Ethos Anthropos Daemon

Ever since I read James Hillman’s The Soul’s Code I have been thinking about the idea of the daemon. In a nutshell (to pun his self-styled ‘acorn-theory’) the daemon is a divine form or being between humanity and the divine. It chooses an individual at birth with which it becomes imminently associated, acting as a guiding force as it informs and influences the accidences of its chosen life. Its purpose is to ‘grow down’ into time through the rituals and familial connections of kith and kin which determine both our respective cultures and our very lives’ narratives. The persons who thus accommodate the demands and nature of their daemons by properly developing the destiny inherent to them through connecting socially and benevolently achieve fame, wealth (not just economic this) and at least some significant degree of lasting happiness. Those who do not suffer ignominy, vilification and an early if not horrible end.

One of the reasons why I find this idea so compelling is that it finds analogues in so many other cultures, notably the dísir among the Norse, genii among the Romans and even a particular class of spirit among the Celts, the name of which escapes me. (The passage was a commentary remarking how men possessed three souls: one was identical with awareness, one was passed on from one’s father, and one was extended of the divine.) I have a suspicion that it crops up in many non-Indo-European cultures as well.

So how does one recognize a daemon? This has been the question that has bothered me since I first read Hillman’s work. To put it more formally, how do we tell what is of our daemon? What of ourselves is eternal and stems directly from the divine? Over the last few weeks – since the solstice in fact – I have been reaching out to the divine through various means, perhaps the most traditionally effective of which (besides direct prayer) has been meditation. Almost immediately when I was in a good meditative state wherein my reasons for meditating fell away and I simply was, I began to be more aware of a deep, foundational core of myself, a ‘me’ that was both not who I think myself to be (à la Descartes) and yet one without whom my awareness would have no basis in reality. Recently I have become convinced that I’ve become more aware of my daemon.

In Freudian terms, it felt very like what I’ve always thought the Id must be like, and I suddenly remembered being terrified of mirrors.When I was a young boy, I would get up early on Saturday mornings in order to watch cartoons (this being long before Cartoon Network was ever conceived), and I had to cross the dining room in order to get to the living room and the television. A large mirror hung on the wall there and I had to pass in front of it. On mornings when I would catch myself in the mirror I would be transfixed by my reflection. Far from being taken by my own attractiveness, I was petrified with fear like a rabbit in the headlights of an oncoming car. Whatever I saw staring back at me from the mirror was so frightening that it triggered that primal fear which causes immature animals to freeze in the hopes of being unnoticed. Any mirror, in fact, could trigger this response from me. It was as if my youthful mind could sense the immortal and divine couched in my own young materiality, and it was a long time before I would become comfortable with it.

I am still not entirely comfortable with it, and I can see now how the nature of this divine presence whose nature is not wholly sympathetic to Christian mores has caused me more than a small deal of trouble. It is overly simplistic to assign this thing the label of Id, as I have noticed that there have been times of real danger when this thing in me steps out and performs with perfect confidence and capability: so much so in fact that I cannot help but think of Socrates’ claim, reported by Plato, that the wizened philosopher claimed possession of (or by?) a daemon who protected and advised him. Certainly I have enjoyed moments of supernatural prescience that has allowed me to avoid danger and even death on several occasions, but this core of me is also possessed of a number of peculiar characteristics that have often prompted me to liken myself to a dog.

The real question at hand, of course, is how to live in right relationship with this daemon. It seems relatively clear to me (and, yes, this is understatement) that most of the ‘evil’ committed in our time stems from the influence of daemons that have either been frustrated or failed to ‘grow down’ in Hillman’s words. What habits, customs and practices – particularly in regarding faith and rituals – will best cultivate my daemon in this life? Such was meant to be the subject of this post, but I’ve gone on for far too long and so will wait for another day.

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