|The Greeks, a certain scholar has told me, considered that myths are the activities of the Daimons, and that the Daimons shape our characters and our lives. I have often had the fancy that there is some one myth for every man, which, if we but knew it, would make us understand all he did and thought.|
|            ‘At Stratford-on-Avon’ (E&I 107)|
|What marks upon the yielding clay? Two marks|
Made by my feet, two by my daimon’s feet
But all confused because my marks and his
Are on the selfsame spot, his toes
Where my heels fell, for he and I
Pausing a moment in our headlong flight
Face opposite ways, my future being his past.
|                                    ‘Images’ II|
|Titian, The Allegory of Time governed by Prudence|
National Gallery, London
While Yeats’s System is dominated by forms of duality, the dualism of human and Daimon is perhaps the most enigmatic and personal of all of the formulations, cutting across the divisions and categories of the geometry and representing the maverick element within the System. The Daimon’s relationship with the human being is capricious and unpredictable in a way that is aptly summed up in the symbol of the lightning flash.
If the schema of A Vision is founded in mechanisms of refelection and balance, the Daimon is their active controller, embodying all that least resembles the human, and enforcing awareness of this opposition, through crises which shock the individual into recognition of its otherness.
When Yeats discovered the gnomic fragment of Heraclitus, ‘Mortals are immortals and immortals are mortals, the one living the other’s death and dying the other’s life’, it is evident from his repeated quotation, partial quotation and paraphrase of it in his writing that he saw it as encapsulating the essential myth of his universe. In his last year Yeats summarised his outlook: ‘To me all things are made of the conflict of two states of consciousness, beings or persons which die each other’s life, live each other’s death’(L 918; 1938).
That a greater completeness is to be found in the image of man’s complementary opposite is the basis of Yeats’s earlier conception of the ‘mask’, which itself found a separate place in the System, perpetually set at the opposite point of the circle to the Will. While the idea of the ‘mask’ is that it is created or acquired from the archetypal elements of the imagination, Yeats seems to have found that the metaphor took on a more independent, mythic life, developing towards the idea of an ‘anti-self’, the inverse reflection of a man’s self that is evoked by lack and need from the Anima Mundi.
The idea that the anti-self was a separate being derives in part from the communications with the spirit Leo, which first started in 1909, when Yeats speculated that the opposite which man summons by antithesis might be a spirit of the dead, with therefore an existence independent of the human, and radically different from the synthetic creation of the mask, and, in Per Amica Silentia Lunae (published in 1918), he adopted for it the classical name of ‘Daemon’, speculating that ‘a strange living man may win for Daimon an illustrious dead man’ (Myth 335; the new spelling was adopted with A Vision A). How much Yeats regarded this being as real or metaphorical at the period of Per Amica Silentia Lunae is impossible to determine precisely, but both the association of the Daimon with a spirit of the dead and the Golden Dawn practice of summoning symbolic but real presences indicate that Yeats treated such matters less metaphorically than most of his readers, and also saw the distinction as not necessarily valid provided that the symbol itself reflected a supernatural reality. (Further notes on the Daimon’s antecedents).
In Per Amica Silentia Lunae Yeats describes how, ‘Each Daimon is drawn to whatever man . . . it most differs from, and it shapes into its own image the antithetical dream of man’ (Myth 362). The Daimon shapes the mask and the mask becomes less the goal in itself, than the means of evoking the anti-self: ‘By the help of an image / I call to my own opposite, summon all / That I have handled least, least looked upon’ (VP 367), while the Daimon actively comes to the human in search of its complement.Yeats later discounted the idea that the Daimon was a spirit of the dead, and added a note to Per Amica Silentia Lunae in 1924, to distinguish between ‘the permanent Daimon and the impermanent’ (Myth 335n), and even this was discounted in the Automatic Script which made it clear that the Daimon does not come to man and choose him, but is bound to him through all the cycles of incarnation: ‘Daimon & man two beings interlocked for the 12 Cycles but once seperate Brought together by a wrong wrought & suffered’ (YVP3 187). This formulation implies some form of joint fall and shared guilt, and, though this is not pursued, it is of a piece with the intertwined themes of love and betrayal which Yeats had outlined in Per Amica Silentia Lunae where ‘there is a deep enmity between a man and his destiny’, yet ‘a man loves nothing but his destiny’ (Myth 336).
The ideas evolved and changed during the preparation of A Vision, and his Instructors upbraided him in September 1921 for ‘identifying the Daimon too exclusively with the anti-self’ (YVP3 96) and for other ideas which were either too simplistic or too much rooted in his old ideas, yet the concept of the Daimon remains recognisably founded on the poetic speculations which predate the System.
In A Vision A Yeats writes at some length concerning the Daimon, establishing at least part of the mechanism by which it intervenes in and affects human life, through control of the dark Faculties of Mask and Body of Fate, and the difference of its role in the lives of primary and antithetical incarnations. Yet he was still wrestling with the concept after the publication of AV A, and, following a Sleep in Rapallo in 1927, he writes of one of his Instructors, Dionertes:
He came last night - cross because I did not realize that the Daimon was perfect. He said all Daimons were of course one on a final analysis, & yet they were each unique & each perfect. I said if they are different - there is something of the whole lacking in each & therefore it is not perfect. However he insisted. I must not say the Principles and Faculties expressed the Daimons[,] all man did was approach the Daimon.
Yeats’s frustration with such apparently contradictory statements is understandable, as he found himself still trying to comprehend the nature of the Daimon itself after more than ten years of effort and to see how it fitted in with the other elements of the System such as the Principles.
The Daimon is said in notes to be a unique and self-creating power, contributing to the human being what is personally unique (in which sense it is probably also seen as the Ghostly Self). The Daimon seeks to unite itself with other Daimons but canot do this without the agency of the human mind. Its mind is simultaneous, untrammelled by either time or space, perceiving things in terms of their kinship to itself. Its symbolic form is the circle or sphere, and all things are present in an eternal instant to the Daimon which ‘remains always in the Thirteenth Cycle’ (AV A 220). At certain moments (Critical Moments) the human Mask becomes completely identified with the Will of the Daimon such that it can touch a form of this timeless consciousness. Although this implies some separation in the normal state of affairs, man and Daimon should be regarded as part of a single spectrum of consciousness or a continuum of perception (see NLI MS 30,359).
The same idea is formulated slightly differently in ‘A Commentary’ to The Words upon the Window-pane written in 1931, where he explains that ‘Daimon is timeless, it has present before it [a man’s] past and future, or it has no present and is that past and future, and as the dramatisations recede from his waking mind and from the dreams that reproduce his waking desires they begin to express that knowledge’ (VPl 975). The Daimon or ‘timeless individuality contains archetypes of all possible existences whether of man or brute, and as it traverses its circle of allotted lives, now one, now another, prevails. We may fail to express an archetype, or alter it by reason, but all done from nature is its unfolding into time’ (VPl 970). The Daimon is a reflection of the One and, since it inhabits the Thirteenth Cone where it mirrors all other Daimons (VPl 975), within it all archetypes can co-exist, while it still retains its individual uniqueness. Until they are manifested in time and space, however, they remain abstractions or possibilities only; Yeats refers approvingly to Berkeley’s thought that the Seven Days of Genesis were ‘not the creation of sun and moon, beast and man, but their entrance into time, or into human perception, or into that of some spirit’ (E&I 403), and in a similar way, the Daimon contains all the possibilities of existence, but they must be realised through incarnation.
If man and Daimon are one continuous perception, human and Daimon are loosely like an iceberg, of which the Daimon is the greater part, the ideal or archetype, while the human is the visible local expression of a small, chosen fraction to other perceiving beings. Through the course of time and many incarnations, the human element of the dyad must seek to express as much of the complete sphere as possible, segment by segment, gyre by gyre, until the totality of the Daimonic archetype has been brought into material manifestation.
The human part of the symbiotic dyad is usually unaware of its complement, since this lies hidden in the dark of the mind, or beneath the surface, though it may note the effects which are produced by the more direct forms of contact, those mental experiences which are apparently inexplicable and alien, as if there were a different mind operating within one’s own, which according to Yeats’s theory there is. The Daimon's corresponding limitation, however, is the inability to forge new connections or to make connections with alien. As the living, in particular the poetic, relies upon the relation of what is disparate, the lucidity of the Daimon’s simplicity must be balanced by the richness of human complexity.
The perception which man and Daimon share is both opposed and continuous, and the dichotomy affects both external and internal life: ‘The Daimon carries on her conflict, or friendship with a man, not only through the events of life, but in the mind itself, for she is in possession of the entire dark of the mind’ (AV A 28). The subconscious, ‘the involuntary (which is also the Daimonic life)’, is not the seat of repressed, primitive drives, but of past incarnations and the higher energies represented in the Principles, to which we can gain access in dream or reverie: ‘We meet always in the deep of the mind, whatever our work, wherever our reverie carries us, that other Will’ (Myth 337). The Daimon can never be under conscious control, since ‘It has its independent life & we cannot call it’ (YVP3 96), and the Daimonic interventions are not readily retrievable from the unconscious either, the poet’s aim is to make the processes by which the Daimon impinges upon man more accessible, and Yeats’s particular aim is to understand the mechanisms through which the Daimonic power flows, to trace the mind’s moments of contact with the timeless state , in order to gain even greater control over the sources of poetry.
L. A. G. Strong remembered that Yeats ‘strongly condemned’ the passive waiting for inspiration as a poetic practice: ‘ “The only legitimate passivity is that which follows exhaustion of the intellect. Then guidance comes”. He saw the whole thing as a struggle in which all the poet’s faculties were united in order to grasp, receive, and wrestle with the visiting angel of inspiration’ (I&R 145). The System offered him clues and starting points for inviting the angelic Daimon, and ways to understand how to wrestle it.
The sexual identity of the Daimon varies as Yeats’s ideas change: it is referred to as ‘he’ in Per Amica Silentia Lunae, in part for purely formal reasons, as the supposedly sexless personal pronoun, but also since Yeats was at this period thinking partly of Leo Africanus, whom he supposed to be his Daimon. The Automatic Script established that it was ‘of the opposite sex to that of man’ (AV A 27), and therefore in AV A the pronoun used is ‘she’, since Yeats writes from a male perspective and possibly assumes a male readership, and it may therefore be because of the wider audience that he hoped AV B would reach that he settled on a neuter ‘it’ to cover the Daimons of both men and women. Given Yeats’s declaration that all the symbols of the relationships between wheels and gyres ‘can be thought of as the symbols of the relations of men and women and of the birth of children’ (AV B 211), it is understandable that the sex of the Daimon is seen as an important sexual metaphor within the System.
The relationship of human and Daimon becomes the pattern after which the relationship between the sexes is acted out, and ‘The relation of man and woman, in so far as it is passionate, reproduces the relation of man and Daimon, and becomes an element where man and Daimon sport, pursue one another, and do one another good or evil’ (AV A 27). Though the imagery for the relationship is drawn from that between the sexes, in theory at least the relationship of man and Daimon is the paradigm, which the sexual relationship then follows, and Yeats writes in a draft of the human beloved becoming a substitute for the Daimon. Having identified the relationship of human and Daimon as sexually charged, Yeats develops the metaphors from this element and, while the relationship of man and woman is separate from that of human and Daimon, at times it is seen as a special arena of the Daimon’s action, a synecdoche for the whole relationship.
One of the reasons why the Daimon often operates through the beloved is that they are both related to the individual in question through the same two Faculties: ‘When my instructors see woman as man’s goal and limit . . . they symbolise her as Mask and Body of Fate, object of desire and object of thought’, which are the Faculties under the Daimon’s control.
In the Yeatses’ own relationship, the production of the Automatic Script involved both of their Daimons, but the relationship of the four beings (man and Daimon, woman and Daimon) functions through transferred interchanges as the Daimons’ connection is with the partner of the same sex: ‘Through use of sexual image “Her Daimon collects from you” & yours from her “in all matters of this script”. . . . Her Daimon draws from my spiritual memory. Her ‘male Daimon collects images from my S[piritual] M[emory] & my female Daimon collects images from her S[piritual] M[emory]”’ (YVP3 291; cf. YVP2 248-49). This complex ménage à quatre has further implications at the level of the Faculties, since the Daimon ‘uses the faculties of body “but remember it uses them as different sex”. It alters all “especially touch & hearing” - “uses as emotion or intellect” uses them enlarged’ (YVP3 291) so that the Husk’s senses are transformed into psychic rather than sensuous elements and with the gender also reversed. The effect of the cross-fertilisation of the Daimon-human pairs gives rise in the Yeatses’ case to the whole of the System which has its own existence: ‘The collecting of the Daimons, in she & I is practically the system embodying it self by its own momentum’ (YVP3 291).
The Daimon is the muse of destiny, of human life, enforcing the balancing of the Tinctures. The personal response to the Daimon’s bringing of its counterpart to the place of choice is what determines fate in the present and in the future. The task which it might devise (its Creative Mind is our fate) has little real importance in itself, it is the full use of energies that matters. Neither good nor evil are of more intrinsic worth to the Daimon, and it will redress any imbalance that the human may try to create by using only the conscious or light Faculties of Will and Creative Mind:
If man seeks to live wholly in the light, the Daimon will seek to quench that light in what is to man wholly darkness, and there is conflict and Mask and Body of Fate become evil; when however in antithetical man the Daimonic mind is permitted to flow through the events of his life (the Daimonic Creative Mind) and so to animate his Creative Mind, without putting out its light, there is Unity of Being. A man becomes passionate and this passion makes the Daimonic thought luminous with its peculiar light-this is the object of the Daimon-and she so creates a very personal form of heroism or of poetry. (AV A 28)
The mind of the Daimonic person willingly accepts the dictates of its individual destiny, responds to the crises forced by the Daimon, and acknowledges the Daimon’s Will as its Mask. Appropriately enough it is at Phase 17, Yeats’s own, that Unity of Being is most commonly attained, the ‘complete Harmony between the phisical body intellect & spiritual desire all may be imperfect but if harmony is perfect it is unity’ and can only be achieved with the Daimonic influx, which summons to the challenge and is specifically designed to rouse man’s faculties to their height. While this has an obvious application to the heroic, the poet also most fully satisfies the Daimon because those ‘who are poets have for [their] end that unity of self, that is to say to enrich every emotion by every other.’ The poet unifies and relates all the emotions, and thus can offer to the Daimon exactly that which it lacks.
If the human is taken as Will and Creative Mind, mirrored by the Daimon’s complementary Will and Creative Mind, ‘though these appear to man as the object of desire, or beauty, and as fate in all its forms’ (AV A 28), the human factor is composed of one Tincture and the Daimon of the other. Therefore, ‘When man is in his most antithetical phases the Daimon is most primary; man pursues, loves, or hates, or both loves and hates’, whereas primary man faces a Daimon which pursues like the demons of St. Antony, since ‘in man’s most primary phases the Daimon is at her most antithetical. Man is now pursued with hatred, or with love; must receive an alien terror or joy; and it is to this final acceptance of the Image that we apply the phrases ‘Unity with God,’ ‘Unity with Nature’’ (AV A 29). Yeats puts this external Unity in opposition to antithetical Unity of Being, which he sees as the more essentially interesting and human form of Unity.
The divine principle, as perceived in the ‘13th cone is the only thing that is entirely objective’ and alien to ‘the antithetical human race. We are who we are because of the assertion of our subjectivity.’ Yeats is loth to submerge his selfhood in the unity of the external and, though this is perhaps less true for those in whose Phase the Solar predominates, Yeats seeks to convert all mankind to the antithetical, and to raise the relevance of the Daimon over that of the divine. The divine exists for Yeats but it is curiously contingent in its relationship to man. It is the Daimon, of the divine sphere rather than the divine itself, which is the immediate and vital force in life. Only ‘good, unlearned books say that He who keeps the distant stars within His fold comes without intermediary, but Plutarch’s precepts and the experience of the old women in Soho’ (Myth 335) know that man needs the Daimon.
From another point of view, the primary divine is the perception of the Daimons’ ultimate unity, while the antithetical divine shows their multiplicity: ‘In the Antithetical Cone we mirror with increasing perfection as it broadens out our Daimon which contains all other Daimons within itself. In the primary cone we mirror with increasing perfection as it broadens not the many in the one, but the one in the many’. The Daimons are the multitudinous aspect of the One, or in more traditional terms they are the names of God, or His angels.
The essay "'Everywhere that antinomy of the One and the Many': The Foundations of A Vision," by Neil Mann in the collection W. B. Yeats's "A Vision": Explications and Contexts, edited by Neil Mann, Matthew Gibson, and Claire Nally (Clemson University, 2012), provides useful further exploration of this subject.
This title is available for free download here or here from Clemson University Press (click here if seems the link may have changed). It is also accessible online via Liverpool Scholarhip Online and University Press Scholarship Online (simplest to search on "Yeats" and "Vision"; direct link functional April 2016), though this is by subscription or through a library.