Opinion of the Greeks and Romans on the Apparitions of Good Genii

[This is taken from Augustine Calmet's Phantom World, originally published in 1850, revised and edited by D. J. McAdam, 2010.  Copyright as such.]

Greeks and Romans 

Jamblichus, a disciple of Porphyry, has treated the matter of genii and their apparition more profoundly than any other author of antiquity. It would seem, to hear him discourse, that he knew both the genii and their qualities, and that he had with them the most intimate and continual converse. He affirms that our eyes are delighted by the appearance of the gods, that the apparitions of the archangels are terrible; those of angels are milder; but when demons and heroes appear, they inspire terror; the archontes, who preside over this world, cause at the same time an impression of grief and fear. The apparition of souls is not quite so disagreeable as that of heroes. In the appearance of the gods there is order and mildness, confusion and disorder in that of demons, and tumult in that of the archontes.

When the gods show themselves, it seems as if the heavens, the sun and moon, were all about to be annihilated; one would think that the earth could not support their presence. On the appearance of an archangel, there is an earthquake in every part of the world; it is preceded by a stronger light than that which accompanies the apparition of the angels; at the appearance of a demon it is less strong, and diminishes still more when it is a hero who shows himself.

The apparitions of the gods are very luminous; those of angels and archangels less so; those of demons are dark, but less dark than those of heroes. The archontes, who preside over the brightest things in this world, are luminous; but those which are occupied only with what is material, are dark. When souls appear, they resemble a shade. He continues his description of these apparitions, and enters into tiresome details on the subject; one would say, to hear him, that that there was a most intimate and habitual connection between the gods, the angels, the demons, and the souls separated from the body, and himself. But all this is only the work of his imagination; he knew no more than any other concerning a matter which is above the reach of man's understanding. He had never seen any apparitions of gods or heroes, or archontes; unless we say that there are veritable demons which sometimes appear to men. But to discern them one from the other, as Jamblichus pretends to do, is mere illusion.

The Greeks and Romans, like the Hebrews and Christians, acknowledged two sorts of genii, some good and beneficent, the others bad, and causing evil. The ancients even believed that every one of us received at our birth a good and an evil genius; the former procured us happiness and prosperity, the latter engaged us in unfortunate enterprises, inspired us with unruly desires, and cast us into the worst misfortunes. They assigned genii, not only to every person, but also to every house, every city, and every province. These genii are considered as good, beneficent, and worthy of the worship of those who invoke them. They were represented sometimes under the form of a serpent, sometimes as a child or a youth. Flowers, incense, cakes, and wine were offered to them. Men swore by the names of the genii. It was a great crime to perjure one's self after having sworn by the genius of the emperor, says Tertullian; Citius apud vos per omnes Deos, quàm per unicum Genium Cæsaris perjuratur.

We often see on medals the inscription, Genio populi Romani; and when the Romans landed in a country, they failed not to salute and adore its genius, and to offer him sacrifices. In short, there was neither kingdom, nor province, nor town, nor house, nor door, nor edifice, whether public or private, which had not its genius.

We have seen above what Jamblichus informs us concerning apparitions of the gods, genii, good and bad angels, heroes, and the archontes who preside over the government of the world.

Homer, the most ancient of Greek writers, and the most celebrated theologian of Paganism, relates several apparitions both of gods and heroes, and also of the dead. In the Odyssey, he represents Ulysses going to consult the sorcerer Tiresias; and this diviner having prepared a grave or trench full of blood to evoke the manes, Ulysses draws his sword to prevent them from coming to drink this blood, for which they thirst; but which they were not allowed to taste before they had answered the questions put to them. They believed also that the souls of the dead could not rest, and that they wandered around their dead bodies so long as the corpse remained unburied.

Even after they were interred, food was offered them; above everything honey was given, as if leaving their tomb they came to taste what was offered them. They were persuaded that the demons loved the smoke of sacrifices, melody, the blood of victims, and intercourse with women; that they were attached for a time to certain spots and certain edifices which they infested. They believed that souls separated from the gross and terrestrial body, preserved after death one more subtle and elastic, having the form of that they had quitted; that these bodies were luminous, and like the stars; that they retained an inclination for those things which they had loved during their life on earth, and that often they appeared gliding around their tombs.

To bring back all this to the matter here treated of, that is to say, to the appearance of good angels, we may note, that in the same manner that we attach to the apparitions of good angels the idea of tutelary spirits of kingdoms, provinces, and nations, and of each of us in particular—as, for instance, the Prince of the kingdom of Persia, or the angel of that nation, who resisted the archangel Gabriel during twenty-one days, as we read in Daniel; the angel of Macedonia, who appeared to St. Paul, and of whom we have spoken before; the archangel St. Michael, who is considered as the chief of the people of God and the armies of Israel; and the guardian angels deputed by God to guide us and guard us all the days of our life—so we may say that the Greeks and Romans, being Gentiles, believed that certain sorts of spirits, which they imagined were good and beneficent, protected their kingdoms, provinces, towns, and private houses.

They paid them a superstitious and idolatrous worship, as to domestic divinities; they invoked them, offered them a kind of sacrifice and offerings of incense, cakes, honey, and wine, &c.—but not bloody sacrifices.

The Platonists taught that carnal and voluptuous men could not see their genii, because their mind was not sufficiently pure, nor enough disengaged from sensual things; but that men who were wise, moderate, and temperate, and who applied themselves to serious and sublime subjects, could see them; as Socrates, for instance, who had his familiar genius, whom he consulted, to whose advice he listened, and whom he beheld, at least with the eyes of the mind.

If the oracles of Greece and other countries are reckoned in the number of apparitions of bad spirits, we may also recollect the good spirits who have announced things to come, and have assisted the prophets and inspired persons, whether in the Old Testament or the New. The angel Gabriel was sent to Daniel to instruct him concerning the vision of the four great monarchies, and the accomplishment of the seventy weeks, which were to put an end to the captivity. The prophet Zechariah says expressly that the angel who appeared unto him revealed to him what he must say—he repeats it in five or six places; St. John, in the Apocalypse, says the same thing, that God had sent his angel to inspire him with what he was to say to the Churches. Elsewhere he again makes mention of the angel who talked with him, and who took in his presence the dimensions of the heavenly Jerusalem. And again, St. Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews, "If what has been predicted by the angels may pass for certain."

From all we have just said, it results that the apparitions of good angels are not only possible, but also very real; that they have often appeared, and under diverse forms; that the Hebrews, Christians, Muslims, Greeks, and Romans have believed in them; that when they have not sensibly appeared, they have given proofs of their presence in several different ways. We shall examine elsewhere how we can explain the kind of apparition, whether of good or bad angels, or souls separated from the body.





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