On the Operation of Daemons

by Psellus

Between 1018 and 1079 AD there lived a man named Psellus or Psellos1). His works include: De daemonibus, Zoroaster, Oracula magica2).

His De daemonibus, which has been cited from time to time in serious occult literature since the 16th century, would seem to have for its full title in English the following:

Michael Psellus' Dialogue, between Timothy and (a) Thracian.

On the Operation of Daemons.

Although editions in Greek (Peri Energeias Daimonon) and Latin (De Operatione Daemonum) are known from 1576, 1615, 1641, 1677, & 1838, the work was, it seems, translated from the Greek into English for the first time perhaps in Sydney, Australia, in 1843 by one Marcus Collisson. The translated text occupies pages 18-49 of Collisson's 52 page book3).

The following is an excerpt from Collisson's translation:

What possible benefit could you derive from my delineating their seductive statements?.
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 use4): ... 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. (p19)
... and the divine Basilius5), who beheld invisible things (or at least not clear to ordinary eyes) maintains it, that not merely the daemons, but even the pure angels have bodies, being a sort of thin, aërial, and pure spirits. ... for these effects could not be accomplished otherwise than through the medium of a body.
How comes it then, that in most passages of Scripture they are spoken of as incorporeal?
It is the practice both with Christian and profane authors, even the most ancient, to speak of the grosser descriptions 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. (p28-29)

(Marcus6), a monk in Mesopotamia, an initiated inspector of daemonic phantasms) said there were in all six species of daemons, I know not whether subdividing the entire genus by their habits, or by the degree of their attachment to bodies -- be that as it may, he said that the sexade [of daemons] were corporeal and mundane. (p32)

(The Igneous) order of demons haunts the air above us, 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. But how, said I, or what doing, do they accomplish (deception of men's minds, and impulsion to unlawful acts)? 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 ..., they insinuate a sort of murmur, that serves with them the place of words. (p33)

... thus also the daemons, 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; ... they create a commotion in men's minds. ... daemons have not a particle of wit, yet they are dangerous and very terrible, ... agitating men's persons, and injuring their faculties, and obstructing their motions. (p34-35)

(Lucifugus demons) are irrational and totally devoid of intellect, being governed by irrational whim, (they have) 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. (Matthew 17:21 Mark 9:29)

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 daemons, 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 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 these are the effects of disordered humours; but enthusiasms, and madness, and possessions, with which when one is seized he is incapable of making any use of his judgement, 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 he prophesies something. (p36-37)

(Marcus) said that no species of daemon was naturally either male or female, but that their animal passions were the same with those of the creatures with which they were united; (p42)

(Marcus) said that all daemons 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 ... (p43)
But did he tell you whether the daemons were gifted with foreknowledge?
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. (p49)

End excerpts from Collisson's 1843 translation of Psellus.


1) who is mentioned by H.P. Blavatsky [SD vol I p331; CW vol VII p123, 133, 192, 224, 389.]
2) for a bibliography see H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings vol VII p389.
3) an original is held by the National Library of Australia, Canberra
4) Francis Bacon made the same point some 500 years later.
" ... the nature of angels and spirits, ... is neither inscrutable nor interdicted. ... the sober & grounded inquiry, which may arise out of the passages of holy Scriptures, or out of the gradations of nature, is not restrained. ... it is no more unlawful to inquire the nature of evil spirits, than to inquire the force of poisons in nature, or the nature of sin & vice in morality." The Advancement of Learning, 2nd Book,VI,2, Bacon 1605
5) H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings, vol XIV p114
6) One wonders whether this is the same Marcus that H.P. Blavatsky mentions: [SD vI p351-352, 410, 449 CW vol XIII p51-55, 77-78]?