Please learn from our mistakes

No-bullshit lessons in business and careers. One mail every day. 15k+ readers love it. Join in?

Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
14 Aug

Knowing the demon's name

I was recently watching The Pope's Exorcist on Netflix. In the movie, the protagonist Russell Crowe — the Pope's Exorcist — is trying to exorcise a child possessed by this highly malevolent and rather omniscient and capable demon. And he is having a bloody hard time defeating him.


Because he doesn't know the demon's name! And apparently, without knowing the demon's name, he cannot command him to leave the boy.

No, I am not spoiling the movie for you, this is just the premise.

But while I was watching the movie, it raised an interesting question:

What is the significance of knowing the demon's name in controlling him?

As I went down this rabbit hole of exploration past weekend, I realized that this is in fact a deeply religious and Christian idea with huge psychological import.

Hollywood’s dance with demons

As I partly found out and partly recalled, the silver screen, though miles away from sacred scriptures, seems to flirt with this biblical trope time and again.

Think about The Exorcist — a film that left generations sleeping with their lights on. You might recall the chilling scene where the demon possessing young Regan is confronted and its name is demanded. The act of naming, in this cinematic universe, becomes a pivotal moment of reclaiming power.

Then there’s Constantine, where Keanu Reeves’ character constantly grapples with entities of the otherworld, with names and understanding being his weapons.

Even in the popular The Conjuring series of films, demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren face various demons like Valak The Defiler. Knowledge of the entities, including their names, often plays a part in their confrontations and resolutions.

The constant recurrence of this theme makes me feel that it has a lot more significance than we think. The idea, actually, is a deeply Christian one, with its roots at the very beginning of the Bible.

The Word in the Bible

One of the most iconic openings in religious literature is the beginning of the Book of Genesis in the Bible:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

Here, God's word isn't just a method of communication; it's a force of creation and manifestation. The powerful proclamation sets the stage for our relationship with words and naming.

The Bible teaches us that names hold power. In Genesis, Adam is given the power to name all the creatures. This act of naming signifies his dominion over them, a power granted to him by God. This notion connects directly to the idea that knowing or naming something grants a form of power or control over it.

When Jesus cast out demons in the New Testament, he often demanded their names before expelling them. In the Gospel of Mark, for instance, Jesus encounters a man possessed by a legion of demons. When asked for its name, the demon responds, "My name is Legion, for we are many." After this acknowledgment, Jesus successfully casts them out.

Even the ancient Egyptians gods spoke names to create. In a way, according to these traditions, when God created the universe, it was by words — as if turning chaos into order by organizing things and attributes according to names and codes.

So, there are some obvious clues in religious scriptures around the power of words and naming things. Personally, it's the naming of adversarial forces — the devils and demons — that has always intrigued me most.

But is it merely about exorcism rituals, or is there something more intrinsically human at play here?

Facing our own demons

This makes me ponder: does the theme serve as an allegory for our minds and our own demons?

Our fears, traumas, insecurities, and anxieties are intangible, nebulous, and chaotic forces that wreak tangible havoc. And isn’t it true that when we can name these issues, label them, and speak them aloud, they become slightly less menacing? Perhaps this is the heart of the matter.

In therapy, there's a moment of clarity, almost catharsis, when someone can finally put a name to what they’re feeling. Whether it’s identifying anxiety, depression, or any other emotional state, naming it often saps some of its overwhelming power. It's as if by dragging these shadowy demons into the light and calling them by their name, we reclaim a piece of ourselves.

When you can articulate what you're going through, when you can put a description to it, you can now use it as a building block to enrich your understanding.

“The limits of language are the limits of my world.”

— Ludwig Wittgenstein

World-building, be it in literature, film, or even the construction of cultural narratives and societal norms, leans heavily on words as its foundation. Words, in their varied forms and structures, serve as tools, guiding posts, and anchors that assist in crafting worlds both tangible and imagined.

Words offer definitions. They carve out meanings and help in delineating one idea from another. In world-building, words lay down the groundwork — defining landscapes, cultures, characters, and phenomena. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth or George R.R. Martin’s Westeros would be mere concepts without the detailed descriptors that words provide.

Words construct rules and systems. In any game, real or fantastical, words lay down the laws of the land, helping players understand the parameters of the world they're stepping into.

Through words, histories are written and cultures are formed. Folklore, legends, myths, and traditions are conveyed through stories. Words anchor a world's past, shaping its present and hinting at its future.

Dialogue, another aspect of world-building, is carried through words. They mediate relationships, whether it's the banter between comrades or the treaties between nations. Words depict social dynamics, often becoming pivotal plot drivers.

Reality is fraught with chaos, uncertainty, and conflict. Words act as a compass. Even simple advice and rules of thumb passed from one craftsperson to another can instruct and guide future generations of craftspersons.

Even in the most fantastical settings, words root stories in emotion and human experience. They offer a bridge between the unfamiliar and the relatable, ensuring that no matter how alien the world, it resonates with universal truths and emotions.

Words, once put down, act as records. They ensure that the world, with all its intricacies, can be revisited, analyzed, and expanded upon, whether by the original creator, fans, or future adaptors.

Words are the architects of worlds, giving form to the formless and order to chaos.

And yes, as they help us navigate fictional worlds, they serve a similar purpose in our own reality. In the face of uncertainty, words — be it in stories, advice, laws, or personal reflections — offer understanding, solace, guidance, and a semblance of order. In both fiction and reality, words build bridges over the vast chasms of the unknown.

A universal craving for Understanding

So, what’s in a name?

Clearly, a lot.

Naming might just be our way of navigating an often chaotic world, of tethering abstract fears to concrete words, making them manageable.

As I mull over this, I realize that, in essence, “knowing the demon’s name” might just be an allegory; a metaphor for, and a reflection of our innate desire to understand, confront, and ultimately master the challenges that life — both in reality and in the narratives we create — throws at us.

Perhaps the next time you're watching a film, reading a book, or even introspecting, and you come across the act of naming or understanding an adversary, you’ll pause and think: this isn’t just a story about defeating devils; it’s a narrative of bringing order to chaos via undergoing the effortful and often uncomfortable process of finding words for ambiguous and obscure thoughts and feelings; it's taming chaos with precise articulation.

A note from the team

Business content is everywhere, on all marketing channels, even Instagram. So much so that we are inundated with lobotomizing opinions and trivia that aren't very useful because they do not enrich our understanding of the world in any meaningful way. Nor can we apply them to our own work to create better outcomes. It's junk entertainment that clogs up your thinking with all sorts of baseless opinions and ideas, without being backed by any real understanding of the forces at play.

So, we'd like to distance ourselves away from this clusterfuck and focus on what matters.

And to us, what has mattered, since Day 1, is UNDERSTANDING. We want to write stuff that really changes your mind and permanently increases the resolution in which you see the world.

But interesting and thought-provoking ideas aren't a dime a dozen. And to process them takes time. What makes things more difficult for us that even if there are interesting ideas from across domains, two major constraints have held us back:

1. The “MBA in your Inbox” positioning, which doesn't allow us to share interesting ideas without any business or career relevance to them
2. The daily cadence of publishing, which often prevents us from writing about topics that may need more time for research and analysis

This changes, starting today.

We are now only going to cover ideas that we personally find interesting and insightful, regardless of whether they relate to business or careers or don't. But most consequential ideas do, in one way or another, so that isn't going to be a problem. But “MBA topics” will not be a major constraint for us going forward.

You can think about Stoa Daily as more of a newsletter that helps you think better and aims to enrich your understanding of the world, across diverse facets and domains.

And yes, you might not get a Stoa Daily in your inbox every single day. It's a constraint we would like to get rid of, in service of writing about themes we haven't explored earlier due to a lack of time and resources, but have always wished to explore. For we do not wish to write for the sake of writing, nor do we wish to bore you with such writing and add to your already cluttered inbox with one more vapid piece of content that doesn't add much interestingness to your life.

Do write back to us if you have any thoughts for or against this. We'd be happy to hear them. And if you like what we write, do recommend us to your nerdiest friends.

Nerds. We need more nerds.

Feeling Lucky?
Subscribe to get new posts emailed to you, daily. No spam.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
15k+ business professionals act on our advice every day. You should too.
Subscribe to get new posts emailed to you, daily. No spam.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
15k+ business professionals act on our advice every day. You should too.