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Devils, Demons, and the Daimonic

Stephen A. Diamond, Ph. D.


Hostility, hatred, and violence are the greatest evils we have to contend with today. Evil is now--ever has been, and ever will be--an existential reality, an inescapable fact with which we mortals must reckon. In virtually every culture there has existed some word for evil, a universal, linguistic acknowledgment of the archetypal presence of "something that brings sorrow, distress, or calamity...; the fact of suffering, misfortune, and wrongdoing."[1] Yet another of Webster's traditional definitions links the English word evil with all that is "angry... wrathful,... [and] malignant."[2] The term evil has always been closely associated with anger, rage, and, of course, violence. But today we seem uncomfortable with this antiquated concept. Our discomfort resides largely in the religious and theological implications of evil, based on values, ethics, and morals that many today find judgmental, dogmatic, and passé. In a secular society like ours, we Americans have tended to avoid biblical characterizations such as "sin," "wickedness," "iniquity," and evil."[3] Nevertheless, as Jungian analyst Liliane Frey-Rohn rightly remarks: "Evil is a phenomenon that exists and has always existed only in the human world. Animals know nothing of it. But there is no form of religion, of ethics, or of community life in which it is not important. What is more, we need to discriminate between evil and good in our daily fife with others, and as psychologists in our professional work. And yet it is difficult to give a precise definition of what we mean psychologically by these terms."[4]

Evil is an actuality, whether or not we choose to deny it. In their 1971 anthology, Sanctions for Evil, social psychologists Nevitt Sanford and Craig Comstock cogently justify resurrecting the religiously tainted term "evil": "In using the word evil, we mean not that an act or pattern of fife is nccesarily a sin or a crime according to some law, but rather that it leads to damage or pain suffered by people, to social destructiveness of a degree so serious as to call for use of an ancient, heavily freighted term."[5] When employed in this sense, evil is synonymous with "senseless violence." But, on a still subtler level, evil can be considered that tendency which -- whether in oneself or others -- would inhibit personal growth and expansion, destroy or limit innate potentialities, curtail freedom, fragment or disintegrate the personality, and diminish the quality of interpersonal relationships.

The fact that evil, as defined above, exists more or less throughout our world seems incontrovertible. We see evil every day in its infernally multifarious forms. First, there are the cosmic, supernatural, transpersonal, or natural evils like floods, famine, fire, drought, disease, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and harmful, unforeseeable accidents that wreak untimely death havoc, and unmentionable suffering on humanity. This is the metaphysical or "existential evil" with which the biblical Book of Job concerns itself, and which religions worldwide try mightily to explain. Existential evil is an ineluctable part of our human destiny, and one with which we must reckon as best we can, without closing ourselves off to its tragic, intrinsic reality. But there is, of course, another kind of evil at large: human evil, "man's inhumanity to man" in the most panoramic sense. By "human evil," I mean those attitudes and behaviors that promote excessive interpersonal aggression, cruelty, hostility, disregard for the integrity of others, self-destructiveness, psychopathology and human misery in general. Human evil can be perpetrated by a single individual (personal evil) or by a group, a country, or an entire culture (collective evil). The Nazi atrocities directly or indirectly engaged in by the German people dramatically exemplify the latter.

The most pernicious form of evil today (as further discussed in chapter six), may be madness, mental illness, or psychopathology: It is evil in this guise, and in its most radical manifestation--destructive violence--that has now become the target of such intense psychological scrutiny and treatment. With escalating urgency, contemporary culture calls upon the psychologist and psychiatrist to do battle with this evil: to explain, control, or "cure" bedeviled individuals who tend to be homicidal, suicidal, sexually perverted, assaultive, abusive, addicted, anorexic, alcoholic, or otherwise violently destructive to themselves and/ or others. This--I am speaking here of the suffering, not the sufferers--is the true reality of evil today! And it raises the following question: How can the skilled psychologist--let alone the average citizen -- even begin to effectively cope with evil without more fully comprehending its fundamental nature?

Though it may seem to some an anachronistic throwback to a bygone era, my preoccupation with the psychology of evil is not without twentieth century precedent. Sigmund Freud, for instance, wrestled with this thorny issue, as have many other notable psychologists and psychiatrists, including Carl Jung, Erich Fromm, Bruno Bettelheim, Viktor Frankl, Karl Menninger, Robert Lifton, Rollo May, and most recently, M. Scott Peck .[6] Freud's somewhat pessimistic solution took the eventual form of an evil "death instinct" (Thanatos) doing eternal battle with a good "life instinct" (Eros), with evil ever dominating this tragic duel. C. G. Jung, drawing upon Nietzsche's existential philosophy, spoke of the "shadow" to portray the problem of personal and collective evil. His position, summarized here by Frey-Rohn, was that social morality can never be considered the causal source of evil: it only "becomes negative [i.e., evil] whenever the individual takes its commandments and prohibitions as absolutes, and ignores his other impulsions. It is not the cultural canon itself, therefore, but the moral attitude of the individual which we must hold responsible for what is pathological, negative, and evil."[7] Frey-Rohn refers to the subjective relativity of "good" and "evil," and, more importantly, the individual's personal responsibility for deciding what is good or evil for themselves rather than relying solely on external laws, rules, and regulations.[8]

It is admittedly tempting to dismiss the reality of evil entirely due to its inherent subjectivity and relativity. As that wise bard William Shakespeare bade Hamlet speak: "For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."[9] This recognition of the relativity of good and evil, and its basis in egoistic evaluations of right and wrong, positive and negative, has a time-honored tradition in Asian religion and Oriental philosophy. But as Jung said, the fact that the conceptions of "good" and "evil" are limited inventions of the human mind (ego consciousness), convenient cognitive categories into which we try to neatly sort the stuff of life, does not detract from the vital importance of properly discerning between them. For without such psychological distinctions, what ethics will serve to guide our daily behavior? On what moral ground can we stand in making the many minor and major day-to-day decisions modem life demands? To cite Justin Martyr on this matter: "'The worst evil of all is to say that neither good nor evil is anything in itself, but that they are only matters of human opinion."[10]

Evil has an archetypal--or universal--quality. "There is no religion in the world," writes philosopher Paul Carus, "but has its demons or evil monsters who represent pain, misery, and destruction." To those who would deny the reality of evil, its existential facticity, arguing that its relativity ("One man's meat is another man's poison") and subjectivity (what I view as evil, another sees as good) render it illusory, Carus responds: "Evil and good may be relative, but relativity does not imply non-existence. Relations are facts too."[11] To merrily dismiss evil as merely a mental illusion (or "Maya" as Buddhists term it) is to cowardly duck the difficult task and fateful human accountability for consciously coming to know good and evil.[12] Evil is a very real phenomenon. But it is not a "thing," with physical properties of its own apart from those human actions which comprise it; nor is it an "entity" with a will of its own, as the traditional doctrine of the devil advocates. Evil is a process in which we humans more or less inevitably participate. Indeed, it is a psychological--or spiritual, if you prefer--process of negation. By "negation" I do not, however, mean non-existence. Negation is as real a force in the world as affirmation; negative and positive are simply two opposite poles of one, single reality. (Consider, for example, a magnet with its two opposing yet integrally related poles.) As Jungian analyst and Episcopal priest John Sanford puts it, the Christian doctrine of privatio boni (the "nothingness" of evil) put forth by Augustine (354-430 A.D.), "does not deny the reality of evil but states what evil is. It says that while evil exists it can only exist by living off the good and cannot exist on its own."[13] Of course, the same may be said of the "good," which cannot exist on its own either, without some reference and comparison to that' which is "evil."

But, if finally we accept the necessity of discerning between evil and good, who then shall be the crowning connoisseur of good and evil? The individual? The community? The court? The State? The priest, rabbi, or psychotherapist? How can we make constructive, humane use of such categories? To whom shall they apply? And for what purpose?

Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, whose perspectives will be explored further in chapter seven, proclaims "that [human] evil can be defined as a specific form of mental illness and should be subject to at least the same intensity of scientific investigation that we would devote to some other major psychiatric disease."[14] He defines "evil" as a negative force "residing either inside or outside of human beings, that seeks to kill life or liveliness" (pp. 42-43). For Peck, the primary root of most human evil is "malignant narcissism" (p. 78), a term taken from Erich Fromm.[15] Peck identifies evil people not "by the illegality of their deeds or the magnitude of their sins" (p. 71), nor by their evil acts, for then "we should all be evil, because we all do evil things" (p. 70). It is rather "the consistency of their sins" (p. 71), says Peck, that makes people 'evil' or 'not evil.' In other words, it is the chronic self-deception, ego-inflation, and "unsubmitted will" (p. 78), the constant lying to themselves and others, and their rabid refusal to confront their own flaws that characterize Peck's "people of the lie."

Peck's equation of human evil with one specific sort of psychopathology--pathological narcissism--is accurate up to a point. Pathological or malignant narcissism is indeed a variant of human evil, as we shall later see. But human evil can never be simply distilled to one particular psychiatric diagnosis, as Peck proposes. Were such a thing possible--which it is not--we might, like Peck, be enticed to "diagnose" the "evil ones" around us, and--like the witches or Jews--try to "treat," isolate, sterilize, or exterminate them. The problem with Peck's perception of evil, in my view, is his proclivity to project evil exclusively onto some small segment of the population, instead of acknowledging its imminent presence in each of us. Peck pathologizes evil, seeking to turn the term "evil" into a formal psychodiagnostic category specifically describing particular character traits.[16] Yet, in a very real sense, I submit that all psychopathology is a sort of evil, insofar as it entails serious human suffering.

While it may be very tempting to succumb to Peck's argument that evil insidiously manifests itself most commonly in deceptively well-functioning but subtly pathological personalities--or in blatant caricatures of evil like Ted Bundy, Jim Jones, Charles Manson, or Richard Allen Davis--we would do well to remember that evil remains an ever-present, archetypal potentiality in each of us. To naively or narcissistically think otherwise is tantamount to denying the personal capacity for evil--the permanent presence of the "shadow" or the "daimonic"--forever dwelling in the fathomless depths of each and every fallible human being. Such denial is evil of the most insipid, prosaic, and dangerous kind.

Prefiguring Peck, Rollo May long held that here in America--with its youthful optimism and naiveté--we comprehend little of evil's true nature, and are thus naively ill-prepared to contend with it. As a psychotherapist, May mostly concerned himself with the problem of personal or individual evil. While fully recognizing the grave risks (such as war) and intrapsychic influences of group or collective evil on the individual, May maintained that even in the often crushing influences of collective pressures, we must be mindful of the crucial role played by the individual in evil: "Evil is certainly not exclusively within the self--it is also the result of our social interrelationships--but the participation of the self in evil cannot be overlooked."[17]

Whence comes evil? To what extent are we witting or unwitting participants in evil? What is the psychological process by which we participate in evil? And what can be done--if anything--to derail this destructive process and, to some degree, decrease personal and collective evil? These are a few of the age-old questions we turn to next.


From time immemorial, spirits, devils, or demons have been believed to be the source, and sometimes the personification, of evil (see fig. 4). Sigmund Freud suggested that our forebears--who apparently had no short supply of their own anger, rage, and resentments--projected their hostility onto imaginary demons (fig. 5). Such superstitions as the belief in the existence of demons, said Freud, derive "from suppressed hostile and cruel impulses. The greater part of superstition signifies fear of impending evil, and he who has frequently wished evil to others, but because of a good bringing-up, has repressed the same into the unconscious, will be particularly apt to expect punishment for such unconscious evil in the form of a misfortune threatening him from without."[18] What is more, Freud considered it "quite possible that the whole conception of demons was derived from the extremely important relation to the dead," adding that "nothing testifies so much to the influence of mourning on the origin of belief in demons as the fact that demons were always taken to be the spirits of persons not long dead."[19] Demons served as ready scapegoats and repositories for all sorts of unacceptable, threatening human impulsions, such as anger, rage, guilt, and sexuality. Moreover, writes theologian Gerardus van der Leeuw, "horror and shuddering, sudden fright and the frantic insanity of dread, all receive their form in the demon; this represents the absolute horribleness of the world, the incalculable force which weaves its web around us and threatens to seize us. Hence all the vagueness and ambiguity of the demon's nature.... The demons' behaviour is arbitrary, purposeless, even clumsy and ridiculous, but despite this it is no less terrifying."[20] (See fig. 6.) For this reason, demons are deemed evil, designated by us to carry all of those dreaded aspects of human nature we find too abominable, despicable, and monstrous to bear. But the popular, one-sidedly negative view of demons is simplistic and psychologically unsophisticated. For Freud informs us that those identical demons felt to be angry spirits of recently deceased relatives, though feared at first by our forebears, played an important part in the mourning process: once confronted and psychologically assimilated by the bereaved mourners, these same evil demons were "revered as ancestors and appealed to for help in times of distress."[21] We know from psychotherapy that survivors of the death of loved ones can suffer a great deal of guilt, and anger at having been abandoned. Perhaps our primitive predecessors came to terms with their own projected anger by accepting and befriending the furious "demons" of their dead: by so doing, they, in effect, psychologically transformed their own wrathful feelings from menacing foes to friendly emotional forces and spiritual allies.

It is entirely possible, from what little we understand of their practice of trephining, that inhabitants of the Stone Age, some five hundred thousand years ago, were attempting to release evil spirits from the physically or mentally ill by surgically excising sizable sections of their skulls. Demonology --the belief in the existence of spirits, demons, or devils--is probably the primeval prototype of the modern science of psychopathology: both paradigms seek to make sense of mental illness and aberrant human behavior. "The view that demons ... are responsible for the origin of evil," writes mythologist Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, "is found in its purest form in Manicheanism, a religion originating in Persia in the third century A.D., composed of Gnostic Christian, Mazdean, and pagan elements, and representing Satan as coeternal with God."[22] The far-reaching influence of demonology can be found in the ancient cultures of the Hebrews, Chinese, Egyptians, and Greeks, as well as in medieval Europe and colonial America. Physician-turned-philosopher Karl Jaspers defined demonology as follows: "We call demonology a conception which makes being reside in powers, in effective form-constituting forces, constructive and destructive, that is in demons, benevolent and malignant, in many gods; these powers are perceived as directly evident, and the perceptions are translated as a doctrine."[23]

Our modem English terms "demon" and "demonic" are derived from the Latin spelling popularized during the Middle Ages: daemon and daemonic. Carl Jung, referring to the medieval concept of the daemonic, professed that "from the psychological point of view demons are nothing other than intruders from the unconscious, spontaneous irruptions of unconscious complexes into the continuity of the conscious process. Complexes are comparable to demons which fitfully harass our thought and actions; hence in antiquity and the Middle Ages acute neurotic disturbances were conceived as [daemonic] possession."[24] Indeed, prior to the seventeenth-century philosophical revelations of René Descartes--which later spawned the scientific objectivism that so characterizes the contemporary study of psychopathology--it was commonly believed that an emotional disorder, madness, lunacy, or insanity was literally the work of evil demons, who in their winged travels would inhabit the unwitting body (or brain) of the unfortunate sufferer. This archetypal imagery of invasive flying entities with supernatural powers is still evident today in such colloquialisms for insanity as having "bats in the belfry," and in the delusional patient's obstinate belief about being manipulated by "aliens" in flying saucers. [25]

Even Hippocrates (5 B.C.), the father of modem medicine, was first trained as an exorcist. Bernard Dietrich explains that in ancient Greece, "the period of personal gods was preceded by that of a belief in daemonism or animism: each occurrence and experience in human life was attributed to the agency of a daemon. But these daemons, in the beginning, were not imagined as personal beings, but as abstract forces in the neuter gender..."[26] The original, archaic Greek word for one of these wondrous beings, described by Hesiod and others as "invisible and wrapped in mist," was daimon .[27]

The Daimonic

Rollo May made use of the classical Greek idea of the daimon to provide the basis for his mythological model of the daimonic. "The daimonic," wrote May,

is any natural function which has the power to take over the whole person. Sex and eros, anger and rage, and the craving for power are examples. The daimonic can be either creative or destructive and is normally both. When this power goes awry, and one element usurps control over the total personality, we have "daimon possession," the traditional name through history for psychosis. The daimonic is obviously not an entity but refers to a fundamental archetypal function of human experience, an existential reality. . . . [28]

Moreover, May maintained that violence "is the daimonic gone awry. It is 'demon possession' in its starkest form. Our age is one of transition, in which the normal channels for utilizing the daimonic are denied; and such ages tend to be times when the daimonic is expressed in its most destructive form."[29] Senseless violence, as will be demonstrated, is the daimonic run amuck.

The genesis of the idea of the "daimon"--pronounced "di-mone"--is decidedly difficult to pin down. We do know that Empedocles, the fifth-century B.C., pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, employed this term in describing the psyche or soul; to be even more precise, he identified daimon with self. Reginald Barrow reports that "the histories of Greek Religion or Philosophy do not usually say much, if anything, about daemons. Though the idea occurs as early as Homer, it plays little or no part in recognised cults; for it had no mythology of its own; rather it attached itself to existing beliefs. In philosophy it lurks in the background from Thales, to whom 'the universe is alive and full of daemons', through Heraclitus and Xenophanes, to Plato and his pupil Xenocrates, who elaborated it in detail.... In Hesiod the daemons are the souls of heroes of past ages and now kindly to men; in Aeschylus the dead become daemons; in Theognis and Menander the daemon is the guardian angel of the individual man and sometimes of a family." [30]

Some classical scholars say that the term "daimon" was used by writers such as Homer, Hesiod, and Plato as a synonym for the word theos, or god; still others, like van der Leeuw, point to a definite distinction between these terms: The term "daimon" referred to something indeterminate, invisible, incorporeal, amorphous and unknown, whereas "theos" was the personification of a god, such as Zeus or Apollo. The daimon was that divine, mediating spiritual power that impelled one's actions and determined one's destiny. It was, in the judgment of most scholars, inborn and immortal, embodying all innate talents, tendencies (both positive and negative), and natural abilities. Indeed, one's daimon manifested as a sort of fateful "soul" which spurred one on toward good or evil.

The earliest pre-Christian conception of daimons or daimones considered them ambiguous rather than exclusively evil beings, and predates even the great philosophers of ancient Greece. This latter view coincides with that of M. L. von Franz, who writes that "in pre-Hellenic Greece the demons, as in Egypt, were part of a nameless collectivity."[31] It further corresponds with May's own conception of the daimonic as an essentially undifferentiated, impersonal, primal force of nature. "Because," says Barrow,

the daemons have left few memorials of themselves in architecture and literature, their importance tends to be overlooked.... They are omnipresent and all-powerful, they are embedded deep in the religious memories of the peoples, for they go back to days long before the days of Greek philosophy and religion. The cults of the Greek states, recognised and officially sanctioned, were only one-tenth of the iceberg; the rest, the submerged nine-tenths, were the daemons. They lurk behind the Hebrew scriptures in spite of the careful revision in the interests of monotheism, and in the post-exilic literature vague supernatural beings abound. The New Testament is full of them.... It is the Christian writers, from Justin onwards, who haul the daemons out into the open and battle with them; they leave no doubt about the dimensions of the evil they were combating; and they were not fighting with shadows. [32]

Minoan (3,000-1,100 B.C.) and Mycenaean (1,500-1,100 B.C.) daimons were seen as attendants or servants to deities, rather than as deities themselves, and were imagined and represented as half human/half animal figures, such as the fearsome Minotaur (figs. 6 and 7). It was believed during Homer's day (around 800 B.C.) that all human ailments were brought about by daimons. But daimons could also cure, heal, and bestow the blessings of good health, happiness, and harmony. Though there is some debate as to its pre-Homeric presence, E.R. Dodds indicates that the idea of the daimon appears in both the Iliad and the Odyssey. "The most characteristic feature of the Odyssey is the way in which its personages ascribe all sorts of mental (as well as physical) events to the intervention of a nameless and indeterminate daemon or 'god' or 'gods.'"[33] Plato (428-347 B.C.) later alluded to the daimonic realm in his writings, referring to the great god of love, Eros, as "a daimon," and relating the story of the daimonion of Socrates: that supposedly supernatural "voice" inside the head of Socrates, which spoke to him whenever he was about to make some mistaken decision. In Plato's Symposium, wise woman Diotima of Mantineia describes the daimonic this way:

"All that is daemonic lies between the mortal and the immortal. Its functions are to interpret to men communications from the gods--commandments and favours from the gods in return for men's attentions--and to convey prayers and offerings from men to the gods. Being thus between men and gods the daemon fills up the gap and so acts as a link joining up the whole. Through it as intermediary pass all forms of divination and sorcery God does not mix with man; the daemonic is the agency through which intercourse and converse take place between men and gods, whether in waking visions or in dreams."[34]

Plutarch, who declared that the Egyptian deities Isis and Osiris were themselves distinguished daimons, also wrote of the "daimonic sign" of Socrates, says Dodds, speculating that "pure souls on occasion can come into contact with spiritual power, can hear a spiritual, but wordless, voice and be guided accordingly. For this spiritual power the word is daemon, but a theory of daemons is not further elaborated." [35] Whether it was indeed a humanlike voice which spoke to Socrates since childhood, or some less distinct, "word-less," more amorphous mental phenomenon, is impossible to say. In any case, it was in fact his fervent faith in this guiding spirit or "guardian angel"--his treasured daimonion--which eventually brought about the indictment, trial, and death of Socrates for teaching his students "false daimonia." The Athenians found his philosophy sacreligious, and threatening to the established order, not unlike the Pharisaical objections to the preachings of Jesus some four centuries hence. During his heyday, however, Socrates attributed to this uncanny daimonion his success (or failure) as a philosophical instructor:

"For there are many whom it resists. They cannot benefit from intercourse with me, and I am not capable of such intercourse. In many cases, it presents no obstacle to companionship, but the persons concerned derive no aid from it. But if the ... [daimonic] power participates helpfully in the relationship, the companions immediately find themselves on the path of progress." [36]

The possible implications of this statement for the practice of psychotherapy are profound. In the words of one insightful scholar, "Plutarch reveals to us the function of these daimones. They are the source in us of emotions good and bad." [37] It is of no small significance that Socrates seems to have experienced his daimonic guidance always in the form of a warning or resistance or opposition to some possible course of action; this was later, as we shall see, also to become the role of the Judeo-Christian conception of Satan: to oppose, obstruct, accuse, or lead astray the sinner--or the potential sinner. Both were adversarial "voices": the Socratic daimonion doing good; Satan doing evil.

The "precise definition of the vague terms 'daemon' and 'daemonios' was something of a novelty in Plato's day," according to Dodds, "but in the second century after Christ it was the expression of a truism. Virtually everyone, pagan, Jewish, Christian or Gnostic, believed in the existence of these beings and in their function as mediators, whether he called them daemons or angels or aions or simply 'spirits.'"[38] In Greece, "there were two types of daemon," writes B. C. Dietrich:

One was a group of spirits who were imagined to exist within nature, above the earth, and who had deep roots in popular fancy throughout the world and were live figures in national mythology. These were the nymphs.... and even [the] Muses.... The second group consisted of the spirits that lived beneath the earth, or perhaps within it. They represented the forces of growth in nature, her phenomena, and her great power of good and ill for man. Allied to these nature spirits were the daemons of the dead and of the underworld. [39]

M. L. von Franz observes that "the word daimon comes from daiomai, which, means 'divide,' distribute,' 'allot,' 'assign,' and originally referred to a momentarily perceptible divine activity, such as a startled horse, a failure in work, illness, madness, terror in certain natural spots." [40] As Jung put it, "the Greek words daimon and daimonion express a determining power which comes upon man from outside, like providence, or fate, though the ethical decision is left to man." [41] Daimons, at first, were potentially both good and evil, constructive and destructive, depending in part upon how the individual would relate to them. But it was one of Plato's students, Xenocrates, writes historian Jeffrey Burton Russell, who "established the negativity of the term by dividing the good gods from the evil demons and shifting the destructive qualities of the gods onto the demons.... The negative meaning was further set in the second century B.C.E. by the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, which used daimonion to denote the evil spirits of the Hebrews." [42] Thus began the gradual degradation of the daimon into our modem misunderstanding of the demon as exclusively evil, and the ascendancy of the Judeo-Christian conception of the devil as evil incarnate. During "the Hellenistic and Christian eras," writes May, "the dualistic split between the good and evil side of the daimon became more pronounced. We now have a celestial population separated into two camps--devils and angels, the former on the side of their leader, Satan, and the latter allied to God. Though such developments are never fully rationalized, there must have existed in those days the expectation that with this split it would be easier for man to face and conquer the devil." [43] Around the rise of Christianity, the old daimons started to disappear, their Janus-like nature torn asunder. "Evil" and "good" were neatly divided, and the daimons, now isolated from their positive pole, eventually took on the negative meaning and identity of what we today term demons. These destructive demons were believed by the Church to be commanded by that veritable embodiment of all evil: the devil (figs. 8 and 9).

The Devil

Jeffrey Burton Russell, who has written extensively on the history of Satan, informs us that "the word 'Devil' comes indirectly from the Hebrew satan, 'one who obstructs,' and [that] the Devil and Satan are one in origin and concept." He further explains, however, that "the origins of the Devil and of the demons are quite distinct.

The demons derived from the minor evil spirits of the Near East, whereas the Devil derives from the Hebrew mal'ak the shadow of the Lord [my emphasis], and the Mazdaist principle of evil itself. The New Testament maintained the distinction by differentiating between the terms diabolos and daimonion, but it was a distinction that was often blurred, and many English translations muddle it further by translating daimonion as 'devil.' . . . By the first century of the Christian era ... evil spirits usually went by the name of daimonia, 'demons.' This Hellenistic classification would lump Satan with the other evil spirits in the category of daimonia." [44]

But according to a different authority, "the word devil is a diminutive from the root div and from it we get the word divine; devil merely means 'little god.' "[45] This multiplicity of "little gods" can be found in the New Testament, demonstrated in this "case history" of Jesus curing a demoniac:

When he [Jesus] had come out of the boat, there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who lived among the tombs; and no one could bind him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been bound with fetters and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the fetters he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out, and bruising himself with stones.... [Jesus] said to him, "Come out of the man, you unclean spirit." And Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" He replied, "My name is Legion; for we are many." (Mark 5:2-9)[46]

Professor Elaine Pagels of Princeton University points out that in the Hebraic tradition, a satan was always an angel (from the Greek angelos), a celestial messenger sent by god in the form of an obstacle or obstruction to human action. But this "satan," states Pagels, "is not necessarily malevolent. God sends him like the angel of death, to perform a specific task, although one that human beings may not appreciate.... Thus the satan may simply have been sent by the Lord to protect a person from worse harm." Prior to its being employed as a pejorative term denouncing and demonizing the perceived enemies of early Christianity, or anthropomorphized into the supernatural essence of evil, a satan was merely one of the many daimones, or "spirit energies," writes Pagels, "the forces that energize all natural processes..."[47] And, as Jungian analyst James Hillman notes, for the almost two millennia since this distortion of the originally ambiguous daimones into evil demons, devils, or Satan, "the denial of daimons and their exorcism has been part and parcel of Christian psychology, leaving the Western psyche few means but the hallucinations of insanity for recognizing daimonic reality."[48] The epoch-making Cartesian approach of the late Rennaissance separated mind and body, subject and object, and deemed "real" only that aspect of human experience which is objectively measurable, or quantifiable. This advance led, notoriously, to the abject neglect of "irrational," subjective phenomena. Descartes' seventeenth-century breakthrough was a dubious development in human thought: It enabled us to rid the world of superstition, witchcraft, magic, and the gamut of mythical creatures--both evil and good--in one clean, scientific sweep.

But at what spiritual or psychological cost was the daimonic done away with during the Enlightenment? What the well-intentioned creators and perpetuators of this artificial dichotomy overlook, is that we can hardly hope to conquer devils and demons simply by expelling and destroying them--the latter being impossible without maiming ourselves in the process. The daimons cannot be eradicated, as though they were some unwanted pests invading one's fields or home. We might succeed in dispelling them temporarily; but they have only gone underground, burrowing into our rich psyches like cicadas, waiting to be reborn when the time is right. To drive the daimons away, to banish them from consciousness, is to impoverish ourselves and our world; to build a world no longer animated and alive, but dead, disenchanted, and inanimate. A more psychologically or spiritually sound solution may be achieved only by confronting and meaningfully assimilating what these daimons symbolize for us today into our selves and our daily lives. Pagan peoples managed to maintain a proper relationship with the daimonic realm, and, in some isolated cases--such as the Aborigines of Australia or certain primitive Amazonian tribes still miraculously untouched by civilization--continue to do so even today. For such simple natives, as for their forebears, says van der Leeuw, "each Thing has its own mysterious and incalculable aspect, each experience of Nature its own demon: pixies, moss and wood fairies, elves, dwarfs, etc., inhabit waters and forests, fields and the subterranean caverns of the mountains... and to this analogies can be found everywhere."[49] Naive, innocent minds perceive all of nature to be alive and animated with every manner of specter, sprite, gnome, bogey, fairy, and hobgoblin imaginable. Each spirit has its place in life, and is the object of worshipful veneration--and fear. But for most of us today, this natural participation mystique has become a lost way of being-in-the-world from which we are far removed--even with our own newly found "gods" of science, technology, psychology, and New Age spiritualism. We have deliberately excommunicated the daimons, and hence, forfeited direct contact with our innermost selves and with nature. In exiling the "evil" side of the daimonic--so-called "demons"--we also banished the "angels." But the daimons have by no means desisted in touching our lives. Quite the contrary.

Mephistopheles in America

Professor David Manning White comments that "concomitant with the presence of evil as the sum force of mankind's negativity, the concept of the devil has from earliest times played an integral part in religious thought. Although men and women probably had their personal demons from the very beginning of their perplexity about the nature of their existence, it wasn't until Zoroaster named the evil force Ahriman that the devil became a central part of a religion." [50] In several religious systems since then, including the Judeo-Christian tradition, the devil has come to virtually personify evil.

Though there is scant mention of Satan as some supernatural presence in the Old Testament, the New Testament is replete with references to Satan or the devil. "The English 'Devil,' like the German Teufel and the Spanish diablo, derives from the Greek diabolos," writes Russell. "Diabolos means 'slanderer' or a 'perjuror' or an 'adversary' in court.... Although the concept of the Devil--a single personification of evil--does not exist in most religions and philosophies, the problem of evil exists in every world view except that of radical relativism."[51]

Eventually, the devil became a preeminent image of evil (see, for instance, fig. 10). But while it is almost certainly an archetypal or universal symbol appearing in the myths and legends of many different generations and cultures, Russell reminds us that "the concept of the Devil is found in only a few religious traditions. There was no idea of a single personification of evil in ancient Greco-Roman religions, for example, and there was and is none in Hinduism or Buddhism. Most religions--from Buddhism to Marxism--have their demons, but only four major religions have had a real Devil. These are Mazdaism (Zoroastrianism), ancient Hebrew religion (but not modem Judaism), Christianity, and Islam" (p. 4).

For the early followers of these four religions, the idea of the "devil" must have held tremendous significance--as it does still for some today. But for many others in our iconoclastic culture, the devil has been deflated to a relatively lifeless concept sorely lacking the numinous authority it once so widely enjoyed. For rising numbers of individuals disenchanted with organized religion, Satan has become a diluted sign--no longer a true symbol--of a rejected, unscientific, and superstitious religious system no longer seen as spiritually significant. Nevertheless, as revealed by at least one major survey published in 1988, here in the secular United States, a 66 percent majority of us "believe in the Devil," as compared to only 30 percent or fewer of the population in European nations like Great Britain, Norway, Sweden, France, and Italy. [52] And, the following year, as if to confirm this fascinating fact, Life magazine decided to "give the Devil his due" by dedicating a full-color layout to the venerable "Prince of Darkness," introduced as follows: "Primordial and familiar, fantastic and credible, most ancient and foul seducer--his presence is once again among us, the stuff of grisly headlines. A being of many names, we call him the evildoer, mischief-maker, Lucifer, demon, tempter, serpent, fiend, Beelzebub, Baal, the devil and ... SATAN." [53] This surprising resurgence of Mephistopheles in America is not confined to "born-again" Christians, Satanists, or New Age subculture; it is also being seen in the consulting rooms of psychotherapists across the country.

Sigmund Freud--who believed the devil to be a symbol for the father [54]--speculated some seventy years ago that "the fact that we so seldom in analysis find the devil probably indicates that in those we analyze the role of this medieval, mythological figure has long since been outplayed. For various reasons the increase in skepticism has affected first and foremost the person of the devil."[55] "This would seem to be confirmed," suggests psychoanalyst Louis Berkowitz almost half a century later, "by the relatively sparse references to the devil in current psychological literature. Yet, with no fewer than four analysands within the past eight years, the writer [Berkowitz] has been confronted with the unmistakable vivid image of the devil himself or his derivative. All these patients were relatively well educated and sophisticated, and in each instance the devil came upon the scene suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving the analysand incredulous at the fact that it was indeed his own devil." [56]

In one such case, a hostile but fairly high-functioning female imagined something "'growing' in her... from a part of her body in the middle region. It was growing bigger and bigger and then it took the form of a little black devil with horns and a tail, the entire body growing larger and smaller, between twelve inches and six inches in size,. . . [with] a sarcastic smile..." Another patient dreamed of attempting to kill an elusive, black tapeworm which turned into "'a tiny black devil with horns…'"[57]

What can we make of this far-fetched phenomenon? The once maligned and scientifically repudiated symbol of the devil seems to be making a comeback. Why? How can we interpret this dramatic return of the devil to the late-twentieth-century psyche? Permit me to propose at least a partial reply to my own question: We Americans need desperately to better understand, constructively relate to, and meaningfully communicate about the perennial problem of evil. In the absence of adequate symbols and myths to express and contain our modem experience of evil, we must either modify our existing myths or create completely new, symbolic conceptualizations of evil. Failing to do so forces us into a reactionary and regressive return to outdated myths like the "devil." Symbols and myths have always provided a means of making sense of evil, and putting it in its proper perspective. Symbols and myths make a meaningful niche for evil in our world-view; without them, we cannot contextually grasp the gross reality of evil; nor can we comprehend its psychological significance. Hence, the indispensable role of wicked stepparents, witches, ghosts, and other malevolent creatures in traditional children's fairy tales, and in all myths and legends of lands far and near, each one symbolizing some salient aspect of evil. [58]

Amidst the current atmosphere of anger, rage, and violence, we Americans find ourselves faced with the forbidding countenance of unveiled evil. We have closed our collective eyes to evil for so long, we can hardly recognize it, let alone make sense of it. Dazed, frightened, and confused, some of us--for want of a more psychologically accurate, integrating, and meaningful myth--seize blindly upon the timeworn symbol of the devil, in order to somehow express this disturbing encounter with the dark, destructive side of the daimonic. Our desperate desire to resurrect the devil as the author of evil may manifest in a morbid fascination with demonology, demonstrated by the disquieting proliferation of satanic cults in this country and elsewhere. Current trends toward Satanism in America, in my estimation, are a tragically misguided attempt to discover some missing sense of personal power and significance, community, and a deeper connection with the daimonic domain. The pursuit of such legitimate goals via perverse--sometimes even murderous--behavior bespeaks all too clearly the collective plight that plagues us: the problem resides in the presumed division between good and evil still promulgated by Western religious tradition, a rigid dualism that condemns the daimonic as evil, and evil only. The daimonic has in our day been confused with the demonic.

The Demonic vs. the Daimonic

Like many of his contemporaries, Rollo May--who served briefly as a Congregational minister before becoming a psychologist--came to consider the Judeo-Christian notion of the "devil" an anachronistic concept lending itself far too readily to evading our own participation in and personal responsibility for evil. As he saw the situation, "the common personalized term [for evil] which has been used historically, namely the devil, is unsatisfactory because it projects the power outside the self... Furthermore, it always seemed to me a deteriorated and escapist form of what needs to be understood about evil." [59] The devil no doubt does make a convenient scapegoat upon which to heap our disowned evil tendencies (fig. 11). What we lack--and what the archetypal model of the daimonic provides--is a new, or renewed vision of that valid realm of reality betokened by the "devil," one which can also include the constructive side of this elemental power. For, when properly interpreted, the symbol of the devil holds truly a coincidentia oppositorum, a coincidence of opposites. This highly significant fact is contained in the etymology of our English term "devil," which, as May explains, "comes from the Greek word diabolos; "diabolic" is the term in contemporary English. Diabolos, interestingly enough, literally means "to tear apart" (dia-bollein). Now it is fascinating to note that this diabolic is the antonym of "symbolic." . . . There lie in these words tremendous implications with respect to an ontology of good and evil. The symbolic is that which draws together, ties, integrates the individual in himself and with his group; the diabolic, in contrast, is that which disintegrates and tears apart. Both of these are present in the daimonic." [my emphasis][60]

There is, indeed, a tremendous difference between the demonic--connoting that which is purely negative and evil--and the daimonic, which contains the creative seeds of its own redemption. The daimonic--unlike the more polarized, and thus, comprehensible ideas of the demonic or the devil--transcends the dualism of "good" and "evil," deriving as it does from what theologian Paul Tillich termed "the ground of being": that indivisible and ineffable state wherein the cosmic polar opposites co-exist as potentialities, the realization of which depends in some measure on the mediating human will. In contrast to the demonic, the daimonic includes the diabolic as well as divine human endowments, without making them mutually exclusive; it is that numinous aspect of being and of nature that is both beautiful and terrible at the same time. In this regard, the daimonic resembles certain tenets of pre-Christian monistic religions like Hinduism, which holds that both good and evil stem from the the identical, ultimately inseparable, divine principle (Brahman): "The great gods of India," writes Russell, "including Kali, Shiva, and Durga, manifest opposite poles in a single being: benevolence and malevolence, creativity and destructiveness.... Hebrew religion originally attributed all that is in heaven and earth, whether constructive or destructive, to the one God [Yahweh].... He was both light and darkness, construction and destruction, good and evil."[61] (See figs. 12 and 13.) This inseparable ambiguity is also very much in keeping with the earliest conception of Satan as Lucifer--the "light-bearer"--who, to paraphrase Mephistopheles in Goethe's Faust, seeking to do evil, inevitably effects some good in the process .[62]

Hence, we have seen that "the daimonic" has been known throughout history by many names. German novelist Hermann Hesse, for instance, in Demian, refers to this numinous, archetypal, transcendent, coniunctio oppositorum as Abraxas:

"This name occurs in connection with Greek magical forumulas and is frequently considered the name of some magician's helper such as certain uncivilized tribes believe in even at present. But it appears that Abraxas has a much deeper significance. We may conceive of the name as that of a godhead whose symbolic task is the uniting of godly and devilish elements.". . .

... [Demian] said that we had been given a god to worship who represented only one arbitrarily separated half of the world (it was the official, sanctioned, luminous world), but that we ought to be able to worship the whole world; this meant that we would either have to have a god who was also a devil or institute a cult of the devil alongside the cult of god.... Abraxas was the god who was both god and devil .[63]

"Abraxas, the Anguipede" or serpent-footed deity, dates back to at least the earliest days of Christianity, and was particularly popular among the Gnostics (fig. 14). This ancient configuration of the daimonic bears some similarities in function to the Christian figure Lucifer. But above all, Abraxas is a myth, which like "the daimonic," surpasses the polarities of most of our accepted, dualistic ideas of the divine, and defies formulas. As Pistorius professes in Demian: " 'Abraxas ... is God and Satan and he contains both the luminous and the dark world.' "[64]

Like the Greek hero Perseus--whom the goddess Athena helped to behead the Gorgon (see fig. 3), Medusa, by handing him a shiny shield to safely mirror her horrific image--we will always require some means of consciously reflecting on the reality of evil and making sense of it; this is the main function of enduring myths and symbols like Abraxas, or the devil, or the daimonic. Without such pragmatic intellectual props--which really are divine gifts--we could not live very long in a world so thoroughly riddled with evil. For we cannot too long "gaze into the face of absolute evil"[65] unaided by some mythological, theological, or philosophical filter, or reflective, cognitive mechanism. Myths and symbols serve such protective purposes for the vulnerable human psyche; they buffer and deflect the devastating impact of radical evil, and imbue it with meaning.

But this important theme of "mirroring" and "reflection" in the myth of Perseus and Medusa contains an additional clue for more clearly apprehending evil. Much of the evil we see "out there" in the world, and in others, is in some measure a reflection of ourselves: our own human potential for, and unavoidable participation in evil. The myth counsels that the only meaningful--and ultimately, viable--way of comprehending and combating evil is to understand it as a mirroring of the daimonic elements eternally present in nature and in all humanity. We are the primary progenitors of evil: we not only define it, but, as we shall see, we wittingly or unwittingly create and perpetuate it. Therefore, it is we who are responsible for much of the evil in the world; and we are each morally required to accept rather than project that ponderous responsibility--lest we prefer instead to wallow in a perennial state of powerless, frustrated, furious victimhood. For what one possesses the power to bring about, one has also the power to limit, mitigate, counteract, or transmute. Recall that as a result of Perseus' courageous encounter with Medusa, Pegasus, that magnificent, winged, white steed, arose from her vital lifeblood; and the now reenergized Perseus rode on triumphantly to conquer more monstrous demons, and marry the beautiful maiden, Andromeda. Good can come from defiantly facing evil. But evil, alas, will always find another face.

Dr. Diamond wishes to express his gratitude to Matthew Clapp and Craig Chalquist for creating this special on-line version of Chapter 3 from his book Anger, Madness, and the Daimonic: The Psychological Genesis of Violence, Evil, and Creativity (State University of New York Press, 1999).

© Copyright 1996/1999 by Stephen A. Diamond. All rights reserved.