I have been fascinated for some time with what are commonly known as ‘demons.’ Why, you ask? Well I’ll tell ya.
It all goes back to my musings on Satan/Lucifer and how he (if pronouns even apply) got the reputation he has. First off, Satan and Lucifer really are not one and the same. Lucifer was, as most probably are aware, an archangel who is said to have lead the rebellion in heaven against Jehovah. The name Lucifer translates from the Latin as “light-bearer.” Lucifer was also a name for the planet Venus, which is often referred to as the Morning Star when it appears in the morning sky, a harbinger of dawn. (Venus’s orbit overtakes Earth’s every 584 days so sometimes it’s the Evening Star. For more on that, go here).
Lucifer as a fallen angel seems to come from a passage in Isaiah 14:12, which is actually talking about a Babylonian king, and doesn’t even use the word Lucifer. This parallels a Canaanite myth about the “Morning Star” trying to rise above the clouds and establish himself as a god, only to be cast into the underworld. Interestingly the story closely matches the passage in Isaiah. It seems to be this association with the ‘Morning Star’ (lucifer) that later writers conflate with Satan-Sataniel. The Lucifer myth was transferred to Satan in the first pre-Christian century, in such apocryphal books as the Life of Adam and Eve (in which Eve ostensibly gets to tell her side of the story), the Armenian Penitence of Adam, The Slavonic Life of Adam and Eve, and others. It’s all very confusing and frankly it’s giving me a headache. There are many names for Satan or ‘the adversary’ in the New Testament, but not once is he called Lucifer. Suffice it to say it’s all done by later writers. I’m not even going to get into Dante here, as I don’t consider his writing to be religious texts in the same sense, but only fiction.
Fallen angels are not demons, and even demons have not always had such a bad rep. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that the word demon took on its now ubiquitous meaning of inveterate evil, conjuring images of hideous, malformed imps bent on wreaking havoc and dragging you to hell, although earlier Christian writers had already reduced them to villiany, specifically Cyprian in the 3rd century CE described them in his On the Vanity of Idols:
They are impure and wandering spirits, who, after having been steeped in earthly vices, have departed from their celestial vigour by the contagion of earth, and do not cease, when ruined themselves, to seek the ruin of others; and when degraded themselves, to infuse into others the error of their own degradation. These demons the poets also acknowledge, and Socrates declared that he was instructed and ruled at the will of a demon; and thence the Magi have a power either for mischief or for mockery, of whom, however, the chief Hostanes both says that the form of the true God cannot be seen, and declares that true angels stand round about His throne.
I’ve previously mentioned Socrates’ dæmon, who advised him. At that time and in Neo-Platonic thought they were seen as a sort of divine being, an intermediary between man and heaven. The new Catholic Encyclopedia says that the sinister meaning was ascribed to the term as early as the Greek New Testament, unsurprisingly, since the gods of the old religion become the devils of the new. The Hellenistic view was that they existed outside the person, which Philip Pullman used in his “His Dark Materials” books.
So how about that heavenly rebellion? The story is that Lucifer was told to bow before Adam and refused. Lilith, Adam’s first wife in apocryphal texts, when told she had to be subservient to Adam, had the same reaction, only she uttered the secret name of God and got away. (This is an old magical belief, that to name a thing is to gain power over it. The SFF writer Ursula K. Le Guin uses this device in her Wizard of Earthsea trilogy). Which kind of begs the question: How did Lilith know this name, but legions of angels did not? Be that as it may, a third of the angels were cast out of heaven, although to my knowledge no exact number is mentioned in the Bible. The magical text, the Lemegeton, or The Lesser Key of Solomon, lists 72 of these, some frightful and fierce, others quite mild and helpful who can be conjured by mages for various purposes. Some teach astronomy, arts, herbs, mathematics, kindle love or lust, while others incite wars and violence. Several are said to be hoping to return to the Seventh Thrones in a millenia. They come from the Powers, Dominations, and Order of Thrones in angelic lore. Although nowadays anything that resides in Hell (where I assume these beings hang out when not being summoned for various magical workings) is considered a demon, I don’t see them as being the same at all.
Personally, I’m more inclined to go with the Socratic vision of the dæmon. I tend to think mine is my muse, although I think I’m still learning how to hear him.