Email: Say Hello to My Little Friend! (8.6.2020)

Dear Gillian

Most modern Christian (theological) texts would appear to be ‘revisionist’ on this matter. In other words, daemons are presented as an anachronism from history with little serious relevancy for today’s Christians. Daemons are viewed primarily as products of mental illness, with the Church following the medical profession – at least officially. I am sure there is probably a double-standard in operation somewhere, as with most things ‘Church’, but I digress. Evagrius (4th century) certainly believed daemons were real, and that they manifest as eight types of ‘evil’ or ‘obscuring’ thoughts in the mind that prevented the aspirant from directly perceiving and uniting with ‘god’. For the laity, Evagrius said that Daemons attacked them in the physical world through various objects such as people, animals, bad weather, warfare or disasters, etc. Ordinary people (referred to as ‘Secularists’ by Evagrius) lacked the solitary insight developed by the Christian monks who lived in the desert, and so the daemons tended to limit themselves to interfering through objects, although it is clear that ‘possession’ was part of that interference which saw vulnerable individuals subsumed by a dominant daemon. This possession sees very different to the temptation experienced in the minds of the monks, which by comparison is subtle and difficult to discern or prevent. As Christianity is said to have driven the pagan gods out of the cities, their behaviour had become specifically ‘anti-Christian’ in the desert, so that the Christians referred to them as being routinely malignant. A Christian monk volunteered to go into the desert and ‘meditate’ his way through all the obstacles these daemons presented, with the end product being a complete spiritual purification and unification with ‘god’. However, Evagrius does not seem to think that daemons are physically real even though they can manifest in the physical world. Admittedly, such a manifestation, although generally destructive and not in any way to the benefit of humanity, was often short lived as a visible entity, even if their negative presence persisted on the inner plane (such as in possession). Although Christian monasticism still follows Evagrius and Origen, etc, the popular ‘mainstream’ Church in the West plays-down daemons and is not opposed to profit-seeking, amassing wealth, or pursuing the odd crusade. If daemons are rejected as physical entities, then Evagrius seems to be saying that it is the human mind that is generating them, or perhaps the human mind is the agency through which they are manifesting (if we allow for an origination elsewhere, or outside the mind). The point is that Evagrius might well have borrowed from Buddhism (with its mind-led salvation model), or he developed an independent ‘psychological’ model of the human-mind centuries before such an understanding developed in the West. His eight daemonic mind-sets certainly have their parallels within Buddhism, but his schematic is not that conveniently identical the stream-lined greed, hatred and delusion of the Buddha (with ‘delusion’ covering virtually every other corrupt mind-set or deficient philosophical opinion). There is a theory that the ‘Therapeutae’ mentioned by Philo as existing in the Egyptian desert were in fact a Sect of the ‘Theravada’ School of Buddhism from India, and that their presence influenced the Jewish Essenes to leave the city and sit in ‘cells’ or ‘caves’ and meditate. The Essenes seem to have begun their practice around 100 BCE with Christian monasticism not developing until around 500 years later. If correct, this would imply an integration of Hebrew (Jewish) theology, Pali (Buddhist) philosophy, and Greek rational thought, with that of a developing Christian theology (which borrowed Greek ideas in its movement away from Hebrew-based theology). Whatever the case, a number of honest Christian commentators now admit that there was probably a Buddhist influence in the development of Early Christian monastic practice, even if the later Church tried to hide this by moving in other rhetorical directions.  

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