Many in western cultures believe in demons and that they are evil agents of the devil who are out to cause mankind to fail in the eyes of God - the punishment for this failure being to suffer in an eternal hell. This old doctrine of belief was created by leaders within Christianity over a long period of time (hundreds of years); and so, we found it necessary to investigate the origin of the word "demon" and how the doctrine of demons came into being. This is important to understand because many ghost investigators fear demons and want to know the difference between demons and ghosts. Often there is confusion among ghost investigators when it comes to the occasional encounter of ghost entities that are negative in nature and superstitious beliefs in the demonic.
Demons & Ghosts: Can Ghosts Be Demons?
by Louis Charles
The Word Demon: Daimon, Daemon, Daimones, Daimonian and Daimonimozai
Demon is Middle English, derived from the Late Latin word "daemon," which came from the original Greek word "daimon." Daimones or daimonion are the plural forms of the word daimon; and this is important to know because Christian leaders who have translated these Greek words in the New Testament of the Bible to English render them as either "demon" or "demons" (and sometimes devil and devils) in the books of the New Testament to better fit their teachings. Furthermore, "daimonimozai" has been translated into the English language as "demonized" or "demon possessed." Could the 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? It certainly looks that way, but we must first look at what daimones actually were to the Greeks.
Ancient Beliefs in Daimones
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 that came later, daimones originally represented "divine beings." Daimones have also been called 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. (Think ghosts here.) Interestingly, like the souls or spirits of dead people, daimones were also believed as having a nature capable of both good and bad. People share this same nature. In fact, when we look out into the natural world, the only evil, bad or ill intent seems to come from human beings and not other animals. We need to consider, then, that people might still behave badly when not clothed with a body...in spirit.
Demons (Daimones) in Greek Writings Are Similar to Ghosts
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 with them but also as the inner voice that guided him in choosing to do right, rather than wrong. He connected people as spirits in spirit. The Greeks commonly 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 also 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."
Christianity's Early Mission: Turning Daimones Into Demons
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, over time, into being "demons" (or devils). Demons came to be taught by religious leaders as the messengers and followers of the sole 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 name and meaning changed into something fearful for religious gain?"
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 of demons (religious teachings).
Demons & Unclean Spirits (or Ghosts)
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.
Jewish Beliefs in Ghosts & Spirits Before Christianity
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 us. 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. Apparently, spirits of deceased humans possessing (or being attached to) another person was not new to some Jewish believers; but conversing with them and telling them to leave probably was brand new.
Maybe we need to understand Jesus’ culture better as it relates to ghosts. In Jewish folklore, a wandering soul, (spirit of a deceased human) is known as a "dybbuk." The word dybbuk means "clinging" or "cleaving" spirit. It is believed that the soul of a person sometimes remains behind (call it earthbound) upon death of the physical body. At times, the dybbuk seeks attachment to another human being (who is living, in body) for a mutual purpose until the clinging spirit can move on in his or her own life journey. A dybbuk is just another word for what many call a ghost or earthbound spirits. When one compares the Greek daimones with the Jewish dybbuk, one huge similarity stands out: Both possess the same dual nature of good and bad behavior. Don’t human beings as a whole share this same nature of free will and duality? In the Jewish scriptures of I Samuel 16, we read that a "bad spirit" attaches to King Saul to trouble him. This is an example of a dybbuk (a clinging human spirit or ghost) in the Old Testament of the Bible, demonstrating that spirit attachment is possible according to Jewish scriptures. Jesus, being a Jewish Rabbi, was surely aware of his teaching and knew how to minister to people on both sides of the grave. For more on this subject, read: Judaism & Ghosts.
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 lost, earthbound spirits of people, ghosts, “demons.” Also read, What Are Demons?