Angels & Demons

I heard, second-hand, that two of my friends were having a bit of an argument over the description of an incident that one of them had experienced many years ago. The discussion was not over what had occurred nor its outcome but over a particular word that the speaker had used to describe the particular discarnate entity that had been encountered and with which the listener had issue.

Demon.

Now I was not there when this discourse took place so I was unable to ask the question that I like to ask when such disagreements occur; how do you define the word ‘demon?’ What are it’s qualities and characteristics? How is it different from other types of entities? And though I lack either of the definitions being used, I am fairly certain that there was a fundamental difference in the description that each of the people involved had in mind when using the word ‘demon’ and, ergo, there was a difference of opinion.

This essay is not concerned with the definitions that the people involved were using. It is concerned with how I would define the word ‘demon’ and what use, if any, such a definition would have. And I will start with the universe, which is as good a place as any to start. This, hopefully, will resolve a serious quandary.

One of the first things that came to my mind was how one could separate the negative overlay that the term ‘demon’ carries and what is actually the nature of the entity called demon. I am reminded that the term ‘demon’ arrises from the Greek word daimôn, entities that exist between the deities and humanity and which is a term which holds no such unfavorable connotation. Why and when the term became associated with malicious spirits is beyond the scope of this essay. But it represents a problem which requires a bit of resolving before I can begin. Could I look at the generally accepted polar opposite of ‘demon,’ i.e. ‘angel’ and find some clarity? Yes, though to do so one must first look at the two terms from a different and less emotionally charged perspective, let us call them ‘light’ and ‘dark.’ This may provide the key to understanding the other terms.

And this is where the universe comes in. Let us first posit that, in the universe, there are areas of energy and matter, such as this place called Earth in the Sol system, where I am writing right now and which we will call light, and dark, all of those places in the physical universe where there is neither energy nor matter. Secondly, we look to Physics, which describes to us a fundamental property in the universe, entropy, which is the tendency of all complex, organized ‘things,’ i.e. both matter and energy, to gradually degrade into simpler and simpler forms. This is the force which, if Cosmology’s theory of a ever expanding universe is correct, eventual transmutes the entire universe of order, transforming it from the vast darkness with spots of highly concentrated energy and matter, i.e. stars, planets, nebulae, and all the other ‘structures,’ into a vast uniformity in which all energy and matter is spread as the simplest possible substance uniformly and impossibly thin throughout all of the darkness of space.

In this theoretical model, darkness is not actually the opposite of light, but the entropic neutrality that is the field of action where all of this concentration and dissolution takes place. Light is active and moving through this neutrality, concentrating within it but not changing it. Here we have one pole of our polarity (light) and the ‘neglected’ middle (darkness). Where, then, is the other pole? Well, let’s suppose there is another classification, let’s call it ?-darkness, that has the same class of characteristics as light, i.e. it is active and moving through the neutrality, filling it but not changing it. Thus, we have light, the counteractive to entropy, for it concentrates energy and matter in specific localities within the darkness. And we have ?-darkness, the agent of entropy, actively dissipating and neutralizing light by interactively spreading it throughout the darkness. The final ‘heat death’ or entropic end of the universe comes when each ‘particle’ of light and each ‘particle’ of ?-darkness has found its opposite in the other and the pairs are spread uniformly though out the darkness of space.

This model of classification, then, has two active poles, light and ?-darkness, and the neutrality, darkness. It must be noted that I put no moral or ethical characteristic on these entities. They have no quality of good, evil, or otherwise associated with them, as they are not sentient entities but impersonal forces. It would make no more sense to apply such qualities as it would to say that sunlight is ‘good’ or that a supernova is ‘evil’ from a moral perspective.

What does this have to do with angels and demons? Plenty.

Let’s begin with angels. In many systems of understanding; religious, spiritual, magickal, or otherwise; it is thought that angels are a type of impersonal, specialize but un-individuated entities responsible for the continuation of some part of the overall structure or order of the universe. Angels are generally thought to lack the sentience required to make independent decisions that go against their directives or to operate outside of their specialized purview. This means that they lack the emotional responses required to have needs and desires. This lack also indicates that they experience no sense of pleasure or pain or satisfaction based on the performance of their role. They are like an Artificial Intelligence system: they respond to stimuli in a manner consistent with their programming, and while it appears to the observer that there is a range of ‘feelings’ behind those responses, that is an illusion we project upon them out of our natural tendency to anthropomorphize. Angels are like light, then, in that they can be thought of as concentrating areas of structure and order in the entropic neutrality in contravention of entropy.

What about demons? If we posit that, like ?-darkness, demons are the agents of entropy, then they play a polar opposite role to angels even as light is the counter to ?-darkness. Following our theoretical model, demons can be understood to be a type of impersonal, specialized but un-individuated entity responsible for the execution of the laws of entropy in the universe. They lack the sentience required to make independent decisions or to operate outside of their specialize purview. This means they also lack innate emotional responses required to have needs, desires, pain, pleasure or satisfaction in the performance of their role. Demons, too, are AI system responding to stimuli in a manner consistent with their function, and again it is the human tendency to anthropomorphize and need to impose meaning upon actions outside ourselves that leads to the concept that they are ‘evil’ in the moral sense as an opposite to the angels’ ‘good.’

In the case of both angels and demons, the classification of actions as ‘good’ and ‘evil’ is directly tied to the impact on the human condition. That which we love, appreciate, and touches us directly or indirectly for our benefit we classify as ‘good.’ That which we abhor, detest, and which has a detrimental effect on us, directly or indirectly, we classify as ‘evil.’ Much has been written on the subject of good and evil, their qualities and their manifestations. The simple definitions above must suffice to demonstrate, at least in the classification of ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ that it is our tendency to see things as opposites and to attach some personalized emotion-driven motivation to any occurrence. And because we are physical beings with the self-preservation impulse built in, our emotional nature would classify continuation as ‘good’ and dissolution as ‘evil’ because they impact our very existence.

None of this is to say that there are not intangible entities in the universe that do have their own form of sentience and individuation, and whose interaction with humans give rise to potential mislabeling. Indeed, I do believe there exists sentient beings, some that appear to have our best interest in mind and others that do not. And going back to our simplified qualifications of good and evil, those that do are ‘good’ and those who do not are ‘evil.’ What is important is that we do not project human thoughts, feelings, needs, and desires upon the A.I. agents and counter-agents of an entropic universe, demons and angels. They are simply doing what they were programmed to do, and if we misuse either term it promulgates incorrect concepts of the nature of spiritual beings.

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3 Responses to Angels & Demons

  1. Macha says:

    Thanks, Michael. Coincidentally, one of the presentations at the Claremont Conference on Current Pagan Studies this past weekend was “Daemonicolae: Pagan Communities in the Christian Neo-Platonist Imagination,” by a scholar named Dennis Quinn.

  2. Leanne Pemburn says:

    Ha! I recognize that structure – the carefully constructed ziggurat of the writing of philosophy. See if you can get them on an easier schedule, though, maybe move it up 1/2 hour a day, until you get to afternoon.

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