21 April 2001; Updated: 24 March 2004; 9 January 2011; 21 July 2012
Last Modified: 25 January 2013. First published at Intraspec.ca; moved here 13 June 2013.

Daimon, Genius

Character, Calling, and Transcendence

We do not know the precise origin of the word daimon in ancient Greece. Thought to be the cause of all ailments in Homer's time (9th century BCE), the daimones were also believed to heal and confer health, happiness, and harmony.
The pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Empedocles (fifth century BCE) describes psyche or soul in this context, and identifies daimon with self. Heraclitus writes that "man's character is his daimon". According to psychologist Stephen A. Diamond, "[t]he daimon was that divine, mediating spiritual power that impelled one's actions and determined one's destiny. It was," he continues, "inborn and immortal, embodying all innate talents, tendencies (both positive and negative), and natural abilities".1

Plato (427-347 BCE) asserts that "[a]s regards the supreme form of soul in us, we must conceive that the god has conferred it upon each ... as a guiding [daimon] — that which [...] lifts us from earth toward our celestial affinity, like a plant whose roots are not in the earth, but in the heavens".2 The concept of daimon as one's personal companion and guide emerged along these lines in the fifth century. Perhaps the best known case in point is Socrates, who credited his daimon as the source of his philosophical inspiration.

The Romans absorbed and put their own spin on a great many ideas from ancient Greece. Rollo May tells us that the daimonic was translated into Latin as genii. Genii

[...] is a concept in Roman religion from which our word "genius" comes and which originally meant a tutelary deity, an incorporeal spirit presiding over the destiny of a person, and later became a peculiar mental talent. As "genius" (its root being the Latin genere) means to generate, to beget, so the daimonic is the voice of the generative process in the individual. The daimonic is [that] unique pattern of sensibilities and powers which constitutes the individual as a self in relation to [the] world.3

That last line is especially interesting. Think of "the individual as a self", characterized by a "unique pattern of sensibilities and powers". We might interpret this pattern as an ordered process. For example, Jungian analyst Jean Shinoda Bolen describes archetypal patterns that constellate in an individual, resulting in a personality which, given the presence of a healthy ego, operates like a committee with ego as chair.4 In her model, the story and character of a particular archetype may be recognized by the ego as self-descriptive. That archetype may evince the quality of the daimon or genius.

The daimon can be thought of in other ways. For instance, Otto Rank writes of "will" as "a positive guiding organization and integration of self" that permits the individual to inhibit and control instinctual drives.5 Jung recognizes that self could contain many subselves and describes the presence of a "transcendent function" that could bring together elements at variance with one another.6

Whether or not we regard Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID, formerly called Multiple Personality Disorder, MPD) as a viable clinical entity7, many therapists have recognized the presence of an "inner-self-helper" among the "alters" that present in this condition. In an important paper written by Ralph B. Alison in 1974, the "Inner Self" is regarded as "the manifestation of a higher part of the personality" — it knows all the other "personalities" in the system, the history of each, and the appropriate therapeutic course.8 Along similar lines, Haraldur Erlendsson refers to the "Inner Mind"; he reviews the importance of "numinosum" (L. numen, the power and presence of a transcendent reality, a mysterium tremendum et fascinans9), describes an approach to being with the Inner Mind and finding a "Place of Healing" which the Inner Mind can create.10 Sarah Y. Krakauer writes of the "inner wisdom of the unconscious mind" and the triumph of "inner authority" in her Collective Heart model for treating DID.11 We might apply the concept of daimon or genius in each of these cases.

Note that, as Hesiod (8th century BCE) writes, the daimones "mantle themselves in [...] mist".12 As the ordinating principle of self, the daimon or genius cannot be defined or delineated. It inheres in psychodynamics, manifests in action, and also presents in dreams. It can be experienced in the act of doing. "Doing", says Bolen, "is becoming".13

Some believe that it is important to understand the nature of one's own daimon/genius. "If you have a genius for building houses or putting automobile engines together," writes Pastoral counselor and Jungian analyst John A. Sanford, "you pursue a very different course in life than if you have a genius for art or psychotherapy."14

Sanford asserts that the cooperation of the ego is required if the daimon/genius is to operate successfully. From the perspective of ego psychology, that makes sense. Yet this divine aspect of personality may be perceived to operate through the ego, whether the ego is aware of it or not. When we speak of one's "calling",in that context, we do not simply refer to one's profession but rather, to the fundamental character, orientation and activity of the ego, in which the daimon/genius is immanent. The concept is useful because it helps us appreciate the complexities of self-expression in terms of the personal and the transcendent.


  1. Stephen A. Diamond
    Anger, Madness, and the Daimonic: The psychological genesis of violence, evil, and creativity.
    Albany: SUNY, 1996:66-9.

    Diamond's text is a veritable gold mine of insights and references.

  2. Plato
    Timaeus (90-90d)
    John Warrington, ed. and trans. NY: Dutton, 1965:131-2.
  3. Rollo May
    Love and Will
    NY: W.W. Norton, 1969:125.
  4. Jean Shinoda Bolen
    Goddesses in Everywoman: A new psychology of women.
    NY: Harper & Row, 1984:266-67.
  5. Robert J. Lifton
    The Protean Self: Human resilience in an age of fragmentation.
    NY: Basic Books, 1993:25.

    Lifton cites Otto Rank, quoted from E. James Lieberman
    Acts of Will: The life and work of otto rank.
    (NY: Free Press, 1985:357-58)

  6. Robert J. Lifton op. cit.
    Lifton cites Carl Jung, "The Transcendent Function",in
    The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, Collected Works, vol.8
    R.F.C. Hull, Trans.
    Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969:90.
  7. Ian Hacking
    Rewriting the Soul: Multiple personality and the sciences of memory.
    Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995:18.

    Ian Hacking reports that emphasis on the existence of more than one 'personality' in any individual is regarded as "wrongheaded" by several influential psychiatrists in the multiple movement. He tells us that:

    In 1993 David Spiegel, chair of the dissociative disorders committee for the 1994 DSM-IV, wrote that "there is a widespread misunderstanding of the essential psychopathology of this dissociative disorder, which is failure of integration of various aspects of identity, memory, and consciousness. The problem is not having more than one personality; it is having less than one personality."

    Compare the above with the following comments by James Hillman:

    We conceive our psychological nature to be naturally divided into portions and phases, a composition of earlier and later historical levels, various zones and developmental strata, many complexes and archetypal persons. We are no longer single beings in the image of a single God, but are always constituted of multiple parts... Because we have come to realize that each of us is normally a flux of figures, we no longer need to be menaced by the notion of multiple personality...

    James Hillman. Re-Visioning Psychology. NY: Harper & Row, 1975:24.

    And compare Hillman's remarks with those of Jeremy Rifkin on multiple personas:

    The new relational personality is as fluid and transitory as the networks people engage in. MIT professor Sherry Turkle, who has conducted an extensive study of young men and women who spend much of their time in virtual worlds in cyberspace, says that at least some among the first generation of the postmodern era are beginning to exhibit what psychologists call "multiple personas". In cyberspace, says Turkle, "hundreds of thousands, perhaps already millions of users create online personae who live in a diverse group of virtual communities where the routine formation of multiple identities undermines any notion of a real and unitary self."

    Jeremy Rifkin. The Age of Access: The new culture of hypercapitalism where all life is a paid-for experience. NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2000:210.

    And See:
    Sherry Turkle
    Life on the Screen: Identity in the age of the internet.
    NY: Simon & Schuster, 1995:267.

  8. Ralph B. Allison
    A New Treatment Approach for Multiple Personalities.
    Am. J. Clin. Hypn. 1974:30(17):15-32.
  9. Haraldur Erlendsson
    Multiple Personality Disorder - Demons and Angels or Archetypal aspects of the inner self.
    1 June 2003.
  10. Rudolf Otto
    The Idea of the Holy
    John W. Harvey, Trans. London: Oxford University Press. 1926.
    The holy: an inquiry into the non-rational factor in the idea of the divine and its relation to the rational. Original work published 1917.
    Numinous — Analytical Psychology, Gale Dictionary of Psychoanalysis

    The term numinous, based on the Latin numen ("will, the active power of the divine") was coined by Rudolf Otto (1917/1926) to define a "category for the interpretation and evaluation" of nonrational manifestations of the sacred. According to Otto, the numinous is characterized by a "sense of one's creature state" (p. 10), mystical awe (tremendum), a presentiment of divine power (majestas), amazement in the face of the "completely other" (mysterium), demoniacal energy, and paradox.

    Otto's phenomenological method and the importance he granted to experience are congruent with the empirical approach of Carl Gustav Jung, who as a matter of course integrated this notion into his own field of research beginning in the 1930s (Jung, 1937-40). He had previously used the term numen to describe the autonomy of psychic energy, conceived in its most primitive sense, in relation to mana (spiritual power) (Jung, 1928b [1948], p. 233). [...] Read More (scroll down)

  11. Sarah Y. Krakauer
    Treating Dissociative Identity Disorder: The Power of the Collective Heart
    Ann Arbour MI: Edwards Brothers, 2001.
  12. Hesiod
    Works and Days (120-125)
    Richmond Lattimore, trans.
    Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1959/68:33.
  13. Jean Shinoda Bolen
    op. cit., 1989:12
  14. John A. Sanford
    Fate, Love, and Ecstasy: Wisdom from the lesser-known goddesses of the greeks.
    Wilmette ILL: Chiron, 1995:27.