|Lesson 8: Daimons, Spirits and Miasma
SCHOLA AETII·FRIDAY, 6 JULY 2018
With the sad fact that about 99 of all books from the Greco-Roman classic era are lost, the entire area of Greco-Roman spirituality is a challenging topic. I just recently wrote an overview after extensively reading various sources, like Plutarch, Plato and Cicero and their writing about spiritual topics like reincarnation, sacred numbers and forms, Daimons and such. But the text was too much following the lines of a historian, so I wanted to put my research here in my own School, the Schola Aetii in a more organized manner with my own experience in the spiritual.
I understand this element will be one of the most controversial for some Roman Cultors. We know many Romans had a relatively pragmatic, down to earth relation to Religion, and it is that perspective that has for the longest time dominated the view on the Roman Religion, that many Cultors still see any form of spirituality or even the occult as foreign and incompatible with the Cultus Deorum. However, through reading sources I came to a different view. The Romans knew spiritual perspectives quite well. Many were members of one or more Mystery Schools. Even for Cicero the idea of Reincarnation and spiritual development was not alien, but a very plausible idea. The writings of Plutarch reveal that there was no common agreement in the spiritual topics, but a large variety of views, and so I can just suggest from what the few sources tell, and what may be presumed if we compare the Roman Polytheism with Pagan religions surrounding it and being connected to it, which often have similar patterns. But again, let me emphasize, here we are in the region of individual believe and personal experience.
Daimons and Spiritual Development
The term “Daimon” has achieved an undeserved negative connotation from Christianity and its definition of Demons, likely a purposeful act to defame a vital element of classic spirituality. Daimons of the Greco-Roman religiosity were nothing like the “Demons” of Monotheism. There is no simple or easy way to describe Daimons, because it is more a general term for a whole class of beings. Plutarch explains the Platonic view in several of his writings, that there are four classes of beings in a hierarchical way. First Humans, than Heroes (or Superhumans, if you wish, like a Hercules), then Daimons, who are essentially not bound to a physical body anymore, and finally the Gods. It was assumed that any being in this hierarchy may rise to be reborn in the next level, by leading a virtuous life and serving the Gods. So a man can be reborn as hero, a hero then rise to the status of a Daimon and finally ascend to be among the Divine in some form. Daimons are always intermediaries between the Gods and mortal men. They may either directly serve a God and then be his or her spokesperson, they may belong to a locality, they may be connected to a certain individual or just be an arbiter of virtue and the divine principles by himself. As such Daimons play a pivotal role in all levels of spirituality. As servants of the Gods, a God may often send a Daimon. It is thus important to note that a Daimon is nothing of "magic", you cannot summon or command a Daimon, since he is several levels above you. So whatever your attitude with magic is, keep that in mind, that it would be a great sacrilege trying to summon a Daimon like a magician would.
Plutarch writes that Daimons usually manage the oracles in the name of a God. Unlike the Gods, whose will and decision is always firm and always benevolent, a Daimon is a less pure being than a God, so a Daimon may leave a sacred place when people neglect it, or retreat from humanity until the attention returns. Daimons, unlike Gods, are not entirely above “human” emotions as well, so we may relate Daimons as similar to Angels but also to spirits of nature and spirits in general. It seems not all Daimons are spiritually equally developed, but since Daimons both guide humans, guard sacred places and also humans can rise to become Daimons as part of their spiritual development, the role of the Daimons in spirituality is quite important.
Daimons probably were not part of the “High Religion”, at least as far as we know, similar like in Christianity the believe and role of Angels and Personal Guardian Angels is more a part of private religiosity, I assume the role of the Daimons was similar in Roman and Greek Polytheism. The few debates we have about it from Plutarch indicates as much. Some did not believe in them at all, some gave them only a minor role, but the idea seems have been relatively widespread, so it was apparently no small fringe view. But again, with so many texts lost, we can impossibly know for sure, and have to make up our mind about it, individually. I personally advocate to rediscover the idea of the Daimons, to add a level of spirituality to the Roman Religion. After reading the sources I tried to order the Daimons into six categories: Natural Spirits, Personal Guardians, Family Guardians, Servants of a God, Daimons of Temples and Oracles and finally Free Daimons.
(1) SPIRITS OF NATURE
Spirits of Nature are the most common forms of intermediate powers in all Polytheist religions. They are usually connected to a locality and either inhabit it or are seen as the embodiment of it. We know the River Tiber in Rome was seen as a divine, and we can assume he belongs to the realm of the Daimons. Quite unknown is the fact that the Romans knew many sacred trees. There was a study I read years ago with the title “Sacred Trees”, describing their important meaning for the Roman Religion. We know of River Nymphs, spirits of hills and groves, forests and any kind of place within nature. For any non-Roman Pagan the existence of Spirits of Nature is a normalcy, but somehow the Roman Cultors have developed this false idea that the Cultus Deorum is purely a city-religion. They focus on the public cult of the Dei Consentes and some of the traditional festivals, but totally blend out the rural elements the Roman Religion had.
A Daimon who is a spirit of nature can be seen as inhabiting that feature, a specific tree, a river, a mountain or hill, a forest, a rock formation of note or any part of nature. It remains up to the individual to judge, whether these spirits of nature-daimons come to exist through the believe and veneration, and cease back to be passive or silent, when worship or reverence cease. My personal experience with nature spirits is, that they do exist as entities of their own, but as humans care less about them, they decide to cease to “speak to us”, but they can be persuaded to renew their interest in us, when we show regular care and give them attention. People can individually connect to Nature Daimons of a tree or a forest or a specific locality, act as caretaker of it or a group of Daimons in a particular region. In turn then those Daimons of trees or forests or whatever the case is, may form a certain level of protection and guidance towards those who act as caretakers of nature. If you care for the trees around you, they may grant you some level of attention and blessing in return, and so with other features of nature the same. You may have a place in nature where you retreat to, seek peace, meditate, and in time the nature spirits or Daimons of that place may form a connection to you, if you show love and care for that place.
(2) ORACLE AND TEMPLE DAIMONS
Every Oracle, Shrine or Temple is guarded by its own Daimon, who is placed there by the respective God as his or her intermediary. That is why the nature of how oracles speak changes over time, since the nature of the Daimons is changing along with the people adhering to the oracle. A temple, shrine or oracle does not need a specific action to call or manifest a Daimon, since we can assume the God connected to it sends one as his servant, and this Daimon is bound to the temple. I use the term oracle here as a place, like the oracle of Delphi. I do not think one has to address a temple or oracle Daimon individually, these Daimons just serve their God in this place. At least I have not found any source that such a temple Daimon had any individual focus. People prayed to their God, and the Daimon was just a sort of delivery person or “bureaucrat”.
Plutarch wrote that sometimes when people claimed to have seen a God in a temple or shrine it was a Daimon serving the respective God representing him, but the text of Plutarch indicates that the opinions about this were divided at his time. I assume that also special forms of oracles have Daimons, so there is a general Daimon for the I Ching, the Tarot, the Runes asf., but also there may be lesser Daimons for your personal deck of cards, your crystal ball or your I Ching book, if it is an item which is tended with enough care. Whether these are send by Gods or come to life through attention of the person is up to you to see one way or the other. Personally I am not so inclined to give these sort of Daimons special attention, but you respect their work by respecting the temple or the oracle. That is why oracles also change over time, while the Gods are unchanging, that in some eras the Oracles spoke different than today, and why your personal experience with an oracle tool may be slightly different from another. Respect what these Daimons are connected to, and they will guide you with benevolence.
(3) DAIMONS OF THE FAMILY
The family sphere essentially has two variants of Daimons, local and ancestral ones. The local Daimons are the Penates, and the ancestral ones are the Lares. We may assume another level of such Daimons, like the Lares of a tribe or a nation state, but these are very exclusive things. What actually Penates and Lares are, there has been much debate, already in antiquity, so I do not criticize you, if your view on Lares and Penates differ. Some define the Penates as those Gods one chose as personal patron Gods, though I prefer to have a unique explanation what has a unique term. The sources about Lares and Penates are often vague, and sometimes contradicting each other, so my definition is just a working theory for myself.
I see Penates as local house spirits, bound to the locality of the house. Keep in mind that in the past, people moved much less than today. People and often entire generations were bound to one house and the yard belonging to that house, and I see the Penates as local Daimons which protect that House and the inhabitant of it, be it the family or an individual, but they do not move if you move, but remain bound to the house. Pagan religions all over the world know such “house spirits”, Germanic lore knows them as Heinzelmännchen or Gnomes, and our Garden Gnomes are a late if somewhat tawdry variant of the idea of the house spirit. The House Spirits or Penates protect the worthy, but an unworthy and bad character may as well face the wrath of the house spirits, and from that many tales of haunted houses and poltergeists emerged, when the house spirits of Penates of a house were angered, faced wicked people or tragic events in the house.
The Lares on the other hand are connected to the Ancestors as a whole. They are bound to the Lararium, the Ancestor Shrine, and move if you move. That is why taking the Lararium along if you relocate, is such a vital thing, and one to be done with the greatest care. Just as the Penates or House Spirits can be angered through neglect or disrespect, so can the Lares. The Romans knew multiple rituals and holidays to pacify the Lares and prevent them from being angry. Lares usually are Daimons of a collective, like the nation state, the tribe, a city and your ancestry. Unlike the Daimons of temples and oracles, the Daimons of House (Penates) and Family (Lares) demand regular personal attention. Refer to them at the Kalends and Ides, and heed the Festival of Lemuria on May 9th, 11th and 13th, which is a holiday to pacify the Ancestor spirits. Make the Lararium a central place of reverence in your house, and the Lares and Penates will hold you in good graces.
(4) YOUR PERSONAL DAIMON
The personal Daimon is one of the most difficult to grasp topics, since the sources are extremely vague and the opinions even in the classic era were very controversial. The most known personal Daimon is that of Socrates, and Plutarch writes about that in a dialogue. A personal Daimon is similar to the “Holy Guardian Angel” in the Western Occult tradition, and was maybe connected to initiation into a Mystery Cult, but since the knowledge of the Mystery Schools was lost, we can only guess. In my writing about Plutarch I have highlighted that many similarities between Platonic and Pythagorean views and Western Hermetic Tradition, that we can not assume this to be a coincidence. It seems very likely to me, that the Hermetic Traditions carried a lot of basic concepts of the Mystery Schools and Pythagorean Spirituality, since such concepts are so widespread in pagan and polytheist cultures, that we must assume they were not entirely different in the Mystery Cults of Greece and Rome. As my writing also has shown, many Romans were initiated in Mystery Cults, so it was no rare or unusual thing.
The Daimon of Socrates is usually appearing only as a voice which Socrates was able to hear. Plutarch speculates in his dialogue that a personal Daimon may also nudge someone, or intervene on someone's behalf, again if he is a virtuous person. The question is, does everyone have his personal Daimon, or only a select few? Does one attain one by some specific work, that of staying ethical or spiritual training or initiation? We have no knowledge how this was seen in the classic world and already Plutarch could only speculate. He says to have some knowledge about it from his own initiation into a Mystery School and that the Mystery Schools had dealing with Daimons as a primary focus, so we know that building contact with Daimons was an integral part of the Mystery Cults, and also many Romans were initiated into one.
Personally my experience is that every person has his individual Daimon, but it takes initiation and personal development to get closer to the Daimon, and that only the most spiritually developed actually are directly guided by their Daimon. But that would be up to any Spiritual Order or some New Mystery Cult to establish a system to achieve that. Some scholars also wrote that Jupiter was seen as Leader of all individual Daimons of men, and Juno as leader of all individual Daimons of women, so the analogy of the “Guardian Angel” is not entirely wrong. Personally I am of the opinion that the Personal Daimon is partially a being of itself, but also a higher part of yourself, like the “potential you” in its highest form. While you are a mortal human, the Personal Daimon is an exterior other to you, but the goal of spiritual development is to become one with it, since the Platonic teaching of reincarnation propagates the idea to rise up and become a Daimon yourself, so I assume it would make sense to assume your Personal Daimon is a sort of placeholder for the ideal you, which you experience separate, but which you can become in a new life as a spiritual and virtuous person.
(5) SERVANTS OF GODS
There is not so much to say about this type of Daimon. They are usually explained to be bureaucrats and messengers of a particular God, bound to that God in a fashion like an Angel or Archangel. They share the characteristic of that God and may be mistaken as that God in apparitions. Plutarch writes it was the opinion of many Platonists, that the fables of Gods acting all too human come actually from Daimons acting on behalf of a God and being mistaken for that God, since the Gods are perfect, ideal and benevolent, so any too human weakness may result from being in contact with a Servant Daimon and not the God himself. I have no decided opinion about this, but I assume with certainty every God has his or her host of personal servants, doing “jobs” for them. Some of the myths tell of followers like an entourage of a God, some are known by name. We may also see Daimons bound to a certain Gods similar to a “Saint”, when a mortal being was very close in service to a God, as humans can rise, he may be an intermediary of that God, so we may pray to Hyacinthus as a “Saint” or Daimon of Apollo, or Ganymede as a Daimon of Jupiter and so forth. As Daimons they are still with human characteristics, even though they are spiritually elevated above us, so each Daimon serving a particular God may be higher or lower developed in spirituality, and not all Daimons are equally refined.
(6) FREE DAIMONS
Finally this leaves the not so descriptive category of Free Daimons, who are not bound to a function, a place or a person, but are just beings of their own free will. They may be either created by some divine act, or they may be former humans who rose through a series of incarnations to that level. Both Plato and Pythagoras presumed the existence of many alternative worlds or realms. Some mystics tried to calculate the number of other realms, and Plutarch writes about the topic as well. So one theory I propose is that Free Daimons live in alternative worlds, other realms of their own, of which we however know nothing. Some may for a time care about the affairs of our world, some just pass on and do whatever they do in these other worlds. There has been speculations that an entity like Pan was such a Free Daimon. They act here in our world, when it suits them, but they may move on to the realms beyond ours, but there are no sources to know about this, only that it was a view that existed in the classic era, and was known already by Pythagoras and Plato.
As you can see there is a great variety of Daimons, and each sort requires a different approach. All of them are regarded as between the human and divine realms, as spirits sent by the Gods, or as human risen to a higher plane, or some spirit of a location personified. Some form of Daimons, like Lares and Penates, Spirits of Nature and Local Spirits, where deeply interwoven into the everyday religiosity of the Roman Religion traditionally, while other parts, like the Personal Daimon or Mystic connections to Daimons via initiation into Mystery School were more a part of the Sacra Privata, the personal spirituality.
MIASMA – DEALING WITH THE UNCLEAN
Connected to it, so I wanted to mention it here, is the idea of Miasma. It is originally a religious concept from the Hellenic Religion, and I have so far not found any source that the Roman heeded this idea. However, the Roman Cultus knows the idea of purification, like the Ablutio, in form of the ritual Hand Washing before praying. Miasma is an idea and something the mystic can experience. Miasma is unclean, dark and corrupting energy. It is created around places or people, and the result of being in contact with death, illness or any negative energy or event.
Miasma is also created by sacrilege, violence or any severe disruption of the natural or social order, like a war, an uprising, a crime. Typically hostile (monotheist) Religions create miasma in Polytheist sacred spaces. I say that knowing it may not sound politically correct, but it is my experience, that the Book God and everything connected to him do not condone with the Gods, and places need to be purified of the Miasma of the Book God.
It is said Apollo, after killing the Python, was staying away from the other Gods for a purification that lasted nine years. Some people with spiritual training or by grace of the Gods can feel Miasma, some few can see it. As trained Seer I can sometimes feel it, and when I vaguely see it, it has the form of a black, sort of slimy fog. The miasma can be around anything, a grove or temple, a district or an entire city, any mundane place in a city or town, or as said, around a person. Staying too long in a place of Miasma attaches it also to the person.
The traditional rites of purification are to my knowledge not known in detail, but the cleansing elements are typically Water and Fire. You may develop a ritual that starts with symbolic cleansing by sanctified water, invoking either Apollo, as God of light and purity, or Jupiter. Start with the hand washing, sprinkle any important areas. Next proceed with burning incense, which represents Fire and Air. Bless and clean areas likewise again, invoking Apollo or Jupiter. I personally tend to add a Gong procession or circulation with sound. I have a Tibetan Singing Bowl, which I bang 3-5 times and proceed from place to place. Three and five are sacred Numbers of the Divine, and such gong or bell like sounds finishes the Purification. If there is just a room or an open space, you may want to make a circulation, making a pause in each of the Four Cardinal Directions. Sacred Circulations were mentioned by Pythagoras as symbols of the Divine, and were known in the days of King Numa to Romans, though we do not know the specifics, a Circulation is entirely in line with the idea of sacred geometry that was very important to the Roman Cultus in the past and should be again. Finally, it is important to have a sacred flame dedicated to Vesta in the place to fend off the miasma during the ritual and leave the flame of Vesta burning afterwards for a while. Since we have no dedicated text of purification rituals from tradition, we must use some level of creativity here. However it is important to know this concept, to understand how important the idea of purity of places was to the classic religions.