Dæmonyx: What’s in a name?

For the past year and a half I’ve been recording music with a mind toward publishing a CD. In that time I’ve returned frequently to the question of what I should name my musical project. Right from the start I knew the name would have to be something centered around the idea of the daimonic or daemonic, since that idea has been central not only to my musical endeavors but also to my writing and other creative endeavors for a great many years now.

For those who are unfamiliar with it, the idea of the daimonic is loosely related to the idea of the muse. Like the muse, the daimon concept comes to us from the ancient Greeks, who in addition to the gods and goddesses familiar to us all through classical mythology (Zeus etc.) believed in spirits they called daimones or daimons. In one respect these daimons weren’t very different from the animistic spirits that have populated the belief systems of all peoples throughout history. Daimons were thought to be local, limited spirits who inhabited certain places, affected the weather, brought good and bad luck, and so on.

But the Greeks also held a more distinctly spiritualized or psychologized view that eventually outstripped the first. In this second version, the daimons were understood to exist deep within the human psyche or spirit, where they made themselves known through their influence upon human thoughts, emotions, attitudes, and actions. They were intermediate spirits, neither divine nor human, who mediated the will and messages of the gods to people, and vice versa. It was such a potent concept that it eventually swept through the ancient world and became one of the cornerstones of Western psychological and spiritual thought. The iconic figures of both the angel and the demon in Western religion have their origins in the ancient Greek idea of the daimons (as combined with Jewish beliefs about spiritual hierarchies, which themselves had been inherited from Zoroastrianism). In the twentieth century, existential psychologist Rollo May turned to this ancient concept for help in articulating his understanding of the human psyche, and in his classic book Love and Will described it in terms that make clear for us moderns what sort of thing the ancient Greeks were talking about when they spoke of spirits that acted with an inner force upon the human mind and personality: “The daimonic is any natural function which has the power to take over the whole person. Sex and eros, anger and rage, and the craving for power are examples. The daimonic can be either creative or destructive and is normally both.” This last idea is familiar to fans of Harlan Ellison, who closed his famous short story “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” with an epigraph drawn from May’s book that connected modern urban violence and the experience of social alienation with an upsurge of daimonic energy.

As for the evolution of the name, at some point during the Dark or Middle Ages the Greek word daimon became the Latinized dæmon or daemon. Eventually, the “ai” that had mutated into “æ” or “ae” collapsed into the simple “e” of the modern word demon. As we all know, a demon in the modern sense is an exclusively evil being that, according to Christian theology, was formerly an angel until it rebelled against the almighty monotheistic God. But when you mentally travel back in time and strip away the various religious/historical accretions and interpretations, you eventually encounter the ancient, pre-Christian dæmons or daimons, which are much more ambiguous and multidimensional. Many writers, especially in the fantasy and horror genres, have made a practice of referring to daemons or dæmons, as opposed to demons, when they want to invoke these older, wider connotations (think of the epithet Lovecraft often used to describe his made-up horrific god Azathoth: “the daemon sultan”).

The thing that connects all of this to my music is the ancient Greek idea that each individual person is accompanied throughout life by a specific daimon with whom he or she was paired before birth. The daimon is the guiding “higher self” that holds, guards, and represents the spiritual template for the life a given person has chosen to lead. We have all noticed that everyone seems to be born with certain predilections and personality traits already firmly in place. It seems that each of us possesses, or rather is possessed by, innate passions and interests, attractions and aversions, traits and tendencies. It also often seems that we are each led to encounter and experience certain sorts of life experiences and circumstances that are beyond our power to prevent. The theory of the daimon explains such things as the magnetic workings of the guardian spirit or higher self, which inevitably keeps drawing its chosen individual or “host” back into alignment with the prechosen life template. (Tangential to this but very interesting to me is the fact that all of this entered Western occultism a long time ago in the form of the “Holy Guardian Angel” that each person is charged with contacting in order to initiate and further his or her spiritual development.)

One doesn’t have to believe in this literally in order to feel its pull or sense its marvelous explanatory power. It’s possible to view it as a kind of perfect metaphor. It’s also possible to refuse to assign it an ontological status at all. This seems to be the tack taken by James Hillman, the fascinating and formidable psychologist who studied under Jung and who for the past several decades has pretty much been the heir apparent to the Jungian tradition. Hillman devoted the whole of his best-selling book The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling to explicating his theory of the daimon as a kind of life calling which can serve as a permanent source of personal orientation. And he did so without ever defining the whole idea as “real” or not.

When I was eight years old and started piano lessons, I immediately took to the instrument like the proverbial duck to water. The same instantaneous identification likewise happened with books, reading, and writing. Later, when I was in high school and college, my passion for playing music became joined by an additional passion to compose it. Today the entire nexus and webbing of passions remains active. In daimonic terms this indicates that all these things are part of my calling. And not only the activities themselves, but the types of subject matter that I’m naturally drawn to exploring. Without my being able to help it, there’s always something dark, dreary, horrific, melancholic, and/or mournful lurking beneath the surface and often breaking through into plain sight in all the creative works I pursue. I’m also ineluctably drawn to explore philosophical and spiritual ideas like the ones I’m discussing right now. Long before I encountered the concept of the daimonic, I had already spent a lot of time musing over my own sense of being driven by a motivating source I couldn’t understand, which led me to feel passionate about things I couldn’t control. The daimon theory gave me a name and background by which to contemplate these things more effectively.

So the name Dæmonyx, which was specifically suggested to me by Jason Van Hollander, expresses both the dæmonic/daimonic source of my musical motivation and the darkness (the onyx, as it were) that characterizes the music itself. By framing my musical endeavors in dæmonic terms, I have also freed myself to pursue whatever tangents I feel like pursuing. My writing has been fairly easy to categorize since it naturally comes out as either horror fiction or literary-scholarly essays, but my music has been less so and I don’t know how to classify it overall. Some of it is definitely New Agey. Some is all-out heavy metal and rock. Some is classical or classical-esque. Some is electronica. I hope that doesn’t mean it’s not very marketable in a consumer culture characterized by strict demarcations between genres, but in the end I hardly care, and the dæmonic connection has helped with this.

Oh — and the title of the imminent first album from Dæmonyx, “Curse of the Daimon,” gets at the fact that I really do feel at times as if the so-called “artistic temperament” that accompanies and characterizes all of this is a curse. How much simpler and nicer it would be to return to a former period in my life when I could read a book or watch a movie or listen to a song without feeling that if I myself didn’t currently have a creative project underway, then I was failing myself in some deep, frightening way. Yes, when I successfully finish composing and recording a song, or when I complete the final revision of a story or essay, I do feel an enormous rush of pleasure. Occasionally I even feel pleasure during the act of creation itself. But it’s accompanied by a distinct internal pressure that feels rather ominous, so that in the end it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the rush I feel upon completion isn’t so much due to having achieved success as having avoided failure. For ultimately the failure in question wouldn’t just be related to the specific song or story in question, but would more substantially be a deep failure to live up to something that always drives me onward and sets an often-impossible bar to achieve.

Incidentally, and in a much less self-absorbed vein, I like the title “Curse of the Daimon” because it harks back to one of the finest horror movies ever made, 1957’s “Night of the Demon” (released in the U.S. as “Curse of the Demon”).

And that, as they say, is that. Having talked about it so much now, I’ll hasten to upload an mp3 of the first song from the album, titled “The Gates of Deep Darkness,” some time in the next week or so in order to share a concrete example of what I’ve been going on about. I think I’ll also associate a contest with it, complete with a DVD or book prize. Stay tuned for details.

About Matt Cardin


Posted on June 17, 2006, in Arts & Entertainment, Religion & Philosophy, Writing & Creativity and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a Comment.

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