I often go for a walk with my cat. Well, she isn’t really there, but I can see her in my mind’s eye vividly on my right – she’s always on my right – and she moves with her usual lithe agility, leaping from time to time, and keeping up admirably despite her little legs. I think of her as my daemon in Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. A daemon is the manifestation of a person’s soul. Our daemons are our inner friends, our companions. Perhaps they capture or encapsulate the core of who we are. If we lose our daemons, we lose the core of ourselves, we become hollow men and women – this was the risk to the children in Pullman’s tale.
My cat is playful, she is also a little vicious, she is quite the huntress, she kills without scruples as cats do. She is light on her feet and always ready to perk up. She is independent and wary but also very affectionate. She enjoys deep relaxation. Not all qualities I wish to own.
More recently, on my left side, I have started to sense another presence from time to time. Is this another daemon? Are you allowed more than one? I think that may be outside the rules. I have felt this presence as vividly as my cat. Both are known but enigmatic to me.
We think we know others, do we ever? This is a common refrain. I have been thinking of how we have stories of others, as we do of ourselves. And, specifically, how there are the darker tales and the lighter tales – the cat that kills and the cat that purrs on my lap. I note how when I am feeling light-hearted, the lighter tales are the ones I tell, and I don’t care if they’re true or not! I feel these stories are better for me, so I tell them and I believe them. I feel light.
But are they true?
When things are out of sorts for whatever reasons, the darker tales dominate, and I feel uneasy and perturbed. In those moments I can tell myself to shift to the lighter tales, but it’s not that easy to just do what I say. It’s not an on or off switch. I have to be in a better place for the shift to happen. I have to practise to be in that place.
And when I am in the right place, I don’t tell any tales. I have no need for tales, and there are no tales to tell.
I imagine we all have a friend about whom we have dark and light tales – or if you don’t, then think about it. Sometimes it is someone who you feel you don’t really know, though if we pause it could be anyone. And sometimes it is someone you may feel you know very well, or even best.
It could be yourself – the one we know most and also perhaps least.
Many of us live our own light tales, sometimes dogmatically and unflinchingly, in the public world – this is our persona. And sometimes we have brainwashed ourselves to believe these light tales are the whole truth. Some of us are stuck in the dark tales. Somehow we need to live and walk with both – and perhaps get to a place where there are no tales.
‘Simple things are always the most difficult. In actual life it requires the greatest art to be simple, and so acceptance of oneself is the essence of the moral problem and the acid test of one’s whole outlook on life. That I feed the beggar, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy…all these are undoubtedly great virtues…But what if I should discover that the least amongst them all, the poorest of all beggars, the most impudent of all offenders, yea, the very fiend himself – that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness, that I myself am the enemy who must be loved – what then?’ – Carl Jung, ‘Psychotherapists or the Clergy’ – Collected Works, volume 11
I could choose any friend to have on my left. But I don’t choose. This friend is simply there, all of a sudden I feel their presence.
Suddenly on my walk, flanked by friend and cat, I understand why they are there with me – my inner teacher, my wiser self. I trudge along, accompanied on both sides, without and within.
Now, in the absence of stories, there is a felt sense.
Artwork courtesy of Penelope Hill