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24238.  Thu Sep 15, 2005 6:01 pm Reply with quote

Very QI concept recently made hugely popular by Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, but in fact one of the most ancient of philosophical ideas.

24239.  Thu Sep 15, 2005 6:13 pm Reply with quote

Daemons were not necessarily the same as our modern word 'demons'. They could be good or bad or neither or both and were also called Genii.

Daemons were spirits which presided over the actions of mankind, watched over their most secret intentions and gave them advice.

Socrates, it is said, would often stand stock still in the street listening to his daemon – sometimes for hours at a time. The daemon supplied him with ideas, stopped him from behaving badly and advised him whenever his friends were likely to get into trouble.

Some ancient Greek philosophers believed that everyone had two daemons – one good, one bad.

Daemons were thought to be shapeshifters – able to assume any shape they chose to achieve their desired purposes – and, at the moment of death, delivered up their charges for judgment.

s: LEM

24284.  Sat Sep 17, 2005 4:51 am Reply with quote

The word 'daemon' is used in software engineering as well, and it means more or less the same thing - it's a piece of code that acts as an autonomous agent, passing messages between one system and the other. The Internet is largely built upon the action of daemons passing messages between network hardware and server software. The 'ghost in the machine'.

24288.  Sat Sep 17, 2005 12:29 pm Reply with quote


I see from my Latin dictionary that in classical astrology 'daemon' is also the last but one of the celestial signs.

30865.  Sat Nov 12, 2005 2:04 pm Reply with quote

I think if i had a daemon it'd be a rather large hyena that changed colour..

30880.  Sat Nov 12, 2005 4:18 pm Reply with quote

Amie wrote:
I think if i had a daemon it'd be a rather large hyena that changed colour..

Some people consider a Daemon's colour can be just as important as the form itself; say, two people could have daemons with separate winter and summer colouring and still be quite different, personality-wise.

I have to say, my heart jumped at the title of the topic because this is something I do know quite a lot about, for once. =D

I was amazed to find out just how much daemonology wasn't invented by Philip Pullman, and had existed for a long time in some cultures - native american, I think, is the only one I can remember right now...

30892.  Sat Nov 12, 2005 4:36 pm Reply with quote

That's great, Pyreo.

Let's have some more lovely details, if you will.

I discovered today that, rather like, daemons, every culture in the world has given names and shapes to the constellations – not the same names and shapes, of course, but nonetheless...

30928.  Sat Nov 12, 2005 6:42 pm Reply with quote

Oki-doki... *looks for more*

These paintings are considered by Pullman to be unrecognised daemon art:

These pictures, most famously the ermine one, were included in the HDM theatre programme when it was performed at the National Theatre (I saw both parts, and also a workshop on how the daemons and puppets were handled. Then we went back again to hear Pullman give a talk and have him sign my copy of Northern Lights).

Now for the history lesson:

Daemons were first given a name in Ancient Greece, about 470 BC. It might also have been spelled Daimon. Socretes himself believed in a tiny internal voice which would try to deter him when he was wrong but stayed silent if what he was doing was good, as JumpingJack explained.

The ancient Egyptians believed in a physical representation of the soul called the 'Ka'. It was said to be a part of consciousness and haunted the surrounding area in which their person had died. (Pullman's daemons disappear immediately upon death, though.)

Natives of Easter Island believed in a guiding spirit called 'Aku-Aku', possessed by people and families, which could actually be seen and conversed with.

The Native Americans, of course, had animal totems, which would offer a person health and wisdom if they could communicate with and befriend it, which took dedication and patience.

As for Philip Pullman's daemon concept - they are, of course, the physical representation of a human soul. Daemons cannot live without humans, although some humans did come to live alone without a soul. That situation is a horrific atrocity. People and daemons can never be far apart, as there is an invisible spiritual link between them, but that link can be severed or pulled apart. Human children have daemons that constantly change form to best associate with whatever the child is feeling, however, once the child hits puberty their soul 'settles' and takes on one animal form for the rest of his or her existence.

There is a community of people who are devoted to the idea of daemons being real and frequently have internal conversations with theirs. They pick out names and everything.

Frederick The Monk
30929.  Sat Nov 12, 2005 6:45 pm Reply with quote

JumpingJack wrote:

I discovered today that, rather like, daemons, every culture in the world has given names and shapes to the constellations – not the same names and shapes, of course, but nonetheless...

Which makes Ursa Major all the more peculiar for in ancient Greece, Babylon, India, China and in North America, Ursa Major, the best known constellation in the northern sky, has been seen as a she-bear. Why not a herring at a rodeo? Or a toothpick?

Frederick The Monk
30930.  Sat Nov 12, 2005 6:46 pm Reply with quote

Ursa Major (or the asterism of the Plough at least) has also been known as:

Charles’ Wain
Big Dipper
Arthur's Chariot
King David's Chariot – Ireland
Bier of Lazarus
Stretcher with a sick man on it
Bull's Thigh
Great Coffin
Drinking Gourd
Giant Bear chased by Warriors
Leaps of the Gazelle
Seven Plowing Oxen
Seven Sages
Seven Stars
Seven Macaw
Feretrum Majus
Sapta Rishi

30936.  Sat Nov 12, 2005 7:00 pm Reply with quote

That's very QI about the she-bear, Fred.

Thanks for the daemon post, Pyreo. Great stuff.

31015.  Sun Nov 13, 2005 9:35 am Reply with quote

It appears a Daemon could be a representation of a person's conscience. I would probably have a Sea-bird or a type of Cat as a Daemon.

31130.  Sun Nov 13, 2005 9:10 pm Reply with quote

Can fish be daemons, I wonder? I've always had a thing about fish. But then I'm a Pisces (this should be on the Astrology thread...)

31147.  Mon Nov 14, 2005 6:38 am Reply with quote

Hmmm....I always thought that AmerInd totems were more of a deity thing. Whilst certain people identified with any specific totem, the were all regarded as Gods.

Maybe I am getting the wrong end of the stick on this one....?



Mostly Harmless
31182.  Mon Nov 14, 2005 10:29 am Reply with quote


Last edited by Mostly Harmless on Mon Jan 09, 2006 8:55 am; edited 1 time in total


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