On the Operation of Daemons
Between 1018 and 1079 AD there lived a man named Psellus or
Psellos1). His works include: De
daemonibus, Zoroaster, Oracula magica2).
His De daemonibus, which has been cited from time to
time in serious occult literature since the 16th century, would seem
to have for its full title in English the following:
Michael Psellus' Dialogue,
Timothy and (a) Thracian.
On the Operation of Daemons.
Although editions in Greek (Peri Energeias Daimonon) and Latin
(De Operatione Daemonum) are known from 1576, 1615, 1641, 1677,
& 1838, the work was, it seems, translated from the Greek into
English for the first time perhaps in Sydney, Australia, in
1843 by one Marcus Collisson. The translated text occupies pages
18-49 of Collisson's 52 page book3).
The following is an excerpt from Collisson's translation:
- What possible benefit could you derive from
my delineating their seductive statements?.
- Nay, but I shall be greatly benefited,
Thracian; surely it is not unserviceable for physicians to be
acquainted with drugs of a deadly nature, that so none may be
endangered by their use4): ... We have our choice,
therefore, either to carry off from your disquisition what is
profitable, or to be on our guard of it if it have anything
- ... and the divine
Basilius5), who beheld invisible things (or at least not
clear to ordinary eyes) maintains it, that not merely the daemons,
but even the pure angels have bodies, being a sort of thin, aërial,
and pure spirits. ... for these effects could not be accomplished
otherwise than through the medium of a body.
- How comes it then, that in most passages
of Scripture they are spoken of as incorporeal?
- It is the practice both with Christian
and profane authors, even the most ancient, to speak of the grosser
descriptions of bodies as corporeal; but those which are very thin,
eluding both the sight and touch, not only we Christians, but even
many profane authors think fit to call incorporeal. (p28-29)
(Marcus6), a monk in Mesopotamia, an initiated inspector
of daemonic phantasms) said there were in all six species of
daemons, I know not whether subdividing the entire genus by their
habits, or by the degree of their attachment to bodies -- be that as
it may, he said that the sexade [of daemons] were corporeal and
(The Igneous) order of demons haunts the air above us, but the
second occupies the air contiguous to us, and is called by the
proper name Aërial; the third is the Earthly, the fourth the Aqueous
and Marine, the fifth the Subterranean, and the last the Lucifugus,
which can scarcely be considered sentient beings. But how, said I,
or what doing, do they accomplish (deception of men's minds, and
impulsion to unlawful acts)? Not by lording it over us, says
Marcus, but by leading us into reminiscences, for when we are in an
imaginative spirit, approaching by virtue of their spiritual nature,
they whisper descriptions ..., they insinuate a sort of murmur, that
serves with them the place of words. (p33)
... thus also the daemons, assuming appearances and colors, and
whatever forms they please, transport them into our animal spirit,
and occasion us in consequence a vast deal of trouble, suggesting
designs, reviving the recollection of pleasures, obtruding
representations of sensual delights, both waking and sleeping; ...
they create a commotion in men's minds. ... daemons have not a
particle of wit, yet they are dangerous and very terrible, ...
agitating men's persons, and injuring their faculties, and
obstructing their motions. (p34-35)
(Lucifugus demons) are irrational and totally devoid of intellect,
being governed by irrational whim, (they have) no more dread of
reproof than the most intractable wild beast, for which reason it is
designated with great propriety dumb and deaf; nor can a sufferer be
dispossessed but by divine power, procurable by prayer and fasting.
(Matthew 17:21 Mark 9:29)
But, Marcus, said I, physicians would persuade us to be of another
way of thinking, for they assert that such affections are not
produced by daemons, but are occasioned by an excess or deficiency
of humours, or by a disordered state of the animal spirits, and
accordingly they endeavour to cure them by medicine or dietetical
regimen, but not by incantations or purifications.
Marcus replied -- It is not surprising if physicians make such an
assertion, for they understand nothing but what is perceived by the
senses, their whole attention being devoted to the body.
Lethargies, Syncopes, cases of hypochondriasm, delirium, which they
can remove by vomits, or evacuations, or unguents, it is quite
correct to say that these are the effects of disordered humours; but
enthusiasms, and madness, and possessions, with which when one is
seized he is incapable of making any use of his judgement, his
tongue, his imagination, his senses, it is quite another thing moves
and excites them, and speaks what the person seized is unconscious
of uttering, though occasionally he prophesies something. (p36-37)
(Marcus) said that no species of daemon was naturally either male
or female, but that their animal passions were the same with those
of the creatures with which they were united; (p42)
(Marcus) said that all daemons have not the same power and
inclination, that in this particular there is a great diversity
amongst them, for some are irrational, as amongst mortal compound
animals, now as amongst them, man, being endowed with intellectual
and rational powers, is gifted with a more discursive imagination
- But did he tell you whether the
daemons were gifted with foreknowledge?
- Yes, but not a causal or intelligent,
nor experimental foreknowledge, but merely conjectural, for which
reason it most generally fails, so that they scarcely ever utter a
particle of truth. (p49)
End excerpts from Collisson's 1843 translation of Psellus.
- 1) who is mentioned by HPB [SD vol I p331; CW vol VII p123, 133, 192, 224, 389.]
- 2) for a bibliography see CW vol VII p389.
- 3) an original is held by the National Library of Australia, Canberra
- 4) Francis Bacon made the same point some 500 years later.
" ... the nature of angels and spirits, ... is neither inscrutable
nor interdicted. ... the sober & grounded inquiry, which may
arise out of the passages of holy Scriptures, or out of the
gradations of nature, is not restrained. ... it is no more
unlawful to inquire the nature of evil spirits, than to inquire
the force of poisons in nature, or the nature of sin & vice in
morality." The Advancement of Learning, 2nd
Book,VI,2, Bacon 1605
- 5) CW vol XIV p114
- 6) One wonders whether this is the same Marcus that HPB
mentions: [SD vI p351-352, 410, 449 CW vol XIII p51-55, 77-78]?
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