Posts Tagged Neoplatonism

An Urban Fantasy Writer’s Guide to Classical Demonology

5 August 2010

Ah, demons.

You know you love ‘em.

But what exactly is a demon? Where do they come from and what do they want? Considering that both my main characters, Ezekiel and Marcus, deal with demons on an all too regular basis, this is a in which subject I have some interest. So, in order to elucidate on the wacky world of demonology, and to give me a chance to get my PhD on, I’m going to use this space to to write about exactly that; demons.

I’m imagining several parts here. The first will likely tackle the tricky question of “just what is a demon, anyway?” I’ll look primarily at the more or less mainstream Abrahamic traditions but also a bit of Neoplatonism and Gnosticism, as I include some of that in my books. I’ll also take a look at what other authors have done, to get a good overview of the subject.

Second I’ll take a look at the Solomonic magical tradition, which has its roots in Jewish scripture and Arabic magical lore. Magic ascribed to King Solomon will flourish in the Middle Ages and Renaissance as well.

Third will be a look at the world of daemons, which may or may not be demons, depending on who exactly is doing the writing.

Finally a brief look at the Gnostic Archons, who aren’t exactly demons, but may as well be.

Will there be more? We won’t know until I start writing, will we?

peace
-Jeffrey (Demonologist extraordinaire)

What are Demons, Anyway? Etymology.

5 August 2010

So, you want demons in your story. Of course you do, who wouldn’t? Demons are bad ass. But demons aren’t just really big monsters. Yes, I know you’re the author so demons are whatever you damn well want them to be, but you do have an audience, and the word demon means something in particular to them. So, to get your demons seeming like demons, let’s try to figure them out.

Unfortunately, though “demon” might mean something in particular to reader X, to reader Y it might mean something else. The word is used a lot, to mean a wide variety of semi-related things. To look at this we’ll set the way back machine to ancient Greece and look at from where the English word “demon” comes. The word in question here is daimon.

In ancient Greek a daimon was a non-physical being, typically beneath the gods but above humans in the hierarchy of creation. A daimon can be either good or evil, specific or generic. For instance the Neoplatonists, in the 3rd century CE, talked about an individual’s guiding daimon. According to this you have your very own daimon (several, actually), who is trying to lead you towards the gods and the development of the soul to possibly god-like proportions. There are also daimons of fire that will try to trick and kill you. Different kinds of daimons, but all still daimons.

With the spread of Christianity, where daimons, such as the unclean sprits in the Gospels (though the term pneuma akatharton is also used, in Mark this becomes exchangeable with daimonion), daimons more or less become bad things for most people. This will be combined with the war in heaven from Revelations and the popular idea of demon as fallen angel is formed. Sure the contemporary Neoplatonists were still going on with a more traditional use of the term, but times change. The English word “demon” comes from the Latinized form of daimon, daemon. And so the evil demon is born. At least in English.

But this only tells us where the word comes from. Unfortunately it doesn’t tell us how it’s being used now. For instance when I think demon I rarely think “fallen angel.” Part of the difficulty is that English is not a particularly good language for dealing with such things. So while we have our demons, Judaism has lots of different demons, each with their own category, all of which we commonly translates as “demon.” That’s convenient, but not very helpful.

The language lesson is over, next we’ll look at demons in Judaism and then Christianity.

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