Digital Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner 2.