Your Daemon, Your Genius

Your Daemon, Your Genius

I’m not sure when I first realised that the old Greeks had it right, daemons (or ‘demons’?) do exist, but it was a while back. It came to me the way knowledge comes to us sometimes, slowly and quietly like a lover in the dead of night.

Even before the idea was fully formed though, I realised on some level that oftentimes the daemon and the splinter of light that shone in someone’s soul were one and the same.

I think what took me longer to figure out was that the daemon was, and is, also the genius. And as such, like the recklessness that accompanies youth, you cannot sacrifice the one without the other.

If the daemon is coaxed into slumber, so too is the genius anesthetised.

Daemons in the World

We all know that genius can fall on either side of the moral divide, hence the evil genius. However even when genius serves the greater good, it comes at a price.

Not being a historian I will limit myself to a very few instances. In all of these there are certain common features which I wager would stand good across the sub-species genius.

Foremost amongst these features is narcissism. Admittedly this is mostly sublimated and doesn’t remain puerile and as such ineffective. However genius has a belief in itself which exceeds the bounds of polite self confidence.

Anti-social. Whilst in the case of certain genius’ there is an almost demonic charisma and ability to charm and persuade, I wouldn’t confuse that for normal healthy social interaction. These are normally people who knowing (or believing) themselves to be innately superior to the great unwashed masses, shun the company of others. Except in the circumstances that that company serves their ends.

The list goes on quite a bit driven, impatient, arrogant and self centred, all common traits of the incumbent young genius. These people do not make good dinner guests, unless the rest of the company are happy to play the role of an admiring audience in the company of greatness.

Some examples:
Salvador Dali; an un-denied arrogant maverick
Mozart; vain and delicate.
Michelangelo ; rough, uncouth, arrogant and constantly dissatisfied.
Sartre; chauvinist, revolutionary and a notorious womaniser.
Winston Churchill, egotistical and a bully
Oscar Wilde, narcissist, immoral (by Victorian standards) and intellectually superior.
Alexander the Great; doesn’t need any by line really, suffice to say he didn’t conquer the known world by rhetoric.
Socrates; supremely arrogant (despite his denial of this), inciter and disturber of the peace.
Steve Jobs; dictatorial, arrogant, perfectionist
Maria Callas; aloof, superior and ruthless
J. F. Kennedy, notorious womaniser (didn’t get on too well with the mafia either apparently )

The above is of course just a very small example of the more obvious characters that come to mind. But as you can no doubt imagine the complete list of the nasty genius class would fill volumes.

Daemons I’ve known Personally

I have not had the good fortune to know anyone of the calibre of those mentioned above personally. However where I have encountered the spark of genius it too has been the one face of the twin faced Janus daemon.

What I observed in these gifted individuals is that their work, productive output, contribution to the world, creativity and uniqueness shone through in direct proportion to the vitality of the daemon in their soul. It is the beast in their being that delivers wrath and ecstasy in equal measure. And the cost of taming the beast is the loss of this inner vitality.

In one or two particularly nasty individuals a point came where I realised that the beast was in fact the very life force that kept them in this world. As such when it stopped burning they departed this earthly existence.

In others the daemon was put to sleep either through therapy or pharmacology or a combination of both. Sometimes it is simply life itself which teaches the daemon the error of its ways.

In all the cases that I observed the result is akin to the wild animal that is caged and as such looses something of its wild and ineffable nature.

The beast’s spirit is sacrificed on the altar of domesticity.

The Gifts of Genius

Despite the price, the gifts of genius are abundant. It is the genius which makes the connections and has the insights which escape us mere mortals. It is genius which takes us into a more evolved, more refined, richer and more interesting future.

It is genius which has the capacity to and accesses the deepest levels of the pool of creativity. It is the shoulders of genius upon which the greatest testaments to man are built, those things we would choose to speak for our collective human genius.

We need only bring to mind the contributions of a few men to settle any potential dispute on this level of the contribution:

William Shakespeare
‘ Isaac Newton
‘ Plato
‘ Albert Einstein
Ludwig Van Beethoven
Vincent van Gogh
Sigmund Freud
‘ Leo Tolstoy
Leonardo Da Vinci
Johan Wolfgang van Goethe
‘ Gottfried Wilhelm van Leibniz
‘ John Stuart Mill
‘ Blaise Pascal

Or any of the genius class mentioned in the first list.

I must concede at this point that not every genius we know of seems to have overtly carried the darkness in their souls into the world. Why that is I cannot say. A few reasons come to mind, including (but not limited to) selective reporting.

However even giving a few exceptional personalities the benefit of the doubt, I’d wager that the vast majority carry the capacity and inclination for the daemonic in at least equal measure to the aspects of their genius we admire.

And please note we are not even including the so called evil genius in our discussion.

The Flat Earth Culture (or our Desire for Niceness)

I’m not sure that genius is welcome in the world today. Maybe it never was, although I’m inclined to believe that earlier cultures were more accommodating of genius than we are today. Our highly developed sensitivity to political and social correctness tends to repress the daemon, or at least tries to.

Also much of what apparently serves creativity and self expression in the world today can also suffocate genius. The homogeny of the world and the media, traditional and the new social media. One of the gravest dangers to individual genius is the World Wide Web which is a ubiquitous potential substitute to original thinking.

There is a real danger of our generation’s legacy being we that gave birth to copy and paste.

Articulating the Paradox

Genius is not always nice and it certainly isn’t comfortable. We need to weigh our desire for niceness, personally and collectively, against the price we pay for that privilege (the sacrifice of genius).

Don’t get me wrong – I dislike a genius as much as the next man, god I even struggle with (so called) nice people .

However I don’t think that changes the fundamental truth of the daemon-genius incarnation. Or that we personally and collectively pay a very high price for its suppression, in the world and in our lives.

My Advice

Encountering genius in others

‘ Don’t seek the friendship of a genius. They rarely make good friends. Even as business partners they a horrible bunch, unless you enjoy martyrdom.

‘ However should you encounter one count yourself lucky, for today more than before they are a rare breed. To encounter one, to stand in the company of true greatness, is an unusual privilege.

‘ Learn from them if you can and don’t’ expect them to conform to your ideas of what’s right or appropriate. In fact the fewer expectations you have the better off you’ll be.

Encountering genius in your own soul

The most difficult topic is the one of the daemon in your own soul.

He/She is the archetypal trickster, the mercurial spirit that will just as happily destroy you as make you. Understand that you’re dealing with a daemon and tread very, very carefully.

Not to paint too bleak a picture though lets conclude by saying:

if you are strongly constituted, observe the warning label let he who goes here beware, have some luck on your side, and some very understanding and self sacrificing friends and family, hell who knows you may just live a life that is a testament to the divine spark Zeus gave you when he created you.

And if you live a life like that my friend then the cosmos is your oyster, and as you soar through heavenly bodies previously unseen and listen to the sublime music of the gods, spare a thought for us mere mortals .

Until next time,

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Comments (4)

  • Henry Bennett Reply

    Thank you. That was great.

    October 2, 2017 at 9:36 am
  • Ronan Reply

    Very interesting, thank you.

    December 8, 2018 at 1:18 am
  • Mary-Joan Hewitt Reply

    I found that very informative, enlightening and entertaining! Enlightening because I have one of those Daemons which gives me no choice. It has been a problem and a mystery. At least I know its name now! I think I might belong to that first lot of ‘genius’s’ you mention – I am considered a ‘nice person’ by most I believe, but I also know that those close to me can read my mind! I thrive in solitude!

    April 4, 2020 at 11:10 am
  • Emily Evans Reply

    I would like to engage with your argument and seriously challenge it when, as I see it, you don’t go far enough in your critique of “niceness”.
    Moreover, I have grappled with the traditional suspicion of “genius” in religious moralism.
    I reached several conclusions about the moral imperative of the so-called daemon (is it Jung’s contention that the daemon is dangerous, amoral, selfseeking, unpleasant, but paradoxically life-affirming?)
    Once you rate integrity, creativity, authenticity highly and value it as life affirming, you regret the
    negative consequences of destabilising the inherent self-directing, integrating ‘holy’ /whole spirit, which can manifest in childhood but is more often lost by adolescence.
    I would not distrust the genuine daemon as antisocial, not ultimately (difficult yes).
    On the contrary, we have a duty to self which is corrupted early on in the mistaken belief that social conformity, a need to please, a shallow affability is desirable.
    This however, will develop neither the respect of oneself, nor give society a properly responsible individual.
    A strong, solemn sense of self purpose should be preferred, and (I suggest) the dichotomy of good/bad is not actually as helpful as qualities which possess people as forces.
    Religion, if it means anything genuine, gives the same kind of integrity that Jesus showed, not shirking his truthful reactions out of affability.
    Although it is weird theology to describe Jesus as a genius, his selfbelief, rule-breaking, inner moral compass, impatience with convention over truth, need to be solitary, magnetism, natural (shamanic?) power, messianic bolshy-ness…makes him the ür-genius, does it not?

    August 14, 2020 at 2:08 am

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