I was reading some fascinating material recently from a Christian hermeticist on the nature of demons and evil spirits which reinforces some observations I had made myself. I had written here earlier on the changing nature of “Satan” in the development of the bible. Only recently, however, did I notice an interesting distinction in the New Testament – a distinction that those who read the King James will entirely miss.
The New Testament speaks a lot about the devil and devils. In the King James, however, it uses “devil” to translate two entirely different Greek words. One is diabolos – Greek for “accuser”. This word is used as a parallel, in some of the synoptics, for “satanas”, a word from Caldean related to the Hebrew “satan” – meaning also “accuser” or “opponent”. In Luke, Jesus is tempted in the wilderness by “satanas”, and in Matthew, it’s the “diabolos”.
The other Greek word that the King James translates as “devil” is “daimonion”. This word is used in connection with an spirit who opporesses or posesses an individual – a demon. These demons are described as “pneuma poyneros” – a diseased, painful, or evil spirit.
In the Greek, devils and demons are two entirely different things, inspite of the King James translating both words “devil”. True devils are the accusers and opponents of the righteous. In the Old Testament, the opponent (the “satan”) was seen as a divine office, in the service of God. The satan of Job is one of the sons of God, the Bene Elohim, who enters the court of Heaven in something like the capacity of a district attorney. It is his job to bring charges against the faithful. Even God himself is described as acting in the capacity of a “satan” or opponent. In 1 Ch 21:1, “satan”, the opponent, provokes David to number Israel. In 2 Sa 24:1, we find that the “satan” was God himself.
As time progressed, Satan became more personified, and the traditions described him as being in rebellion against God. But still, the “satanas” and “diabolos” of the New Testament are bound by law. There is a “Geneva Convention” of sorts between the two sides, and the diabolos confine themseves to persecuting and tempting, NOT to direct posession. Resist the diabolos, we are told in James, and he must flee. The one possible exception is with Judas. Luke tells us that satan “entered into” him. John, however, states that the diabolos merely put the thought into Judas’ heart. So the “entering” here seems to be just a powerful temptation.
Daimonios, on the other hand, interfer directly with human freedom. They posess and control human beings. What my hermetic author suggests, and I believe makes perfect sense, is that these daimonios are generally what the esotericists call “elemental beings”. They are human creations of emotional energy, which live a semi-auotonomous life outside the conscious boundries of personality. To quote from my source:
“The “evil spirits” which deprive man of his freedom are not at all beings of the so-called “hierarchies of evil” or “fallen hierarchies”. Neither Satan, nor Belial, nor Lucifer, nor Mephistopheles have ever deprived anyone of his freedom. Temptation is their only weapon and this presupposes the freedom of he who is tempted. But possession by an “evil spirit” has nothing to do with temptation. It is invariably the same thing as with Frankenstein’s monster. One engenders an elemental being and one subsequently becomes the slave of one’s own creation. The “demons” or “evil spirits” of the New Testament are called today in psychotherapy “neuroses of obsession”, “neuroses of fear”, “fixed ideas”, etc. They have been discovered by contemporary psychiatrists and are recognized as real – i.e. as “parasitic psychic organisms” independent of the conscious human will and tending to subjugate it. But the devil is not there to no avail – although not in the sense of direct participation. He observes the law – which protects human freedom and is the inviolable convention between the hierarchies of “right” and those of “left” – and never violates it, as stands out in the example of the story of Job. One need not fear the devil, but rather the perverse tendencies on oneself! For these perverse human tendencies can deprive us of our freedom and enslave us. Worse still, they can avail themselves of our imagination and inventive faculties and lead us to creations which can become the scourge of mankind. The atomic bomb and the hydrogen bomb are flagrant examples of this.
Man with the possible perversity of his warped imagination is far more dangerous than the devil and his legions. For man is not bound by the convention concluded between heaven and hell; he can go beyond the limits of the law and engender arbitrarily malicious forces whose nature and action are beyond the framework of the law… such as being the Molechs and other “gods” of Canaa., Phoenicia, Carthage, ancient Mexico and other lands, which exacted human sacrifice. One has to guard against accusing the beings of the hierarchies of evil to their detriment of having played the role of Molechs, these being only creatures of the perverse collective human will and imagination. These are egregores, engendered by collective perversity, just as there exist the “demons” or “evil spirits” engendered by individuals.”
This has been my experience also. While “demons” can act very much as independent entities, they are also almost certainly human creations, and usually should not be handled in isolation from the humans who create them and give them strength.