Psellus, Pagan Taxonomies of Daemons

Category: Theology > On Daemons and Souls

1 Introduction

This Taxonomy of Daemons – or, to use a more literal translation, Hellenic Division of Orders Concerning Daemons – is a brief essay by the 11th-century polymath Michael Psellus, one of many in which he summarizes the teachings of pagan philosophers. These essays are useful even when his sources are still extant, but the present one, which was almost certainly drawn from Proclus’ Chaldaic compendium, since lost, now stands as the only complete summary of Proclus’ daemonology, and is also a vital touchstone for other late Neoplatonists’ teachings about the subject. Incidentally, Proclus / Psellus also account for many points of belief and practice which otherwise are left out of philosophical theorizing.

2 Translation

christian introduction›

(1) Our (Christian) teaching, o most learned brother, has laid down that the daemons were at first of the angelic order, but declares that they afterwards slipped into error by choosing to go against God’s will, and were changed from the better into complete evil. The Hellenic teaching, however, does not say that a daemon is something evil, but draws many distinctions between them, and assigns to each kind a power and rank bestowed by Providence from eternity.

the definitions of different ranks of daemons›

(2) And, according to them, the divine daemon is a living being that takes its origin from the divine substance, eternal(ly) having the same natural life marked by intellect.

The intellective (daemon) is a living being, eternal(ly) having the same natural life acting according to intellect and reason.

The psychic (daemon) is marked by reason, and takes care for particular souls.

The physical (daemon) is marked by reason, and presides immediately over nature.

The corporeal (daemon) is marked by reason and irrationality, and rules the natural bodies.

The material (daemon) is a living being, eternal(ly) having the same natural life subsisting according to irrationality.

general character of daemons›

(3) They say that daemons are subordinate to the will of the Greater Beings, but delight in manifold activities. For since what is undivided in the divine substance is divided (in them), they say that daemons are neither mortal nor immortal; rather, they separate the immortal into that which merely has inextinguishable life, and that which furnishes immortality for itself, which they call immortality in the proper sense. They do not grant the daemons this, but set them up as only having unending life. Likewise, they say that this genus is neither wholly corporeal nor wholly incorporeal, but corporiform, as being attached to shadowy and subtle bodies, which cannot be grasped by human eyes.

the different kinds of bodies belonging to daemons and to daemonic souls›

(4) Now, the souls of daemons have the following distinctions (of rank) between them, as we said: divine, intellective, rational, natural, corporeal, material. And they also have various corporeal shapes. They say that some of them – I mean the bodies attached to them – are spherical, very much like the divine bodies, and more subtle than earthly bodies, but dimmer than the celestial luminaries; others are straight and multiform in shape; others move in whirls and are carried about at a slant.

But they are all without need of nourishment; for those who are fed by vapors are said to be daemonic souls, and not daemons by essence, but only by condition. For there are, they say, also herds of daemonic souls, who change from one nature into another and are in air and water. Their vehicles require nourishment, and these daemonic (beings) die and often mix with human bodies and join with them in reproduction. And whether certain (male) ‘Nymphians’ consort with women or Nymphs with men, or whether Nereïds emerge from the sea, their kind is neither divine nor truly daemonic, but that of daemonic souls entering into generation, which require nourishment and are able to share wholly in reproduction.

As for the daemons who appear with the faces of lions, they do not consist of flesh and bones, but the daemon’s body takes on a shape of this manner by bearing, so to speak, a shadow-image of a lion made up of certain aerial and fiery masses.

the ranks of daemons proper›

(5) The so-called invocations summon the corporeal daemons; for these preside over animals and plants, and over their parts, like the eye, heart or liver.

They say that the material daemons have a life entirely subject to the passions, taking delight in the disorderliness of matter, which appears to be the same, not only when there is generation, but also (when there is) destruction of the things that come into being. So, they say that these do not hold their passion contrary to nature, as we do, for whom being is in accordance with reason; for them, rather, as with lions, appetite is in accordance with nature.

Among the psychic daemons are the climatarchic daemons and those presiding over cities, over households and over individual souls, which last they call our allotted daemons.

As for the physical daemons, they say that they hold together the bond of the divine natures and the generation-producing (gods). It is customary to invoke these when certain herbs are picked, or when certain other animals and plants are taken for the worship of the Greater Beings or for the treatment of bodies.

The lowest daemons, the material ones, they say, bind together the matter of the divine bodies and that of the terrestrial and generated bodies, supporting its weakness through the forms of the Greater Beings; among them are those who rush against souls and stir the passions in them, so that they cling to matter, and who torture them when they have fallen.

There are also, they say, divine daemons in the earth and in the air, presiding over the living beings there, and in the water, too; they govern all under the moon. They are aerial, terrestrial and aquatic daemons.

general observation about the rank of daemons›

(6) And on the whole, the wise among the Hellenes assign the middle rank to the daemons, saying that the whole daemonic being is between the divine and the mortal. They say that the middle rank especially characterizes the daemonic power, and that its intellective cause must be inquired after from this.

two other kinds of daemons›

However, there are certain herds of daemons who are all but devoid of good works, who are called evil; and other herds of daemons devoid of real knowledge, who are named irrational and animalistic.

general observation resumed›

But they say that the daemonic genus interprets and carries messages from humanity to the gods and from the gods to humanity, being revelatory of the (gods), since they are hidden and concealed, and elevatory of (humanity), since it must be transferred towards the stable goodness of the Greater Beings.

christian conclusion›

(7) Now, all these things are a matter of Hellenic garrulity; to us, whose object of worship is the Word, everything that is said contrary to our (the Christian) and divine taxonomy appears meaningless.

3 Greek text (Philosophica minora, vol. 2, ed. D.J. O’Meara)

Ἑλληνικαὶ διατάξεις περὶ δαιμόνων

(1) Ὁ μὲν καθ’ ἡμᾶς λόγος, ἀδελφὲ λογιώτατε, τῆς ἀγγελικῆς τάξεως τιθεὶς τὰ πρῶτα τοὺς δαίμονας, ὕστερον διολισθῆσαι τούτους τῆς πρὸς θεὸν νεύσεως προαιρετικοῖς ἀποπτώμασιν ἀποφαίνεται καὶ πάντῃ κακὸν τοῦ κρείττονος ἀνταλλάξασθαι. ὁ δέ γε Ἑλληνικὸς λόγος οὔ φησι δαίμονα οὐδένα κακόν, ἀλλὰ διαιρέσεις μὲν αὐτῶν ποιεῖται πολλάς, ἕκαστον δὲ ἐξ ἀιδίου τάττει ἐπὶ τῆς δεδομένης πᾶσι παρὰ τῆς προνοίας ἐξουσίας καὶ τάξεως.

(2) καὶ ἔστι παρ’ αὐτοῖς ὁ μὲν δαίμων θεῖος ζῷον ἀπὸ ‹θείας› οὐσίας ἀρχόμενον ἀίδιον τὴν αὐτὴν κατὰ φύσιν ἔχον ζωὴν κατὰ νοῦν ἀφοριζομένην·

ὁ δὲ νοερὸς ζῷον ἀίδιον τὴν αὐτὴν κατὰ φύσιν ἔχον ζωὴν κατὰ νοῦν καὶ λόγον ἐνεργουμένην·

ὁ δὲ ψυχικὸς κατὰ λόγον ἀφοριζόμενος καὶ ψυχῶν μεριστῶν ἐπιμελούμενος·

ὁ δὲ φυσικὸς κατὰ λόγον μὲν ἀφοριζόμενος, προσεχῶς δὲ τῆς φύσεως προϊστάμενος·

ὁ δὲ σωματικὸς κατὰ λόγον καὶ ἀλογίαν ἀφοριζόμενος καὶ τῶν φυσικῶν σωμάτων κατάρχων·

ὁ δὲ ὑλαῖος ζῷον ἀίδιον τὴν αὐτὴν ἔχων κατὰ φύσιν ζωὴν κατὰ ἀλογίαν ὑφισταμένην.

(3) φασὶ δὲ τοὺς δαίμονας ὑπηρετικοὺς εἶναι βουλήσεως τῶν κρειττόνων, χαίροντας δὲ ποικίλαις ἐνεργείαις. καὶ γὰρ ‹τὸ› ἀμέριστον τῆς θείας οὐσίας μεριζομένους οὔτε θνητούς φασι τοὺς δαίμονας οὔτε ἀθανάτους, ἀλλὰ διορίζουσι τὸ ἀθάνατον εἴς τε τὸ ἄσβεστον ἔχον ζωὴν ‹καὶ› εἰς τὸ χορηγοῦν ἑαυτῷ τὴν ἀθανασίαν, ὅπερ δὴ καὶ καλοῦσι κυρίως ἀθανασίαν. ἐφ’ ἧς οὐ τιθέασι τοὺς δαίμονας, ἀλλὰ μόνην ἀπέραντον ἔχειν τὴν ζωὴν διατάττονται. ὣς δὲ οὔτε πάντῃ σωματικὸν τὸ γένος τοῦτό φασιν οὔτε πάντῃ ἀσώματον, ἀλλὰ σωματοειδές, οἷον σώματα προσηρτημένον σκιοειδῆ καὶ λεπτὰ καὶ ἀνθρωπίνοις ὀφθαλμοῖς ἄληπτα.

(4) Αἱ μὲν οὖν ψυχαὶ τῶν δαιμόνων τοιαύτας ἔχουσιν αὐτοῖς διαφοράς, οἵας εἰρήκαμεν, θείας, νοεράς, λογικάς, φυσικάς, σωματικάς, ὑλαίας. ποικίλας δὲ ἔχουσι καὶ τὰς σωματικὰς μορφάς. καὶ τὰ μὲν αὐτῶν (φημὶ δὴ τῶν προσηρτημένων αὐτοῖς σωμάτων) εἶναί φασι σφαιροειδῆ, τοῖς θείοις παραπλήσια σώμασι, λεπτότερα μὲν τῶν γηίνων σωμάτων, ἀμαυρότερα δὲ τῶν οὐρανίων ἐλλάμψεων, τὰ δὲ καὶ εὐθύπορα καὶ πολυειδῆ τοῖς σχήμασι, τὰ δὲ καὶ καθ’ ἕλικα κινούμενα καὶ λοξῶς φερόμενα.

Εἶναι δὲ πάντα ἀνεπιδεᾶ τροφῆς· τὰ γὰρ τρεφόμενα τοῖς ἀτμοῖς ψυχῶν λέγουσιν εἶναι δαιμονίων καὶ οὐ τῶν κατ’ οὐσίαν δαιμόνων, ἀλλὰ τῶν κατὰ σχέσιν. εἰσὶ γάρ, φασί, καὶ ψυχῶν ἀγέλαι δαιμονίων μεταταττομένων ἀπὸ ἄλλης φύσεως εἰς ἄλλην καὶ οὐσῶν ἔν τε ἄερι καὶ ὕδατι, ὧν τὰ ὀχήματα δεῖσθαι τροφῆς, ὧν καὶ οἱ θάνατοι τῶν δαιμονίων καὶ αἱ μίξεις πολλάκις αἱ πρὸς τὰ ἀνθρώπινα σώματα καὶ αἱ κοινωνίαι τῶν γεννήσεων. καὶ εἴτε νυμφίοι τινὲς γυναιξὶν εἴτε νύμφαι ἀνδράσιν ὡμίλησαν εἴτε καὶ Νηρηίδες ἀναδῦσαι τῆς θαλάσσης, οὔτε θεῖον τοῦτο τὸ γένος οὔτε ὡς ἀληθῶς δαιμόνιον, ἀλλὰ δαιμονίων ψυχῶν εἰς γένεσιν ἐρχομένων καὶ τροφῆς ἐπιδεῶν καὶ ὅλως σπορᾶς κοινωνεῖν δυναμένων.

Οἱ δὲ φαινόμενοι λεοντοπρόσωποι δαίμονες οὐκ ἐκ σαρκῶν σύγκεινται καὶ ὀστῶν, ἀλλὰ τὸ σῶμα τοῦ δαίμονος ἐσχημάτισται τὸν τρόπον τοῦτον οἷον σκιαγραφίαν λέοντος φέρων διά τινων ἀερίων καὶ πυρίων ὄγκων.

(5) Αἱ δὲ λεγόμεναι ἐπικλήσεις τοῖς σωματικοῖς προσάγονται δαίμοσι· προεστήκασι γὰρ οὗτοι ζῴων τε καὶ φυτῶν καὶ τῶν ἐν τούτοις μερῶν οἷον ὀφθαλμοῦ, καρδίας, ἥπατος.

ὑλαίους δέ φασι δαίμονας τοὺς πάθεσι μὲν ἔχοντας ὅλην ὑποκειμένην τὴν ζωήν, χαίροντας δὲ τῇ ἀταξίᾳ τῆς ὕλης, ἣν εἶναι δοκεῖ καὶ αὐτὴν τοιαύτην, ὡς ἂν ᾖ μὴ γένεσις μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ φθορὰ τῶν γενομένων. οὐ μέντοι τὸ πάθος παρὰ φύσιν ἔχειν αὐτοὺς λέγουσιν ὡς ἡμεῖς, οἷς τὸ εἶναι κατὰ λόγον, ἀλλ’ ὡς τοῖς λέουσιν ὁ θυμὸς κατὰ φύσιν.

ἀπὸ δὲ τῶν ψυχικῶν δαιμόνων οἱ κλιματάρχαι δαίμονές εἰσι καὶ οἱ τῶν πόλεων προστάται καὶ οἱ τῶν οἴκων καὶ οἱ τῶν καθέκαστα ψυχῶν, οὓς καλοῦσι τοὺς εἰληχότας ἡμᾶς δαίμονας.

τοὺς δὲ φυσικοὺς δαίμονας τὸν δεσμόν φασι συνέχειν τῶν τε θείων φύσεων καὶ τῶν γενεσιουργῶν, οὓς καὶ ἐπικαλεῖσθαι νόμος τοῖς πόας τινὰς ἀναιρουμένοις ἢ ἄλλ’ ἄττα ζῷα καὶ φυτὰ λαμβάνουσι πρὸς θεραπείας τῶν κρειττόνων ἢ σωμάτων ἐπιμελείας.

οἱ δὲ τελευταῖοι, φασί, καὶ ὑλαῖοι δαίμονες τὴν τῶν θείων σωμάτων ὕλην καὶ τὴν τῶν χθονίων καὶ γεννητῶν συνδέουσι τὸ ἀσθενὲς αὐτῆς τοῖς ἰνδάλμασι τοῖς τῶν κρειττόνων παραμυθούμενοι· ἀφ’ ὧν εἰσιν οἱ ἐναλλόμενοι ταῖς ψυχαῖς καὶ τὰ πάθη τὰ ἐν αὐταῖς ἀνεγείροντες, ἵνα τὴν ὕλην ἀσπάζωνται, καὶ πεσούσας αὐτὰς αἰκιζόμενοι.

εἰσὶ δέ, φασί, καὶ ἐν γῇ θεῖοι δαίμονες καὶ ἐν τῷ ἀέρι, προστάται τῶν ἐκεῖ ζῴων, καὶ ‹ἐν› ὕδατι, διὰ πάντων τῶν ὑπὸ σελήνην διήκοντες, ἀέριοί τε καὶ χθόνιοι καὶ ἔνυδροι.

(6) Καὶ ὅλως τὴν μεσότητα τῶν δαιμόνων ἀφορίζοντες οἱ παρ’ Ἕλλησι σοφοὶ μεταξύ φασιν εἶναι πᾶν τὸ δαιμόνιον θείου καὶ θνητοῦ. μάλιστα δέ φασι τὴν δύναμιν χαρακτηρίζειν τὴν μεσότητα τὴν δαιμονίαν καὶ ἐκ τούτου δεῖν θηρᾶν τὴν νοητὴν αὐτοῦ αἰτίαν.

Εἰσὶ δέ τινες ἀγέλαι δαιμόνων ἐστερημέναι σχεδὸν τῆς ἀγαθοεργίας, οἵτινες λέγονται κακοί, καὶ ἕτεραι ἀγέλαι δαιμόνων ἐστερημέναι τῆς ὄντως γνώσεως, οἵτινες ἄλογοι καὶ θηριώδεις ὀνομάζονται.

ἑρμηνεύειν δέ φασι τὸ δαιμόνιον γένος καὶ διαπορθμεύειν θεοῖς τε τὰ παρὰ ἀνθρώπων καὶ ἀνθρώποις τὰ παρὰ θεῶν, τῶν μὲν ἐκφαντορικὸν ὑπάρχον ὡς κεκρυμμένων καὶ ἀφανῶν, τῶν δὲ ἀναγωγὸν ὡς διαπορθμεύεσθαι πρὸς τὴν μόνιμον τῶν κρειττόνων ἀγαθότητα δεομένων.

(7) ταῦτα μὲν οὖν τῆς Ἑλληνικῆς ἀδολεσχίας εἰσίν· ἡμῖν δέ, οἷς λόγος τὸ προσκυνούμενον, λῆρος ἅπαν δοκεῖ τὸ παρὰ τὰς ἡμετέρας καὶ θείας διατάξεις λεγόμενον.