Dæmon (His Dark Materials)
A dæmon // 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 and their humans are almost always of different genders.
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 in other in ways that mirror the behavior 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.
In Lyra's world, every human or witch has a dæmon which manifests itself as an animal. 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 universe. 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 exceptions can be made (such as between lovers). The physical handling of a dæmon causes vulnerability and weakness in the person whose dæmon is being touched, suggesting a sexual element to human-dæmon contact. Lyra Belacqua 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.
A child's dæmon has no fixed form, and may suddenly change into another animal's 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 (titled The Golden Compass in the US) and The Amber Spyglass, it is noted that Pantalaimon has a heartbeat of his own.
As children develop their mature personalities, (during puberty), their dæmons "settle" into a form which reflects the person's personality. For example, a human with a dog dæmon may tend to follow authority—in Northern Lights it is noted that all servants have dog dæmons (although a maid was noted with a hen dæmon)—and likewise all witches' dæmons take the form of a bird of some kind. A person with a cat dæmon may be very independent. There is no mention that some extraordinary change in personality might cause a dæmon's form to later change. 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". 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 non-physical manifestations of dæmons in her (our) universe of people who do not even know that they have them. The suggestion is that we all have dæmons, but we have not learned to recognize and display them.
Normally, a person and his or her dæmon must stay within a few yards of each other; for example, 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. 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. A permanent separation between human and dæmon (at least, when caused by a very high fall) 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.
It is revealed in The Amber Spyglass that certain people, particularly witches and human shamans, have achieved the ability to separate (which is still, initially, painful) from their dæmons by undergoing an initial voluntary separation which must be done at a specific place; for the witches this is at a canyon underneath the earth in Lyra's world. Shamans endure grueling 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 was previously possible. Both witches and shamans regain their intimate bond with their dæmon, the only change is in the distance they can travel away from each other. Lyra and Will achieve the ability to be distant from their dæmons by going through the World of the Dead.
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 prolonged separation known as a skill among witches and shamans, the guillotine permanently severs the bond between person and dæmon, and drastically reduces the person's creativity, intelligence, and psychological will: the adults that have gone through the process successfully 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.
Some humans, for example, Mrs Coulter, are shown to have the ability to go farther from their dæmons than most other humans, despite not having undergone intercision. The exact reasons for this are unstated but may be an expression of their personality.
It is uncertain when or how a dæmon is "born" or into what form they are born. When a person dies, their dæmon fades away, like "atoms of smoke." (The books do suggest that this is Dust, because Lee Scoresby finds his dæmon's Dust after he turns into Dust himself). Likewise, if a dæmon is killed, their human dies as well. How a dæmon acquires a name is not explained in the books, but clarified by Philip Pullman as being normally given by the parents' dæmons. As Will Parry came from our world, his dæmon had no name initially and was named Kirjava (meaning mottled in Finnish) by Serafina Pekkala when she first met the dæmon.
In other languages
In the Norwegian, Danish, Serbian, Italian, Swedish and Finnish editions of His Dark Materials the word "dæmon" is changed to "daimon". 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. The Portuguese translation renders the word as "gênio" 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", and is still used in Scandinavian languages. The Latin word for demon is daemon, while the Danish is "Dæmon".
Dæmons in other literature
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. Zoo City is a 2010 novel by Lauren Beukes in which certain characters are physically and metaphysically linked to animals in a similar way to Pullman's daemons.
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 see and talk to his.
- Book pages
- Similar concepts
- Philip Pullman Author's website
- HisDarkMaterials.com Publisher Random House's His Dark Materials website
- Scholastic: His Dark Materials UK publisher's website
- Randomhouse: His Dark Materials U.S. publisher's website
- BBC Radio 4's His Dark Materials site inc. Dictionary of His Dark Materials and web Q&A with Philip Pullman
- The then Archbishop of Canterbury and Philip Pullman in conversation at the National Theatre, from The Daily Telegraph
- BridgetotheStars.net Fansite for His Dark Materials and Philip Pullman
- HisDarkMaterials.org His Dark Materials fansite
- Cittagazze.com French His Dark Materials fansite
References and notes
- Robert Butler (2007-12-03). "An Interview with Philip Pullman". Intelligent Life. Retrieved 2008-03-05.
- 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
- Interview at Lexicon (Unicon 2000)
- The most detailed account in the books shows pulling to be torturous both physically—like "an iron hand pulling ones heart out between ones ribs" —and emotionally. To Will it felt as bad as if he had, within his mother's earshot, requested someone who was about to kill him "instead to kill his mother because he didn't love her". The Amber Spyglass, Chap. 21
- Pullman, Philip (2007) . 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.
- IRC interview of Philip Pullman by the BBC