Healthy Demons



Listen, I’m talking to you. (I’m inside your head.)

You think I’m talking about you reading me right now.  But, no—I’m just quoting the voice in your head. You could call it your angel or your conscience, your better instincts or your genius, or what they used to call it, your daemon. But whatever (or whoever) it is,  it—it fucking talks, and it has gotten inside your head. Someone, something, is talking inside you, and you’re not sure if it’s you or who.

It could be your angel. People used to really believe in guardian angels. Angels are usually considered so exalted, but if everybody has one, then how special are they, really? An angel is like a belly button or an asshole, a dick or a cunt. Everybody’s got one.

Angels are no better than anybody else. They just occupy a different plane, one that intersects with the one we occupy. We can hear them, they can hear us, and they may be our betters. Some angels are bad, some are good. Some work Heaven; some work Hell. They all have an angle, but you might as well make the best of it, you probably only have one. If there’s another angel voice in there, that’s the devil.

Jean Cocteau wrote: “The similarity between the words angel (ange) and angle (angle), with the word ange become angle if an l (aile, wing) is added, is a coincidence in the French language, if coincidence does occur in such matters. But I knew this coincidence is not one in Hebrew, where the words angel and angle are synonymous. The fall of the angels symbolizes in the Bible the fall of angles, namely, the very human creation of a conventional sphere. Emptied of its geometrical soul, made up of a tangle of hypotenuses and right angles, the sphere no longer rests on the points which guarantee its radiation. I knew also that it is vital to avoid the fall of that geometrical soul in each of us, and that to lose our angles or our angels is a danger threatening individuals too attached to the earth.”

In the movies, daemons are depicted as evil spirits that possess nice, innocent souls and they have awful taste and speak in really weird, creepy voices. You’d think a real evil spirit would try to talk like George Clooney or Cher, but no. They always do the monster voice, a little bit bestial, a little bit gay. daemons feature in many important Catholic Hollywood films. They are hostiles, like psychiatric aliens and predators, here to wipe you out. They highjack your body and make your head turn 360s while you curse all that you love and all that is sacred.

Why do they do this? Apparently they are evil and pissed off. But this is probably an exaggeration. Most evil spirits in real life are more like bad vibes—some teacher or sexual abuser or preacher’s voice interrupting your flow. But it might also be unhappy and uncomfortable relations between intelligences cohabiting a psyche. This brain isn’t big enough for the both of us. It is not entirely incorrect that there are evil daemons, but daemons aren’t always that bad. More often than not, they are in fact good, that’s how you notice them. They give you good tips, like “Don’t go there.” I have a daemon who helps me write and stay out of jail. Mine is very charming and well intentioned. It all depends on who’s telling the story.

For the Greeks the daemon wasn’t bad — he was good. At least if you had a good one. The daemon of Socrates, though nameless, is still a celebrity. The daemon is the other voice in your head, your advisor, your partner in inner dialogue, the angel on your shoulder. Heraclitus said, “character is for man his daemon.” The Christians got it all wrong, daemonizing the daemon, because they wanted it to be only their voice in your head, the voice of the company. The pastor in your head. Thou Shalt Not…whatever.

The daemon was the inspiration of Socrates, his familiar spirit, his regular interlocutor with him whom he conversed when apparently alone. Socratres considers a daemon one’s liaison with the gods, with whom one could not directly communicate.

Apuleius (125-180 AD), the author of The Golden Ass, considered the familiar daemon of Socrates to be divine, although not necessarily immortal—but of an order below that of the Olympian gods, whom he considered, along with Plato, to have little or no time for human affairs. He wrote, “there are certain divine middle powers, situated in this interval of the air, between the highest ether and earth, which is in the lowest place, through whom our desire and our deserts pass to the Gods. These are called by a Greek name daemons, who, being places between the terrestrial and celestial inhabitants, transmit prayers from the one, and gifts from the other. Through these same daemons, as Plato says in the Banquet (Symposium), all denunciations, the various miracles of enchangers, and all the species of presages, are directed.”

Socrates did not just hear voices, he said he heard “a certain voice which originated from divinity.” According to Apuleius, “The daemon of Socrates was nearly accustomed to prohibit him from what he was going to undertake, but never exhorted him to the performance of any deed. For Socrates, as being a man of himself exceedingly perfect, and prompt to the performance of all duties pertaining to him, never was in want of any exhorter; but sometimes required a prohibiter, if danger happened to be latent in any of his undertakings….”

The daemon communicates by a voice heard in the mind. Freud might have called it the ego, but it’s more more like superego. Clinically extraneous voices are also diagnosed as schizophrenia, or multiple personality, or possession. In charismatic religions, such as Vodou, the god is said to ride the one possessed like a horse. Even modern, up-to-date, mainstream religions have aspects of possession. Religion is still about maintaining control through the voice in the head.

According to Julian Jaynes, consciousness as we know it is the result of a change that occurred less than five thousand years ago. He says before Greece went to Troy looking for Helen, men heard the voice of the gods directly in their heads, just like schizophrenics hear voices or George Bush hears the voice of God. (Don’t know if it’s Dad, Pop or Ghost.) The voice was often triggered by ritual or by idols, which may explain Moses’s problem with the golden calf. Judaism wanted the voice in the head to be the monopoly of the God who buried the other gods and whose name went unspoken.

William Butler Yeats, the Irish poet, participated in séances and in them met a spirit, one Leo Africanus, who claimed to be that poet’s daemon. When Yeats took up with the Golden Dawn society he tooks as his motto Daemon est Deus inversus, or The daemon is God’s reflection.

God’s reflection isn’t god, of course, but no doubt He admires it. A reflection of anything, even perfection, is only as good as what it’s bouncing off of. So daemons today are images of God that reflect the surface of legion mutant believers. Snake handlers, idol worshippers, holy rollers, tongues speakers, charlatans and hysterics. But even the most irreligious sensualist may believe in the voice inside. Having a sharp daemon is what makes successful generals and gamblers.

There may have been some conscious hustlers in the crowd, priests, kings, or feedback wave surfers. But, for millennia, for the majority of mankind, it was the zombie mind. We heard a voice from a god and obeyed it. It was often right. Ares said “Kill them!” Dionysius said, “Run!” Athena said, “Plant the seeds.” Aphrodite said, “Go for it.” It worked up to a point, but then things became too complex to always be consulting an oracle and individual consciousness hit. But often the gods refused to shut up and still chipped in their two cents frequently.

Apuleius wrote: “Plato asserts that a peculiar daemon is allotted to every man, who is a witness and a guardian of life. Who, without being visible to anyone, is always present, and who is an arbitrator not only of his deeds, but also his thoughts.” In Latin daemon became Genius. To Americans it sounds better to discuss one’s genius rather than one’s daemons, although the fact is they are one and the same.

Genius, believe it or not, is in increasingly short supply. The controllers of Earth have been building a system of blocking it. Radio, TV, all the electronics, including the grid, block out what used to be called “the firmament,” the stereoma of the Bible. The stars, and even the planets, named for the gods have trouble breaking through chatter and buzz. But if you can find radio silence, you can still make a connection.

People possessed of Genius talk to themselves, sort of. Everybody does, but those possessed of Genius know they’re doing it. You’re painting and a voice says, “No, not the purple.” To one’s personal genius, it’s proper to say silently, as if praying, “Good lookin’ out for me,” or “Thanks, I needed that.” It’s good to let the best voice in your head know your listening. Learn to recognize its voice and be wary of ventriloquist daemons for hire. What the religious call praying, trying to beam up to Jesus or The Great Architect of the Universe, should really be confined to the divine agent in your brain.

I love it when the French say genial. Us saying “Genius!” is close, at least in New York, but it lacks the charm. Cultivate geniality. Genius is a voice. You can have it, then lose it. It could jump out of you and into somebody else. It can store itself in a book or electronically. As William Burroughs says, “image is virus.” The word can go viral and infect those with low resistance. Now only mutants can hear the daemon. The rest hear voices all day, all night. Voices from the TV. The voice of Mom and Dad, even if long dead. The voice of Rush Limbaugh. The voice of Obama, with its measured cadence. The voice of Sasha Grey. You may have a daemon in you, a perfectly good one, whispering the reasonable course, but his voice is lost in the crowd, the babble of grid.

Sometimes the Genius goes silent. He may be angry or horrified or may just have taken a few days off. You can catch the flu and go to bed and read until he’s back. A good book will help cover for the absence of your usual inner dialogue.

If we want Genius in our lives, we have to listen for it. We have to shut out the voices of the bosses, the politicians, the pop songs, the preachers, the friends, the enemies, the seducers, the salesmen, and persuaders, and we have to listen inside. Shut out the voice that counts your steps and tells you to wash your hands. Shut out the voice that may prove to be coming from your testicles or your butt. If your Genius—your Daemon—is ignored it will become your judge.

I was watching a bunch of young people texting and ignoring one another, and a friend said, “They’re trying to find their voice. They’re talking to themselves.” The problem today is that we are receivers receiving way too many voices and channels, but not enough frequencies.

Some people have a small town of voices in their heads. Mom, Dad, God, the Devil, the Weiner, the Liar, The New York Post headline writer, David Letterman, al Jazeera, maybe dozens more. To have genius you have to shut them all up. Just say, “It’s my mind,” turn off your network, and listen. Listen for that voice.

Listen to me.


photography by JAKE BEGIN

words by GLENN O’BRIEN