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Μιχαήλ Ψελλός: Περί ενεργείας δαιμόνων διάλογος
Michael Psellus: Dialogue between Timothy and Thracian on the Operation of Dæmons


 

Timothy — Is it long, Thracian, since you visited Byzantium?

Thracian — Yes, it is long, Timothy; two years perhaps, or more: I have been abroad.

Timothy — But where, and why, and engaged in what business, were you away so long?

Thracian — The questions you put would take too long to answer just now; I must devise Alcinius’ narrative if I am obliged to particularize every thing I was present at, and every thing I endured, while constrained to associate with impious characters — those Euchitæ, or, as many call them, Enthusiasts — have you not heard of them at all?

Timothy — Why, I understand that there are amongst us individuals as godless as they are absurd, and that in the midst of the sacred quire (to speak in comedian style;) but as to their dogmas, their customs, their laws, their proceedings, their discourses, I have not yet been able to learn any thing about them; wherefore I beg of you to tell me most explicitly whatever you know, if you are disposed to oblige an intimate acquaintance, I will even add, a friend.

Thracian — Even have it so, friend Timothy, though it be enough to give one a headache if he but attempt to describe the outlandish doctrines and doings of dæmonry; and though you cannot possibly derive any advantage from such description — for, if it be true what Simonides says, that the statement of facts is their delineation, and that therefore the statement of unprofitable facts must be profitable, and the statement of unprofitable facts quite the opposite — what possible benefit could you derive from my delineating their seductive statements?

Timothy — 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 use: besides, some of the particulars, at all events, will not be unprofitable. 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 pernicious.

Thracian — Agreed, my friend; you shall hear (as the poet says) truths certainly, but most unpleasant ones: but if my narrative advert to certain unseemly proceedings, I require of you, in common justice, not to be angry with me who relate them, but with those who do them. This execrable doctrine had its rise with Manes the Maniac, from him their [the Euchitæ’s] multitudinous origins have flowed down as from a fœtid fountain; for, according to the accursed Manes, there were two origins of all things: he, with senseless impiety, opposed a god, the author of evil, to God, the Creator of every good — a ruler of the wickedness of the Terrestials, to the bounteous Ruler of the Cœlestials. But the dæmoniacal Euchitæ have adopted yet a third origin; according to them, two sons, with their father, make the senior and the junior origin; to the father they have assigned the supra-mundane region solely, to the younger son the atmospheric region, and to the elder the government of things in the world — a theory which differs in nothing from the Greek mythology, according to which the universe is portioned out into three parts. These rottenminded men, having laid this rotten foundation, thus far are unanimous in their sentiments; but from this point are divided in their judgments into three parties: some yield worship to both sons, maintaining, that though they are at variance, yet that both are equally deserving of being worshipped, because they are spring from one parent, and will yet be reconciled. But others serve the younger son as being the governor of the superior region, which extends immediately over the earth; and yet they do not absolutely disdain the elder son, but are on their guard of him, as of one who has it in his power to do them injury; while the third party, who are further sunk in impiety, withdraw altogether from the worship of the celestial son, and enshrine in their hearts the earthly alone, even Satan, dignifying him with the most august names, as, the Firstbegotten, Estranged from the Father, the Creator of Plants and Animals, and the rest of the compound beings. Preferring to make suit to him who is the Destroyer and Murderer, gracious God! how many insults do they offer to the Celestial, whom they pronounce envious, an unnatural persecutor of his brother, (who administers judiciously the government of the world) and aver, that it is his being puffed up with envy occasions earthquakes and hail and famine, on which account they imprecate on him, as well other anathemas, as in particular that horrible one! * * * *

Timothy — By what train of reasoning have they brought themselves to believe and pronounce Satan a son of God, when not merely the Prophetic Writings, but the Oracles of Divine Truth everywhere speak but of one son, and he that reclined on our Lord’s bosom (as is recorded in the Holy Gospel), exclaims, concerning the divine λόγος, “the Glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father,” whence has such a tremendous error assailed them?

Thracian — Whence, Timothy, but from the Prince of Lies, who deceives the understandings of his witless votaries by such vain-glorious fiction, vaunting that he will place his throne above the clouds, and averring that he will be equal to the Highest; for this very reason he has been consigned to outer darkness: and when he appears to them, he announces himself the first-begotten son of God and creator of all terrene things, who disposes of everything in the world, and by this means, following up the peculiar foible of each, cheats the fools, who ought to have considered him an empty braggart and the arch-prince of falsehood, and overwhelmed with ridicule his pompous pretensions, instead of believing everything he says, and suffering themselves to be led about like oxen by the nose. However, it will soon be in their power to convict him of being a liar, for if they insist on his making good his honied promises, he will turn out no better than the ass in lion’s skin which, when it attempted to roar like a lion, its braying betrayed. At present, however, they resemble the blind, and the deaf, and the insane, since they cannot perceive, from the consanguinity of universal nature, that there is but one Creator, nor hear that very consanguinity declaring the self-some truth, nor discover, by reasoning, that if there were two opposite creators, there would not be that one arrangement and oneness (ἕνωσις) which binds all things together. As the Prophet says, “the ox and the ass know their master and their master’s crib,” but these bid their Master farewell, and have elected to the place of God the most abject of all creatures. “Scorched though they be with the fire,” (as the Proverb says) they yet follow and precipitate themselves into that fire which has long been provided for him and his co-apostates.

Timothy — But what profit do they derive from abjuring the Divine religion received from their fathers, and rushing on certain destruction?

Thracian — As to profit, I do not know that they derive any, but I rather think not; for though the dæmons promise them gold, and possessions, and notoriety, yet you know they cannot give them to any: they do, however, present to the initiated phantasms and flashing appearances, which these men-detesters of God call visions of God. Such as wish to be spectators of them, gracious Heavens! how many shameful things, how many unutterable and detestable must they witness! For everything which we consider sanctioned by law, and a doctrine to be preached, and a duty to be practised, they madly disregard, nay, they even disregard the laws of nature; to commit their debaucheries to writing would only befit the impure pen of Archilochus, nay, I do think that were he present he would be loath to commemorate orgies so detestable and vile, as were never witnessed in Greece, no, nor in any barbarous land; for where or when did anyone ever hear that man, that august and sacred animal, ate excretions, whether moist or dry — a monstrosity which, I believe, not even wild beasts in a rabid state are capable of committing, and yet this is but the preliminary proceeding with these execrable wretches.

Timothy — What for, Thracian?

Thracian — Oh, this is one of their secrets — they know best who do it: however, on my frequently questioning on this point, all I could learn was, that the dæmons became friendly and affable on their partaking of the excretions. In this particular I was satisfied they spoke truth, though incapable of speaking it in other matters; since nothing can be so eminently gratifying to hostile spirits as to see man (who is an object of envy), man who has been honoured with the Divine image, fallen to such a state of degradation: this is putting the finishing stroke on their folly. Nor is this confined to the Antistites of the dogma (to whom they tack the appellation, Apostles), but extends to the Euchitæ and the Gnosti. But as to their mystical sacrifice, God preserve me! who could describe it? I blush to repeat the shameful things I witnessed, and yet I am bound to repeat them, for you, Timothy, have already prevailed on me; I will therefore skim over them lightly, omitting the more shameful proceedings, lest I should seem to be acting a tragedy, [rather than giving a plain statement of facts.] Vesperi enim luminibus accensis, quo tempore salutarem domini celebramus passionem, in domum præscriptam deductis, quas sacrilegi sacris suis initiaverunt, puellis ne lucem execrandi quod designant, flagitii testem habeant, cum puellis libidinose volutantur in quamcumque tandem, seu sororem, seu propriam filiam, seu matrem quilibet inciderit. Siquidem et hac in re dæmonibus rem gratam facere arbitrantur, si leges divinas transgressi fuerint, in quibas cautum est, ne nuptiæ cum sanguine cognato contrahantur. Having perfected this rite, they are dismissed; on the expiry of nine months, when the unnatural progeny of an unnatural seed is about being born, they meet again at the same place, and on the third day after parturition, tearing the wretched infants from their mothers, and scarifying their tender flesh with knives, they catch in basins the dripping blood, and casting the infants, still breathing, on the pile, consume them; afterwards, mingling their ashes with the blood in the basins, they make asort of horrible compound, with which, secretly defiling their food, liquid and -solid, like those who mix poison with mead, not only they themselves partake of these viands, but others also who are not privy to their secret proceedings.

Timothy — What end do they propose to themselves by such revolting pollutions?

Thracian — They are persuaded that by this means the divine symbols inscribed in our souls are thrust out and expunged, for so long as they continue there the dæmon tribe are afraid and keep aloof, as one might from the royal signet attached to a cabinet; in order, therefore, to enable the dæmons to reside in their souls they, without any apprehension, chase away the divine symbols, by their insults to heaven — and a profitable exchange they have made of it. But not satisfied with perpetrating this wickedness themselves, they lay a snare for others; the polluted viands tempting the pious also, who, without being aware of it, partake of the strange food, they like so many Tantali serving up their children for the entertainment.

Timothy — Good Heavens, Thracian! this is what my grandfather by the father’s side predicted; for once being distressed, because some subverted as well the other privileges of the good as their acquisition of a liberal education, I asked him, will there ever be a restoration? he being then an old man) and very sagacious in farseeing coming events, gently stroking my head and fetching a heavy sigh, replied, “My son, my child, do you imagine that they will ever again restore literature, or anything excellent? The time is at hand when men will live worse than wild beasts, for now Antichrist is at hand, even at the doors, and evil precursors in the shape of monstrous doctrines and unlawful practices, no better than the orgies of Bacchus, must usher in his advent. And whatever things have been represented by the Greeks in their tragedies, as Saturn and Thyestes and Tantalus devouring their offspring, Œdipus debauching his mother, and Cinyras his daughters, all these fearful enormities will break in upon our state; but see my son, and be on your guard, for know, know for certain, that not only individuals from the illiterate and unpolished class, but many also of the learned, will be drawn away into the same practices.” These things, if I am to judge from the result, he spake prophetically; but I, when I recall to mind his words, which are as fresh in my memory now as when he uttered them, am surprised at what you tell me.

Thracian — And well you may be surprised; for, many as are the absurd nations described by historians in the far North, and the parts about Lybia and Syrtes, yet I venture to say no one has ever heard of such impiety being practised by them, no, nor by the Celts, nor by any other nation near Britain, though destitute of laws and in a savage state.

Timothy — It is afflicting to think, Thracian, that such horrible practices should take up their abode in our quarter of the world. But a perplexity of long standing respecting dæmons distresses me; among other things, I should like to know whether they are manifestly seen by the dæmoniacal wretches.

Thracian — Not a doubt of it, my friend, for this they all strive, might and main; their assemblage and sacrifice, and rites, and every horrible practice of theirs, are held for this purpose, to bring about a manifestation.

Timothy — How then can they, being incorporeal, be seen with the visual organs?

Thracian — But, my good friend, they are not incorporeal; the dæmon tribe have a body, and are conversant with corporeal beings, which one may learn even from the holy fathers of our religion, if one only addict himself heartily to magical practices. We hear many too relating how the dæmons appeared to them in a bodily form; and the divine Basilius, who beheld invisible things (or at least not clear to ordinary eyes) maintains it, that not merely the dæmons, but even the pure angels have bodies, being a sort of thin, aërial, and pure spirits; and in proof of this he adduces the testimony of David, most celebrated of the prophets, saying, “He maketh his angels spirits, and his messengers a flame of fire.” And it must needs be even so, for when the ministering spirits are despatched to their respective employments (as the divine Paul says) they must needs have some body, in order to their moving, becoming stationary and apparent; for these effects could not be accomplished otherwise than through the medium of a body.

Timothy — How comes it then, that in most passages of Scripture they are spoken of as incorporeal.

Thracian — It is the practice both with Christian and profane authors, even the most ancient, to speak of the grosser description 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.

Timothy — But tell me, the body which angels have by natural constitution, is it the same with that which dæmons have?

Thracian — What folly! there must be a vast difference, for the angelic, emitting a sort of extraneous rays, is oppressive and intolerable to the visual organs: but as to the dæmonic, whether it was once of this sort I cannot say, but so it would seem; (for Esaias disparagingly calls Lucifer “him that had fallen”) now, however it is an obscure and darksome sort of thing, saddened in aspect, divested of its kindred light; but the angelic nature is immaterial, and therefore is capable of penetrating and passing through all solids, being more impalpable than the sun’s rays, which, passing through transparent bodies, the opaque objects on this earth reflect, so as to render its stroke endurable, for there is something material in it; but nothing can interpose opposition to an angel, because they present opposition to nothing, not being homogeneous with any thing; on the other hand, the bodies of dæmons, though constituted indistinct by their tenuity; are yet in some measure material and palpable.

Timothy — I am becoming quite a sage, Thracian, (as the proverb says), by these novel accessions of knowledge; for to me, indeed, this is a novel fact, that some dæmons are corporeal and palpable.

Thracian — There is no novelty in our being ignorant or many things, so long as we are men, Timothy, as the saying is; ‘tis well, however, if, as ages advance, our good sense increases. Be assured of this, that in making these statements, I am not uttering lying raphsodies, like the Cretans: and Phœniceans, but am persuaded of their truth from the Saviour’s words, which affirm, that the dæmons shall be punished with fire, a punishment they would be incapable of if incorporeal. Since a being that is destitute of a body cannot suffer in the body, therefore they must needs undergo punishment by means of bodies, constituted capable of suffering. Much, however, I have suppressed which I heard from some who adventured themselves to intuition; for my own part, I have never seen a being of that nature — Heaven grant that I may never behold the fearful looks of dæmons! But I conversed with a monk in Mesopotamia, who really was an initiated inspector of dæmonic phantasms: these magical practices he afterwards abandoned as worthless and deceptive, and having made his recantation, attached himself to the true doctrine, which we profess, and assiduously applying himself, underwent a course of instruction at my hands; he accordingly told me many and extraordinary things about dæmons; and once, on my asking, if dæmons were capable of animal passion, “Not a doubt of it,” said he. Quemadmodum et sperma nonnulli eorum emittunt et vermes quosdam spermate procreant. At incredible est, inquam excrementi quicquam dæmonibus inesse, vasave spermatica et vitalia vasa quidem eis, inquit me, hujusmodi nulla insunt, superflui autem seu excrementi nescio quid emittunt hoc mihi asserenti credito. But, said I, if they derive nourishment, they must derive it as we do? Marcus [for that was his name], replied, some derive it by inhalation, as for instance a spirit resident in lungs and nerves, and some from moisture, but not as we do, with the mouth, but as sponges and testaceous fishes do, by drawing nourishment from the extraneous moisture lying around them, and they afterwards void a spermatic substance, but they do not all resemble each other in this particular, but only such descriptions of dæmons as are allied to matter, such as the Lucifugus, and Aqueous, and Subterranean. And are there many descriptions of dæmons, Marcus, I asked again? There are many, said he, and of every possible variety of figure and conformation, so that the air is full of them, both that above and that around us, the earth and the sea are full of them, and the lowest subterranean depths. Then, said I, if it would not be troublesome, would you particularize each? It would be troublesome, said he, to recall to mind matters I have dislodged from thence, yet I cannot refuse, when you command, and so saying he counted off many species of dæmons, adding their names, their forms, and their haunts.

Timothy — What’s to hinder you then Thracian, enumerating them to us?

Thracian — I was not very solicitous, my good sir, to retain either the substance or arrangement of that conversation, nor can I now recollect it. What possible benefit could I derive from an over-solicitude to retain their names, their, haunts, and in what particular they resemble, and in what differ from each other? therefore, I have allowed such insipid matter to escape my memory, yet, I retain a little out of a great deal, and whatever you are curious about, if you enquire of me you shall know it.

Timothy — This in particular I wish to bow, how many orders of dæmons are there?

Thracian — He said, there were in all six species of dæmons, I know not whether subdividing the entire genus by their habit!, or by the degree of their attachment to bodies — be that as it may, he laid that the sexade [of dæmons] were corporeal and mundane, because in that number all corporeal circumstances are comprised, and agreeably to it the mundane system was constituted; afterwards he observed, that this first number [the sexade] was represented by the scalene triangle, for that beings of the divine and celestial order were represented by the equilateral triangle, as being consistent with itself, and with difficulty inclinable to evil, whilst human beings were represented by the isoscelles triangle, as being in some measure liable to error in their choice, yet capable of reformation on repentance. On the other hand, that the dæmonic tribe were represented by the scalene triangle, as being at variance with itself, and not at all approaching to excellence. Whether he were really of this opinion or not, this is certain, he counted off six species of dæmons, and first he mentioned Leliurium, speaking in his barbarous vernacular tongue, a name which signifies Igneous. This order of dæmons haunts the air above us, for the entire genus has been expelled from the regions adjacent to the moon, as a profane thing with us would be expelled from a temple, 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. All these species of dæmons are haters of God, and enemies of man, and they say, that the Aqueous and Subterranean are worse than the merely bad, but that the Lucifugus are eminently malicious and mischievous, for these, said he, not merely impair men’s intellects, by phantasies and illusions, but destroy them with the same alacrity as we would the most savage wild beast. The Aqueous suffocate in the water all that approach them; the Subterranean and Lucifugus, if they can only insinuate themselves into the lungs of those they meet, seize and choke them, rendering them epileptic and insane; the Aërial and Earthly, with art and cunning stealthily approach and deceive men’s minds, impelling them to unlawful and unnatural lusts. But how, said I, or what doing, do they accomplish this? is it by lording it over us, and leading us about wherever they please, as if we were so many slaves? 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 of sensual delights and pleasures, not that they actually emit distinct sounds, but they insinuate a sort of murmur, that serves with them the place of words. But it is impossible, said I, they could utter words without sound? It is not impossible, said he, as you will perceive, if you only reflect, that when one is speaking to another at a distance, he must speak in a high key, but if he be near, he need barely murmur, and whisper into the ear of his auditor, and if one could approach the very essence of the soul, there would be no occasion for any sound whatever, but any word we pleased would reach its destination by a noiseless path; a faculty which they say is possessed by disembodied spirits, for they bold communication with each other in a noiseless manner, in the same way the dæmons hold communication with us, without our perceiving it, so that it is impossible to discover from what quarter an attack may be made upon us. You need have no doubt on this point, if you only consider what happens in the atmosphere; when the sun shines, he combines colors and forms, and transmits them to objects capable of receiving them, (as we may observe in mirrors); thus also the dæmons, 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; sometimes, too, rousing the baser passions by titillations, they excite to insane and unnatural amours, and especially when they find warm perspirations co-operating; for in this way, donning Pluto’s helmit, with craft and the most refined subtlety, they create a commotion in men’s minds. The other description of dæmons have not a particle of wit, and are incapable of cunning, yet are they dangerous and very terrible, injuring after the manner of the Charonean spirit, for (as they report) the Charonean spirit destroys every thing that comes in its way, whether boast man, or bird; in the same way these dæmons terrifically destroy everyone they fall in with, injuring them in body and mind. and subverting their natural habits; sometimes they destroy not merely men, but even irrational animals, in the fire, in the water, or by casting them over precipices.

Timothy — But what can be their object in entering irrational animals? for this happened to the swine, at Gargasa (as the Sacred Writings attest). I am not surprised if, being hostile to men, they injure them; but what is the sense of their entering irrational animals?

Thracian — Marcus said that it was not from any motive of hatred, nor from any hostile intention, that they pounced upon some beasts, but from a vehement desire for animal heat; for, as they inhabit the most profound depths, which are cold to the last degree, and destitute of moisture, they are excessively cold; being contracted and pained in consequence, they naturally long for a moist and vivifying heat to revel in, and spring into irrational animals, and plunge into baths and pits; on the other hand, the heat that proceeds from fire they avoid, because consuming and scorching, but gladly attach themselves to the moisture of animals, as being congenial to their nature, but especially to that of man, as being most congenial of all; and when infused into them they occasion no small uproar, the pores in which the animal spirit resides being clogged. and the spirit confined and displaced by the bulk of their bodies, which is the cause of their agitating men’s persons, and injuring their faculties, and obstructing their motions. When a subterranean dæmon assails one, he agitates and distorts the person possessed, and speaks through him, using the tongue of the sufferer as if it were his own member; but if a lucifugus dæmon clandestinely possess a person, it occasions a relaxation of his whole system, stops his utterance, and almost leaves the sufferer dead; for this last species is more allied to earth than the others, and is therefore excessively cold and dry, and anyone it can secretly possess, it blunts and obscures all the sufferer’s natural power; but, because it is irrational and totally devoid of intellect, being governed by irrational whim, it has 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. “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 dæmons, 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 at all 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 there are the effects of disordered humours; but enthusiasms, and mildness, and possessions, with which when one is seized he is incapable of making any use of his judgment, 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 be prophesies something.” With what propriety [I ask] can these effects be called the disordered movements of matter?

Timothy — How now, Thracian! do you yourself assent to what Marcus says?

Thracian — Most undoubtedly, Timothy; for how could I do otherwise, when I recollect what the holy Gospels relate concerning persons possessed with dæmons, and what befell the man of Corinth at Paul’s command, and how many wonderful things are related of them by the Fathers; and moreover saw with my own eyes, and heard with my own ears, their doings at Elason; for a man in that place was in the habit of delivering oracles after the manner of the priests of Phœbus, and, amongst other things, predicted not a few concerning myself. Having collected the multitude of the initiated around him, he said — “I apprise the present company of the fact that an individual will be sent against us, by whom the mysteries of our worship will be persecuted, and the mysteries of our service abolished; myself and many others shall be apprehended by that person; but, though he be very anxious to carry me off a prisoner to Byzantium, he shall not do it — not though he make many and vigorous efforts to accomplish it.” Such predictions he uttered, though I had never gone as far from the city as to the neighbouring villages. He described, too, my aspect, deportment, and occupation, and many who used to pass to and fro told me the facts. At length, when I did apprehend him, I asked him how he came to be gifted with the prophetic art? He, though he did not wish to divulge the secret, yet, labouring under a laconic necessity, confessed the truth, for he said that he had come to the knowledge of dæmoniacal practices through a certain vagabond African, who, bringing him by night to a mountain, causing him to partake of a certain herb, spitting into his mouth, and anointing his eyes with a certain unguent, enabled him to see a host of dæmons, from among which he perceived a sort of raven fly towards him, and down his throat into his stomach. From that time up to the present moment he could predict, but only respecting such things, and at such times, as the dæmon who possessed him wished; but on Passion week and the Resurrection day, so much venerated by Christians, not though be himself should greatly desire it, is the dæmon who possessed him disposed to suggest anything. These things he told me, and, when one of my followers struck him on the cheek, “you,” said he, “for this one blow shall receive many; and you,” said he, turning to me, “shall, suffer great calamities in your person, for the dæmons are fearfully incensed against you for subverting their service, and will involve you in harassing dangers, such as you cannot by any possibility escape, unless some power superior to that of dæmons extricate you. These things the polluted wretch predicted, as if uttering oracles from the Delphic Tripod; for they all happened, and I have been almost undone by the numerous dangers which beset me; from which my Saviour alone wonderfully rescued me; but who that has seen the oracle in which dæmons play upon wind instruments, will say that madness in all its forms are but the vitiated movements of matter?

Timothy — I am not at all surprised, Thracian, that physicians are of this way of thinking, for how many cannot at all understand this sort of thing? For my part, I was first of their opinion, until I saw what was absolutely portentous and monstrous in its character, which, as it is quite apropos to the present topic, I shall relate. An old man like me, and who has, besides, assumed the monastic habit, is incapable of telling a falsehood. I had an elder brother maried to a woman, who was on the whole of a good disposition, but exceedingly perverse; she was, too, afflicted with a variety of diseases. She, in her confinement, was very ill, and raved extravagantly, and, tearing her bedgown, muttered a sort of barbarous tongue, in a low murmuring tone; nor could the bystanders comprehend what she said, but were in a state of perplexity, not knowing what to do in so desperate a case. Some women, however (for the sex is very quick in discovering expedients, and particularly clever in meeting exigencies), fetched a very old bald-headed man, with his skin wrinkled and sun-burnt to a very dark hue, who, standing with his sword drawn beside the bed, affected to be angry with the invalid, and upbraided her much in his own tongue; (I mention that, because he was an Armenian). The woman replied to him in the same tongue; first she was very bold, and, leaning on the bed, rated him with great spirit; but when the foreigner was more liberal with his exorcisms, and, as if in a passion, threatened to strike her, upon this the poor creature crouched and shook all over, and, speaking in a timid tone, fell fast asleep. We were amazed, not because she was transported with frenzy, for that with her was an ordinary occurrence, but because she spoke in the Armenian tongue, though she had never up to that hour so much as seen an Armenian, and understood nothing but her connubial and domestic duties. On her recovery I asked what she had undergone, and if she could recall to mind anything that had occurred; she said she saw a sort of darksome spectre, resembling a woman, with the hair dishevelled, springing upon her; that in her terror she had fallen on the bed, and from that time had no recollection of what has occurred. She spoke thus on her recovery. Ever since that event a sort of bond of ambiguity keeps me perplexed, as to how the dæmon which harassed this woman could seem feminine, for we may well question whether the distinction of sex prevails amongst the dæmons as amongst the creatures of earth; and, in the next place, how could it employ the Armenian tongue? for we can hardly conceive that some dæmons speak in the Greek, some in the Chaldee, and others in the Persic or Syriac; and also why it should crouch at the. charmer’s threats, and fear a naked sword; for how can a dæmon, which can neither be struck nor slain, suffer from a sword? These doubts perplex me exceedingly; upon these points I require persuasion, which I think you the most competent person to afford, as you are thoroughly acquainted with the sentiments of the ancients, and have acquired a great deal of historical knowledge.

Thracian — I should wish, Timothy, to render reasons for the matters in question, but I am afraid we may seem a pair of triflers, you in searching for what no one has yet discovered, I in attempting to explain what I ought rather to pass over in silence, and especially as I know that things of this kind are made matters of misrepresentation by many; but since, according to [King] Antigonus, one ought to oblige his friend, not merely in what is very easily performed, but sometimes also where there is something of difficulty, I will even attempt to loose this bond of ambiguity [you complain of], reconsidering the matter which gave occasion to Marcus’ discourses. He said that no species of dæmon was naturally either male or female, but that their animal passions were the same with those of the creatures with which they were united; for that the simple dæmonic bodies, which are very ductile and flexible, are accommodative to the nature of every form; for as one may observe the clouds exhibiting the appearance one while of men, at another of bears, at another of serpents, or some other animal, thus also it is with the bodies of dæmons; but when the clouds are disturbed by external blasts, diversified appearances are presented; thus also it is with the dæmons, whose persons are transformed according to their pleasure into whatever appearance they please, and are one moment contracted into a less bulk, the next stretched out into a greater length. The same thing we see exemplified in lubricous animals in the bowels of the earth, owing to the softness and pliability of their nature, which are not merely altered in respect of size, but also in respect of appearance; and that in a variety of ways; the body of dæmons likewise is accommodative in both particulars: not only is it peculiarly yielding, and takes the impression of objects, but, because it is aerial, it is susceptible of all kinds of hues, as is the atmosphere; such is the body of dæmons, owing to the imaginative energy inherent in it, and which extends to it the appearance of colours; for, as when we are panic-struck, we first are pale, and afterwards blush, according as the mind is variously affected, owing to the soul extending such affections to the body, we may well suppose it is just the same way with the dæmons, for they from within can send out to their bodies the semblance of colours; for which reason each, when metamorphosed into that appearance which is agreeable, extending over the surface of his body the appearance of color, sometimes appears as a man, sometimes is metamorphosed as a woman, and, changing those forms, it retains neither constantly, for its appearance is not substantial, but resembles what occurs in the atmosphere, or water, in which you no sooner infuse a color, or delineate a form, than straitway it dissolves and is dispelled. We may perceive that the dæmons are liable to similar affections, for in them color, and figure, and all appearance whatever is evanescent. In these things Marcus, as I conjecture, said what was probable; and from this time forward let not the question harass you, whether the distinction of sex exists in dæmons on account of the genital member appearing in them, for these, whether male or female, are not constant nor habitual; therefore consider that the dæmon which so much harassed the woman in confinement seemed like a woman, not because it was really and habitually feminine; but because, it presented the appearance of a woman.

Timothy — But how comes it Thracian, that it does not assume now one form, and now another, like the other dæmons, but is always seen in this form, for I have heard from many, that dæmons of the female form only are seen by women in confinement?

Thracian — For this too, Marcus assigned a not improbable reason, he said that all dæmons 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, one which extends to almost all sensible objects, both in heaven, and around, and on this earth. Horses, oxen, and animals of that sort, with a more confined sort of imagination, which extends but to some things, which exercise the imaginative faculty [as for instance,] their companions at pasture, their stall, or their owners; and gnats, with flies and worms, have this faculty exceedingly restricted, not knowing any of them the hole they leave, where they proceed, or whither they ought to go, but exercising the imagination for the single purpose of aliment, in the same manner also the species of dæmons are greatly diversified; for amongst them, some as the Empyreal and Aërial are possessed of a very discursive imagination, one that extends to every imaginable object; very different from them are the Subterranean and Lucifugi; they do not assume a variety of forms, for they are incapable of numerous spectral appearances, not being possessed of pliability and versatility of person; the Aqueous and Terrene, occupying an intermediate position with respect to those already described, are incapable of changing their forms, but in whatever forms they delight, in these they constantly continue. But you should not be at all perplexed, if the dæmon that harassed the woman in confinement appeared feminine, for being a lascivious dæmon, and delighting in impure moistures, changing its form, it naturally assumed that which is best adapted for a life of pleasure, but with respect to the dæmon speaking in the Armenian tongue; that was a point Marcus did not clear up, it will be manifest, however, from the following considerations: — It is impossible to ascertain the peculiar tongue of each particular dæmon, whether [for instance,] such a dæmon speak in the Hebrew, or Greek, or Syriac, or other barbarous tongue; indeed, [I may ask,] what absolute need have they of a voice, who usually hold intercourse without one? [as I already observed,] but as in the case of the angels of the nations, different angels being appointed over different nations, different angels must associate with each other, they use each the tongue of their respective nation’s; we may reasonably conclude, that it is the same way with the dæmons, for which reason some of them with the Greeks delivered oracles in Heroics, but others with the Chaldees were evoked in Chaldee, whilst among the Ægyptians they were induced to approach by means of Ægyptian incantations, in the same manner too, the dæmons amongst the Armenians, if they happen to go elsewhere, prefer to use their tongue [the Armenians] as if it were the vulgar tongue.

Timothy — Be it so Thracian; but what suffering are they capable of, that they fear threats and a sword? what are they to be supposed capable of suffering from such, that they crouch with fear, and keep aloof?

Thracian — You are not the only person Timothy, who has been perplexed on these points; before I heard your doubts on them I expressed mine to Marcus, and he to remove them observed, the various species of dæmons are bold, and cowardly in the extreme, but especially such as are allied to matter. The Aërial indeed possessing the largest share of intelligence, if one rebuke them, can distinguish the person rebuking, and no one harassed by them can be liberated, unless such a holy character as addicts himself to the worship of God, and relying on the Divine power, calls to his aid the terrible name of the Divine λόγος. Those that are allied to matter, unquestionably fearing a dismissal to abysses and subterranean places, and the angels who are usually despatched against them, when one threatens them with these, [the angels,] and their being conveyed away to such places, and calls over them, the designation of the angels appointed to this office, are afraid, and thrown into great perturbation; so that from being deranged, they cannot discern who it is that threatens.

Timothy — But what advantage, did he say, resulted from the service of the Aërial dæmons?

Thracian — He did not say, my good friend, that any good resulted from those proceedings; indeed the things themselves proclaim in a barefaced manner that they are made up of vanity, imposture, and a groundless imagination, however fiery meteors, such as are usually called falling stars, descend from them on their worshippers, which the madmen have the hardihood to call visions of God, though they have no truth, nor certainty, nor stability about them, (for what of a luminous character, could belong to the darkened dæmons,) and though they are but ridiculous tricks of theirs, such things as; are effected by optical illusions, or by means called miraculous? but really by imposing on the spectators; these things I wretched man discovered long since, and was meditating to abandon this religion, yet up to the present moment, I was kept fascinated, and my perdition had been inevitable, had not you extricated me [from my perilous situation] by the path of truth, shining forth like a Pharos, placed to dispel the darkness of the sea, Marcus having spoke thus shed a flood of tears, and I consoling, him said, you can chuse a fitter time for weeping, now it is seasonable to magnify your salvation, and return thanks to God, by whom both your body and soul are emancipated from perdition.

Timothy — Tell me this, for I long to know it, whether the bodies of dæmons are of such a nature, as to be capable of being struck?

Thracian — Marcus said, that they could be struck, so as to be pained by a powerful blow afflicted on the person. But how, said l, can that be, as they are spirit, and not solid nor compound, for the faculty of sensation belongs to compound bodies? I am amazed, said he, you should be ignorant of the fact, that it is not the bone or nerve of any is endowed with the faculty of sensation, but the spirit inherent in them, therefore, whether the nerve be pained or refreshed, or suffer any other affection, the pain proceeds from the immission of spirit into spirit, for a compound body is not capable of being pained by virtue of itself, but by virtue of its union with spirit, for when dissected or dead, it is incapable of suffering, because deprived of the spirit; also a dæmon being altogether spirit, and of a sensitive constitution in every part of it, sees and hears, and is capable of the sense of touch, without the intervention of organs of sense, it is pained after the manner of solid bodies, with this difference, however, that whereas when they are divided, they are with difficulty, or never made whole, this when divided, straightway unites, like the particles of air or water, when some solid body displaces them; but though the spirit unites swifter than speech, yet is it pained in the very moment of separation; this is the reason why it fears and dreads the points of iron instruments — and exorcists, well aware of their aversion, when they do not wish the dæmons to approach a specific place, set darts and swords erect, and provide certain other things, either diverting them from that spot by their antipathies, or alluring them to another by their attachments. In these particulars, Marcus’ explanation respecting the dæmons, in my judgment, seemed probable.

Timothy — But did he tell you this Thracian? did he tell you whether the dæmons were gifted with foreknowledge?

Thracian — 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.

Timothy — Can’t you describe to me, the nature of that foreknowledge, which is inherent in them?

Thracian — I would describe it, if time permitted me, but now ‘tis time to return home, for as you see, the air around is hazy, and charged with rain, and if we sit here in the open air, we will be wet through-and-through.

Timothy — Friend, consider what you do, leaving your discourse unfinished.

Thracian — Don’t be uneasy, my best friend, for please God, the first opportunity you and I meet again, I will make good whatever is wanting, and, that in the Syracusan style. [Literally beyond the decimes of the Syracusans.]


Michael Psellos: Psellus’ Dialogue on the Operation of Daemons. Translated by Marcus Collisson. Sydney: J. Tegg, 1843.
 
Dazu: Paul Gautier: Le De daemonibus du Pseudo-Psellos.