Of Demons, Spirits and Other Creatures

Bill Bragg,"Boxheads in the Woods“, 2011, water color on paper, 75,9x56,0 cm, ©Bill Bragg

‘Demon’ comes from the Greek δαίμων or δαιμόνιον.

Of Demons, Spirits and Other Creatures

“Nicht lange brauch ich zu beschwören,
Schon raschelt eine hier und wird sogleich mich hören.
Der Herr der Ratten und der Mäuse,
Der Fliegen, Frösche, Wanzen, Läuse
Befiehlt dir, dich hervor zu wagen
Und diese Schwelle zu benagen,
So wie er sie mit Öl betupft-
Da kommst du schon hervorgehupft!”
To conjure up a lengthier spell,
One’s rustling here that will do well.
The Lord of Rats and Mice,
Of Flies, Frogs, Bugs and Lice,
Summons you to venture here,
And gnaw the threshold where
He stains it with a little oil –
You’ve hopped, already, to your toil!
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Faust. Part I”

“I have also proposed certain theses concerning magic, in which I have indicated that magic has two forms. One consists wholly in the operations and powers of demons, and consequently this appears to me, as God is my witness, an execrable and monstrous thing. The other proves, when thoroughly investigated, to be nothing else but the highest realization of natural philosophy. The Greeks noted both these forms. However, because they considered the first form wholly undeserving the name magic they called it goeteia, reserving the term mageia, to the second, and understanding by it the highest and most perfect wisdom. The term “magus” in the Persian tongue, according to Porphyry, means the same as “interpreter” and “worshipper of the divine” in our language. […] The former is vain and disappointing; the later, firm, solid and satisfying. […] Plotinus also gives signs that he was aware of it in the passage in which he shows that the magician is the minister of nature and not merely its artful imitator. […] That first form of magic cannot justify any claim to being either an art or a science while the latter, filled as it is with mysteries, embraces the most profound contemplation of the deepest secrets of things and finally the knowledge of the whole of nature. This beneficent magic, in calling forth, as it were, from their hiding places into the light the powers which the largess of God has sown and planted in the world, does not itself work miracles, so much as sedulously serve nature as she works her wonders. Scrutinizing, with greater penetration, that harmony of the universe which the Greeks with greater aptness of terms called sympatheia and grasping the mutual affinity of things, she applies to each thing those inducements (called the iugges of the magicians), most suited to its nature. Thus it draws forth into public notice the miracles which lie hidden in the recesses of the world, in the womb of nature, in the storehouses and secret vaults of God, as though she herself were their artificer. As the farmer weds his elms to the vines, so the “magus” unites earth to heaven, that is, the lower orders to the endowments and powers of the higher.”

“[…] Proposuimus et magica theoremata, in quibus duplicem esse magiam significavimus, quarum altera demonum tota opere et auctoritate constat, res medius fidius execranda et portentosa. Altera nihil est aliud, cum bene exploratur, quam naturalis philosophiae absoluta consumatio. Utriusque cum meminerint Greci, illam magiae nullo modo nomine dignantes [goeteian] nuncupant, hanc propria peculiarique appellatione [mageian], quasi perfectam summamque sapientiam vocant. Idem enim, ut ait Porphyrius, Persarum lingua magus sonat quod apud nos divinorum interpres et cultor. […] illa irrita et vana, haec firma fidelis et solida. […] Meminit et Plotinus, ubi naturae ministrum esse et non artificiem magum demonstrat […] Illa denique nec artis nec scientiae sibi potest nomen vendicare; haec altissimis plena misteriis, profundissimam rerum secretissimarum contemplationem, et demum totius naturae cognitionem complectitur. Haec, inter sparsas Dei beneficio et inter seminatas mundo virtutes, quasi de latebris evocans in lucem, non tam facit miranda quam facienti naturae sedula famulatur. Haec universi consensum, quem significantius Graeci [sumpatheian] dicunt, introrsum perscrutatius rimata et mutuam naturarum cognitionem habens perspectatam, nativas adibens unicuique rei et suas illecebras, quae magorum [iunges] nominantur, in mundi recessibus, in naturae gremio, in promptuariis arcanisque Dei latitantia miracula, quasi ipsa sit artifex, promit in publicum, et sicut agricola ulmos vitibus, ita magus terram caelo, idest inferiora superiorum dotibus virtutibusque maritat. […]”

excerpt from: Giovanni Pico della Mirandola,
“Oration on the Dignity of Men”, 1486

Good to know
‘Demon’ comes from the Greek δαίμων or δαιμόνιον. Both refer, according to Thales of Miletus – the pre-Socratic natural philosopher – to a universal spirit within all things. When Socrates uses it, he means, thereby, the conscience. The Neoplatonists returned to the set of beliefs and superstitions, widespread among the common folk, of δαιμόνια as natural spirits. Their lead was followed by Augustine, for whom δαιμόνια were both helpful and malevolent spirits. Ulfilias translated δαιμόνιον into German as ‘unhulto’ (Modern German ‘Unhold’, or ‘fiend’); Luther translated it as ‘devil.’


“I saw a lustful woman, naked and stripped of flesh, red from revolting boils, her corpse gorged upon by snakes, and beside her a barrel-bellied Satyr with fur-coated gryphon claws and an obscene grimace, shrieking out its own damnation; and I saw a covetous man, stiff in death’s stiffness on a sumptuous chaise longue, now cowardly quarry of a host of demons, one tearing out from his rattling mouth his soul, a soul in the shape of a small child (oh, never shall there be for him a resurrection to eternal life!); and I saw a proud man, a nightmarish elf perched upon his shoulder and raking away at his eyes with craggy talons, and I saw more demons, even more, goat-headed, lion-maned, panther-mawed, trapped in a forest of flames whose burning stench I could have sworn I felt in my nostrils and lungs.”
Umberto Eco, “The Name of the Rose”


Bible Server
RDK Labor “Dämonen”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe “Faust 1”
Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-94) “Oration on the Dignity of Man (1486)
The Latin Library


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Bill Bragg,"Boxheads in the Woods“, 2011, water color on paper, 75,9x56,0 cm, ©Bill Bragg
Bill Bragg,”Boxheads in the Woods“, 2011, watercolor on paper, 75,9×56,0 cm, ©Bill Bragg