The idea of the daimonic typically means quite a few things: from befitting a demon and fiendish, to motivated by a spiritual force or genius and inspired. As a psychological term, it has come to represent an elemental force which contains an irrepresible urge not only to survive but to thrive. As a literary term, it can also mean the unrest that exists in us all that forces us into the unknown, leading to self-destruction and/or self-discovery.
The genesis of the idea "daimon" is difficult to pin down. The term proper is thought to have originated with the Greeks, by way of Latin -- dæmon: "spirit", derived from Greek -- daimon (gen. daimonos): "lesser god, guiding spirit, tutelary deity".
For the Minoan (3000-1100 BC) and Mycenaean (1500-1100 BC), "daimons" were seen as attendants or servants to the deities, possessing spiritual power. Later, the term "daimon" was used by writers such as Homer (8th century BC), Hesiod, and Plato as a synonym for theos, or god. Some scholars, like van der Leeuw, suggest a distinction between the terms: whereas theos was the personification of a god (e.g. Zeus), daimon referred to something inderteminate, invisible, incorporeal, and unknown..
The pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Empedocles (5th century BC) later employed the term in describing the psyche or soul. Similarly, those such as Plutarch (1st century AD) suggested a view of the daimon as being an amorphous mental phenomenon, an occasion of mortals to come in contact with a great spiritual power.
The earliest pre-Christian conception of daimons or daimones also considered them ambiguous -- not exclusively evil. But while daimons may have initially been seen as potentially good and evil, constructive and destructive, left to each man to relate to -- the term eventually came to embody a purely evil connotation, with Xenocrates perhaps being one of the first to popularize this colloquial use.
Some modern interpreters have thrown back to a more traditional understanding of the term. For example, the psychologist Rollo May defines the daimonic as "any natural function which has the power to take over the whole person... The daimonic can be either creative or destructive, but it is normally both... The daimonic is obviously not an entity but refers to a fundamental, archetypal function of human experience--an existential reality".
As Rollo May writes, "The daimonic refers to the power of nature rather than the superego, and is beyond good and evil. Nor is it man's 'recall to himself' as Heidegger and later Fromm have argued, for its source lies in those realms where the self is rooted in natural forces which go beyond the self and are felt as the grasp of fate upon us. The daimonic arises from the ground of being rather than the self as such."
The daimonic is capable of both positive and negative outcomes and is a naturally occurring human impulse or urge within everyone to affirm, assert, perpetuate and increase the self. It is capable of both positive and negative outcomes and must be integrated into consciousness through the process of therapy in order to be harnessed into creative energy.
If each Self possesses a process of individuation, an involuntary and natural development towards individual maturity and harmony with collective human nature, then its driver is the daimonic, the force which seeks to overcome the obstacles to development, whatever the cost, both guide and guardian.
The demands of the daimonic force upon the individual can be frightening, contemporarily unorthodox, and even overwhelming. With its obligation to protect the complete maturation of the individual and the unification of opposing forces within the Self, the inner urge can come in the form of a sudden journey (either intentional or serendipitous), a psychological illness, or simply neurotic and off-center behavior. Jung writes, "The daimon throws us down, makes us traitors to our ideals and cherished convictions — traitors to the selves we thought we were." It is no wonder Yeats described it as that "other Will", the incorrigible will of man to achieve his humanity.
The journey from innocence to experience is not an idea that originated with this term; rather the Hero's Journey is a topic older than literature itself. But the "daimonic" subsequently became a focus of the English Romantic movement in the 18th and 19th centuries.
In the diagram below, we see the common threads of the daimonic notion. Typically, the daimonic tale centers around the Solitary, the central character of the story, who usually is introduced in innocence, wealth, and often arrogance. But under the masks of control and order lies a corruption and unconscious desire towards disintegration. Some event, either external or internal, leads the character towards some type of isolation where he is forced to confront his daimons.
The fall, or the descent, (from hubris) into the liminal world where light and dark meet is usually very dramatic and often torturing for the hero and the audience alike, and comes in myriad forms. In the depths, in hitting bottom, he ultimately discovers his own fate and tragedy (catharsis), and in a final climax is either broken or driven towards rebirth and self-knowledge. The glory of the daimonic is in the humble resurrection, though it claims more than it sets free, as many a foolish men are drawn into its vacuum never to return. As Stefan Zweig writes, the hero is unique for "he becomes the daimon's master instead of the daimon's thrall".
The daimonic has always been, and continues to be, a great source of creativity, inspiration, and fascination in all forms of art.