A demon is a supernatural, often malevolent being prevalent in religion, occultism, literature, and folklore. The original Greek word daimon does not carry the negative connotation initially understood by implementation of the Koine δαιμόνιον (daimonion),and later ascribed to any cognate words sharing the root.
In Ancient Near Eastern religions as well as in the Abrahamic traditions, including ancient and medieval Christian demonology, a demon is considered an “unclean spirit” which may cause demonic possession, calling for an exorcism. In Western occultism and Renaissance magic, which grew out of an amalgamation of Greco-Roman magic, Jewish demonology, and Christian tradition, a demon is a spiritual entity that may beconjured and controlled.
The Ancient Greek word δαίμων daimōn denotes a “spirit” or “divine power”, much like the Latin genius or numen. Daimōn most likely came from the Greek verb daiesthai (“to divide, distribute”). The Greek conception of a daimōns notably appears in the works of Plato, where it describes the divine inspiration of Socrates. To distinguish the classical Greek concept from its later Christian interpretation, the former is usually anglicized as eitherdaemon or daimon rather than demon.
The Greek term does not have any connotations of evil or malevolence. In fact, εὐδαιμονία eudaimonia, (lit. “good-spiritedness”) means “happiness”. The term first acquired its negative connotations in the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible, which drew on the mythology of ancient Semitic religions. This was then inherited by the Koine text of the New Testament. The Western medieval and neo-medieval conception of a “demon” (see the Medievalgrimoire called the Ars Goetia) derives seamlessly from the ambient popular culture of Late (Roman) Antiquity. The Hellenistic “daemon” eventually came to include many Semitic and Near Eastern gods as evaluated by Christianity.
The supposed existence of demons is an important concept in many modern religions and occultist traditions. Demons are still feared as a popularsuperstition, largely due to their alleged power to possess living creatures. In the contemporary Western occultist tradition (perhaps epitomized by the work of Aleister Crowley), a demon (such as Choronzon, the “Demon of the Abyss”) is a useful metaphor for certain inner psychological processes (“inner demons”), though some may also regard it as an objectively real phenomenon. Some scholars believe that large portions of the demonology of Judaism, a key influence on Christianity and Islam, originated from a later form of Zoroastrianism, and were transferred to Judaism during the Persian era.
Psychologist Wilhelm Wundt remarked that “among the activities attributed by myths all over the world to demons, the harmful predominate, so that in popular belief bad demons are clearly older than good ones.” Sigmund Freud developed this idea and claimed that the concept of demons was derived from the important relation of the living to the dead: “The fact that demons are always regarded as the spirits of those who have died recently shows better than anything the influence of mourning on the origin of the belief in demons.”
M. Scott Peck, an American psychiatrist, wrote two books on the subject, People of the Lie: The Hope For Healing Human Evil and Glimpses of the Devil: A Psychiatrist’s Personal Accounts of Possession, Exorcism, and Redemption. Peck describes in some detail several cases involving his patients. In People of the Lie he provides identifying characteristics of an evil person, whom he classified as having a character disorder. In Glimpses of the Devil Peck goes into significant detail describing how he became interested in exorcism in order to debunk the “myth” of possession by evil spirits – only to be convinced otherwise after encountering two cases which did not fit into any category known to psychology or psychiatry. Peck came to the conclusion that possession was a rare phenomenon related to evil, and that possessed people are not actually evil; rather, they are doing battle with the forces of evil.
Although Peck’s earlier work was met with widespread popular acceptance, his work on the topics of evil and possession has generated significant debate and derision. Much was made of his association with (and admiration for) the controversial Malachi Martin, a Roman Catholic priest and a former Jesuit, despite the fact that Peck consistently called Martin a liar and manipulator.Richard Woods, a Roman Catholic priest and theologian, has claimed that Dr. Peck misdiagnosed patients based upon a lack of knowledge regarding dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder), and had apparently transgressed the boundaries of professional ethics by attempting to persuade his patients into accepting Christianity.Father Woods admitted that he has never witnessed a genuine case of demonic possession in all his years
In the Gospels, particularly the Gospel of Mark, Jesus cast out many demons or evil spirits from those afflicted with various ailments. He also lent this power to some of his disciples (Luke 10:17). The demons were cast out by the utterance of a name, according to Matthew 7:22, with some groups insisting the original pronunciation of the name “Jesus” be used. The demons or unclean spirits themselves were said to often recognize Jesus as the Messiah. In Matthew 12:43, Jesus taught that when demons were driven from a human, they went through dry places as disembodied spirits seeking respite, although on some occasion he would send them into a herd of swine. Through all accounts, Jesus had never failed in his exorcism of a demon.
By way of contrast, in Acts, a group of Judaistic exorcists known as the sons of Sceva attempted to cast out a powerful spirit without belief in Jesus, but failed with disastrous consequences.
Revelation 12:7-17 describes a battle between God’s army and Satan’s followers and the latter’s subsequent expulsion from Heaven to Earth in order to persecute humans Luke 10:18 mentions a power granted by Jesus to cast out demons made Satan “fall like lightning from heaven”.
Apuleius, by Augustine of Hippo, is ambiguous as to whether daemons had become ‘demonized’ by the early 5th century:
He [Apulieus] also states that the blessed are called in Greek eudaimones, because they are good souls, that is to say, good demons, confirming his opinion that the souls of men are demons.
The contemporary Roman Catholic Church unequivocally teaches that angels and demons are real beings rather than just symbolic devices. The Catholic Church has a cadre of officially sanctioned exorcists which perform many exorcisms each year. The exorcists of the Catholic Church teach that demons attack humans continually but that afflicted persons can be effectively healed and protected either by the formal rite of exorcism, authorized to be performed only by bishops and those they designate, or by prayers of deliverance, which any Christian can offer for themselves or others.
Building upon the few references to daemons in the New Testament, especially the poetry of the Book of Revelation, Christian writers of apocrypha from the 2nd century onwards created a more complicated tapestry of beliefs about “demons” that was largely independent of Christian scripture.
At various times in Christian history, attempts have been made to classify demons according to various proposed demonic hierarchies.
According to Christian demonology, demons will be eternally punished and never will reconcile with God. Other theories postulate a universal reconciliation, in which Satan, the fallen angels, and the souls of the dead that were condemned to Hell reconcile with God. This doctrine is today often associated with the Unification Church. Origen, Jerome, and Gregory of Nyssa also mentioned this possibility.