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Posts Tagged ‘daemonic’

 

man strolling in a wooded landscape - detail - A A MillsThis life’s dim windows of the soul,
Distort the heavens from pole to pole,
And leads you to believe a lie,
When you see with, not through the eye.

The Eternal Gospel – Blake.

A man enters the forest to cut wood. He hears music, discovers a beautiful woman dancing. She invites him to join her, and he has the time of his life, returns, stars still in his eyes, to find decades have passed, that all who knew him are gone, and he no longer has a place in the world. It’s a classic encounter with the Faery, and the meaning of it – for there is always a meaning – suggests that having once experienced the limitless bliss of the other-world, you have to find a way of forgetting it, or you cannot live in this one.

Or it might have happened the other way around, because there’s always an inverse to these things. A man enters the forest, encounters the dancing woman who lures him into an eternal life of merriment, romance and where all is wonderful. Decades pass before he tires of it – for humans will always tire of endless pleasure – and he craves a return to life, craves its imperfections, even the time bound nature of the human condition. He’s thinking all who knew him will surely be gone by now but, on his return, he discovers no time has lapsed at all and he merely picks up where he left off. The story here might be telling us the world will always find a place for those who grasp that crucial insight regarding the value of limitation in human affairs.

I’m not sure where these ideas come from, but they’re nagging me to attempt a contemporary story along similar lines, and I’m resisting it. But the more I resist, the more they nag and intrigue. I’d thought they were from Irish Faery lore, but in the main it’s mortal women and children the Celtic Faery are fond of kidnapping, suggestive of a different kind of moral altogether.

Then again it may have been something imagined or dreamed, and it’s a beguiling concept, that such ideas are eternal and floating about, waiting to be picked up by the passing mind, and it’s helpful if you can understand them. All myths come from an archetypal substrate and speak to us in a symbolic language, apparently seeking influence over human affairs.

The Faery were once understood as daemonic entities, not literally existing, but still real, visible only through the inner eye, as Blake once put it, a vision overlaid with the filter of imagination. It takes a kind of madness then, seeing fairies – indeed Wordsworth did say Blake was mad and he may have right – but not all daemonic expression is mad in a bad way. It can also be visionary. On the downside though, daemonic rumblings can spread like wildfire, leading to a dangerous shift in the Zeitgeist, to orgies of rage, to mindless persecution of the “other”, and to killing.

We needn’t look very far to find evidence of the daemonic at work in the contemporary world and have only to listen to the voices coming at us from formerly sane quarters, voices of unreason that can both pedal and believe in lies, even knowing them to be lies. For just as one half of the daemonic possess a heavenly form and fey, courtly manners, the other half knows no bounds to its depths of depravity, duplicity and ugliness. An obvious place to find it is in the comments of any social media, for once we discover the cloak of invisibility, it is the darker daemons that speak through us, and their language is foul.

This ambivalence of the daemonic is perplexing, and not something we can control nor every wholly trust in. When the genie is out of the bottle the story never ends well, except in Disneyland, because humans are outwitted with ease by the daemonic mind. Better then to ram the cork back in, cast the bottle into the sea and hope no one else finds it. Except it is the genii, the daemons themselves that seek us. And we just can’t help falling under their spell.

They require far more circumspection than we possess, especially at times of crisis, for they are the crisis, as if the daemons have gone to war with themselves, and it’s only when the Godly win out do we find peace again. But it’s never lasting, more cyclical, and I fear every other generation must learn these lessons anew.

So my guy goes into the forest, dallies only for a moment with fey beauty, because it’s infinitely preferable to the ugliness of the world he’s living in. But the world he returns to, decades later, is even worse, a world where voices threaten murder at every turn, and he witnesses a population cowering in fear and paranoia. But what’s the lesson in that, when there seems no solution to it? Are we merely to lay down and submit to such a fate, while the daemons rage war in our heads?

If we only knew them better, might we find a way to petition for a more lasting peace? But they’ve been with us since the beginning of time and if we don’t know them by now, will we ever? Or did we once, but in the rush to embrace reason, we have forgotten the Daemonic within us all, and thereby offended them?

I’m ill equipped to understand where any of this is going, lacking both the Blakean vision to see what I’m talking about, and the language to express it. And I fear in the end it doesn’t matter, because wherever the daemons lead, we follow, even if it’s off a cliff edge, and it’s really no comfort to be able say you had the eye on them all the time, and that you saw it coming.

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souls-codeDr James Hillman (1926-2011) was a renowned post-Jungian analyst, depth psychologist and latter day guru of the human development movement. His books offer ideas that draw on early Western (Greek) philosophy and mythology. If we want to understand, to accommodate and direct the forces of the psyche, says Hillman, then we do well to think on what the Greeks wrote about their gods.

I find him difficult, but if one perseveres bits of him stick. In the Soul’s Code he tells us about Plato’s myth of Er, part of his magnum opus, The Republic, in which we are acquainted with the idea of a personal Daemon, an internal, psychical companion who carries the map of our lives, according to a plan laid down before our birth.  Our future then, according to this myth, is not determined so much by the environment we are born into as by a kernel of potential, like an acorn, that will grow into what it was meant to be regardless of any adversity we face in life, or possibly even because of it.

Our task in life is to live out the potential of the acorn, to allow it to grow down from the fertile earth of the deep psyche into the blossom of material realisation through the physical entity that we are. But the Daemon also has the power to bend and shape events to suit the attainment of its ambition for us. So,… we miss the bus, the car gets a flat tyre, we miss the crucial meeting, we lose our job; seen from the Ego’s perspective as personal disasters, such upsets can now be re-interpreted as part of a grander plan, releasing us to pursue another path, one closer to what the Daemon has intended for us. It’s a catch-all – so even the bad hand we are dealt can be greeted with a philosophical acquiescence. It was simply meant to be.

But we can also resist the daemon, resist the call, run capriciously and contrary to the Daemon’s aim. When this happens though, we will at some point feel resistance, feel a gnawing dissatisfaction with our lives and our tireless wants. Persist long enough in a contrary direction and the Daemon will make us ill, or even kill us off altogether, write us off as a bad job, and start afresh.

To realise the Daemon’s plan is to live the life we were intended. The challenge though is divining what it is the Daemon wants for us, and knowing if we’re on the path or not. Personal happiness is not the key, for many who have lived Daemon haunted lives do not end their lives well. Their achievements may stand out, make history, save lives, bring comfort to millions, while their own lives end in apparent ruin and ignominy.

What I find confusing about The Soul’s Code is Hillman’s use of remarkable lives as illustrations of the Daemon at work. He does this, he says, to magnify the phenomenon, to render it visible to analysis but, though he tells us the Daemon is at work in all our lives, the temptation at a first reading is to conclude only those names lit up by fame have listened well enough, and the rest of us are losers.

I’m sure this isn’t what Hillman is saying, or maybe it is. I find much in him that’s contradictory, elusive, beguilingly and beautifully poetic, rather like the psyche itself: alluring, intangible, ambiguous, shape-shifting. There are no firm handles, no answers, nothing to gain purchase, nothing one can test by putting into practice, no ten step plan for contacting your Daemon and realising your full potential. He is the dream to be interpreted, and like the all dreams perhaps not taken too literally.

I’m not unsympathetic to the idea of a personal Daemon. Indeed I think I met mine once, during a brief, spontaneous moment of transcendence, when I recognised myself as being interconnected with everything. Everywhere I looked, there I was. And the Daemon was there, felt, rather than seen, a formless presence reminding me, wordlessly, that as remarkable and unlikely as this vision of seemed, I had always known it to be the truth, but had forgotten it. I had drunk, as Hillman might have quoted, from Greek Myth, from the waters of the Lethe.

But the puzzle for all of us is what I feel Hillman did not address in any depth, and I’d hoped he would – this being the sense of our own importance, our own mission, which is at complete odds with the reality of a small speck of life played out in an infinite, cold and unfeeling universe. In company with our Daemon we feel how interconnected we are with world, that man and world cannot not be said to exist at all in isolation from the other. But in my case, my awareness underlined how much this was, my universe, my journey, that the Daemon and I are alone in working towards our purpose, no matter how insignificant a thing that might appear to be on paper. The Daemon is the captain of my vessel, while my ego-self, the thing I think of as me, is more the sole deckhand, as we sail the tempestuous seas of fate and mischance.

But where does this leave you?

In the working out of my journey are you merely the personification of my own fate and mischance, to be used by my captain as an object lesson – friends, lovers, family,… ill or well met, the whole damned lot of you? And how about the man who talks to himself on the bus, and whom I’d rather avoid? Is he a God in disguise, come to test my own godliness, my own compassion? Are you all merely the humours and the godlings come to test and steer, as in those old Greek stories.

Are you not really there at all?

Perhaps I should have listened more to those Greek myths as a child, for as Hillman teaches, there’s probably many a metaphorical clue in there I’ve missed that would be of help to me now. But the Greeks, like Hillman are not exactly an easy read, and diligence seems rewarded with only more questions, while the answers, far from clear, seem lacking altogether.

Or I could just leave it to the Daemon, and hope I’m on the right path anyway. Then none of it matters and the acorn of my life will, out in spite of all my protestations to the contrary.

I leave you with a taste of the late great, Dr James Hillman (1926-2011):

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warrior girlMy dream takes on the sound of the sea and the feeling of a warm night. At some point Rebecca and I have spooned up, and even through my closed eyes, I know her by her heat and by her scent. And keeping my eyes closed I carry with me the impression of dawn breaking, and of waking with her beside me still.

My spirits lift.

It’s enough, and I don’t care where we are now, nor what point in time we have emerged back into an ordinary waking reality, so long as we are together. But the sea is still washing on the shore, a reminder of last night’s dream, also harbinger of the fact I have not truly woken, that I am likely still dreaming. Then someone is touching my arm and I open my eyes to see Emma crouched in the sand, looking tenderly down.

“You’ve been avoiding me,” she says.

I turn to Rebecca but she’s no longer there. She’s waking, somewhere, and I find myself once more alone in the dreaming, with Emma. I’m afraid, because Emma is usually the herald of much strangeness, and I can bear it no more. I want simplicity. Pray God, I want the coherence of a single line in time. I must escape her.

I must!

I cannot force myself awake, and dare not ask it of the dream to take me back in time again, though ironically this seems the easier thing to do if the last occasion is anything to go by. Instead, I do the next best thing, the safer thing; I close my eyes and ask it of the dreaming for a change of scene. But even as I feel the giddiness of the transition, I am aware of Emma’s hand upon my arm; it is therefore no surprise when I open them to find she’s still there.

“You must be wide awake to loosen my grip,” she says. “And you are not for waking yet. You’re so tired of the world and all that’s in it; it’ll be a while longer, I’m afraid. If ever. But what is this, my love? Anyone would think you did not trust me any more.”

I do not like it, the suggestion I may never wake up. I wish she would go easy on me, but that is not her purpose.

We are back in the mythic levels, as we were before, the pair of us seated in Sunday best, upon a cold flat rock by night, facing the lake. I did not ask for this location, and why the dreaming thinks it is important I do not know, other than the fact it is but one step removed from Rebecca and her prayers for deliverance. Is that where she’s gone now? Is she not waking to a fresh dawn somewhere, but still sleeping, like me? And is she still dreaming of delivering the world, through her ministry?

I need the protection of my girls.

They are already disembarking from the skiff; bronze breastplates glinting beneath cloaks of Phoenician purple. They draw swords and fan out cautiously, prepared to do my bidding, but looking all the while hesitant, unsure, as if afraid I would command them injure a vital part of my self. Then Emma’s own entourage emerges from the shadows, all leather Basques and straps, and fishnets and whips, like a comical teen fantasy.

My girls draw swords, Emma’s unfurl their whips.

Emma laughs. “Gracious, what a curious stand-off. How shall we resolve it, I wonder?”

She yields, lets go of my arm. Her girls withdraw into the shadows. My own sheathe their swords and step back to the shore. I see the glitter of relief in their eyes.

“There,” she says. “That’s better. Now we can talk.”

“Please,… no more talk, Emma. Can’t you see how overwhelmed my senses are with all of this?”

“Then let me show you something,” she says. “It shall make all things clear at last. And afterwards, I’ll let you wake up. I promise.”

Thus the scene is set for the denouement of my story. We’re a hundred and fifty thousand words in, so it’s been a long time coming. What will Emma show me that’ll make everything clear and lead me into the final chapters? I can’t say, and for the simple reason that, although I am the author of this story, I don’t know, because she has not told me.

What she has told me is that a damaged life is not a ruined one, that it is upon the whetstone of adversity the human spirit is most keenly sharpened. Yet, naturally, if given the opportunity to invent our own realities, we would edit out all forms of adversity, all forms of pain. We would invent for ourselves a paradise of pleasure. But pleasure is a thing we do in resting. Adversity, suffering, is the thing we do for a living. We cannot help ourselves. Lives are broken on its harsh anvil, while others are made more meaningful, and rise more beautifully from the ashes of suffering, redeemed, enlightened,…

And eternity is a long time to be spent merely resting in pleasure.

Is any of this true?

What’s true is the world is a place of immense suffering, and at times it’s impossible to see the good in it. Our ignorance sows an ever more bitter harvest, one spotlighted with brutal efficiency by our global news media, which shall surely one day put a camera on the very tip of a bullet. A hundred years ago, we were less aware of the suffering in the greater world, unlike now, when there is no end to the live commentary by which we might probe its ills, from the very comfort of our living rooms. And our analysis reveals what? That the innocents run from the juggernaut path, that it careens blindly, scorching vast swathes of the earth, returning them to barbarism. Our capacity for the creation of suffering immense, yet seemingly the work of mere moments of madness. Conversely our ability to subvert the suffering of the world is pitifully weak, itself fraught with conflicting opinions. And it is the work of generations.

But if we could realise the dream, what kind of earth would it be? Easy, one might say. There would be no living in fear of our neighbour; there would be plenty to eat, and everyone would possess a secure roof under which to make love and nurture children. Returned to such an Eden, we might then vent our energies and our intellect in the creation of what? Great works of art to uplift the spirit? Contemplation of God’s will? In such a world no man need fear being anything other than his true self, and he would certainly not fear his neighbour might rob him of his goods, or his life.

From such a secure foundation, a man might then exercise his ingenuity, coupled with his spiritual instincts, and all so he could explore the million and one ways he might do good, and express his loving nature in the world.

But Eden has fallen.

In schizophrenia, the sufferer experiences a breaking through of unconscious energies from deep within the collective mind. They manifest as voices, as a dire urges, as a debilitating cacophony of destructive thought that burst with uncontrollable fervour upon the defences of the personality. They overwhelm us. Literally, they swallow us in madness. And these energies are amoral, grotesque, irrational, the very antithesis of order and calm. We see this too in the world, this breaking through of hitherto unimagined disorder. We see it night after night on our TV screens – a veritable daemonic orgy of death, destruction, and the ever more imaginative ways one human being can do harm to another.

One might have thought ten thousand years of civilisation would have yielded some defence, a key, a wise philosophy by which we might all live in harmony, and in doing so turn back the tide. But if such a philosophy exists, we have rendered it in so many layers of myth by now we can do no more than argue over its interpretation. Meanwhile the earth burns; and the pace of this awful breaking through of banshees from the dark depths accelerates.

As with schizophrenia, there is no cure for what ails man’s dominion over the earth. It might be controlled somewhat, moderated in its worst excesses by targeted therapies, but the overall prognosis is rarely positive. It is something we have to live with, something we must manage as best we can.

Is it this, the thing Emma would show me?

Would she take me on a tour of Bedlam to show me only the hopelessness of it, the absence of any cure to mankind’s most pernicious malaise? One might be tempted to say yes, except there are some humans who dare to look the daemons in the eye as they tear screaming though the gates of hell, and to ask them their names. If these are the denizens of the nether world, their residence in that abode seems only to have rendered them all the more destructive to a higher purpose. And the more we dream of Utopia, the more we seem only to feed their appetite for chaos and destruction.

But is Emma not herself a daemon?

She has all the qualifications, existing solely in imagination, her form rising from the archetypal foundations of the psychical sub-stratum of experience. Semi-autonomous, she draws me into her world, reveals to me forms that are infinitely malleable to my will. Meanwhile her brethren invade my own realm to torch the forms I cherish, to torment the living even as they flee from the shadows. And she reveals to me how readily I would escape the world, escape the madness, when my place is still firmly rooted in it.

“It is as Lao Tzu taught us,” she says, “that a man stands most strongly when he has one foot in the outer, and one foot in the inner world.”

If we shut ourselves off from the inner world, it’s excesses will lay waste to the physical, to the world of forms. Its energies exist, whether we believe in them or not, and their natural tendency is to flow into the world, through us, regardless of our will. If they do so, untempered by our communion, the result will be a world always falling to chaos, no matter how carefully or rationally we have built it. If we turn our backs on the physical, sink back into the inner world from whence we came, seek escape in our dreams, we will lose our selves, and our purpose, and all meaning, in its infinite possibilities.

I have betrayed my kind. I have betrayed my self.

“Time to wake up,” she says. “You’ll be late for work.”

And then, as she said to me at the very opening of my story:

“The most vital issue of the age is whether the future progress of humanity is to be governed by the modern economic and materialistic mind of the West or by a nobler pragmatism guided, uplifted and enlightened by spiritual culture and knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo 1872-1950

So, after all of that, am I any nearer my conclusion?

Don’t count on it.

Thanks for listening.

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