In the Grip of the Daimon

My definitions and usage of various terms in the following essay (e.g. “waking up,” “leap-frogging,” “The Force”) are found in the initial essays in this blog collection. See the entries posted as Front Matter and Introduction, Waking Up and Leap-Frogging.


“In the Grip of the Daimon”

            The title of this essay is a direct quote from Carl Jung, as he described his own life in Memories, Dreams and Reflections.[1] He used the phrase as partial explanation of his life’s work: He lived, wrote and developed analytical psychology as a consequence of being “in the grip of the daimon” that lived within him. What did he mean? To understand this, we need to define the term “daimon.” Then I will relate the concept to the themes of waking up and leap frogging.

Definitions of “Daimon”

            The word “daimon” is Greek, deriving from daiw, “to divide or distribute destinies.” The “daimon” is the energy or being in the Universe that gives us our fate or allots human destiny, i.e. a god/goddess. The Romans took up the term, which became the source of our English derivative, “demon.” But note that, in the original meaning, and the sense in which Jung used it, “daimon” is not the negative thing we associate with “demons.”

            Being well versed in the classics, Jung brought many ancient concepts into modern usage in psychology, to foster our understanding of the workings of the unconscious. The “daimon” became a central part of his thinking about vocation, motivation, creativity and the individual’s potential for achieving fulfillment in life.

            As Jung used the term, “daimon” referred to something alien from the unconscious,[2] an “archetype” or “numinous imperative which from ancient times has been accorded a far higher authority than the human intellect.”[3] As an archetype, the “daimon” is universal, something experienced in all peoples and cultures. Among indigenous tribes, it shows up as a “primitive power concept.”[4] As “an autonomous psychic content,” the daimon is a “force as real as hunger and the fear of death.”[5] Because it is autonomous, it behaves within us like a god, making demands of us and acting with authority. The poet and potter M.C. Richards describes the experience of the daimon well when she says, “There lives a creative being inside all of us and we must get out of its way for it will give us no peace unless we do.”[6]  Beside Jung, multiple figures in history have acknowledged being in the grip of a daimon, e.g. the Greek philosopher Socrates, the German poet Goethe, and the French ruler Napoleon.[7]

            When we say the daimon is “autonomous,” we mean that it is not under the control of the ego consciousness. It is superior to our ordinary consciousness, and can possess us without our conscious awareness. Its expression cannot be consciously willed, and the more our unconscious is split off from consciousness, the larger and more powerful the daimon is.[8]

            The daimon shows up in life as certain feeling states, with a “release of affect.”[9] That is, we feel something, usually something powerful, something with numinosity—an energy that cannot be gainsaid. It can seem like we are being taken over, because the level of intensity and energy exceeds normal human limits. When we are in its “grip,” the daimon will make us feel like we are caught up in a force or process that is carrying us along. And so, it requires courage to deal with, because we don’t fully understand this force, or know where we are being carried, or what we are being led to undertake.[10] Nor do we often recognize this force as something that is our own.

            In its workings, the daimon tends to be compensatory, i.e. it functions as a countervailing force relative to our conscious mood of the moment. If we are “up,” the daimon will be “down.” If we are in the doldrums, the daimon will be energetic and upbeat.  The daimon, in other words, holds the “tension of opposites,” with its good and bad aspects.[11]

            Let’s consider the bad aspects first. The negative side of the daimon explains the English derivation “demon:” that within us that forces us to impose suffering on ourselves. “The Devil made me do it!,” we say. “Devil,” “seducer,” “tempter,” “evil spirit”—all are terms for the negative side of the daimon, which will drive us into untrodden regions and create conflicts between our outer life and inner demands.[12] When the daimon shows up, it often seems unwelcome and intrusive, a source of discomfort, something to be endured. If we could, we would ignore it, but it is ineluctable, i.e., it is that which must be obeyed.[13]

            In its benign aspect, the daimon is our “guardian angel” or “genius,” our better self or inner voice, our heart or “higher man”—the part of us that helps build our strength by leading us into challenging situations and giving us the guidance to get through them. The daimon fosters a dialogue between ego and unconsciousness which can heal us and make us whole. By challenging the whole of our being, the daimon forces us to enter the fray of life with every function or ability we have, and this fosters our wholeness. It is the contact with our daimon that gives us a clear sense of our vocation. Jung also noted the close connection between the daimon and creativity: “The fight against the paralyzing grip of the unconscious calls forth man’s creative powers.”[14] Finally, and most relevant to the leap frog option, the daimon pulls us out of conventions and social norms, because it operates in the archetypal (universal, timeless) realm. Which brings us to the question: how does all this relate to the themes of waking up and leap frogging?

The Daimon and Waking Up

            One of the activities that is central to “waking up” is the process of transforming the daimon from an “uncontrolled force of nature into a power that is yours to command,”[15] as Jung put it. Part of becoming “awake” is getting wise to what is going on inside. When we start to look within, we discover our “inner city,” that host of energies that lives within us. Some of them, like the daimon, are autonomous, possessed of an energy that transcends our conscious drives, needs and desires, beyond what our ego can control or direct. With time, conscious effort and attention, we can get to know the daimon, come to feel more kindly disposed towards it, and thus draw upon its benefits.

            The daimon will provoke inner conflicts. These foster a dialogue between the ego (who would like to think that it is running our show) and the unconscious. This ongoing inner conversation (assuming it goes on long enough) will help us become more self-aware and conscious of our unconscious “stuff.”

            Part of “waking up” is becoming more whole. The daimon plays a central role in fostering wholeness, because it carries the compensatory function noted above. In challenging the totality of our being, the daimon requires a response from all the parts of ourselves, and this helps us discover what these parts are. The compensatory nature of the daimon also introduces us to the principle of the “enantiodromia,” which Jung took over from the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus.[16] “Enantiodromia” means a “running to the opposites.” It is the psychological equivalent of Newton’s law of motion: For every orientation in consciousness, there is an equal, but opposite orientation in unconsciousness. As we become more familiar with this principle, we come to appreciate the wide diversity in the human race (because we are aware of just how many competing, vastly different energies we have within us). This helps to enlarge both our sense of ourselves and of reality. We come to appreciate that nothing in life is purely good or purely bad, but reality (and people) contain both.

            One of the most important roles the daimon plays in “waking up” lies in its function as a goad to the work of taking back projections. As long as we are asleep, we tend to project the daimon out on to others. The negative form we hang on our enemies or people (and groups) we don’t like. The positive form we stick on authority figures, like parents, priests, teachers, etc. As long as we do this, we demonize others, fail to see our own inner demons, and live like children, giving away our power to others. Becoming psychologically mature, autonomous adults requires taking back these projections, internalizing the daimon, and coming to live in conscious relation to it.

            A sixth way the daimon is central to “waking up” is in its gift of forcing us to impose suffering on ourselves. “Some gift!,” you say. Yes. It is a gift, because the process of conscious suffering helps us to build our capacity for compassion. The Buddhists call this the bodhichitta, the “enlightened mind” or “compassionate heart.”[17] Wrestling with the daimon is an ego-crucifying experience, but one that builds our compassionate heart. We suffer, and in this process, we are gifted with the capacity to relate to others with caring and a level of love that is born only out of personal experience of loss and grief. As our inner wisdom or voice of guidance, the daimon will be a valuable guide as we stay on the journey that is the “wake up” process. Eventually, we all come to live more willingly or intentionally in its “grip,” appreciating the truth that we are not in control here. There is a higher, wiser force in charge, directing our lives.

            A final way in which the daimon relates to the “wake up” process is in its ineluctability. The daimon cannot be denied. Thus it forces us to become more self-confident (because we can’t turn to others for approval or sanction: we have to obey our inner voice). Over time, as we get to know the daimon’s beneficence and reliability, we come to “authorize our own lives.” This self-authorization is crucial to choosing the leap frog option, as we shall see next.

The Daimon and Leap Frogging

            There are four ways the daimon encourages the leap frog option. The first was noted earlier: It pulls us out of conventions and social norms. Because it is archetypal, the daimon exists outside of time and cultural contexts. It doesn’t follow fads or fashions, or feel any need to measure up to social niceties and expectations. When we heed the daimonic voice, we “do our own thing,” and over time this builds an independence of mind and spirit that is essential for anyone who would choose the leap frog option.

            Leap froggers refuse to accept “conventional” wisdom, the traditional ways, the argument that says, “But, we’ve always done it this way!” Leap froggers come at reality with vision, a belief or intuitive sense that things could be better, that there must be a better way. These visions, beliefs and intuitions come from the daimon.

            Leap froggers also have courage. They have the gumption to stand against the crowd, to march to their own drummers. This courage can develop from long-term wrestling with the daimon.

            Another way the daimon fosters leap frogging is via its role as creative spark or goad. When a person is “in the grip of the daimon,” he or she is in close touch with the source of creativity. While the experience cannot be described as completely pleasant, it is exciting, illuminating, full of surprises and very gratifying, if one is open to the novel, the different, the unusual. The daimon will not bring us the “same old, same old.” Be prepared for surprises! Artists, the creative folks in advertising agencies, inventors, and others whose work depends on inspiration all rely on the daimon for their success. Leap froggers, too, need the daimon, because the essence of leap frogging is trying what has been untried.

            A third way that leap frogging relies on the daimon is for its guidance about vocation. Those who undertake the leap frog option do so not just to fill some perceived need, or to make an improvement in society. They do it to fulfill their calling. Second Wave society doesn’t do much to support the notion of personal calling or destiny, that each of us has a special, unique role to play on this earth. All of us come into the physical plane with a responsibility to be “God’s love with arms on it,” manifesting in a form or way that will be different for every individual. Genuine happiness lies in discovering and then living out this destiny. How do we discover what our destiny is? By working with our daimon, submitting to it and obeying its guidance. As we do so, many of us are led into leap frog activities—ways of thinking, living and working that challenge the old ways and break new ground.

            And newness is the final way the daimon relates to leap frogging. The wisdom literature is full of references to the process of divine renovation:

“… new things I declare;

before they spring into being

I announce them to you.”

“See, I am doing a new thing!

Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”

“From now on I will tell you of new things,

of hidden things unknown to you.”

“The Lord will create a new thing on earth–…”

“Behold, I am making everything new!”[18]

How does The Force declare new things, do new things, tell of new things, create new things? Through the daimon active in each of us.

            The Divine lives and loves through us. As we become aware of the daimon, develop a conscious relation to it, and are willing to live in its “grip,” we become more effective and powerful agents of the divine intention on earth. The leap frog option is part of the process of divine novelty. As we are willing to live and work “in the grip of the daimon,” we foster the leap frog option.

Some Questions for Reflection

Do I recognize, value and give support to my creative impulses?

How do I define “creativity”? Do I recognize the myriad ways in which I am creative, or do I succumb to the Second Wave tendency to define creativity too narrowly (e.g. as the “high” or “fine” arts)?

Do I have a conscious relationship with my daimon? If not, is this something that I would like to develop, or does it all seem a bit scary? a lot scary??

How do I feel about what I have read in this essay? Does the idea of an inner voice that would guide my life seem bizarre, or a confirmation of what I have already experienced?


For Further Reading

Fox, Matthew (1988), The Coming of the Cosmic Christ. San Francisco: Harper & Row.

Fischer-Schreiber, Ingrid et al. (1991), The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen., trans. Michael Kohn. Boston: Shambhala.

Carl Jung has written extensively on the concept of the daimon. Among his Collected Works (CW), see the following:

Jung (1970), “Civilization in Transition,” CW 10

Jung (1954), “The Development of Personality,” CW 17

Jung (1953), “Psychology and Alchemy,” CW 12

Jung (1969), “Psychology and Religion: West and East,” CW 11

Jung (1956), “Symbols of Transformation,” CW 5

 Jung (1966), “Two Essays on the Psychology of the Unconscious,” CW 7.

The English translation of Jung has been published by Princeton University Press.

            Jung’s autobiography, Memories, Dreams and Reflections, is also a good source for insights into how Jung himself lived out what he wrote about the daimon. See especially pages 336-356, in the Viking (1965) paperback edition.


[1] Jung (1965), 356.

[2] Ibid., 336.

[3] Jung (1970), 453.

[4] Jung (1966), 68.

[5] Ibid., 239.

[6] Quoted in Fox (1988), 210.

[7] Jung (1954), 176.

[8] Jung (1969), 162.

[9] Jung (1966), 68.

[10] Jung (1956), 337.

[11] Jung (1969), 162.

[12] St. Paul spoke of the “daimon” when he lamented doing the evil he did not wish; Romans 7:15-23

[13] Jung (1954), 176.

[14] Jung (1956), 337.

[15] Ibid., 353.

[16] Jung (1966), 72.

[17] Fischer-Schreiber et al. (1991), 23.

[18] Isaiah 42:9; 43:19; 48:6; Jeremiah 31:22; Revelation 21:5.


  1. This is the way my daimon works. This weekend (2/18/13) I finally broke the last barriers tht separated me from my unconscious. The barriers that I had placed there as a child in order to survive my upbringing intact. It took some 40 years of work on my part to undo these barriers, the most intense of which has been during the last 18 years. Finally all those barriers were dismissed, discarded, allowed to drop off harmlessly, and for the last 36 hours I’ve been on the receiving end of this conversation from the unconscious. All the things I read in this essay I had experienced over the last 20 years. When I went to the internet and looked for things at random to help me understand my experience, this essay popped up, speaking prescient to the things that happened to me. How is that for synchronicity?
  2. Thank you for your comment on the “In the Grip of the Daimon” essay on the Jungian Center Web site. I am delighted to hear that you got a lunch as a result! While your colleague do some “intellectual” food, you got physical food–sounds like a good trade. I appreciate your taking the time to post this comment.
    Sue Mehrtens
  3. I’m a writer from Mainburg, Germany just submitted this to a colleague
    who is conducting some research on this. And she in fact ordered me lunch
    just because I stumbled upon it for her… lol. Actually, allow me to reword this….
    Thanks for the food… But anyway, thanx for investing all
    that time to talk about this issue here on your web site.
  4. I suspected I was “inhabited” by a Daimon….NOW I Know!! And the knowledge is liberating.
    I was pushed to write an autobiography and the push would not let up. I tried to put it off by writing some history and sending copies off to sympathetic relatives….but I couldn’t fool him. Some time later – matter of months – I went into a fugue – my son and daughter took care of me – for two months that I cannot remember I walked around like a zombie. As I awoke I heard the words clearly…”Write a book about a little Indian girl.” I knew I had to “obey” – but I was confused. I was aware of MY Native American history but surely that’s not what it meant!! After much conversation with an Indian healer – he told me straightforwardly what the Daimon wanted – so I wrote my autobiography and had it published but lack the impulse to market it since, after all, it wasn’t MY idea! When folks read it – they are always appreciative – sometimes VERY appreciative…and I can tell that it touches them. “I couldn’t put it down”!
    I wish this cotton-pickin’ DAIMON would help me figure out what to do next!!

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