The Demonic Holy Ghost

When did the Holy Ghost become a demon (aka, daimon, daemon)? By “demon” I don’t mean to refer to the malignant spirits that tempt or haunt human beings in Christian mythology. Rather, I mean to refer to the Greek and Roman meaning of the term, a mythical creature that could be either good or evil, but who whispered to the mind of its patron what they should or shouldn’t do. Our term ‘demon’ dervies from this Greek word, though Christians argued that these pagan creatures were by nature wicked since they did not come from God. The most famous daimon belonged to Socrates and told him what he should do. He claimed in his Apology that he only followed what this divine creature had told him to do.

It strikes me that for Mormons at least, the Holy Ghost functions as a sort of daimon. Testimony meetings are replete with accounts of the Holy Ghost telling someone not to go somewhere or to give someone a call. The basis of these testimonies is that they don’t know why they are doing these things other than that they heeded the call of the still small voice. Sometimes they find out why, sometimes they don’t.

But this is not the only way that the Holy Ghost has been depicted in the history of Christianity, nor is it the uniform picture of the Holy Ghost in Mormonism. Most famously, the Lectures on Faith say that the Holy Ghost is the communal mind of God and Jesus Christ. Moroni 10:5 says that the Holy Ghost bears truth to all things, but this seems a bit weightier than whether I should go to a sleepover or where my keys are. Many New Testament books don’t even mention the Holy Ghost and others speak of the Spirit as a more abstract principle. So, where does this idea that the Holy Ghost is a daimon who whispers into our ears what we should do come from?

2 Replies to “The Demonic Holy Ghost”

  1. Perhaps a less controversial way to phrase the question is why Mormons identify whisperings of the spirit with the Holy Ghost rather than a personal guardian angel (a better analog to the personal daemon of Greek thinking). You don’t hear much about guardian angels in LDS doctrinal discussion, but there are a few quotes sprinkled around. And Bruce R. McConkie was deadset against it … which suggests there must be some truth to the guardian angel view.

  2. dave, this is an interesting and related question about the status of “guardian angels.” This suggests that the identity of the daimon figure is less important than its function per se. Does this imply that there is a structural need for religious people to have access to the kind of knowledge that daimons give? Aren’t astrology, ancestor worship, and guardian angels all pointing toward the same goal?As I said, this is an important issue, but I am also interested in a historical question about when this begins in Mormon history as well as an exegetical question about where we justify this particular view of the Holy Ghost. I am also interseted in how this view gained dominance over competing views.

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