DAEMÔN IN HELLÊNISMOS


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Daimôn (Gr. δαίμων, ΔΑΙΜΩΝ. Plural is δαίμονες. Etym. from δαίομαι, "distribute, divider [of destiny].")

In Ællinismós (Hellenismos, Ἑλληνισμός), the ancient Greek religion, the word daimôn does not have the connotation of evil. It is actually a neutral term, but it is usually used in a positive context. Daimôn refers to a benevolent divine being, or a benevolent force or power (there are exceptions), and, most generally, daimôn refers to a God.

In line five of the Orphic hymn to Apóllôn (Ἀπόλλων) we see the God referred to with the epithet:

Φωσφόρε Δαῖμον

  

Light-bearing Daimôn

And in line seven of the Orphic hymn to Diónysos (Διόνυσος), the God is called:

Ἄμβροτε Δαῖμον

 

Immortal Daimôn

...and we could find many other such examples where a God is called a Daimôn.

The great Heroes of the Silver Age [1] of Krónos (Κρόνος), described in Ἔργα καὶ Ἡμέραι Ἡσιόδου

(Works and Days), were a race of mortals who lived like Gods. They were Ἡμίθεος, Demi-Gods, almost Gods, and were later deified and became Ἀνθρωποδαίμονες, the deified mortals; as such, they are known as Δαίμονες Χρυσέοι, the Golden Daimonæs:

"But after the earth had covered this generation---they are called pure spirits (δαίμονες in the Greek text) dwelling on the earth, and are kindly, delivering from harm, and guardians of mortal men; for they roam everywhere over the earth, clothed in mist and keep watch on judgements and cruel deeds, givers of wealth..." [2]

After his description of the Daimonæs Khrysǽi, Isíodos (Hesiod) talks of a new race of men who were not as virtuous as the earlier race. Nonetheless, when this newer generation passed, they also became benevolent deities known as the Ὑποχθόνιοι Μάκαρες Δαίμονες, the Happy Subterranean Daimonæs, second in rank to the Golden Daimonæs (who dwell over the earth clothed in mist), but yet still worthy of honor. [3]

Later in Works and Days, Isíodos describes a race of daimonæs who are guardians (φύλακες) of those mortals who may be subjected to injustice:

"You princes, mark well this punishment you also; for the deathless Gods are near among men and mark all those who oppress their fellows with crooked judgements, and reek not the anger of the Gods. For upon the bounteous earth Zeus has thrice ten thousand spirits (δαίμονες), watchers of mortal men, and these keep watch on judgements and deeds of wrong as they roam, clothed in mist, all over the earth." [4]

In his lives of philosophers, speaking of Zínôn (Zenô of Elea, Ζήνων ὁ Ἐλεάτης), Dioyǽnîs Läǽrtios (Diogenes Laërtius; Διογένης Λαέρτιος) writes:

"They also say that there are some Dæmones, who have a sympathy with mankind, being surveyors of all human affairs; and that there are heroes, which are the souls of virtuous men, which have left their bodies." [5]

We often find the word Daimôn being used to refer to a lower or subordinate deity, but the term may be used for any God as well as semi-divine beings. The word daimôn may also be used as a synonym to the word psykhí (ψυχή), the soul, but here meaning a soul without a mortal body. Nonetheless, it is possible to refer to one’s own soul as a daimôn, but it would be more appropriate to do so when discussing the soul as it exists between lives when it is without a mortal body. From this we can derive one definition: a daimôn is a soul without a mortal body, whether it be of good or bad nature, whether this soul be subject to re-birth or whether it be immortal.

 

Plátôn, Daimonæs, and Ǽrôs

In his discussion of Ǽrôs (Ἔρως) from Συμπόσιον (Symposium), Plátôn (Πλάτων) uses the word in a particular way, saying that daimonæs are "intermediate between the divine and the mortal." He describes Ǽrôs as such a daimôn, a very special daimôn, the one who delivers our prayers to the Gods and who returns with the commands and replies of Gods:

Sôkrátîs (Σωκράτης): 'What is Love (Ἔρως)?' I asked. 'Is he mortal?'

Diotíma (Διοτίμα): No.

Sôkrátîs:  What then?

Diotíma: ...he is neither mortal nor immortal, but in a mean between the two.     

Sôkrátîs:  What is he Diotima?

Diotíma: He is a great spirit (δαίμων), and like all spirits he is intermediate between the divine and the mortal.

Sôkrátîs: 'And what,' I said, 'is his power?'

Diotíma: 'He interprets,' she replied, 'between Gods and men, conveying and taking across to the Gods the prayers and sacrifices of men, and to men the commands and replies of the Gods; he is the mediator who spans the chasm which divides them, and therefore in him all is bound together, and through him the arts of the prophet and the priest, their sacrifices and mysteries and charms, and all prophecy and incantation, find their way. For God mingles not with man; but through Love all the intercourse and converse of God with man, whether awake or asleep, is carried on.’ ” [6]

 

The Agathós Daimôn and the Kakodaimohn

The word daimôn was corrupted by Christians into "demon," giving it a pernicious meaning. This became the convention of the church in the Latin-speaking Western Roman Empire, but in the Greek-speaking Eastern Empire, the word daimôn does not have this negative stigma. Daimôn is used to signify any soul without a body. For instance, the Holy Spirit, part of the Christian Trinity, is called a daimôn, with no negative implication at all, and this is still true in the Orthodox Church today. In the West, the negative meaning is ubiquitous and denotes something evil.

Nonetheless, in our religion we are aware of malevolent daimonæs, souls of immoral individuals who, after they die, wish to continue their harmful mischief. Such beings are inhabitants of the lower sky and are known as kakodaimonæs (κακοδαίμονες, plural). Kακός means "bad" or "evil." They are, generally, the prósyeia pnévmata (πρόσγεια πνεύματα), the landed daimonæs, i.e. those souls who have not progressed, who may have committed crimes, and who, by their own actions are attached and bound nearest the terrestrial earth in the lower sky. They whisper in the ears of susceptible individuals and try to convince them to make bad decisions and lead a wicked life. They trick the unsuspecting and deliver false oracles in order to mislead them, and those who submit to their treachery are subject to become daimonizmós (δαιμονισμός), possessed by a kakodaimôn (κακοδαίμων, singular).

The Agathós Daimôn (Ἀγαθὸς Δαίμων) is the opposite of the kakodaimôn. Agathós means "good." This is a particular kind of daimôn, one who protects, a type of tutelary entity which we are all believed to possess. In truth, there are two varieties of Agathós Daimôn. The one most people are familiar with is the daimôn who protects the house, but there is another type of Agathós Daimôn which protects each person, similar to the Christian idea of a guardian angel.

At the most fundamental level, we are protected by our own character, as is succinctly stated by the philosopher Irákleitos (Ἡράκλειτος):


Ἦθος ἀνθρώπῳ δαίμων [7]

 

The character of a man determines his destiny.

Why is the word daimôn here being translated as "destiny?" It is because the etymology of the word is connected with the ancient Greek δαίομαι, "to divide, to distribute." Daimonæs are thought to be somehow connected with destiny, and destiny is thought to be determined by the Mírai (Moirae, Μοῖραι), those three Goddesses who apportion or divide out our fate. Irákleitos is here saying that our destiny is not determined by powers completely beyond our control, but, rather, our fate is the result of whether or not we live in arǽti (arete, ἀρετή), whether or not we live virtuous lives. Nonetheless, there is a belief from antiquity that we are given a helping hand in this regard, that there is a daimonic power, possibly even a soul, who watches over us, and this soul or influence is the aforementioned second type of Agathós Daimôn.

The Agathós Daimôn is the soul of someone who has sacrificed a life for the benefit of someone to whom it loves. In other words, rather than being reborn and continuing on with a new body, the Agathós Daimôn places their own self-interest aside to protect a soul she loves. The Agathós Daimôn is not usually a God, but a soul more progressed than the one which it cares for. The character of the Agathós Daimôn is beautifully defined by the Numidian Platonist Apuleius (124–170 C.E.):

"But there is another species of dæmons, more sublime and venerable, not less numerous, but far superior in dignity, who, being always liberated from the bonds and conjunction of the body, preside over certain powers. In the number of these are Sleep and Love, who possess powers of a different nature; Love, of exciting to wakefulness, but Sleep of lulling to rest. From this more sublime order of dæmons, Plato asserts that a peculiar dæmon is allotted to every man, who is a witness and a guardian of his conduct in life, who, without being visible to any one, is always present, and who is an arbitrator not only of his deeds, but also of his thoughts. But when, life being finished, the soul returns [to the judges of its conduct], then the dæmon who presided over it immediately seizes, and leads it as his charge to judgement and is there present with it while it pleads its cause. Hence, the dæmon reprehends it, if it has acted on any false pretence; solemnly confirms what it says, if it asserts any thing that is true; and conformably to its testimony passes sentence. All you, therefore, who hear this divine opinion of Plato, as interpreted by me, so form your minds to whatever you may do, or to whatever may be the subject of your meditation, that you may know there is nothing concealed from those guardians either within the mind, or external to it; but that the dæmon who presides over you inquisitively participates of all that concerns you, sees all things, understands all things, and in the place of conscience dwells in the most profound recesses of the mind. For he of whom I speak is a perfect guardian, a singular prefect, a domestic speculator, a proper curator, an intimate inspector, an assiduous observer, an inseparable arbiter, a reprobater of what is evil, an approver of what is good; and if he is legitimately attended to, sedulously known, and religiously worshipped, in the way in which he was reverenced by Socrates with justice and innocence, will be a predictor in things uncertain, a premonitor (one who forewarns) in things dubious, a defender in things dangerous, and an assistant in want. He will also be able, by dreams, by tokens, and perhaps also manifestly, when the occasion demands it, to avert from you evil, increase your good, raise your depressed, support your falling, illuminate your obscure, govern your prosperous, and correct your adverse circumstances." [8]

Apuleius is trying to point out that we have a great opportunity which must not be wasted, that we have an ally, a guide, and a protector, if we are willing to hear the voice of the Agathós Daimôn and yield to its advice and protection. What is this advice and protection? There are various opinions, but it is generally not thought to be an explicit voice, but rather it is something that stops us and prevents us from blundering badly...at least, that is, if we do not ignore its warnings. Some say that the Agathós Daimôn is nothing more than simply the voice of our conscience.

Of course, Apuleius is using as his example the Agathós Daimôn of none other than Sôkrátis (Σωκράτης), a highly evolved soul who would be accompanied by an equally, indeed, even more highly advanced daimôn; in his case, it is not unlikely that this daimôn was a God. For more ordinary people, the Agathós Daimôn is a soul more advanced than you, but not actually a God. And the tradition relates that if we should progress beyond the development of the Agathós Daimôn, another, more surpassing daimôn will take its place.

 

The Orphic Hymn to Daimôn

In Orphic Hymn 73, Daimôn, the word refers to Zefs Ploutodótis (Πλουτοδότης), 'Zeus the Giver of Wealth,' but the hymn also is referring to the divine power which protects and gives great benefit and, thus, gives honor to the Agathós Daimôn and can be used when honoring it.


Please also visit: Glossary of Daemons.


NOTES:

[1] Ἡσίοδος (Hesiod) assigns to Krónos the Golden Age, but in Orphic literature it is otherwise.

Kern Orphic frag. 140.  σχόλιον Πρόκλου επί Πολιτείας Πλάτωνος II 74, 26 Kr.:

 

ὁ μὲν θεολόγος Ὀ. τρία γένη παραδέδωκεν ἀνθρώπων· πρώτιστον τὸ χρυσούν, ὅπερ ὑποστῆσαι τὸν Φάνητά φησιν· δεύτερον τὸ ἀργυροῦν, οὗ φησιν ἄρχαι τὸν μέγιστον Κρόνον· τρίτον τὸ Τιτανικόν, ὅ φησιν ἐκ τῶν Τιτανικών μελῶν τὸν Δία συστήσασθαι

"Whereas the theologian Orphéfs (Orpheus) conveys that there are three generations of men: the very first a Golden age said to be of Phánis; the second Silver brought forth by mighty Krónos; the third is the Titanic age formed of the Titanic limbs of Zefs." (trans. by the author)

[2] Ἔργα καὶ Ἡμέραι Ἡσιόδου (Works and Days) 120, trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White, 1914.

[3] Ἔργα καὶ Ἡμέραι Ἡσιόδου 125-142, trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White, 1914.

[4] Ἔργα καὶ Ἡμέραι Ἡσιόδου 248-255, trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White, 1914.

[5] Βίοι καὶ γνῶμαι τῶν ἐν φιλοσοφίᾳ εὐδοκιμησάντων Διογένους Λαερτίου (The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers) Book 7 Life of Zínôn (Zenô of Elea; Ζήνων Ἐλεάτης) Chapter 79, trans. C. D. Yonge, 1853.

[6] Συμπόσιον Πλάτωνος 202d-203a, trans. Benjamin Jowett, 1892.

[7] Ἡράκλειτος (Heraclitus) fragment 119 (Diels-Kranz numbering).

[8] Apuleius On the God of Sôkrátîs 154-156, trans. Thomas Taylor 1822.




The story of the birth of the GodsOrphic Rhapsodic Theogony.
We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology
Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

Introduction to the Thæí (the Gods): The Nature of the Gods.
How do we know there are Gods? Experiencing Gods.


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The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony.
We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology
Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

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