How to make a demon

The concept of demons, djinns, or general ‘evil’ spirits is common to many belief systems.

But less clear is the question of whether we humans construct demons, or do they pre-exist  their own discovery, and patiently wait for opportunities to manifest themselves?

I’ve whittered on enough about Celts, Celtic beliefs, and so on before, but there is something very important and helpful about the way that the best of the Celtic Christians interacted with the Paganism they found around them.

I’m particularly interested in the way that they and the Anglo Saxons seemed not as keen to demonise the people and belief systems they found around them, something which seemed to change with the onset of predominant Roman Christianity. I suspect that this may have something to do with the fact that they came from the ‘desert’ traditions, which recognised the power and reality of evil, but saw it as an internal struggle for each believer (e.g. Anthony of Egypt).

This may be something I go on to develop in other posts, but my basic point is that I see something very dangerous in the way that many of us automatically ascribe ‘demonic’ power to other people’s objects of worship. This is, I suspect an instinctive dualistic reaction to their ‘otherness’.

As far as I can tell, the word ‘demon’ comes from ‘daimone’ which was the word for Roman household Gods, which were thought by early Christians to exercise malign power over their devotees.

I think that this way of thinking stems, ironically, from a kind of Manichean dualism – which has remained at the heart of spiritual warfare based Christian thinking. It can drive some to great acts of mercy and kindness, and others to bloody crusades.

But it’s strangely still reserved for the almost abstract concept of an ‘other’ deity or system of religious belief, it is rarely applied to more common material objects of worship, technological gadgets, or more concepts such as celebrity, self-image and so on. It is a useful exercise to question that, and then to go back to the spiritual beliefs of others, and ask if they are the most obvious ‘demons’ in our world.

What, we might ask, exercises the most malign power, a household shrine, or a devotion to conspicuous consumption? Which of the two is more likely to see a child go hungry, a partner become neglectful or violent, or serious mental illness develop? Which of the two, in our society, is generally more likely to contribute to destruction of the environment, or to war, famine and death (the ‘horsemen’ of the apocalypse)?

When we read the story of the ‘Legion’ of Demons cast into the swine, do we miss something by not reflecting on the fact that the word ‘Legion’ would immediately have summoned up, to Jesus’ followers, ideas of Roman militarism?

By the way, Ruth Valerio is almost certainly not a pagan, although she may be a heretic, which is nearly as bad – after all, she does go to Spring Harvest, well known as a hotbed of heresy.  Sorry Ruth, I don’t really think you’re a heretic.

However, her hereticism notwithstanding, she’s written an interesting post about Christianity and Paganism here.

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4 thoughts on “How to make a demon

  1. Yes, that is interesting. My heretical view is that there is healthy and unhealthy religion, and the line between them is not necessarily the ones between faiths, so we should be careful in slapping a blanket term on people because of our understanding of their faith.

    That said, there do seem to be some faiths which have little healthy about them – but that might just be illustrating my lack of understanding of them..

    • simoncross says:

      At a guess I’d say I agree with you, but I’d be interested to know which religions/belief systems you think are perhaps unhealthy – saving the obvious exceptions of Nazism and so on.

      • Hmm. Well, I think any faith which thinks that if you (as a human being) needs to do something specific to placate God is ultimately pretty damaging. I suppose I’m more comfortable looking for people who espouse a theology of peace and non-violence whatever their background is. Sometimes these seem (to me) to come from very unlikely backgrounds. I’m not really interested in any other kind of religion.

  2. demons says:

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