To her fair works did nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man. William Wordsworth, Lines Written in Early Spring
Twenty-five thousand years ago, the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus recorded the aphorism Ethos anthropoi daimon in his fragments—which we have taken, nemine contradicente, to mean character is fate. The word ethics, though etymologically derived from the Greek ēthos, is entangled with theological and eschatological conceptions, owing to the later Roman and Christian religiosity that adopted and adapted its meaning to suit their purposes. In its original form, as intended by Heraclitus, ethos is character. It is something engraved on the soul, formed by the repeated action of habit. Hillman1 defines character as the “deep structures of personality that are particularly resistant to change” and habit the “invisible source of inner consistently”. Character is engraved on the soul and the daimon is our genius, according to the ancient texts. In modern terms, the daimon is likened to fate; it is where your wisdom and creativity reside; it is your unconscious self, your undermind. According to Ancient Greek myth, the daimon is potentially divine and is the intermediary between the mortal and the divine. In the Symposium, Plato wrote that Eros and other demons were intermediaries between human beings and the gods. But to better understand what the daimon is, we must return to the ancient myths; that of Plato’s Myth of Er.
Plato concludes the Republic with the Myth of Er. When Er dies in battle, his body is piled away with his other slain comrades. But, even after ten days, his body remains undecomposed and is sent to his home for cremation. Twelve days after his death, he wakes up on the funeral pyre and tells the extraordinary tale of his sojourn in the underworld. Here, the souls of those who have departed this world await their lot in the new life, as allotted by Lachesis, the daughter of Necessity, whose name derives from Lachos – one’s spiritual lot or portion of fate. In Timaeus Plato tells us that the demiurge created the world and all living creatures from their eternal paradigm. Our paradeigma is thus a moving image, which is a semblance of eternity, and is also the ‘lot’ that encompasses our fate. This lot is infinitely extensible, or conversely, fully collapsible. It is everything we are and are given in our lifetime, including the portion of the world we occupy, all that comes into it or is taken away from it, and all of this is rolled up into that single image, that paradeigma. It is Lachesis who allocates to the soul its lot, based on the soul’s particular temperament, and sends with each soul a daimon as guardian to its life and as fulfiller of its allotment. Our soul is guided by the daimon to our particular body, our singular circumstances and place in the world. The daimon is your inner spirit, your psuché. It represents your potential, that life of the higher soul which you can live only when you recognise its presence and heed its call. It is the essence of our passions and potential. Living in harmony with our daimon brings happiness and fulfillment to our lives. Living in harmony with the daimon is called eudaimonia, since the Greek prefix eu- means good, well, pleasant, or true. Living in harmony with your daimon means embracing the life, customs, and traditions that are a part of your paradeigma, in the place you were meant to be. The Ancient Greeks called this divine act of contemplative soul-searching Moira, personified as a goddess, and derived from the root mer (from merimna, meaning to consider with “thought and care”). While the daimon binds us to our lot, it has no dominion over the outcome of our life. So we need to carefully consider what is apportioned to us by fate that we have no control over as well as that portion of destiny which is in our hands, representing all we have done, could have done and can do. Rousseau says that this harmonious questing of our “natural desires” is the path to happiness, for when our desires are in tune with our inclinations (“faculties”), we are less removed from being happy, for “unhappiness consists not in the privation of things but in the need that is felt for them.”[^4] Dostoevsky echoes this sentiment when he writes in his notebook2 about the value of spiritual contemplation that “man lives most of all when he is seeking something and striving; at such moments he feels within himself a most natural desire for everything harmonious, for tranquility, and in beauty there is both harmony and tranquility…”. And when we are no longer seeking that which is in harmony with our natural desires, when life is “choked by the absence of a goal,” the future no longer impels us forward and we seek to only maximise gratification in the present.
… one must demand everything from the present; one must fill life with the immediate alone. Everything passes into the body, everything plunges into physical debauchery, and, in order to fill in for the higher spiritual impressions which are lacking, people excite their nerves, their body with everything that can possibly arouse. Dostoevsky’s notebook to The Idiot
In the ancient teachings, the real unconscious is the hidden psychic integrity, which has been forgotten and left behind since childhood, and which requires for its development not egoistic satisfactions, not “recognition from others”, not sexual or labidinal pleasure, not even physical security, food, and shelter… Thus, according to tradition, there is something potentially divine within man, which is born when his physical body is born but which needs for its growth an entirely different sustenance from what is needed by the physical body or the social self.Jacob Needleman, Awakening the Heart
Needleman calls the emotions of fear, self-satisfaction, self-pity, and competitiveness, the emotions of the ego, which when ‘blended with the extremely volatile and combative energies of sex’, appear to be so ingrained that they are deemed to be the real nature of man, once he has shrugged off the veneer of public propriety. The daimon is the ‘sensitive current of feeling that is meant to permeate the entire being as an indispensable organ of knowledge’, now lost as a ruling principle within him. It is that which is eradicated on the plains of forgetting, but subsists within him, and where his wisdom and creativity come from in those brief moments when he gives up the struggle for life, through the channel of his on unconscious mind. Storytelling was how ancient tribes imparted knowledge to their young ones, long before the written word. As societies were formed and tribes subsumed into a , metaphors replaced stories. We have lost the ‘natural morality’ of traditional society says Guy Claxton, a ‘code of morality saturating the metaphors themselves’. Thoughts could this be ‘freed of ethical constraints’
At the time I felt that this world had some meaning. Living as I was then, like any individual I was tormented by the problem of how to live a better life. I did not yet understand that in answering ‘live in conformity with progress’, I was speaking exactly like a person who is in a boat being carried along by wind and waves and who when asked the most important and vital question, ‘Where should I steer?’ avoids answering by saying, ‘We are being carried somewhere.’ Leo Tolstoy, A Confession
Virginia Satir, the eminent family therapist cast fate in the light of five freedoms that are available to us if we so choose. The freedom to say what you feel and think instead of what you should. The freedom to feel what you feel instead of what you ought. The freedom to ask for what you want instead of always waiting for permission. The freedom to take risks on your own behalf, instead of choosing to be secure and not rock the boat.
Our inequalities are what make us unique and, paradoxically equal, for there is no other being who is exactly the same as me, therefore it is only I who am blessed with one or more unique skills and abilities, whose confluence with my experiences yield the essence that is my singular character. In the absence of any sense of self-worth, it is human nature to cling to the notion of racism, confusing hubris for spiritual belonging. To see the true image of the world is to look with the heart instead of the mind, to see people for who they are, and not what they are said to be by types and classes.
My chief concern, in the Aristos, is to preserve the freedom of the individual against all those pressures-to-conform that threaten our century; one of those pressures, put upon all of us,but particularly on anyone who comes into public notice, is that of labeling a person by what he gets money and game for — by what other people most want to use him as.
Karl Popper suggests that Heraclitus is the grandfather of totalitarianism because of his doctrine of elitism that permeates his fragments. According to John Fowles, Heraclitus saw the unthinking, confirming mass the hoi polloi, mere pawns to the few, the intellectually elite.
In every field of human endeavor it is obvious that most of the achievements, most of the great steps forward have come from individuals—whether they be scientific or artistic geniuses, saints, revolutionaries, what you will. And we do not need the evidence of intelligence testing to know conversely that the vast mass of mankind are not highly intelligent—or highly moral, or highly gifted artistically, or indeed highly qualified to carry out any of the nobler human activities. Of course, to jump from that to the conclusion that mankind can be split into two clearly defined groups, a Few that is excellent and a Many that is despicable, is idiotic. The gradations are infinite … the dividing line between the Few and the Many must run through each individual, not between individuals. In short none of us are wholly perfect; and none of us wholly imperfect. John Fowles in his preface to the 1970 edition of The Aristos
John Updike in his introduction to Kafka’s collection of stories says that “Sixty years after his death, Kafka epitomizes one aspect of this modern mindset: a sensation of anxiety and shame whose centre cannot be located and therefore cannot be placated; a sense of an infinite difficulty within things, impeding every step; a sensitivity acute beyond usefulness, as if the nervous system, flayed of its old hide of social usage and religious belief, must record every touch as pain.”
We forget the image that was transmitted with our daimon and begin to construct an image of ourselves based on what we see, feel, and believe about the things we encounter in our world. This image should be adaptable; should be only a outline or rough sketch of the cause and its effect on you. It needs to be constantly compared and contrasted with your paradeigma, which is the only true representation of your being that you edge closer to as you encounter those causes in new situations and refine the sketch accordingly. According to Claxton3, it is when we identify with this précis of self
Emerson says “We need to conform to what we have previously said about ourselves. Because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our habit than our past acts, and we are loathe to disappoint them.”
James Hillman founded the school of school of psychology known as Archetypal Psychology—an ideology and movement that focuses on the psyche and the soul, favouring a return to the polytheistic myths that are the language of the soul. It attempts to cast our psychological lives in the fantasies and myths of the gods, goddesses, and demigods of the Greek pantheon and other ancient civilizations, using these archetypal figures “to account for an individuals character and destiny”. Hillman worked with Carl Jung in the 1950s and later became the first director of the Jung institute in Zurich. His Archetypal Psychology is heavily influenced by the Jungian tradition as well as the works of Giambattista Vico, Plato, and Platonic thinkers like Plotinus. In his view, conventional psychology no longer sought to explore the mysteries of human nature, but concerned itself with the trivial, superficial, and baser aspects of the human condition. For this reason, his work has been largely ignored by those in the profession, to whom his thinking was subversive. Hillman’s works remain the most accessible to the lay person, and stand as testament to his lifelong work of “reimagining” psychology from it’s current state as a “trivialized, banal, egocentric pursuit”. ↩
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. Polnoe Sobranie Sochinenii. Leningrad: Nauka, Leningr. otd-nie, 1972. ↩
Claxton, G. (1994). Noises from the darkroom: the science and mystery of the mind. London: Aquarian. ↩