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The Daimon Made Me Do It: The Call to Creativity

by Karey Pohn, AHBI Board Member
Edited and posted by Alysson TrofferThe Inner Door Editor, InnerDoor (at)

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the May 2010 issue of The Inner Door. It served as the introductory article for the issue's theme of "Holotropic Breathwork and the Call to Creativity."]

We see evidence of the daimonic at work in these articles on creativity:

In The Soul’s Code, James Hillman discusses Plato’s Er myth—that the soul is given a daimon (inner attendant spirit or inspiring force) at birth, which is the carrier of one’s destiny. We may forget our daimon, but it doesn’t forget us. The daimon has our interest at heart, guiding providence; it motivates, protects, invents, has prescience, and persists. The daimon can be a force of deviance and oddity, especially when it is opposed or neglected. Hillman enumerates various signs of daimonic feelings: restlessness of heart, impatience, dissatisfaction, and yearning. He notes that the daimon wants to be seen, witnessed, accorded recognition—especially by you. I was daimonically inspired to write this article at the 11th hour, as Pluto trines my natal Mercury to illuminate this more Plutonic part of the creative process.

Stephen Diamond, in his book Anger, Madness and the Daimonic, discusses the daimonic, especially focusing on and noting the connection between anger/rage and creativity. The Romans called the tutelary deity who presided over the destiny of a person a “genius,” which comes from genere—to generate, beget—and the genius is the voice of the creative process within the individual. It is important to discern and work creatively with daimonic forces within oneself, to integrate instead of repress them and/or become unconsciously possessed by them. Diamond points out that the daimonic can be both creative and destructive. We get the notion of demonic possession from the destructive workings of these forces; this is also where the notion of “evil genius” comes from. Hitler can be seen as a negative or destructive expression of these forces at work. Diamond calls this dysdaimonic (when one is entirely dominated by daimonic forces and is possessed by them, responding with a blind, impersonal, self-assertive push that is disconnected from one’s consciousness).

Many artists are haunted by their daimons, and Diamond discusses how various people work with this energy. Artists like Van Gogh are possessed by their daimons and unable to integrate them in a positive way in their lives, so their art comes at great personal cost. Richard Wright, author of Native Son, is an example Diamond points to, showing that our wounds made us who we are and that living creatively with them is key. We can learn to use this inextinguishable heat to forge works and the self. Ingmar Bergman is an example of someone showing the importance of the need to have boundaries with the daimonic energies, to listen to them, but to deny them autocratic rule: “Salvation is not a single occurrence but a series of ongoing skirmishes.”

Creatively working with these energies is referred to as eudaimonism, coming from the Greek word eu for “happy.” The eudaimonic person experiences ever deepening, ever widening dimensions of consciousness and integrates the daimonic, working with it. Diamond gives Beethoven as an example of a person with an integrated response to these energies, one who took fate by the throat, and turned towering rage and frustration into towering creativity. The saying “do willingly what I must do,” is an expression of this. Nietzsche’s concept of Amor fati, love of one’s fate, is similar. Joseph Campbell, in discussing this notion in relation to play, quotes the Roman Seneca: “ducunt volentem fata, nolentem trahunt” (“the fates lead him who will; him who won’t they drag”) (Myths to Live By, p. 122).

When I teach dissertation development, I use the movie Anger Management to show the daimonic at work, and to show students how to engage with their calling, as it relates to the dissertation process. In the movie, Jack Nicholson, who often personifies the daimonic—sometimes demonically as in The Shining, and more playfully in Witches of Eastwick—plays the daimon, Buddy Rydell. Buddy is an anger management therapist who helps Adam Sandler’s character, Dave Buznik, go from antidaimonic (repressing his daimonic energies) to eudaimonic—embracing and integrating his daimon, his anger, and his creativity.

In the articles listed previously, you can see the daimon at work in various eudaimonic flavors: in Giger's artistic genius, in Stan’s transpersonal vision, and in the works that both Ken and I created that were literally inspired by breathwork. Breathwork also provides an arena in which to effectively engage these daimonic energies. Breathwork allows us to experience these energies in a vertical way, letting them play out in our inner experience instead of acting them out in the world in a destructive manner. In Ken's experience, his novel was the result of working with difficult daimonic energies; and in my experience, the more playful, lighter side of these energies was harnessed.

Karey Pohn, J.D., Ph.D., is an AHBI Board Member and chair of the Community Support committee. She also serves on the Membership, Publicity, and Executive committees.


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