A demon, we have come to assume, is the personification of evil. So deeply ingrained is this belief that, whenever we think of a demon, we picture a monster with malevolent intentions. But despite the negative connotation, the origin of the word suggests a different story altogether. In fact, ‘demon’ is derived from the Latin word ‘daemon‘ and the Greek word ‘daiman‘, both of which translate to ‘lesser god’, ‘guiding spirit’ or ‘tutelary deity’. So, how and why did the misnomer come about?
Before 7th century BCE, many cultures around the world were polytheistic–they worshipped multiple deities. When the monotheistic Abrahamic religions–Christianity, Judaism and Islam–spread in the Mesopotamian, Mediterranean and Arabian regions, several deities were branded ‘evil’.
Perhaps, what was saintly to one culture, was satanic to another. Let us take the case of the ancient Greek god Pan, who was half goat and half man. According to mythology, Pan was a shepherd. He was a protector of human beings and a friend of the wild. He is believed to have urged people to act on their primitive instincts. Archaeological evidence clearly indicates that Pan was a favourite god among the Greeks for his uninhibited way of living. But by 300 CE, he had been defamed and demonised for his unabashed virility.
“Perhaps, that is what demons are: The dark side of ourselves, a projection of our minds. They are probably just misguiding thoughts that are created by external circumstances.”