25 September 2017

Demon and Dæmon

St. Anthony plagued by demons, engraving by Martin Schongauer in the 1480s.
The word "demon" has a variety of usages. Typically, it refers to an evil spirit, devil or fiend.

It can refer to an evil passion or influence - demon alcohol or drugs.

It can be a very human person who is considered extremely wicked, evil, or cruel. It can also be more positively used to describe a person with great energy or drive - "He's a demon when it comes to his work."

In classical mythology, a daemon was a god, though a subordinate deity. It would be associated with a place or be a person's attendant spirit.

Leonardo da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine was
one source of inspiration for Pullman's "dæmon" concept.
I encountered the word dæmon as a being in the Philip Pullman's fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials. where they are external physical manifestations of a person's 'inner-self' that takes the form of an animal. These dæmons are not evil but essential.

Still, our modern usage of demon (from Greek daimónion) is usually a supernatural and often malevolent being prevalent in religion, occultism, literature, fiction, mythology and folklore, even though that original Greek word did not carry the negative connotation.

The word took on religious meanings. 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, a fallen angel, or a spirit of unknown type which may cause demonic possession. This is where the need for a cleansing exorcism originated.

Returning to the Greek conception, we find it in the works of Plato, where it describes the divine inspiration of Socrates. T

In usage, we distinguish the classical Greek "good" concept by using the anglicized daemon or daimon. The later Christian interpretation is demon.

The female demon Lilith appearing as a snake cavorting with herself
as personified within the Garden of Eden by John Collier, 1892

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