Articles, Psychology, Self-Development

James Hillman: The Daimon and the Search For a Calling

Sooner or later something seems to call us onto a particular path. You may remember this somethingas a signal moment in childhood when an urge out of nowhere, a fascination, a peculiar turn of events struck like an annunciation: This is what I must do, this is what Ive got to have. This is who I am.  (The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, James Hillman)

There is an idea, prominent among some thinkers, that we all possess a personal calling, a destiny unique to us alone. Our primary purpose in life, according to this idea, is to follow this calling and fulfill our destiny.

This idea has ancient origins; Plato weaved it in mythic form in his Myth of Er. Before we are born, so the myth goes, our soul chooses a purpose for us to fulfill on earth. Prior to birth we pass through the forgetful river at Lethe and, drinking from its waters, emerge into life ignorant of the fate our soul had chosen for us. Yet we are accompanied on this earth by a daimon, a spiritual companion, who acts as a carrier of our destinyand ensures we fulfill the fate our soul had chosen before birth.

The notion that a daimon accompanies us in life as a carrier of our destinyhas a long and rich history. Heraclitus, prior to Plato, stated that a mans daimon is his fate. The daimon for Heraclitus, was a sort of force or indwelling law which determines the course of ones life.

In more recent times James Hillman used the daimon to account for the urge we all feel to discover and align our life with a personal calling, unique to our individuality and interests, and which we can passionately devote our life to.

Hillman conceived the daimon as a psychological complex or force existing in everyone, whose function is to help us find our personal calling, and provide us with the motivation to follow it.

In line with this idea, Robert Greene, author of the book Mastery, noted that throughout history many geniuses have spoken of a daimon, or inner voice, who accompanied them throughout life:

For Napoleon Bonaparte it was his starthat he always felt in ascendance when he made the right move. For Socrates, it was his daimon, a voice that he heardwhich inevitably spoke to him in the negativetelling him what to avoid. For Goethe, he also called it a daimona kind of spirit that dwelled within him and compelled him to fulfill his destiny. In more modern times, Albert Einstein talked of a kind of inner voice that shaped the direction of his speculations. All of these are variations on what Leonardo da Vinci experienced with his own sense of fate.(Mastery, Robert Greene)

For the majority of us this inner voice is most pronounced in childhood and adolescence, becoming less prominent as we age when the requirements and duties of adult life become a concrete reality:

Among his various possible beings each man always finds one which is his genuine and authentic being. The voice which calls him to that authentic being is what we call vocation.But the majority of men devote themselves to silencing that voice of the vocation and refusing to hear it. They manage to make a noise within themselvesto distract their own attention in order not to hear it; and they defraud themselves by substituting for their genuine selves a false course of life.” (Jose Ortega Y Gasset)

One of the reasons people silence the voice of vocationis due to the perceived risks of following it – one must sacrifice short-term comfort, status, and wealth, and engage in work where the outcome is uncertain. Yet to repress this inner calling is destructive, and often leads to the formation of what may be called a silent rage: the absence, the anger, and the paralysis on the couch are all symptoms of the soul in search of a lost call to something other and beyond.(Hillman). The individual who loses touch with their daimon becomes an empty shell of the person that could have been:

Present in body and absent in spirit, he lies back on the couch, shamed by his own daimon for the potentials in his soul that will not be subdued. He feels himself inwardly subversive, imagining in his passivity extremes of aggression and desire that must be suppressed. Solution: more work, more money, more drink, more weight, more things.” (The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, James Hillman)

To ensure we don’t decline into such a lifestyle it is essential to tune into the call of fate which emanates from within, and learn to glimpse the inner workings of the daimon – using its signals and signs to help us live a more purposeful existence. This can be accomplished by looking back on our life and searching for a pattern amidst the apparently chaotic path our life has followed, as well as by attending to the inner voice and yearnings , often subtle, which seem to impel us toward a given direction.

“For the daimon surprises. It crosses my intentions with its interventions, sometimes with a little twinge of hesitation, sometimes with a quick crush on someone or something. These surprises feel small and irrational; you can brush them aside; yet they also convey a sense of importance, which can make you say afterward: “Fate.””(The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, James Hillman)

Yet even if we find our personal calling we have the freedom to choose to follow it or ignore it. If we choose to ignore it we can be sure our inner voicewont go away. It will be there whether we are aware of its presence or not, pushing us in the direction of our destiny until our final hours:

A calling may be postponed, avoided, intermittently missed. It may also possess you completely.  Whatever; eventually it will out. It makes its claim. The daimon does not go away.”(The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, James Hillman)