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Origin of Demons

The following article is used with the permission of its author, LC Duplatt.

Learn the true origin of the word "demon." Are demons really ghosts? Many in western cultures believe in demons as being evil agents of the devil who are out to get mankind. This doctrine of belief was created by Christian religion over a period of time, and so we found it necessary to investigate the origin of the word "demon."

Demon is Middle English, derived from the Late Latin word "daemon," which was derived from the original Greek word "daimon." Daimones or daimonion are the plural forms of the word daimon, and it is important to know, because people who have translated these Greek words in the New Testament of the Bible, render them as either "demon" or "demons" (and sometimes devil and devils). Furthermore, "daimonimozai" has been translated into the English language as "demonized" or "demon possessed." Could this interpretation of these words been changed by the translators into meaning something different than what was intended by the Greek writers of the New Testament? To find out, we must first look at what daimones actually were to the Greeks.

The belief in daimones dates back to ancient Mesopotamia and the Babylonian culture, which organized daimones into heirarchies and armies, much like guardian angels.

So it is not much of a surprise then, that in Greek culture, daimones originally meant "divine beings." Daimones have been known also as corybantes, curetes, dactyls, genii, satyr, sileni, and various spirits of nature, planets, and stars. Daimones were known to be god-like, ministering spirits, protective spirits, and at times, even the souls of the dead.

Interestingly, like the souls or spirits of dead people, daimones were also believed as having a nature capable of both good and bad. Predating Jesus, and thus the New Testament Bible, the ancient Greeks' belief in daimones appeared in the literature of many philosophers, including Homer, Socrates and Plato.

Plato distinguished daimones as being middle-ranking creatures of the air, interacting between gods and mankind. Socrates not only described daimones as guardian spirits that everyone has, but also as the inner voice that guided him in choosing to do right, rather than wrong.

The Greeks believed daimones could haunt locations, guard property, possess human bodies, and even cause human sicknesses. Yet, they also believed that daimones were at times the spirits of the dead, or ghosts, who could be sought for advice; and that the daimones were also messengers similar to the modern beliefs in angels.

To the Greeks, the word daimon was often used for the word "god" or "goddess," especially before the Hellenistic period. Daimon was often used to mean "the gods," "divine power, "fate," or "fortune," but was also used to convey a "spirit being." The adjective, "daimonios," often meant "inspired by heaven," "divine," "of heaven," "by divine power," etc.

The Harper's Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898) says this about the word daimon: "Originally a term applied to deity in general, manifested in its active relation to human life, without special reference to any single divine personality. But as early Hesiod, the daemones appear as subordinates or servants of the higher gods. He gives the name especially to the spirits of the past age of gold, who are appointed to watch over men and guard them.”

“In later times, too, the daemones were regarded as beings intermediate between the gods and mankind, forming, as it were, the retinue of the gods, representing their powers in activity, and intrusted with the fulfilment of their various functions. This was the relation, to take an instance, which the Satyrs and Sileni bore to Dionysus. But the popular belief varied in regard to these deities."

This widespread belief in daimones was attacked over time by Christian church leaders in order to discredit ancient Greek and Neoplatonist beliefs. St. Augustine devoted two chapters of "The City of God" in pursuit of this aim. By medieval times, the Christian church had completely condemned pagan beliefs in daimones, and though people still believed in them, the very definition of daimones was transformed into being "demons" (or devils).

Demons came to be taught by religious leaders as the messengers and followers of the solitary agent of evil - Satan (Lucifer). St. Thomas Aquinas further perpetuated this belief by blaming natural disasters and even bad weather on demons, while Pope Eugene IV referred to demons as "agents of Satan." Again, we have to ask the question, "Has the word daimon had its meaning changed into something fearful for religious purposes?"

In the book of Acts, and I Corinthians, we can see the word "daimonion" translated as both “gods” and "demons," but in truth the translation from the Greek is better read as "gods," due to the context in which the Apostle Paul was using daimonion in his argument against idol worship (Acts 17:18 is translated correctly as "gods;" but I Cor. 10:14-20 is incorrectly translated as "demons" or "devils" in some translations). This alone illustrates the intent of translators to make the passages line-up with their church doctrine (religious teachings).

Again, it is good to know that the original meaning of the Greek word "daimon" (and its derivations), as written in some of the books of the New Testament bible, was changed over the next two millennia into today's current beliefs and teachings about devils and demons.

If we were to look at some other passages containing the word "daimonion" in the gospels of the New Testament, we would see that the meaning is synonymous with "unclean spirit" (For example, compare Mark 1:23 with Luke 4:33). Jesus, we read, spoke to the unclean spirits and they obeyed, leaving the bodies of the possessed.

This is important to understand, because we read that Jesus taught (found in numerous passages of the Bible) that people should look to be clean and pure within. For example, in Matthew 23:26, we are told that Jesus scolded the Pharisees to "...first clean that which is within the cup and platter, so that which is outside might also be clean."

Interestingly, most near death experiences share a common theme in that many encounter a "life-review" which seems to be a "cleansing process within" in order to help the recently-deceased transition from the physical world unto the next. This experience often occurs after the tunnel of light and meeting of loved ones on the other side of the grave.

Perhaps, until the soul (or spirit) of a person moves unto this light (tunnel) and cleansing process, the soul is somewhat dark due to lack of understanding, being lost and temporarily covering over the light (truth) that is within them. If so, then perhaps unclean spirits of humans could be the "daimons" Jesus was casting out of those with physical bodies.

Maybe Jesus was instructing the spirits to cease from clinging to humans and the earthly life, and move on unto the light and life-review – call it peace or heaven if you like. Jesus, who was Jewish, was questioned about this new way of dealing with spirits, after he did some casting out of unclean spirits within a Jewish synagogue in Capernaum. You see, spirits of deceased humans possessing (or being attached to) another person was not new to Jewish believers; but conversing with them and telling them to leave was certainly brand new!

Maybe we need to understand Jesus’ culture better. In Jewish folklore, a wandering soul (spirit of a deceased human) is known as a "dybbuk." The word "dybbuk” means "clinging" or "cleaving." It is believed that the soul of a person sometimes remains behind (call it earthbound) upon death of the physical body, and at times seeks attachment to another human being (living) for a mutual purpose, until the dybbuk can move on in his or her own life journey.

A dybbuk is just another word for what many call a ghost, an earthbound spirit. When one compares the Greek daimones with the Jewish dybbuk, one huge similarity stands out: both have the nature to behave either goodly or badly. Don’t human beings as a whole share this same nature of free will?

In the Jewish scriptures of I Samuel 16, we are told a "bad spirit" attaches to King Saul to trouble him. This is an example of a dybbuk (a clinging human spirit) in the Old Testament of the Bible, and demonstrates that attachment is possible in the Jewish scriptures. Jesus, being a Jewish Rabbi, was surely aware of all this and knew how to minister to people on both sides of the grave.

Today, Rabbis experienced in practical Kabbalah still perform exorcisms to help both the possessed and the possessing spirit. They say that many times, the spirit possession is often due to unfinished business here on Earth. Perhaps, we need to reconsider our beliefs; just maybe some of us are unknowingly calling the lost, earthbound spirits of people, “demons.”

LC Duplatt

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