The Greek word “daemon” means “a divinity or supernatural being of a nature between gods and humans”. It has no connotations of evil or malevolence. In fact, Eudaimonia (εὐδαιμονία) literally means “good spirit” as well as “happiness”.
So how did we get to the idea of the “evil” demons as they are seen today?
It’s in the Abrahamic traditions, including ancient and medieval Christian demonology, where a demon is considered a harmful spiritual entity. It’s important to note that in other types of occultism, a demon is a spiritual entity that may be conjured and controlled (not necessarily an evil one).
Along with all pagan deities, demons were “demonized”, or in other words, associated with Satan and the devil (just like the horned god was).
“Far into the Byzantine period Christians eyed their cities’ old pagan statuary as a seat of the demons’ presence. It was no longer beautiful, it was infested.” - Fox, Robin Lane (1989). Pagans and Christians.
So, What are Demons?
The name demon can have a different meaning depending on your beliefs, for example:
For some, they are powerful spiritual entities, malevolent or not, that may serve as a means to an end. Witches’ Familiars are a type of demon.
For other practitioners, they can be ancient deities, who were “demonized”, portrayed as wicked and threatening.
For others, they can carry deep symbolism, be archetypes or even parts of the brain.
Probably the most well-known demons are those featured in the Lesser Key of Solomon or Goetia, an anonymous grimoire (spellbook) on demonology from the 17th century. You can find here a list of the 72 demons (known as Goetic demons).
Magic and psychotherapy may have more in common than we think. The original meaning of the word “psychology” is in fact “the study of the soul” although in modern times “psyche” is seen as just mind with no spiritual component.
So both Magic and therapy deal with immaterial spirits or entities (whether they be considered fictions or hallucinations that must be healed or exorcised in some way).
One of the great therapists of the 20th century, Carl Jung, at one point equated psychology with alchemy, seeing alchemy as a process of psychological transformation and, in turn, psychology as an alchemical process.
Jung describes psyches populated by a host of spirits (“archetypes”), or immaterial patterns that shape the individual and collective psyche. These are personalized, in the same way that a demon manifests itself under a certain pattern of recurring forms, taking, as it were, a personality.
Aleister Crowley’s View
To complete this idea, it is appropriate to invite the British occultist Aleister Crowley. More than 100 years ago he noted a psychological factor in Magick and in the very identity of the spirits, genii, or demons that were invoked and interacted with the Magician.
Crowley, in his extensive magical work, refers to the entities he conjures up as portions of his psyche and at other times confers autonomy on them. In his introduction to Goetia, Crowley writes:
“The spirits of the Goetia are portions of the human brain. Their seals therefore represent methods of stimulating or regulating those particular spots.” - The Lesser Key of Solomon: Goetia
Crowley is aware that the end of Magick is to transform one’s psyche. In the same text, Crowley explains that “the names of God” are vibrations aimed at yielding to the Will of the magician certain aspects of the human mind and that each spirit obeys a certain mental power.
For anyone interested in learning more about Demonology, I recommend the book Complete Book of Demonolatry by S. Conolly
Studying demonology is a great way to open your mind, expand your knowledge, and find out if there are any demons (genii, or other spirits) in your life
Having said this, I think that staying away from demons in general is probably the best route for beginners.
There’s nothing you can accomplish by summoning a demon that you can’t accomplish with other techniques of Magic.