The Daimon

The Daimon

I recently listened to a fantastic Ted Talk by author Elizabeth Gilbert that spoke on the benefits of mystical thinking in creative work. Gilbert adopts the ancient Greek belief that creativity comes to us from a ‘daimon’, a disembodied intelligence with numinous imperative that seeks to inspire and assist us in our work. According to Gilbert, it is through our partnership with these supernatural beings that ideas are born into the world. She recommends this as a beneficial mode of thinking for the artist as it liberates him from the burden of “genius” belonging exclusively to his person, which can cause him paralyzing performance anxiety or distort his ego. Instead, the artist is asked simply to show up for his part of the job. That is, to be inspired and do the work.

Gilbert recounts a story by the American poet Ruth Stone, who told her that while working in the fields of rural Virginia, poems would tumble over the hills toward her, “like a thunderous train of air . . . barreling down at her over the landscape . . . [shaking] the earth under her feet”. When Stone felt the poem coming, she would bolt to a pen and paper hoping to capture it in time, lest it continue on its way, looking for another poet. Curiously, Stone told Gilbert that there were times when she would almost miss a poem but managed to catch it “by its tail” and “pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page. And in these instances, the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact but backwards, from the last word to the first.”

What is unique about Gilbert’s take is that she imagines the daimon as an idea that floats from person to person, waiting to be caught and actualized by one set of artistic hands. Whereas ancient Greek philosophers saw these intermediaries between the Gods and man as lifelong companions. Socrates famously claimed to be under the guidance of a daimon throughout his life, gifted to him before his birth by the Gods. Likewise, the Jungian analyst James Hilman spoke of the daimon as unique to the individual; a companion of our soul whose presence precedes our birth, who knows better than us the true map of our being and whose purpose is to guide us toward our destiny. [1]

In Dreams by Marie-Louise Von Franz, she recounts a conversation that took place between Socrates and the prophet and philosopher Diotima on the topic of love. Socrates asks Diotima, what is love? To which she answers, “A great daemon, Socrates; and everything that is daemonical holds an intermediate space between what is divine and what is mortal.” Socrates responds by asking about the nature and power of this daemon, to which Diotima answers,

“He interprets and makes a communication between divine and human things, conveying the prayers and sacrifices of men to the Gods and communicating the commands and directions concerning the mode of worship most pleasing to them, from Gods to men. He fills that intermediate space between these two classes of beings, so as to bind together, by his own power, the whole universe of things.  Through him subsist all divination, and the science of sacred things as it relates to sacrifices, and expiations, and disenchantments, and prophecy and magic . . . These daemons are, indeed, many and various and one of them is Love!”

To speak of the daimon as a harmonious tool to be utilized by the artist, although a true and celebrated potentiality of this influence, is to recognize only one-half of this psychopomp’s paradoxical whole. From the Jungian perspective, the daimon is seen as a “psychic manifestation of the unconscious” [2] whose nature is more nuanced. This is best expressed by existential psychologist Rollo May, who draws our attention to the dual nature of the daimon and its potential to be either a creative or destructive force within the individual, or both. [3] The very essence of its vitality born of the tension, and desired unification, of opposites. May emphasizes the importance of not repressing this source of vitality, lest we be made passive, and at the same time warns us not to allow the daimon to take possession of our person and rage unchecked, for this can cause us to be cruel and aggressive. An article by Tansey, gives the example of anger, whose unmediated possession can lead to violence, but whose mastery can enact creative defiance and the pursuit of justice. Peter Daimon tells us that, “learning to consciously live with the daimonic requires developing a sense of self commensurate to this daunting task.” The onus, then, is placed on the individual to mediate between these two opposing forces. [4] In this way, our interaction with the daimon is comparable to shadow work and the movement toward individuation, that is, the complete maturation and totality of the Self through the unification of opposing forces. [5]

C. G. Jung often expressed a sorrowful outlook on his own daimonic influence, which he likened to captivity for its demands of him required great sacrifice. Of course, we might expect this from such a prolific creative. At the same time, he acknowledged the extraordinary power of the daimon in relation to creativity and the fulfillment of our purpose, stating that “the only meaningful life is a life that strives for the individual realization — absolute and unconditional — of its own particular law. To the extent that a man is untrue to the law of his being, he has failed to realize his own life’s meaning.” [6]



[1] Courtney, Susan. (2017). The Salt Daemon. Journal of Jungian Scholarly Studies. 12. 22-39. 10.29173/jjs26s.

[2] Von-Franz, M. L. (1998). Dreams: A Study of the Dreams of Jung, Descartes, Socrates, and Other Historical Figures.


[4] Tansey, J. Mētis Wisdom (February 6, 2023) Mētis and Daimonic. Retrieved from

[5] Jung, C. G. (1995). Memories, dreams, reflections (R. Winston & C. Winston, Trans.). Fontana Press.

[6]  Jung, C., Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 17. Princeton University Press, 1970.

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Comments (2)

  • Reply

    Hello, can we also include the “duende” as Daimon?

    February 11, 2023 at 10:23 pm
    • Keena Reply

      I cannot answer for Kiva, but this makes very good sense to me!

      August 10, 2023 at 3:50 pm

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