This article deals with the concept, and the development of the concept, of daimon (Greek δαίμων), and the influence of demonism in non-Christian religion, mythology, and folklore.
Concept and Development
The word occurs first in Homer, and the concept itself had a complex development in Greek literature, mythology, religion, and philosophy. However, the concept is likewise found fully developed in numerous other cultures and civilizations.
In Homer and Hesiod. In Homer it is applied to one of the great deities, e.g., Aphrodite (Iliad 3.420), and thus is used almost synonymously with θεός, θεά "god, goddess." More frequently, however, it denotes the occasional manifestation of some indistinct supernatural or divine power; e.g., Il. 11.792: σὺν δαίμονι "by the grace of divine power"; ibid. 17.98: πρὸς δαίμονα, "defying divine power." Daimon may also refer to the power controlling the destiny of an individual and thus come near the significance of a man's "lot" or "fate," e.g., Iliad 8.66: πάρος τοι δαίμονα δώσω, "first I will give you your lot," that is, I will kill you.
In Hesiod (Op. 121–126; cf. 252–255) the souls of the men of the Golden Age have "by the will of Zeus" become "benevolent daimones on earth (δαίμονες ἐπιχθόνιοι), watchers of mortal men," invisibly roaming the earth, dispensing riches like kings and taking note of right and wrong. They are powers working among men "on earth"; hence they are called ἐπιχθόνιοι, in contrast to the ἐπουράνιοι, "celestial," gods whose sphere of activity extends to the inaccessible realms beyond this world. Because of their lofty state—they have raised from human mortality to godlike immortality—Hesiod describes them as daimones, a name that otherwise he and Homer apply to the gods. In the same sense, Hesiod (Theogony 991) refers to Phaethon who, after his ill starred attempt to drive the chariot of the sun, was snatched up by Aphrodite, raised to immortality, and installed as her "nightly temple-keeper," δαίμονα δ[symbol omitted]ον, "a godlike daimon."
The Hesiodic conception of "earthly" daimones as a kind of agent or minister of the gods—a conception no doubt older than the Boeotian poet and inherited by him from tradition—opened the way to later speculation according to which the daimones form a separate class of beings standing midway between divine completeness and human incompleteness. There are both good and evil daimones. Plato (Apology 27D) refers to a general belief of his day, when he defines the daimones as second-rank supernatural powers, "illegitimate children of the gods either by nymphs or by some other mothers."
To this class belong the δαίμονες πρόπολοι of the gods, a term that Plato (Leg. 848D) explains by describing them as "the daimones attending the gods." In literature there appear a great number of such daimones forming the entourage of a god, e.g., the Satyrs and Sileni of Dionysus, the Curetes of the Cretan child-Zeus, the Corybantes of Rhea Cybele, the daimones around Demeter, and the ghostly hosts of Hecate. Mention must be made also of the demonic personifications of abstract or poetic ideas, such as Aidos (Shame), Ate (Blind Folly), Dike (Justice), Eris (Strife), Thanatos (Death), and others. They are divinized demonic powers to whom worship is paid on altars and in shrines. It is worthy of note that the "attendant" daimones are especially numerous in the company of chthonic deities with their gloomy
cults. Moreover, as a result of the steadily increasing number of such lesser supernatural beings, the word daimon, if occurrences in magic papyri are excepted, is less frequently employed to denote one of the great gods.
Bringers of calamities and spirits of the dead. The tendency develops as well to ascribe to the daimones all the various kinds of calamities that may befall man in his earthly career. While the gods are generally looked upon as benevolent powers, the word daimon, though in itself not denoting an evil force, is actually used in this pejorative sense because of a certain awe against putting the blame for misfortunes on the gods. This marks the beginning of a depreciation of the word daimon. Since the daimones are thought to be in charge of human fate, they are especially associated with ill luck and distress. An examination of the tragic poets shows that the passages in which the daimon brings upon an individual suffering, disease, death, and other misfortunes, that is, something that is contrary to his will and expectations, are far more numerous than those in which the word daimon signifies a happy fate.
Repeatedly the spirits of the dead also are called daimones by the tragic poets. Thus, after their death, King Darius and Alcestis are referred to as daimones (Aeschylus, Persians 641–646; Euripides, Alcestis 1002f). The word daimon is then quite commonly employed to denote the dead spirit of a particular person (e.g., Pausanias6.6.8). As a rule, however, not the singular, but the plural word is used somewhat illogically of the single spirit (Philo, Leg. Ad Gaium 65; Lucian, De luctu 24; Inscriptiones graecae [Berlin— ] 14:1683, Δαίμοσιν ε[symbol omitted]σεβέσιν Γαίου Ἰουλίου Καρακουττίου, corresponding to the common Roman form of epitaph on the tombs from the early empire, "Dis Manibus of so-and-so").
Daimon and the individual. From the narrower conception of divine power surrounding man and controlling his destiny, there develops the belief that a special daimon is associated with the individual from birth, ruling over him through his life and guiding his soul as he departs for Hades. This idea, already found in Plato (Phaedo 107D) and Aristotle (frg. 193, ed. V. Rose), comes to full fruition in the Hellenistic period with its conscious individualism. It finds expression, e.g., in the well-known fragment of the comic poet Menander (frg. 714, eds. Koerte, Thierfelder): "A daimon stands by every man, straightway from his birth, a beneficent guide initiating him into the mysteries of life, for it is unthinkable that there is an evil daimon doing harm to upright life." In this passage, Menander obviously rejects a belief widespread at that time, according to which the good aspirations and accomplishments of an individual were ascribed to his good daimon, while the evil desires and deeds were attributed to the evil daimon within him. In this way the struggle between conscience and evil desires could be represented as a contest between these two daimones in man. This dualistic conception of the daimon also explains such compound as ε[symbol omitted]δαίμων, "a person who is guided by a good daimon " κακοδαίμων, "a person who is under the influence of an evil daimon "; and cognate words.
In this connection Socrates described his daimonion as a voice of divine origin which he heard within him, dissuading him from doing something, but never inciting him to action. On the other hand, Xenophon (Memorials of Socrates 1.1.2–4) represents Socrates' daimonion as a constructive, creative force, both constraining and impelling him. However Socrates himself may have conceived this daimonion ; not a few among its contemporaries were convinced that there was a sort of higher being within him that acted through this voice.
In the later Hellenistic period these various meanings of the word daimon are less prominently employed in general usage. The exception is the one that designates daimonions as beings that, though below the gods in rank and power, are nonetheless above men and intervene in human life and fortune. Normal everyday usage, and popular belief, can be seen clearly in the magic papyn and curse-tablets (tabellae defixionum ).
Influence in Religion, Mythology, and Folklore
The belief in demonic being as forming an intermediate realm between the gods and men has played an important part in the religions, mythologies, and popular traditions of all peoples the world over. These mysterious beings vary in character from the simply playful and mockingly mischievous to the ghastly and terrifying. Often they are invisible, though not incorporeal. They appear in human or animal or half-human, half-animal shapes. Having the power to change form in the twinkling of an eye, they are active in unusual places, at particular times, and in uncommon events in nature and human life.
Nature daimones or demons. Nature demons form the most numerous group. Popular belief peopled the mountains and forests of ancient Greece with goat-like Satyrs and horse-shaped Sileni. There was Arcadian Pan, at the outset simply a generative demon of flocks and herds, haunting the summer pastures in the mountains and playing his syrinx at noontide when the flocks grazed peacefully, but also causing a sudden panic when the animals, seized for some unknown reason by fright broke away in a stampede. At many places, especially in caves and at springs, there were believed to be nymphs— beautiful, young, fairylike women, fond of music and dancing, usually amorous and benevolent, but also dangerous and threatening: if a man lost his mind, it was said that he had been "caught by the nymphs" (νυμφόληπτος).
In ancient Italy Faunus, the native numen of the woods, was identified with Pan and was represented, like Pan, with horns and goats' feet. The mythology and folklore of northern Europe include a large number of similar spirits to whom the varied appearances of nature, terrifying or attractive, have given form and character: trolls, pixies, mermen, mermaids, nixes, and dwarfs, many of them dangerous, some with alluring beauty. Ancient Semitic demonology likewise recognized a great number of nature demons haunting lonely places. Reference to them is made in the OT prophecies against Babylon (Is 13.21) and Edom (ibid. 34.14): both will be laid waste and become lurking-places of desert animals, satyrs, and other demons.
Heat, night, and other demons. The strange sensations caused by the scorching heat in summer and the languor then falling upon the landscapes of southern Europe and Oriental desert countries created the mid-day demon. The feeling of the eerie, experienced in the dark hours of the night and strengthened by other night fears, such as unexplained sounds in the midst of darkness and silence, gave birth to the Norse gandreid, "the spirits' ride," and Aasgaardsreia, "Asgard's chase," to Holla's troop and Perchta's host in German folklore, and to Hecate's swarm of ghosts haunting the crossroads after nightfall in Greek mythology. The lonely traveler in the desert at night is confronted by the gul, a generic Arabic name for any sort of specter. It changes its shape and appearance, and men faint at the sight of it. Rabbinical literature was acquainted with demons of morning and midday, evening and night.
Other demons owe their existence to sensations experienced in sleep. Nightmare demons (incubi ) were supposed to ride or press people during sleep, the sleeper's feelings varying from great pain or oppression to mild or even voluptuous sensation. Among these are the Greek Ephialtes (ἐφιάλτης, "one who leaps upon"), the Old Norse Mara (cf. The Danish Mare, the German Mahr, English "nightmare," and the French cauchemar ). In upper Germany the nightmare demon was known as Alp, Schrat, or Trude. The Greeks also knew a number of other uncanny specters, e.g., Lamia (akin to the Jewish Lilith), a hideous monster that abducted children and attacked women in childbed. Other demonic beings of this kind were Alphito, Akko, Empusa, called also Onoskelis (donkey-footed), Gello, Karko, and Momo, which drank the blood of men and ate their flesh. They belonged to such fables as imprudent nurses were wont to tell to small children, both to frighten them into good behavior and also to entertain them.
As bringers of disease. Finally, the source of a disease was supposed to be the direct influence of a demon. Especially mental disorders and those diseases whose natural causes were unknown were associated with the world of demons. If a man lay wasting of disease or became mentally deranged, it was thought that a demon was surely within him, manifesting malevolence. Because there could be no recovery until the demon was exorcised, it was to the exorcising of demons that such a large part of Babylonian religious literature was devoted. Even today, it is the office of the sorcerer or medicine man among primitive peoples to detect and expel the malign influence of a demon thought to be the source of a malady.
Various theories have been advanced to explain demonism. It has been regarded as a development of an original belief in impersonal powers (dynamism), of animism, and of earlier polydemonism evolving through polytheistic or other routes to monotheism. Each of these theories is one-sided because the phenomena are independent of each other and defy arrangement in successive stages.
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