Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Devil In The Lands Of The Greeks (Part 2)

Part 1 of "The Devil in the Lands of the Greeks" can be found here.

AP: Today we turn our attention to the influence of Orphism and Platonism played on the existence of demons and the demonic throughout the Greek-speaking world.

Orphism was a sort of religion observed by small esoteric groups within the Greek world. Its followers wanted to extend its influence beyond its small assemblies of strict followers, particularly through itinerant philosophers or preachers who mixed Orphic ideas with the more mystical philosophy of Pythagoras. Generally speaking, they are designated as Pythagoreans. For these people Pythagoras, a philosopher and mathematician, was almost like a divine figure and his "religion" or mystical speculation revolved around the idea of the One, the first number and the first principle in the constitution of the universe.

The Orphic religious tradition was based on a myth in which the Titans played a major role. Although this legend has many variations, the outline regarding what interests us now is as follows: During the Zeus' fight against the Titans, the latter managed to grab one of the young gods, Dionysus (the Roman god Bacchus). They tricked him using a mirror and he was killed and then devoured. Athena rescued the heart of the young god and presented it to Zeus.

Zeus felt sorry for what happened, and attached it to a young demigod, Semele, who begot a new Dionysus. The new Dionysus turned against the evil Titans and killed them by throwing terrible rays at them. But from the ashes of the Titans other beings are born; they are human. As the Titans had devoured Dionysus (i.e., they had incorporated within itself some good parts of the Olympian gods), his ashes also carry something good. Humans, born from the ashes of the Titans, therefore, carry a good portion that comes ultimately from Dionysus, namely the soul, and also bad, which comes directly from the Titans, namely the body.

With this myth, another type of dualism is introduced into Greece. According to this concept, the soul, that which is spiritual and that which is from Dionysus, is good; and body, that which is material and from the Titans, is bad. Over the centuries this Orphic dualism, typically Greek, spreads across the Mediterranean in influence and appeal that radiated everything hellenic. Many pious souls would accept these dualistic notions that come ultimately from the Iranian dualism.

But while this had a markedly ethical character (the good and evil in man is reduced to choices of the will obviously influenced by those principles), Greek dualism displayed a markedly cosmological mood: in man–like it or not– there is an opposition between matter (bad) and spirit (good). These concepts will later be adopted and well received by Judaism and Christianity, having incalculable consequences in these two religions both in their conception of the devil, evil, and general religious ideas about the world, the nature of man, and notions about the afterlife.

With regard to the belief in demons, Orphism made a huge impact. It greatly expanded this dualism of soul and body, putting forth the idea that ordinary people feel that evil spirits (Titans) are beings attached to the material, using the material, which is bad, to harm humans.

The philosophy of Plato, which is very spiritualistic, is heir to the Orphic notions of the dualism of man (i.e., body and soul). He broadly accepted the existence of demons, or spirits that the people believed in, and joined it to their cosmological system. By doing so, it gave these popular beliefs "scientific" support.

According to the Athenian philosopher, divinity is the Supreme Good and dwells beyond the Universe in a sublime and separate world, intellectual and spiritual. The area between the divine and man is full of demons or secondary gods, who acted as intermediaries between the distant divine and transcendent humans. At the time of the birth of Christianity and in regard to their knowledge and acceptance by the everyday people, Platonic philosophy was concentrated in elementary maxims and it was expanded by innumerable "philosophers" or lecturers who entertained people in squares and markets.

Along with other principles, also elementary, of Stoic ethics, Platonic beliefs had become popular to extreme lengths and had become known up to the lower layers of the Hellenized populations. In the years leading up to Jesus' birth, these ideas about daemons as demigods, ones who lived in the sky below the moon, were generally accepted. Concerning these demigods, some were good and some bad. Some brought good and others harm.

It was also believed that the souls or spirits of some deceased were also transformed into daemons. As these spirits were in contact with the world of men and matter, they could be degraded and corrupted, and they could cause all sorts of problems for humans. In fact, for the people, the demon was almost always the personification of the closest thing to the matter, evil (Orphic dualism accepted by Platonism!), the most disastrous and fatal. And the origin of all that is good in this world was attributed to the gods above, far away from the material world.

In cases of dangers and misfortunes, the Greeks believed that men had to placate demons or counteract the baleful effects of their influence or actions with magical rites or beg for help from higher divinities. All of this reinforced the evil dualism associated with the lower world, the material, and the good with the world above, the spiritual.

Later, in Judaism and Christianity and what they thought about the devil, this dualistic world that had spread everywhere would help the formation of the concept of a being that is not tangible, more or less spiritual, but wicked and always ready to fight on behalf of the matter and against everything truly spiritual.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Tom! great Blog, and great to have Antonio Piñero commenting here too!

    Tom I have a question, Do you believe that baptist church is the same as the primitive christian church as New Testament describes it?

    I think this the "eternal" theory that some baptists claims to or the apostolic succesion of churches....something like that, could you develop these ideas further?

    I want to become baptist but I need to know this before.