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- For the evil spirits of Christianity, see Demon
The words daemon and daimon, sometimes dæmon, are distinctively Hellenizing or Latinate spellings of δαιμων, used purposefully today to distinguish the daemons of Greek mythology, good or malevolent "supernatural beings between mortals and gods, such as inferior divinities and ghosts of dead heroes", from the Judeo-Christian usage demon, "a malignant spirit that can possess humans". The Greek translation of the Septuagint, made for the Greek-speaking Jews of Alexandria, and the usage of daimon in the New Testament's original Greek text, caused the Greek word to be applied to a Judeo-Christian spirit by the early 2nd century CE. Then in late antiquity, pagan conceptions and exorcisms, part of the cultural atmosphere, became Christian beliefs and exorcism rituals. The transposition has recently been documented in detail, in North Africa, by Maureen Tilley (see Links).
For Greeks and Romans, daemons ("replete with knowledge", "divine power", "fate" or "god") were not necessarily evil. Socrates claimed to have a daimonion, a small daemon, that warned him against mistakes but never told him what to do or coerced him into following it. He claimed that his daimon exhibited greater accuracy than any of the forms of divination practised at the time. The Hellenistic Greeks divided daemons into good and evil categories: eudaemons (also called calodaemons) and cacodaemons, respectively. Eudaemons resembled the Abrahamic idea of the guardian angel; they watched over mortals to help keep them out of trouble. (Thus eudaemonia, originally the state of having a eudaemon, came to mean "well-being" or "happiness".) A comparable Roman genius accompanied a person or protected and haunted a place (genius loci).
In Plato's Symposium, the priestess Diotima teaches Socrates that love is not a god, but rather a good daemon.
Daemons were important in Neo-Platonic philosophy. In the Christian reception of Platonism, the eudaemons were identified with the angels.
- "They are impure and wandering spirits, who, after having been steeped in earthly vices, have departed from their celestial vigour by the contagion of earth, and do not cease, when ruined themselves, to seek the ruin of others; and when degraded themselves, to infuse into others the error of their own degradation. These demons the poets also acknowledge, and Socrates declared that he was instructed and ruled at the will of a demon; and thence the Magi have a power either for mischief or for mockery, of whom, however, the chief Hostanes both says that the form of the true God cannot be seen, and declares that true angels stand round about His throne.
- "These spirits, therefore, are lurking under the statues and consecrated images: these inspire the breasts of their prophets with their afflatus, animate the fibres of the entrails, direct the flights of birds, rule the lots, give efficiency to oracles, are always mixing up falsehood with truth, for they are both deceived and they deceive;10 they disturb their life, they disquiet their slumbers; their spirits creeping also into their bodies, secretly terrify their minds, distort their limbs, break their health, excite diseases to force them to worship of themselves, so that when glutted with the steam of the altars and the piles of cattle, they may unloose what they had bound, and so appear to have effected a cure. The only remedy from them is when their own mischief ceases."
The daemons are real enough— "the principle is the same, which misleads and deceives, and with tricks which darken the truth, leads away a credulous and foolish rabble"— it is relying upon them that is deceptive. In this way the daemons passed easily into Christian "demons."
The specific motivation for the orgy of inspired destruction of Greek and Roman sculpture unleashed at the end of the 4th century, as soon as Christianity was in secure control, is revealed here: the images were inhabited by demons. As in all such destruction, the faces were especially attacked: "defaced."
The North African Apuleius summed up their character in the Golden Ass (2nd century CE): "The daemones have an animal nature, a rational mind, a soul subject to passions, an aetherial body and they are immortal." The Hellenic and Roman gods were increasingly seen as immovable, untouched by human sorrows and suffering, existing in a perfect heavenly sphere (compare Epicurus, Lucretius). The daemones were earthbound, passion-tormented, and in Late Antiquity, loremasters were separating them into the noble kinds and troublemaking kinds. The gnostic followers of Valentinus multiplied the circles of daemons and gave them oversight in various areas of concern to people: oracles, animals, and, interestingly, as "patron daemons" of nations or occupations (compare Patron saint).
In the process of Christianizing Roman populations in the official Christianity from the late 4th century, theologians, hermits and monks, and the bishops and presbyters who influenced individuals, had their own repertoire of ideas, which were derived from Scripture and from the ambient culture of Late Antiquity. Within the Christian tradition, ideas of "demons" derived as much from the literature that came to be regarded as apocryphal and even heretical as it did from the literature accepted as canonical.
The lore of Hermes Trismegistus is a source both for pagan and Christian conceptions of daemons, for in the Corpus Hermeticum, they functioned as the gatekeepers of the spheres through which souls passed on their way to the highest heaven, the Empyrean. As the Early Medieval St. Gall sacramentary testifies to the continuity of this belief of daemones in the oldest extant prayer for anointing the dying:
- "I anoint you with sanctified oil that in the manner of a warrior prepared through anointing for battle you will be able to prevail over the aery hordes."
Phillip Pullman has used the personal daemon in his His Dark Materials trilogy, which is largely set in a parallel world in which most people have a daemon in the form of an animal; although this also resembles the witches' familiar.
In the 1st century BCE, the Arabian city Eudaemon (usually indentified with the port of Aden) was a transshipping port in the Red Sea trade. (The city and surrounding country are the Latin Arabia Felix. It was described in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (probably 1st century CE) as if it had fallen on hard times. Of the auspiciously named port we read that
- Eudaemon Arabia was once a fully-fledged city, when vessels from India did not go to Egypt and those of Egypt did not dare sail to places further on, but came only this far.
- Maureen A. Tilley, "Exorcism in North Africa: Localizing the (Un)holy" explores the meanings of daimon among Christians in Roman Africa and exorcism practices that passed seamlessly into Christian ritual.
- Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol V: Cyprian, "On the Vanity of Idols" e-text Daemons inhabiting the images of gods
- Nabataean Travel: trade on the Red Sea