On Facing Daemons

In days gone by, a daemon was a reality, a physical presence that could come and grab you and drag you down to to Dante’s Inferno or the Lake of Gehenna.

As the Catholics might say:

Exi ergo, transgressor. Exi, seductor, plene omni dolo et fallacia, virtutis inimici, innocentium persecutor.”

These days they probably use English:

Depart therefore, thou transgressor. Depart, thou seducer, totally filled with cunning and deceit, O thou enemy of virtue, thou persecutor of the innocent.”

Most of us with a more modern mind recognize that the Daemon, while very real, is nonetheless from the internal rather than external landscape.

Happily, I self diagnose myself as normal; while prone to pessimism and black moods, psychotic I am not, nor have I ever been.  Whether any sane physician would share my view, who knows, but it suffices for my purposes.

I can not imagine what the prison of psychosis must be like, although Dante and Bosch give us a pretty good idea. Maybe a more modern setting would have us in the grip of aliens, in the brig of a spaceship in a far flung and evil empire. Who knows.

But on the assumption you have control over your own mind (which happily most of us seem to) much can be done by facing fear head on.

As my hero Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his inaugural address:

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

Why today do I find myself contemplating daemons?

Largely as a result of a return to the philosophy of the East, to the Tao in particular. Sparked perhaps by lunch with an elderly Japanese lady and a recent re-reading of the works of Alan Watts.  And Shintoism of course – all those wonderful spirits in woods and trees, in lakes and seas and rivers. How very Tolkien, how Narnian.

To go with the flow, to face reality, to accept that to attempt to alter the Tao is futile and will lead to failure and self harm.

To face daemons is to accept them as part of the landscape. To look them in the face. To face up to them as you must face a school bully. And when you do, those of us of reasonably sound mind find the fear disappears.

Buddhism, the East – it is about acceptance of what is. It is about the illusion of self.  If we ourselves, our “ego”, are mere chimera, how then should we imagine daemons to be anything but a deception of the senses?

And so after my usual rambling preamble, to the point.  If you can acquire the skill and discipline of letting go, letting pass, it all disappears, crumbles into the mist, ends like an Indonesian puppet theater.

Your concerns are revealed as shadows cast by light on a curtain of cloth.  We are a physical process, little different conceptually to growing grass or the trees.  But arguably “cursed” with consciousness – an evolutionary sleight of hand to ensure survival.

Yesterday I was visited by “daemons” as I partook of an ancient sacrament. With closed eyes, fearsome devils rushed towards me. Snakes appeared, many headed with fangs and hissing breath. Color exploded  and all of it daemonic. How so? My usual fare is Gothic arches and stained glass, quiet and ordered geometric pattern, the visual equivalent of transcendent and haunting Renaissance polyphony.

Well it was just my day for something different.

But faced with equanimity, with amusement even, these devils bothered me but little. A show of fireworks, beauty even. A part of my soul, my psyche. We are a flow of good and bad, beauty and ugliness. Well, I am anyway.

If you see the Tao (or if you are a more modern and less prone to flights of fancy, physics perhaps) you can ride it. Shrug it off. See its beauty, yin and yang.

Facing daemons is facing life in all its bizarre, unknowable and yet perhaps at heart simple flow.

Well that’s my take anyway. I’ll vote for FDR any day.


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