Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What is a Demon?

Demonology is a hot topic in Fortean circles currently. With the advent of paranormal investigation becoming pop culture and the flurry of 'deomonologists' associated with them making a mark in paranormal media, the focus on demons would seem inevitable and logical. There is also the disturbing research of author Nick Redfern in his wonderful work 'Final Events'; which focuses on a possible Government cover up of demonic UFO activity for decades. In almost all areas of unexplained phenomena, investigators are linking Fortean topics to diabolic ethereal forces.

But what is a demon?

There are various theories by various experts with varied world views.

That tends to make it very confusing.

I'd like to make an attempt to look at the topic historically, theologically and practically in a series of posts here on my blog.

First, I think we need to look at the etymology of the word 'Demon' to give us a historical perspective on the meaning of the word. It is like many things an evolution and convolution of ideas philosophical and theological.

First, let look at the Hellenistic Etymology of the word.

The original meaning of δαίμων 'daimon' or demon in antiquity was far different than the meaning as we understand it today. Its overall meaning, according to its first use in the Homeric Epics is “a power that accompanies men and dispenses destiny”. Homer sees it as an impersonal power or one of a divinity that distributes incidents in the individuals’ life.

The term then becomes personified as Hesiod includes demons in his classification of rational beings, in which he categorizes them as men who have passed on into an immortal afterlife.
Plato later expands the meaning in multiple ways: by calling demons as the offspring of gods and other beings who become interpreters between man and the gods(Epinomis 984E); by classifying them as spirits akin to guardian angels that watch over cities and individuals(Phaedo 107D; Republic 617D; Statesman 271D, 272E); and finally as the highest and divine element in man(Timaeus 90A).

Plato’s student Xenocrates and others expanded these concepts even further by suggesting that there were three classes of demons: those that were eternally disembodied spirits, the disembodied souls of the dead and the soul or sentient force that abides in man. Within this framework the demon was also given human emotions and motivations as well as the moral distinction that some of these beings were good, while others were evil.

By the 4th century the word became associated with primarily evil or unlucky events, and the demon became a kind of scapegoat for the gods. Demons became the source of trouble and woe to the human race and eventually they were regarded as evil entities, even though the idea of both good and evil demons still remained in the philosophical debate.

Plutarch and Apuleius further developed demonology by determining that the individual was constantly surrounded by these unseen forces and they affected them on a daily basis. They developed the demonology of the early Christian Era, and Plutach postulated that the gods of the polytheists were in fact demonic spirits (Moralia 361C; 415A-419A). Judiasm in the Pre-Christian era had already adopted this philosophy that demons were evil intermediate beings, and the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthian Church also attests that pagan gods are in fact demonic entities (1 Corinthians 10:10)

The belief in demon possession became widespread, leading to exorcism by pagans(Lucian, Lover of Lies 16; Philostratus, Life of Appollonius IV.20), Jews(Josephus, Antiquities VIII.ii.5[46-49], and Christians(Acts of Peter II; Justin, Apology II,5).

In the evolution of the concept of demons and demonology, it is interesting to see how analogous the original and primary concept of the term is with our modern notion of ‘spirit’. Being an ethereal but manifest force is of course the primary characteristic of demons as we view them today. However it is very interesting to see that the ancients talked about an animating force that was both outside of them as divine and internally as a guiding presence. According to The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Empedocles believed that “daimon was a separate spiritual being, not the psyche which accompanied a man from birth” (Brown, 1979, Vol.1 p.450). This discussion itself shows that some may have thought that demons were also internal beings that also dwelt within men, perhaps producing unexplained feelings or emotions. This if true could be the basis for the concept of demon possession.

It is also fascinating to see that Plato’s students classified some demons as the disembodied spirits of the dead. Many Christians believe that ‘ghosts’ if real are demonic entities, and this would support that theory. However demon in our historical cultural context does denote evil primarily, and as we have seen ancient Greco-Roman culture did not adhere to that view exclusively. Therefore the theory cannot be substantiated by this historical anecdote. In our present philosophical understanding the 3 categories of demons proposed by Xenocrates and others can be distinguished as different and distinct phenomena. The soul “in” us is a different thing than a permanently disincarnate being; while they are both spiritual and ethereal in nature, it would seem theologically that they are distinct in substance. Also while Scripture does not specifically define what exactly a demon and a ‘ghost’ are in substance, it would seem by reference that they are also distinct from one another.Otherwise while during the storm on Galilee when the disciples though that Jesus was a ghost (Matt 14:22-32; Mark 6:45-52), would they not have tried to expel it from the area? After all they were trained and anointed to exorcise demons as they ministered in the area in the previous chapters (Matt 10; Mark 6:7-13). Thus this incident would imply that demons and ghosts are two distinct phenomena.

So we see that the term 'demon' has undergone quite an evolution in concept over its course in history. However, since the Christian Era in Western civilization the meaning has changed little. It is rather the theory of their origin and order that has changed greatly over the past 2,000 years as church Theologians and Rabbinical Kabbalists have tried to unravel the mystery of these ethereal entities. That topic will have to be addressed in a future part of our discussion.

For another interesting look at the demonic and the supernatural in Fortean studies I advise you to read: The source of the supernatural - A question that is not easy to answer By Rev. Barry Porter

Until Next Time,
Pastor Swope


007 said...

Hi Pastor Swope. What are your thoughts on the book of Enoch? In my opinion, it fills in alot of the details of the book of Genesis and gives me a satisfactory explanation of what demons really are.

Anonymous said...

That was so interesting, but confusing. Are you even a Christian?

Pastor Swope said...

Thanks 007,
Enoch is a good resource, of course seemingly referrenced in Jude, but it is not canonical for a lot of reasons. It is a late work (300bce) so it was not written by Enoch, but a writer posing as the historical figure. It was a widely read book at the time of the New Testament, but not considered to be inspired by God and rather a piece of literature that helped one to reflect upon truth. I would say it would be akin to what Frank Peretti's "This Present Darkness" is to our modern era.

Pastor Swope said...

Thanks Anonymous,

WOW. My sources are those that an Evangelical minister would use in Seminary when studying the New Testament. It does require some critical thinking. It is a historical look at the meaning of the word 'demon'. That it was confusing to you shows you were looking for a specific agenda. "demons are bad". Well of course they are in our current historical perspective and dealing with them. I have NO IDEA what makes you think I am not a Christian by a historical analysis of the word 'demon'. Is there anything in this that cannot be squared with The Apostle's Creed? Or the Nicene Creed? Do you even know what they are? What do you think a Christian is? I think you need to do some learnin'. Thank goodness you posted anonymous, that is embarassing. Your statement is entirely ignorant. It is the kind of thinking that stains the conservative Christian church and leads many to stay away from church and the Lord. It is Anti-Evangelistic thought at its best. This type of attitude and boxed in thinking is one of the reasons religion is dying in the Western world. I hope you have no leadership position in a church,if so please please please get thyself to a seminary or an intelligent Bible study led by someone who has been to a credible one.


May God Bless you on your spiritual journey.

Lawrence said...

On the etymology of 'demon', whilst as you relate it is derived from the Greek, the Greek may have an earlier Hebrew root. Many Greek words have Hebrew and Semitic origins (as does the Greek alphabet and thus our own Latin alphabet).

The Greek 'daimon' may have its roots in the Hebrew 'dimun' (I would give it in Hebrew letters but I seem to have some gremlin problem with my Hebrew software script at the moment, so sorry can't put it up in Hebrew). DiMuN means 'image'. 'LeDaMYeN' (Hebrew has no vowels so I put them in small case) means 'to imagine' or 'to visualise' in Hebrew.

Thus demons, with this possibly deeper etymology, are images. Of what? Well there is the rub, perhaps of our own deeper selves, projected outward? The demons are what we are, or - according to a more orthodox religious take - we attract the demons that reflect our own character and mindset. Or both. Can we so clearly distinguish between the Inner and the Outer? Either way, demons perhaps are ourselves or reflect different aspects of ourselves and are ultimately inseperable from who and what we are.

Anonymous said...

I agree about the Book of Enoch having missing pieces of a larger puzzle that's only hinted at throughout our Holy Bible. It may not be canonical, but that being the case, does not Christ refer to it when he mentions the angels who left their post?

Anonymous said...

thanks for a well researched article into the entomology of the word "demon." also thanks for not having a typical knee jerk "christian" response. i'm so bored with the ghost adventure type shows that equate every and all things unexplained or occult as evil. i kind of stayed away from your blog because of your "pastor" title but now i find i was mistaken and i will definitely give you a read. t'mara

Pastor Swope said...

Thanks Lawrence,

Kudos, great stuff! I agree 100%. Hebrew and I have a love/hate relationship I love the language but for some reason my brain hates it! So I use helps all the time. You research is great!If I remember, is it more of a reflection type of image? I seem to associate it with the analogy of someone looking into a dim mirror. I tend to think as with anything paranormal it is the person's unique mindset that gives one the perception of the phenomena. While talking with Stan Gordon after a recent interview he mentioned a UFO that was seen by a large group of people; but only 1/2 of them saw this giant glowing object overhead. Others saw nothing at all.

Pastor Swope said...

Thanks Anonymous,
He could be, but since there is not a direct passage quote like there is seemingly in Jude we can only infer that.

Pastor Swope said...

Thanks T'mara,

I appreciate that, it is why I started the blog. I also agree with you about the majority of tv shows out there. I've actually been approached by a show and giving it much prayer because of that very issue. I just wish they would bring UFO Hunters and Monsterquest back with new episodes. Those were the only two I could watch all the way through without getting upset,though they did not deal with apparitions so do they count?
Although I do love Haunted History, even though it's narrated by Lionel Luthor.

Howard said...

Rather than concentrate on the history of the WORD "demon", it would be interesting to look at the idea itself. For example, there were the evil spirits of 1 Samuel 16:14, 18:10, and 19:9 and Judges 9:23; these were under the control of God, but they were still "evil". The destroying angel of the 10th Plague may be related to Abaddon/Apollyon. Then there were the "python" spirits, such as the one that possessed the Oracle at Delphi.

Jennae said...

Hello Pastor Swope. I'm a huge fan of your work. Looking at the paranormal from a Christian point of view! That's great! In my blog, I cover a bunch of different topics, but I always keep coming up with demonic explanations. I'm glad you are talking about demons now as well. It's helping me gain some perspective and information that helps me form my own opinions on what's going on out there. Thank you so much!

Pastor Swope said...

Thanks Howard,

Wasn't there a real serpent at Delphi that Apollo killed?

I just want to know how the python went from Greece to the Amazon!

Pastor Swope said...

Thanks Jennae,

I am still going over how to go further, the topic can be overwhelming! So much History!
We will be getting into a lot of theories as well. Thanks for reading! I've been wanting to post more stories than articles, have a few missionary stories and such. Will hopefully get them out soon.

Howard said...

The Oracle at Delphi was called the Pythoness because of the spirit that possessed her.

See also Acts 16:16.

"And it came to pass in our going on to prayer, a certain maid, having a spirit of Python, did meet us, who brought much employment to her masters by soothsaying," (Young's Literal Translation)

"And it came to pass as we were going to prayer that a certain female slave, having a spirit of Python, met us, who brought much profit to her masters by prophesying." (Darby Translation)

"And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain girl, having a pythonical spirit, met us, who brought to her masters much gain by divining." (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition)

Pastor Swope said...

Thanks Howard,

Actually she was called the Pythian because of the legend of Apollo and the giant snake at Delphi called the Pythos (where we get the term 'python' I was making a little joke). Before the Grecian worship of Apollo at the Delphi site there was an ancient 'temple' on the cave site where the Mycenaeans worship an earth godess. Snakes in the ancient Hellenistic world were symbols of a localized daemon, small house shrines often had little live snakes that the family would offer a portion of their meals to every day.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Robin, sorry I have written in some time.

You should also take into account the way Demons are viewed from an Oriental perspective. In both China and India demons are seen as almost another life form very similar to Mankind but with what we might call "magical" powers. Some of these demons are seen as Good and help Mankind, others as Evil and do everything in their power to thwart Mankind, while others are middle of the road and, depending on how they feel, might help or hinter Mankind's efforts.


Anonymous said...

"In both China and India demons are seen as almost another life form very similar to Mankind but with what we might call "magical" powers. Some of these demons are seen as Good and help Mankind, others as Evil and do everything in their power to thwart Mankind"

Dear Morris,

I believe you're spot on. I'd like to alter your term from 'demon' to 'entity'. Since the latter is associated with horned creatures and your basic horror movies.

The idea here... regardless of your religion/path, is that entities separate man from god, whether you construct that idea being the Judeo-Christian/Zoroastrian form or the eastern Shamanistic form of one's higher self, being a flicker of god's emanation.

These entities exist all over the place. They infiltrate people's thinking, conscious and subconscious, and have consequences which can be detrimental long term.

So while many religions attempt to reconcile man with god, the entities do stand in the way and thus, it's a long, uphill battle.

David said...

Hello everyone.

Lawrence, it was really interesting to read your comment about the Hebrew meaning of the word demon - that being 'image,' and 'visualization,' it has really helped me in my own studies.

This meaning fits like a glove, with what I have already come to understand.

"Of what? That is the rub."

Lawrence, you will know of the fruits of the Spirit (God's Spirit), and as Paul called them, the fruits of the flesh, which is in reality, the fruits of the Devil's spirit; I often wondered why Paul never identified those fruits of the flesh, as the fruits of the Devil's spirit, but at the time, Paul said of himself, why do I do the things I wish not to do, and those things I wish to do, I do not do - what a wretched man I am - I think we read the Bible at times, without remembering that those men we read so much about, were still learning even as they walked so strongly in God's power.

When I suddenly came to understand, that our thinking is our spiritual/Spiritual hearing, my life changed big time!

The Devil's lies and temptations, are the 'images,' and 'visualizations' Lawrence.

The 'image,' and 'visualization' that was presented to Eve, the 'images,' and 'visualizations' that were presented to Jesus in the wilderness, and through Peter when Peter rebuked Jesus, when Jesus said He had to die (get behind Me Satan).

Greed, lust, unrighteous anger, lies (what we gain from telling them) etc etc etc, are all presented to us in our minds, our thinking, our spiritual/Spiritual hearing, as 'images,' and 'visualizations,' of gain, or loss. The Devil does not trouble himself with right and wrong, for to him nothing is wrong, and right does not matter; only God cares about, and makes any distinction between right and wrong, only God can declare right from wrong.
The Devil will never present us with an 'image' or 'visualization' of good, though he may/will mislead us, and cause us to misunderstand just what good is, such as the tolerance of evil.

"Who told you that you are naked?" - 'image,' 'visualization,' - 'knowledge' of, awareness of, it needs not to include understanding, as Paul said "why do I do the things I wish not to do, and those things I wish to do I do not do."

The tree of knowledge, I do not understand exactly what happened that day, though I think it had something to do with authority, and rights, but I do understand how since that day, the Devil and his demons, present us daily with lies and temptations, whenever he has an oportunity to.

We do and say nothing without thinking about it first, and what we say and do, our beliefs, opinions, behaviour, character, reveals which spirit/Spirit has gained our attention, and either for the short term, or the long term, gained our obedience, leading either to sin, or to righteousness.

Scripture tells that jealousy can be demonic; we always have an 'image,' or 'visualization' whenever we feel such jealous, pride, greed, lust, hate etc etc etc, we are always imagining, or visualizing how we will either gain something from another, or lose something to another, quite different to how God teaches us to give, and help, "it is better to give than to receive." "do unto others what you would have others do unto you," two opposing natures/Natures, characters,Characters, Spirits/Spirits - you will recognize them by their fruits.

"Renew your minds in Christ," - learn God's way, His Will, Word, plan.

Think about all the very dangerous imagery and visualization used in the Toronto Blessing, it is a powerful deception.


david said...

Lawrence, you comment has been a great help to me, it fits what I have already learnt, like a glove.

To 'imagine,' or 'visualize.'

Our thinking is our spiritual/Spiritual hearing, our behaviour, beliefs, doctrines, opinions, character, reaveal which spirit/Spirit has gained our attention, and won our obedience, either short term, or long.

We say and do nothing without thinking about it first; and we all need to renew our minds in Christ Jesus - that is to say, learn His Way, Scripture.

"Of what? That is the rub."

Lawrence, 'images,' and 'visualizations' of gain, advantage, or loss.

Such 'images' and 'visualizations' are simply temptations, or fears.

Think of the 'image' or 'visualization' that was put into Eve's mind, when the Devil talked her into eating fruit that God had already commanded that they should not, and explained why; the 'image' (picture painted - death) God had placed within Eve's mind, memory, thinking, was corrupted by the 'image' the Devil presented to Eve, Eve making the choice between the two 'images.'

Remember the 'images' the Devil presented to Jesus in the Wilderness, also when Peter rebuked Jesus, and in the Garden of Gethsemane.

'Images,' 'visualizations,' or in other words - thoughts - our thinking is our spiritual/Spiritual hearing.

"Who told you that you were naked?" or how did you come to know/learn that.

Pride - an 'image,' a 'visualization,' we have of ourselves.

Greed, an 'image,' or 'visualization' of how we can gain for ourselves.

Lust, an 'image' of how we can satisfy ourselves.

Theft, an 'image' of how we can take for ourselves.

Lies, an 'image' of how we can get away with something.

God and the Devil, both present us with 'images' and 'visualizations,' you will know them by their fruits.

Test the spirits, test the person's behaviour, beliefs, doctrine, opinions, charecter. Are the 'images' and 'visualizations,' the 'thinking' they promote, are they obedient to God's Word?

"you will recognize them by their fruits."

Fruits of God's Word, or fruits of the Devil's corruption.

Demons whisper/shout the Devil's will, tempting us, corrupting us with the 'images' and 'visualizations' that the Devil's lies present to our minds.

Bad company corrupts, as we share, and witness, the Devil's 'images' and 'visualizations.'

"get behind Me Satan."

Think of the endless 'images' and 'visualizations' present in the powerful deception known as the Toronto Blessing.

david said...

Demons, in simple terms, are servents of the Devil, fallen angels that serve the Devil, in a similar way that angels serve God.

Demons do the Devil's bidding, which is to tempt, and coorupt us, by whispering to our own spirit, or shouting.

Resist them, and they will flee from us.

We resist them, by obeying God's Word - but we need to know God's True Word before we can follow it.

As Lawrence touched upon, Demons place 'images' and 'visualizations,' into our minds, telling us how we could gain or lose - i.e - greed, lust, theft, false witness, pride etc etc etc, they all result from us having an image of how we could gain something, or how we might lose something.

Demons are tempters, liars, or ensnare us with fear.

Just as God asks us to reason with Him, Demons also reason with us; God within righteousness, Demons within sin.

We are all subject to the influence of Demons, as they try to corrupt us, but possession with Demons is something different.

Jesus never blamed the Demon possessed, but He always blamed the disobedient.

False deliverance meetings, make Demons very much stronger!!!!!!!!

It is for us to resist the temptation, which in reality is to resist the Devil, and his demons; and they will flee rom us.


Anonymous said...

A Christian is someone who makes any kind of reference to the character Jesus described in the King James Bible. It doesn't even matter what he says about Jesus. However, he must be talking about the character in the King James Bible and not the guy in the Koran and not the guy in the book of Mormon. An unclean spirit is a demon.

Pastor Swope said...

Ok Anonymous...

I prefer the original Koine Greek and the Hebrew version myself, but whatever floats yer boat....

Bruce Fenton said...

MY question is what is a Mybras Demon and how dangerous is it ?