Author of the Month

Anthony Peake, Author of the Month for April 2009

The Case For The Daemon (cont.)
By Anthony Peake

The Evidence from Theology

Although early civilisations such as the ancient Egyptians had a form of duality that implied more than a simple soul-body dichotomy it was the ancient Greeks who refined this into a coherent philosophy. For the Greeks human duality was reflected in two beings; a lower, everyday self called an eidolon and an immortal, transcendental being that they called a daemon.

The word daemon (or daimone as it is sometimes written) has a fascinating history that tells in its letters a good deal of social and cultural history. The ancient Greek word was daimön, meaning deity, or god. As such the Greeks saw the word in a very positive, or at least ambivalent, way. The Romans Latinised the Greek word, turning it into daemon. For the Romans a daemon was an inner or attendant spirit that sometimes gave humble man a touch of genius (hence the term 'the demon of creativity' that is still used by people who never seem to see how curious the statement is).

The word eidolon also has an interesting philological history. Originally this word was used to describe an image or statue of a god. In turn it became associated with copy of something divine. This copy looked like the original but lacked all the qualities. For The Pagan sages this was a perfect description for the part of the human duality that was trapped in the Realm of Darkness; this entity thus became known as the Eidolon. This is the embodied self, the physical body and the personality. Put simply, this is the person. This 'lower self' is mortal and is totally unaware, unless initiated into the mysteries, of its higher self. It is very much part of this world of darkness. It is a slave to emotion and all the other ills that beset the physical being. The Daemon on the other hand, is the immortal self. This Daemon is always with the Eidolon and where possible, tries to assist and guide.

The idea of this daemon-eidolon duality was to fascinate the ancient Greeks and soon a whole philosophy of universal structure was to be built around this relationship. The earliest known writer on the subject was Empedocles. For him the daemon, although semi-imprisoned in the body, is a divine being exiled from its rightful place among the gods. It exists totally independently of its lower self, or eidolon, and has great knowledge and power.[2] However our knowledge of this interesting belief really comes from the writings of Plato and his descriptions of the teachings of his master, the famed Socrates.

Plato tells that throughout his life his great teacher had assistance from a 'guide'. Socrates called this disincarnate voice his 'Divine Sign'. From childhood this voice had communicated to him its opinions on what he was doing, or intended to do. According to Plato this 'voice' forbade Socrates from doing things and regularly gave prognostications on whether good or bad luck would follow a certain action. It is as if Socrates 'Divine Sign' was directly aware of the philosopher's potential future. Indeed Plato was at great pains to point out that many of these predictions were marked by extreme triviality; as if this spirit was tied very closely to the minutiae of Socrates' life. Socrates explained this in the following speech to the jury who were about to condemn him to death:

"I have had a remarkable experience. In the past the prophetic voice to which I have become accustomed has always been my constant companion, opposing me even in quite trivial things if I was going to take the wrong course". [3]

In this final act of his life Socrates was to find that his 'Divine Sign' did not oppose him. It was as if his lifelong guide and mentor was resigned to the inevitable; Socrates had to die as decreed both by fate and the jury. The hemlock goblet could not be avoided. The voice remained silent.

However the idea that all human beings have two independent elements did not remain silent. The theology proposed by Empedocles and refined by Socrates was to find many followers in the ancient Greek world and was to become a central tenant of the school of philosophy that was to become known as Stoicism.

Epictetus, the major Stoic philosopher, was quite fascinated by this duality. As with Socrates and Empedocles nothing remains of his original writings. However his pupil Arrian wrote down his teachings, recording them in two works; Discourses and the Encheiridian, or Manual. In these works it is clear that he had taken the evidence of Socrates' 'Divine Sign' and the old belief of human duality and created a cogent philosophy. He wrote:

"God has placed at every man's side a guardian, the Daemon of each man, who is charged to watch over him; a Daemon that cannot sleep, nor be deceived. To what greater and more watchful guardian could have been committed to us? So, when you have shut the doors, and made darkness in the house, remember, never to say that you are alone; for you are not alone. But God is there, and your Daemon is there".[4]

Here we see the ongoing idea that this other entity, the daemon, is more than simply another facet of human nature. It is an independent being that watches over its lower self. That it has an ongoing consciousness is stated by the phrase that it 'cannot sleep'. Indeed the implication is that the Daemon perceives even when the Eidolon sleeps.

This belief, however, was not unique to Epictetus or even the Stoics. According to the noted historian of the late classical and early Christian period, Robin Lane-Fox the Romans had an ancient but popular belief that each man had his own attendant 'spirit' that followed him throughout his life. This being, termed his genius, was born with him and as such was honoured, therefore, by each individual, on his birthday. [5]

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  1. Guthrie W K C "History of Greek Philosophy" (CUP) Page 318 (1962). [back to text]
  2. Apology 31d, Phaedrus 242 and Republic 496c. [back to text]
  3. Epictetus The Teachings of Epictetus" 145. [back to text]
  4. Lane-Fox R "Pagans And Christians" (Penguin) Page 129 (1986).[back to text]

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