Dæmon (His Dark Materials)

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Leonardo da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine (1489–91) and two portraits by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and Hans Holbein the Younger, inspired the Pullman dæmon[1]

A dæmon (/ˈdmən/) is a type of fictional being in the Philip Pullman fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials. Dæmons are the external physical manifestation of a person's "inner-self" that takes the form of an animal. Dæmons have human intelligence, are capable of human speech—regardless of the form they take—and usually behave as though they are independent of their humans. Pre-pubescent children's dæmons can change form voluntarily, almost instantaneously, to become any creature, real or imaginary. During their adolescence a person's dæmon undergoes "settling", an event in which that person's dæmon permanently and involuntarily assumes the form of the animal which the person most resembles in character. Dæmons are usually of the opposite sex to their human, though same-sex dæmons do exist.

Although dæmons mimic the appearance and behaviour of the animals they resemble perfectly, dæmons are not true animals, and humans, other dæmons, and true animals are able to distinguish them on sight. The faculty or quality that makes this possible is not explained in the books, but it is demonstrated extensively, and is reliable enough to allow humans to distinguish a bird-shaped dæmon within a flock of birds in flight.

Dæmons frequently interact with each other in ways that mirror the behaviour of their humans, such as fighting one another when their humans are fighting, or nuzzling one another when their humans embrace, and such contact between dæmons is unremarkable. Physical contact with another person's dæmon is taboo.


In Lyra's world, every human or witch has a dæmon which manifests itself as an animal.[2] It is separate from and outside its human, despite being an integral part of that person (i.e. they are one entity in two bodies).

Humans in every universe are said to have dæmons, although in some universes they are invisible. In our universe, the books suggest, dæmons are integrated within the person. They have a naturally occurring external physical manifestation in Lyra's universe and some others. Dæmons that are already physical, such as Lyra's dæmon Pantalaimon, remain external even when they visit universes with normally-internal dæmons, such as our own. Typically dæmons and their humans are conscious or sleep at the same time. However, the dæmons of witches and shamans, as revealed in The Amber Spyglass, can remain awake while their humans sleep, and it is implied in Northern Lights that cedarwood can have a soporific effect on dæmons that allows them to sleep even if their humans are awake.

"The worst breach of etiquette imaginable" is for a human to touch another person's dæmon; even in battle, most soldiers would never touch an enemy's dæmon, though there are exceptions (such as between lovers or in particularly violent fights). This was initially presented as a natural taboo that Lyra did not recall ever being told about, but in La Belle Sauvage, the infant Pantalaimon touches Malcolm Polstead's hand while in the form of a kitten; in context this can be taken as the innocent action of a child seeking comfort from their 'guardian'. The physical handling of a dæmon causes vulnerability and weakness in the person whose dæmon is being touched; Lyra feels violated when doctors manhandle her dæmon into a machine intended to separate them, and later experiences a flush when Pantalaimon licks Will Parry's injuries while in an Irish wolfhound form to comfort him due to Will lacking a dæmon of his own. However, dæmons can touch other dæmons freely; interactions between dæmons usually accentuate and illuminate the relationships between the characters, and can also be used as a means of passing information between humans without being overheard. The sexual element of human/dæmon interaction is also reflected when Pantalaimon and Kirjava assume their final forms, as they officially settle after Will and Lyra stroke the other's dæmon.

A child's dæmon has no fixed form, and may suddenly change into another animal shape according to whim and circumstance. This shape-shifting ability, and the fact that a dæmon disappears instantly upon its human's death, implies that dæmons are not completely corporeal. However, their bodies are solid, and they can interact fully with people and objects in the material world. In Northern Lights and The Amber Spyglass, it is noted that Pantalaimon has a heartbeat of his own.

During puberty, children's dæmons "settle" into a form which reflects their mature personality. In Northern Lights it is noted that most servants have dog dæmons (although a maid was noted with a hen dæmon), and all witches' dæmons take the form of a bird of some kind. In La Belle Sauvage Malcolm and Alice meet a woman they think of as a fairy who has a flock of butterflies rather than a single dæmon. At the beginning of the trilogy, Lord Asriel claims that the act of settling triggers Dust to begin to be attracted to the person.

A person's dæmon is usually of the opposite sex to its human; however, very occasionally, it may be the same sex as the person. Pullman has admitted that the reason for this is unknown even to himself, and has agreed that it may also indicate some other gift or quality, such as second sight, or that the person is homosexual, adding "There are plenty of things about my worlds I don't know, and that's one of them".[3] The single reference to such individuals is in Northern Lights, where their rarity is established.

Mary Malone is taught that, with practice, it is possible to see manifestations of dæmons in her universe of people who do not even know that they have them.

It is revealed in La Belle Sauvage that infant dæmons must learn to communicate with their humans. Pantalaimon initially 'talks' to Lyra in a style of pidgin English that the nuns caring for Lyra say both will grow out of. It is also established that dæmons can be injured, at least after settling; the hyena dæmon of Gerard Bonneville is struck in the leg with a stick during a fight, and is later shown with an amputated leg.


Hans Holbein the Younger
Lady with a Squirrel (1526-1528)

Normally, a person and their dæmon must stay within a few yards of each other; Lyra Belacqua shows significant discomfort when her dæmon flies up to the second story window of a tower while she is standing outside the building. Another character expresses surprise when a shaman's dæmon is able to travel over forty feet from him without discomfort. Such separation from one's dæmon – sometimes called "pulling" – causes extreme pain and distress for both human and dæmon, and, given enough distance, results in death.

The most detailed account in the books shows pulling to be torturous both physically – like "an iron hand pulling one's heart out between one's ribs" – and emotionally. To Will – who was also enduring the pain of his dæmon being separated from him for the first time – it felt as bad as if he had, within his mother's earshot, asked for someone who was about to kill him "instead to kill his mother because he didn't love her".[4] A permanent separation between human and dæmon kills both and releases a huge burst of energy, which, for instance, is harnessed by Lord Asriel to blast a hole between two overlapping universes at the end of Northern Lights. The General Oblation Board initially accomplished this separation through simply tearing child and dæmon apart, but this generally resulted in the subject dying of shock.

It is revealed in The Amber Spyglass that certain trained people, particularly witches and human shamans, have achieved the ability to survive separation from their dæmons by undergoing an initial voluntary separation done at a special location. For the witches this is at a canyon underneath the earth in Lyra's world.[5] Shamans endure gruelling ordeals that involve leaving their dæmon as they embark on a spiritual quest, crossing an area of death where nothing may grow or live. After rejoining their dæmon they gain the ability to separate from them to a far greater extent than previously. Both witches and shamans regain their intimate bond with their dæmon, the only change is in the distance they can travel from each other. Lyra and Will achieve the ability to be distant from their dæmons by going through the World of the Dead. It is implied that their allies, the Gallivespians, endured a similar experience, but the Gallivespians died before they could meet their dæmons.

Some humans, for example, Mrs. Coulter, are shown to have the ability to go farther from their dæmons than most others. Mrs. Coulter's dæmon, a golden monkey, goes into Lyra's room when she is staying with Mrs. Coulter to find her alethiometer (truth reader) despite not having undergone intercision, with Mrs. Coulter talking to Lyra perfectly normally at the same time. The reasons Mrs. Coulter can do this are not stated.

In La Belle Sauvage, Malcolm is able to leave his dæmon Asta hidden under a boat to guard the infant Lyra while he heads further inland to help Alice against Gerard Bonneville, but the effort leaves him gradually weakened the further away he is. Despite this, Malcolm is able to knock Bonneville down and save Alice before returning to Asta. The two are in pain after their reunion, but otherwise unharmed.

The Secret Commonwealth establishes that others have undergone separation from their dæmons or have pushed the bond past its usual limits. On one occasion, Pantalaimon discovers a woman who has become separated from her dæmon after a boat sank with the dæmon on it, the two having been unable to find each other after this even as the girl's continued survival makes it clear that the dæmon is still alive. In Lyra's search for Pantalaimon, after he leaves her following a conflict, Lyra learns that there are groups of poor in distant countries who actually sell their children's dæmons through an organisation selling dæmons.


In the trilogy, a special guillotine made of manganese-titanium alloy is used by the General Oblation Board to separate people from their dæmon without killing them (known as intercision). However, unlike the distant separation practiced by witches and shamans, the guillotine permanently breaks the bond between person and dæmon, and drastically reduces the person's creativity, intelligence, and willpower: The adults who have survived the process seem blank and lifeless, and their dæmons subdued and incurious. The General Oblation Board continually perfects the process through experimentation, but Lyra encounters a young boy who cannot bear the results of his intercision; he physically and mentally deteriorates until he eventually dies. When Lyra finds dæmons that have been separated from their humans, the creatures are insubstantial and needy: They cluster desperately, held back only by the contact taboo.


It is uncertain when or how, or into what form, a dæmon is "born", but a baby's dæmon takes the form of a baby animal.[6] When a person dies, their dæmon fades away like "atoms of smoke." Likewise, when a dæmon is killed, its human dies as well.[7] How a dæmon acquires a name is not explained in the books, but clarified by Philip Pullman[8] as being normally given by the parents' dæmons. As Will Parry came from our world, his dæmon was not given a name in this way and was named Kirjava (meaning mottled in Finnish) by Serafina Pekkala when she first met the dæmon.


While the TV series adheres to most of the established rules about dæmons from the novels, some extra quirks are added regarding the dæmons' cultural significance and their relationships with humans. The first episode depicts a gyptian ceremony held to commemorate Tony Costa becoming a man after his dæmon settles in the form of a hawk, which includes him receiving a silver ring. The second episode confirms that Mrs Coulter is able to separate herself from her dæmon by a considerably greater distance than others believe possible, with the monkey sneaking around a network of vents in her apartment to spy on others. In the third episode, when Mrs Coulter and her dæmon fight with a gyptian spy, Mrs Coulter's method of fighting strongly resembles her dæmon's actions in attacking the gyptian's bird dæmon, to the point of pinning the gyptian to the ground in a similar manner to the monkey-dæmon trapping her opponent's bird-dæmon.[9] On a wider note, the series also affirms that many dæmons are uncomfortable when meeting new people for the first time, allowing the series to justify why they do not depict dæmons for every human character every time.[citation needed]

In other languages[edit]

In the Norwegian, Danish, Serbian, Italian, Swedish and Finnish editions of His Dark Materials the word "dæmon" is changed to "daimon".[10] In Polish it is "dajmon". In Icelandic, the name "fylgja" (lit. follower) is used, in reference to the familiar spirits of folk lores. In the Spanish edition, "daimonion" is used.[11] The Catalan edition uses "daimoni". The Portuguese translation renders the word as "génio" in reference to the familiar spirits in Greco-Roman mythology, although Brazilian new versions use "dimon" (older editions used "dæmon"). The Hungarian edition uses "daimón". In the Hebrew edition, the term is translated phonetically, apart from the mock-bible excerpts quoted in chapter 21 of Northern Lights; there, the word used for dæmon is "er'el", meaning angel, resembling the biblical Hebrew word for foreign gods – "elil" (lit. small deity). This reminisces the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, in which the word "elil" was made "daimon".

The use of the æ ligature (a and e rendered together as one letter) is old-fashioned English usage, sometimes still seen in words such as "mediæval" and "archæology"; in the case of the word dæmon, it reflects etymologically the original diphthong in Latin daemon and ultimately Greek δαίμων daimōn. This ligature is still used in Scandinavian languages; for example in Danish the word is generally spelled "Dæmon".

Dæmons in other literature[edit]

Dæmon as a manifestation of a person's soul was described by American sci-fi writer C. L. Moore in a short story "Dæmon" (1946). Moore's dæmons were human-shaped creatures of various colours, following their master wherever he or she goes. They were invisible to ordinary people, but the protagonist, a boy with an intellectual disability, named Luis O'Bobo, was able to see other people's dæmons. Irish poet W. B. Yeats saw poetic inspiration as being the result of a conflict between the poet and his 'Daemon' (which he considered the disembodied spirits of the dead) in works of occult speculation such as his 1925 work A Vision. In the 1992 novel Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams, the Aristoi (and some others) can split their minds into daimones, or "limited personalities", all which can operate as independent mental entities guided by the will of the main 'self' of the Aristos. In the 2010 novel Zoo City by Lauren Beukes, certain characters are physically and metaphysically linked to animals.


Sarah K. Cantrell in her essay on Philip Pullman's work wrote that the concept of the dæmon, as a clearly fantastic element, epitomizes Bourdieu's "space of the possibles", and that the dæmon is "an animal familiar like Jung's anima/animus, which acts as an externalized conscience or soul".[12] Maude Hines in her essay ''Second Nature: Daemons and Ideology in The Golden Compass'' called dæmons "one of the most remarkable aspects" of Pullman's world, and notes that they "function as conceit for playing out questions of the natural" in it.[13]

See also[edit]

Concepts similar to that of the dæmon can be found in the belief systems of several cultures, such as Fylgja from Norse mythology, Naguals and Tonals from Aztec mythology, aku-aku from Easter Island, and familiar spirits from early modern English witchcraft. Elsewhere, a parallel can be seen in the Jungian concept of the anima and animus. However, the most famous dæmon holder was Socrates, who claimed that he could talk to his.[14]

Book pages
Similar concepts


  1. ^ Robert Butler (3 December 2007). "An Interview with Philip Pullman". Intelligent Life. Archived from the original on 5 March 2008. Retrieved 5 March 2008.
  2. ^ early editions of Northern Lights mention that a deceased scholar's dæmon had the form of a "young woman". However, this was removed in later editions
  3. ^ Interview at Lexicon 2000
  4. ^ The Amber Spyglass, Chap. 21
  5. ^ Pullman, Philip (2007) [2000]. The Amber Spyglass. His Dark Materials. New York: Random House, Inc. p. 423. ISBN 978-0-440-23815-7. There's a region of our north land, a desolate, abominable place ... No dæmons can enter it. To become a witch, a girl must cross it alone and leave her dæmon behind. You know the suffering they must undergo. But having done it ... [their dæmon] can roam free, and go to far places.
  6. ^ Pullman, Phillip. La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Book One "[Six-month-old Lyra's] dæmon, the chick of a small bird like a swallow, was asleep"
  7. ^ Pullman, Philip. The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials Book One. New York: Yearling, 2001. 291. Print. "A wolf dæmon leaped at [Iorek Byrnison]: he slashed at her in midair, and bright fire spilled out of her as she fell to the snow, where she hissed and howled before vanishing. Her human died at once."
  8. ^ IRC interview of Philip Pullman by the BBC
  9. ^ Hugo Rifkind (9 November 2019), "Pullman's menagerie has come to life. Now bring on the elephants", The Times, p. 7
  10. ^ See δαίμων.
  11. ^ Cf. demonio; see δαιμόνιον.
  12. ^ Cantrell, Sarah K. (1 December 2010). ""Nothing Like Pretend": Difference, Disorder, and Dystopia in The Multiple World Spaces of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials". Children's Literature in Education. 41 (4): 302–322. doi:10.1007/s10583-010-9112-1. ISSN 1573-1693. S2CID 170925564.
  13. ^ Hines, Maude (2005). "Second Nature: Dæmons and Ideology in The Golden Compass". In Lenz, Millicent; Scott, Carole (eds.). His Dark Materials Illuminated: Critical Essays on Philip Pullman's Trilogy. Wayne State University Press. pp. 38, 45. ISBN 978-0-8143-3207-8.
  14. ^ "Plato, Apology, section 31c". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved 12 August 2022.

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