So then—what happens if you make a distinction between what you tell your friends and what you tell your Muse? The problem is to break down that distinction: When you approach the Muse to talk as frankly as you would talk with yourself or with your friends.

That’s from Ginsberg, again. Ginsberg is an artist and when artists talk about the spirit who surrounds and stimulates them, they talk about their muse. But the muse isn’t just an artistic concern; it’s a spiritual one. What Ginsberg calls his muse, I suspect the Yeatses would call his daemon (but do remember that not all inspiration is personal). That is a spirit that is personal to you, that is literally a part of your spiritual person.

It isn’t hard to see the benefits of approaching that muse, that daemon, without our usual social filters. That spirit helps make our life and so a good chunk of the mess that we try to tidy up and keep out of the public eye (our fears, our neuroses, our odd little obsessions, our peculiar joys) are part of what it weaves for us, part of how it speaks to us. I daresay that is why psychoanalysis has found its warmest reception in studies of art and literature; it addresses this material used by the daemon-muse and even when its explanations fall flat, it starts out in the right direction.

But if you want to converse with that daemon-muse, to take up Ginsberg’s challenge, how do you go about that? Despite their intimacy with your life, they are alien. The Yeatses’ account of the daemon gives us some theoretical language for talking about it which makes clear our own agency in the process, so I’ll approach first with their ideas and see what comes.

The daemon’s influence can feel oppressive, but it is as subject to you as you are to it. You are ‘stuck’ in our lives and with our desires, and they are ‘stuck’ in your thoughts and in the quality of your desire. They float or sink in your psyche, know it like you know red, sometimes too bright, too dull, sometimes just what you need.

The daemon structures its world by manipulating the events of your life to direct what you think about and by manipulating the contents of your thoughts to shape what you desire. The daemon isn’t all powerful and all-knowing. It comes with its own limitations and has to work with the same ‘real world’ that you do. While it works your luck and fortune, it cannot control broader trends in which you both are engulfed. Moreover, while it can ‘read’ your mind (is your mind), it has only an indirect influence on its contents.

So, first things first, you start talking to your daemon honestly by listening carefully to it. Pay attention to the sorts of things that come into your life and the sorts of desires (including daydreams) that you experience; those are the daemon’s active thought processes. Learn to notice that those are two sorts of attention, understanding and desire, each of which has a direct impact on your daemon. Cultivate a sense for both of them.

From there, you need to talk back to the daemon. You can do that a number of ways. Explore and manipulate your environment since in doing so you will be activating your intellect and modulating your desires. Deliberately work the material of your life, whether that be the opportunities to advance yourself or the chance to creatively explore what draws your desire. Don’t rush. What you work you inflict on your daemon. Listen for their responses.

What gets heard clearly? What doesn’t? Is it art? Is it writing? Is it meditation? Is it an involvement with politics? (All of these examples are drawn from recommendations to the Yeatses during their spirit work.)

The long term goal is to achieve a degree of harmony in this process. Remember that perfect balance is an illusion. A fluid movement between two poles of activity, yours and the daemon’s, is ideal. That helps you trace out the contours of your life and of your physical and spiritual vehicle, your means of spiritual movement.

7 thoughts on “Daemon-Muse

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