For the ancient peoples of Greece, the daemon was a potent force for good or for evil. It was sometimes the familiar spirit of a particular place such as the Polis (city) or the wilderness. It could come in the form of an animal, the double of an individual, or as a human like entity. It did not appear as a ghost and actually took bodily form and took on the appearance of containing mass. It could leave a footprint. Thus, when Jesus says, “A phantom of a devil maketh no footprint on the earth”, (1) he is in no wise saying he is not merely an apparition. In Luke’s gospel Jesus says, “for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have”, (2) which does not indicate he is not a docetic figure either. It merely indicates he is not a ghost.
There were good demons and bad demons. The good was the ‘noble spirit’ or agathodaimon, and the bad was a ‘malevolent spirit’ or kakodaimon. As far back as we can trace in Greek mythology, the daimon was a good force while the keres is the early form of the kakodaimon, which flew out of Pandora’s box. For Plato and Socrates, the daemon’s were the spirits of Atlantis. In Dionysian rituals, wine was drunk in propitiation ceremonies much like the eucharist, to the genius of the dead. The genius in Roman culture was the soul of a person that guided their actions and dictated what they were good at or destined to do.
As time wore on, the demon took on negative connotations in 4th century Christianity as well as early Islam. The Satan or Jinn figure was a demon that one made a bargain with in order to receive a certain desire or wish and gave up their soul (genius?) in the process. Plato speaks of the daemon of Socrates in the Symposium, Phaedrus, Cratylus, and the Apology of Socrates as a mostly positive figure that helped Socrates with mundane things. Hesiod and Homer spoke of the daimon as well. Even the books of Judges and Kings in the Bible have a familiar spirit of Samuel which is not a ghost either. The agathodaimon by the mid 3rd century in the time of Origen and Tertullian, was now seen as the guardian angel and Simonians were accused of worshiping angels, which is the very thing they were actually against.
By the Middle ages, witches were accused of summoning demons to aid them in their practice of and skillful progression in magic ritual. Cunning folk were said to summon fairies to work for them. Some witches familiar spirits were animals as in ancient Greek tales. In Against Heresies by Irenaeus we find that Simon Magus, Marcus the Magician, and Carpocrates were said to use love charms, familiar spirits, demons, and dream-senders. All were different classes of daemon. Hippolytus repeats the claims about Simon Magus in his 6th book. Origen even accused the Magi of using familiars.
In Germany, the doppelganger was said to be the harbinger of death and the double of a person. In ancient Egypt, the Ka or Twin soul was much like the genius or double. The Jews saw this as idol worship and when the LXX was translated from Hebrew in to Greek, the word for idol was changed to demon. The Jews thought that men were being worshiped when in fact, men were revering the inner divinity that was in them but outside and separate from them. This same concept appears in the Gospels of Luke and Thomas when Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God being inside of us and in the Gospel of John and the Psalms of David when it says, “ye are gods”. (3)
The word fairie actually derives from fata in Latin. The fates (Moirai in Greek) were the spirits that controlled the destiny of individuals. Thus, they could interact with an individual on their own terms and alert them of what was coming because they knew what was coming. There were three of them. Thus, one could be the evil one, one could be good, and one could be your double. In Egypt, this was similar to Ma’at (truth in a sense) which is parallel to Aletheia among the Gnostics. There was even Sa’a (wisdom) as Sophia among the Egyptians. For the Vedic people this was Rta. However, these are more like Dike’ of the Greeks and represent cultural norms and cultural mores. So, while scholars have drawn some parallels they are merely correlations. It would be a mistake to say the daemon is anything like Ma’at. Dike is more like Horos or Plato’s limit.
The Gospel stories and the accusations against Simon Magus bear many of the stamps of the Apology of Socrates in which Socrates is accused by Meletus of being a corrupter of the youth and teaching men to follow spirits and demigods rather than the Olympians. Jesus is made into a bastard son of God and Simon a corrupter of Justa’s adopted sons Aquila and Nicetas in the Clementine Homilies. Jesus like Simon is accused of being a Samaritan possessed by a daemon!
Socrates told Cratylus, “And I say too, that every wise man who happens to be a good man is more than human (daimonion) both in life and death, and is rightly called a demon.” (4)
The following is said in the Symposium:
“What then is Love?” I asked; “Is he mortal?”
“As in the former instance, he is neither mortal nor immortal, but in a mean between the two.”
“What is he, Diotima?”
“He is a great spirit (daimon), and like all spirits he is intermediate between the divine and the mortal.”
“And what,” I said, “is his power?”
“He interprets,” she replied, “between gods and men, conveying and taking across to the gods the prayers and sacrifices of men, and to men the commands and replies of the gods; he is the mediator who spans the chasm which divides them, and therefore in him all is bound a together, and through him the arts of the prophet and the priest, their sacrifices and mysteries and charms, and all, prophecy and incantation, find their way. For God mingles not with man; but through Love. all the intercourse, and converse of god with man, whether awake or asleep, is carried on. The wisdom which understands this is spiritual; all other wisdom, such as that of arts and handicrafts, is mean and vulgar. Now these spirits mor intermediate powers are many and diverse, and one of them is Love.” (5)
For Diotima, the daemon acts as an intermediary between gods and men, existing in an intermediate state or nature. This is like Hermes, the messenger of the gods, or Thoth. This is the Christ of the Hermetic tradition essentially. Diotima was from Mantineia in the Peloponnese not far from Corinth. It was apparently an ancient argument among the Greeks whether to pray to Gods or to an intercessor.
Next, there is the dream-sender (Oniropompi) and this being appears in the New Testament. When Jesus is on trial before Pilate a dream is sent to Pilate’s wife by Jesus.
“When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.” (13)
This same thing occurs to Queen Helena in the Toldoth Yeshu. Another instance of a dream sender working it’s magic is in the Acts of the Apostles 19:9 when Jesus (“the Lord”) appears to Paul in his dream to instruct him.
Irenaeus associates these practices such as raising familiars with the art of exorcism, something Jesus is known to have done a lot of. The most famous of which was the raising of Lazarus of Bethany in the Gospel of John. In the Gospels there are about nine major exorcism incidents involving Jesus, and his disciples go on to perform the same miracles in Acts and in the Apocryphal Acts. The very act of exorcism was against Jewish custom and law. It was a Canaanite practice of the witch of Endor which Saul and the Israelites of the North also practiced.
Six of the nine exorcisms occur in both Mark and Luke, one only occurs in Matthew, one only in Luke, and one exclusively in Matthew and Mark. There are three resurrection events. One is found in the synoptics (Jairus’ daughter), one in Luke (man of Nain), and one in John (Lazarus). (14) The Jesus of the synoptics is much more of a miracle working magician. It seems to me that as time wore on Magic became more hated as women became more looked down upon in the church. After all, the greatest magic back then was that of child birth not that of walking on hot coals!
1. Epistula Apostolorum 11- earlychristianwritings.com M.R. James
2. Gospel of Luke 24:37-39 KJV earlychristianwritings.com
3. Gospel of John 10:34, Psalms 82:6 “A psalm of Asaph”
4. Cratylus, Plato. http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/cratylus.html
5. Symposium, Plato. http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/symposium.html
6. AH 1.23.4
7. AH 1.13.3
8. AH 1.25.3
9. Hippolytus 6.2
10. Hippolytus 6.15
11. Origen CC 1.60
12. Gospel of Matthew 27:19.
13. Acts of the Apostles
14. Mark 1:21-28, 5:1-20, 7:24-30, 3:20-30, 9:14-29, 1:32-34, 16:9, 5:21-43; Luke 4:31-37, 8:26-39, 11:14-23, 9:37-49, 4:40-41, 8:2, 8:40-56, 7:11-17; Matthew 8:28-34, 15:21-28, 12:22-32, 17:14-21, 8:16-17, 9:32-34, 9:18-26; John 11:1-44. (note that there are no exorcisms in John’s gospel oddly enough)