Daimons, Archetypes, and Gods


Hermes, also called Mercury. The messenger who mediated between the gods and humanity and guided the dead into the next life.

“The method of active imagination that Jung inaugurated in modern psychology is the answer to the classical question of introspection at such a profound level that it changes the image of human being, of the psyche, and what Know Thyself essentially means. Before Freud, knowing thyself in psychology meant to know one’s ego-consciousness and its functions. Then with Freud, know Thyself extended to mean knowing one’s past personal life, a whole life recalled. But after Jung, Know Thyself means an archetypal knowing, a daemonic knowing. It means a familiarity with a host of psychic figures from geographical, historical, and cultural contexts, a hundred channels beyond my personal identity. After Jung, I cannot pretend to know myself unless I know the archetypes—‘The conception of them as daimonia is therefore quite in accord with their nature,’ says Jung. And I meed these peculiar patterns moving within my unconscious.” ~James Hillman, Healing Fiction

Carl Jung associated archetypes with the ancient Greek concept of daimon/daemon. Daimons were considered great and powerful godlike figures or guiding spirits that act within us to determine our fate. Invisible, they can only be known by their actions and images in our dreams, imagination, and myths. As profoundly inspiring forces, they can drive us forward or act against us. As images of our instincts, they connect our minds with our bodies. As universal realities, they connect us with ourselves, each other, nature, and Spirit.

Carnelian gem imprint representing Socrates, Rome, first century BC – first century AD.

Of the basic archetypes commonly associated with the masculine and feminine principles, most of us identify primarily with one. For instance, you might identify with your archetypal Warrior energy and I might see myself as more of a Mediatrix. Both of us would be true to the ideals and priorities of our archetype and would project their qualities onto our god-images. Your god-image would be omnipotent, I’d see mine as omnipresent.

While this would have probably made sense to Socrates—who some consider to be the father of individual identity and self-consciousness, or self-awareness—most of the classical world believed the gods and goddesses were literal beings who lived atop Mount Olympus, not projections of our minds. Even Plato believed Socrates did wrong because he did not believe in the gods of Athens and was corrupting the youth by introducing “other daemonic beings…” For that, Socrates was condemned to die by drinking hemlock. The tradition of condemning ‘heretics’ for having beliefs different from ours continues until today. We might as well condemn the life force that endowed us with archetypal forces that “speak” to us in ways we have yet to fully understand.

“In Plato’s Symposium, the priestess Diotima teaches Socrates that love is not a deity, but rather a “great daemon” (202d). She goes on to explain that “everything daemonic is between divine and mortal” (202d–e), and she describes daemons as “interpreting and transporting human things to the gods and divine things to men; entreaties and sacrifices from below, and ordinances and requitals from above…” (202e). In Plato’s Apology of Socrates, Socrates claimed to have a daimonion (literally, a “divine something”) that frequently warned him—in the form of a “voice”—against mistakes but never told him what to do.” Wikipedia

Our archetypes/daimons are not the problem. The problem is our ignorance of them. We’re born with the capacity to discern their presence and understand their influence on us, but we still lack awareness of them. If we learn to recognize them, we can be beneficial agents in service of life and love. If we don’t, we will continue to be manipulated by powers that can destroy us.

Jadwiga Łuszczewska, who used the pen name Diotima, posing as the ancient seer in a painting by Józef Simmler, 1855

“There is no analyst for you under the changing moon except the one that is in your own heart.” ~C.G. Jung, Letter to Mr. O

Jung’s method of active imagination transforms our ideas of what it is to be a human being. Know Thyself refers to the archetypal knowing Socrates died for and Carl Jung is now admired for. Both men allowed their inner analysts to guide them to humility and self-knowledge. They took their dreams, intuitions, and synchronicities seriously and chose to use their imagination to reflect on them. In so doing, they found themselves, fulfilled the purpose of their lives, and left us with a more hopeful image of who we can become.

“It will be good for your humility if you can accept the gifts of the unconscious guide that dwells in yourself, and it is good for your pride to humiliate itself to such an extent that you can accept what you receive…Did you never ask yourself who my analyst is?…we must be able to stand alone vis a vis the unconscious for better or worse.” ~C.G. Jung, Letter to Mr. O

Image Credits: Hermes, author’s photo. Socrates and Diotima, Wikipedia
Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Watch for her new book, The Soul’s Twins, to be launched by Schiffer Publishing this October.

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8 Responses

  1. Dear Jeanie,

    Our relationship with Self (however defined) is vital! I’ve always been fascinated by artists who confront their own “shadow” on canvas. Goya, in his later years comes to mind, as does Van Gough. Oh, I could sit and gaze at his terrifying, archetypal image of “Saturn Eating His Son” for hours … especially now I’ve entered my own 2nd Saturn Return … two days before the UK went into lockdown.

    In that same vein, I believe “Active Imagination” is an incredibly, healing tool when used to dialogue with inner demons … instead of rejecting them. And is one of the best ways I know to get us through all the madness, insanity and hell of being possessed by them. For Shadow possession, as we both know, is a very real thing!

    For those brave souls willing to publicly dialogue with their own dark material, is a gift to the world! Such as Goya was! That he truly entered his own canvas and spoke with those shadowy parts of himself must have been liberating. And to be communicating with such dark images … day in, day out, year in, year out … must’ve been incredible!

    Yes, he lost his conscious hearing but unconsciously, his hearing “within” was deeply tuned in. A psychic compensation for sure! Thank you so much for sharing your exquisite work. Oh, my imagination is fired for the day! Love and light, Deborah.

    1. Hi Deborah,

      In general, it seems that artists have a more active and imaginative relationship with their daimons/archetypes than most of the rest of us. Maybe that’s why they’re artists: because they need an outlet for all that powerful energy. Without the ability to channel it into art, self-awareness can be a very heavy burden to bear, indeed.

      I didn’t know that about Goya. Fascinating!

      Enjoy warming yourself by the fire of your imagination today. 🙂 Love and light, Jeanie

  2. A typo Jeanie – line 1- before Free is meant I think before Freud. A Freudian slip?

    I wonder if I’ll ever look for *that* journal in which I did Active Imagination many years ago – maybe 35 years ago. It scared the daylights out of me. It’s hidden somewhere, but I do remember that it was very revealing to me. Daimon or demon?

    Life is an ongoing mystery and while it is so, we can do no better than to take our lives seriously and try as much as we can to uncover our projections by engaging in our shadows and dreams, finding the patterns, untying the knots, becoming more of who we actually are.

    Thank you for those lovely quotes, graphics and this post. I hope this finds you well. Love, Susan

    1. Thanks for the heads’ up about the typo. It’s fixed.

      Yes, Robert Johnson used to tell people to be sure they were in a safe space when doing an Active Imagination with a frightening inner character, physically as well as mentally. This is not to be undertaken lightly. The ego has to remember where it is and what it’s doing so it doesn’t lose touch with ordinary reality, and some egos have thinner boundaries than others. I’ve never had a scary experience with it but I know Jung had many. The archetypal forces are very powerful and must be taken seriously.

      Life is a mystery, indeed, and exploring it with inner work like this such a grand adventure.

      I am well, and I hope the same for you. Love, Jeanie

  3. What a great piece, Jeanie. You’re laying out the part of Soul that connects our corporeal existence with the Divine. (Oh, my!) Plotinus calls this the double nature of soul–the aspect that touches the Intelligibles and also Nature (and so body).

    Active Imagination has been a transformer for me. I started 30+ years ago under the loose guidance of Marvin Spiegelman, a Jungian analyst from Southern CA, and he soon told me to go for it on my own. I spent time in my AI journal every day in those years. Now less often, but it’s always there to help me through the chaos and mystery when I need it. Thank you.

    1. Thank you for seeing and affirming what I’m “laying out” here. Sometimes I worry I’m not getting my thoughts about things like this across very well. The life of the soul is such a mystery and we each grasp at it as best we can, and try to communicate it to others, often clumsily. As Jung says, ultimately we need to become our own analysts. Because everyone’s soul, imagination, and experience is different, even though the archetypes and Spirit are the same for all.

      I did not know Plotinus had a name for this in-between aspect of soul. I picture it as a mandora, the in-between space where two entities meet and carry on a dialogue.

      It’s cool that you kept an AI journal. I still keep dream journals; I find them so absorbing and transforming that I rarely feel the need for AI these days. It’s all about where our inner analyst takes us and requires of us, isn’t it? Love, Jeanie

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