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Creativity and the Daemonic

The following is excerpted from Awakened by Darkness: When Evil Becomes Your Father by Paul Levy.


My struggle with the paralyzing grip of the evil entity that had seemingly taken up residence within me demanded and called forth latent creative powers inside of me that I didn’t know I had. To quote Jung, “Only something overwhelming, no matter what form of expression it uses, can challenge the whole man and force him to react as a whole.”[1] In having this demonic entity wanting to take me over, I was forced—and continue to be forced on a daily basis—to wrest forth from this entity the mythic “treasure hard to attain,” which is none other than my true self. It was as if I had to wrestle with a dark part of myself in order to call forth the requisite inner strength and unwavering creative resolve to create myself anew. The act of creating draws artists out of themselves while simultaneously helping them to come to themselves, as if in creating the work of art artists recreate themselves anew. To use a current example: through the process of writing this book, I am re-creating myself in one way or another—am I traumatized beyond repair, or am I someone who has used the challenging experiences in my life as a springboard to find and develop my own creative voice, connect with genuine compassion, re-creating myself in a way that is inspiring and of service to myself and others?

Encoded in the daemonic is the creative spirit. The demonic is the creative in statu nascendi, not yet realized, or “made real” by the ego. Unrealized creativity is one of the most poisonous things to the human psyche. Divinely inspired creativity and archetypal evil exist juxtaposed in a superposed state within the daemonic. Creativity and evil represent two possible responses to the daemonic; which one will manifest at any given moment depends upon how we dream it. Repressing the daemonic invariably hinders our inchoate creative potential. Evil can rupture and paralyze the ability to language our experience. Finding ourselves confronted with the place of no words, we are challenged to simultaneously discover and create a new language, a universal language transcending language itself, a language known as art.

The daemonic is the daily companion and inspiration of every creative artist. It is through coming to terms with the daemonic that art is made. Creativity can be simply defined as the constructive—rather than destructive—utilization of the daemonic. It is an ecstatic experience to allow what is highest and lowest in us to take form and shape together so as to create something completely new and potentially transformational. To quote Erich Neumann, “Creative genius is never possible without the proximity of the devil.”[2] In immersing themselves in archetypal forces greater than their own egos, artists allow themselves to become captivated by a power which threatens to destroy them if not brought forth, birthed and expressed creatively. Artists synthesize their higher transcendental inclinations with the dark undertow of the powers of the underworld, as if their higher angel needs a grounding connection with its brooding double to complete itself.

An expression of their mythic identity as would-be hero or heroine, the artist (arche)typically has to wrestle with the paralyzing grip of their inner “demons.” The daemon which possesses the artist is not derived simply from their personal subjective reality; it is also, at the same time, the individual expression of a collective existential situation. The artist’s inner demons are internalized, personalized reflections of the very same “demons” that are acting themselves out collectively on the world stage. These diabolical psychological forces within us can get in the driver’s seat and steer us—both individually and collectively—to act out their polarizing and fear-based logic in the world in ways that make this logic appear to be objectively real and just the way things are. We are then forced to contend with these seemingly external darker forces out in the world, instead of realizing that the origin of these forces is none other than within our own minds. The antonym and antidote to the divisiveness of the darker, diabolic energy is the symbolic (the language of dreaming), which, etymologically speaking, means that which brings together and unites. As artists wrestle with their “demons,” they are able to “symbolize” their experience in the form of their creative art. The daemonic draws its negative and destructive power when it is not consciously represented in form. Creative artists are the alchemical retorts in which the poisons and antidotes of the collective are distilled; they function as psychic organs for metabolizing and transforming the toxins of the collective psyche into medicine.

Why was the mythic Jacob wrestling with the dark Angel of God? Answer: he would have been killed otherwise. In wrestling with the demon inside of me, I was preventing a murder—my own. Like Jacob’s wrestling with a power stronger than himself, the point is to not dissociate but to stand one’s ground and be able to extract a blessing from the encounter with the archetypal powers of darkness within. In “having it out” with this transpersonal energy, Jacob’s name (symbolic of his nature) was changed to “Israel”—“he who has wrestled with God.” Mythically, the would-be “hero” is always possessed by a daemon; it is the wrestling with one’s daemon that “makes” one a hero. This reminds me of something that Jung wrote at the beginning of his book Answer to Job regarding an encounter with the divine darkness:

These experiences come upon man from inside as well as from outside, and it is useless to interpret them rationalistically and thus weaken them by apotropaic means. It is far better to admit the affect and submit to its violence, than to try to escape it by all sorts of intellectual tricks or by emotional value-judgments. Although, by giving way to the affect, one imitates all the bad qualities of the outrageous act that provoked it and thus makes oneself guilty of the same fault, that is precisely the point of the whole proceeding: the violence is meant to penetrate to a man’s vitals, and he to succumb to its action. He must be affected by it, otherwise its full effect will not reach him. But he should know, or learn to know, what has affected him, for in this way he transforms the blindness of the violence on the one hand and of the affect on the other into knowledge.[3]

Having internalized the demon that possessed my father, I have, within the landscape of my own mind “submitted to its violence,” which has “penetrated to my vitals.” I’ve “succumbed to its action,” “imitating all of its bad qualities,” “making myself guilty of the same fault.” I have been “affected by it” so as to “learn to know what has affected me.” All of this has been in the service of “transforming the blindness of the violence” and “the affect” “into knowledge.” This is to say that I have personal, first-hand experience of what appears to be evil as it operates within my own mind; this darkness is truly an “inside job.” In matters of the spirit, it is a well-known fact that we cannot understand a thing until we have experienced it inwardly. To the extent that I realize my own stake in evil, it stops me from projecting it outside of myself onto others.

My process has been a torturous ordeal. Jung discusses a work of early Greek alchemy called The Visions of Zosimos, which portrays the alchemical transformation process as human torture; there is a connection between torture and transformation. Commenting on this text, Jung writes that it “shows how the divine process of change manifests itself to our human understanding and how man experiences it—as punishment, torment, death and transfiguration.”[4] The point is that what is experienced from the human point of view as torture is, from a higher perspective, a process of divine transformation. Like it says in the Bible (Hebrew 10:31), “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Jung continues, saying that this alchemical text “describes how a man would act and what he would have to suffer if he were drawn into the cycle of the death and rebirth of the gods, and what effect the deus absconditus [“the hidden, dark God”] would have if a mortal man should succeed by his “art” in setting free “the guardian of the spirits” from his dark dwelling.”[5] It’s worth pointing out that Jung himself succeeded in setting free this guardian of the spirits and suffered the torture of this accomplishment; thankfully, he has been able to share with all of us the fruits of his ordeal.

In wrestling with this father demon inside of me, I’ve been slowly able to deputize it into inspiring my creative spirit; when I don’t consciously do this, it just assumes its robotically programmed task of destroying me. The same daemonic energy that animates the deepest evil and destruction is the same potential fuel for the highest creative expression; it all depends upon how we engage with and channel it. Jung wrote in the last chapter of his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections, “There was a daimon in me, and in the end its presence proved decisive. It overpowered me…. A creative person has little power over his own life. He is not free. He is captive and driven by his daimon.”[6] I was truly captive to something more powerful than my own ego; whether it was going to destroy me or liberate me was the question.

Artists are akin and related to the archetypal figure of the “wounded healer/shaman,” who have to suffer through the very sickness that they subsequently are able to cure. In their individual suffering of the daemonic realm pervading the collective unconscious, creative artists intimately experience the profound depths of the woundedness of the collectivity and of the times in which they live. Artists are able to find within their own subjective experience a unique and creative response to this wound. The painter Georges Braque said, “Art is a wound turned to light.” Reflecting the malaise of the culture, the transparency of a great work of art depicts and expresses the sickness—as well as the potential healing—of the times. Artists, like the archetypal figure of the shaman, carry deep within themselves a creative and creativity-generating force, accessed through their own wounds, that is capable of bringing forth a cure not only for themselves, but also for the community as a whole.

(Arche)typically, when people are on their way to stepping into and connecting with their authentic selves, speaking their true voice, seemingly darker forces invariably manifest trying to stop them. One of the inner meanings of “Satan” is “that which obstructs.” The heroic, creative life is always threatened, as if the obscuring forces are tests, guardians of the threshold of evolution. This archetypal dynamic has been symbolically represented from time immemorial in numerous myths and fairy tales: the serpents sent by Hera to destroy the infant Hercules, and the python that tries to strangle Apollo at birth are classic examples. The archetypal figure of Chronos, the wicked father, is one such threshold deity. And yet, these obscuring and oppositional forces help us to build up the muscle of realization, which is to say that from the cosmic perspective, though apparently obstructing our true nature, these darker forces ultimately serve its realization.

One night many years ago I was having dinner at the home of one of my teachers, when she asked me to meet a very special clairvoyant who had just arrived from Burma. She explained to me that this clairvoyant had a special power to not only predict the future, but whatever she predicted came true (later I found out that this “siddhi,” or power, was known as “prophetic authorization”). When I went into the other room to meet this clairvoyant, her prediction was that there were going to be very dark evil forces trying to stop me in my path, but not to worry, that I would “soon” become enlightened (“Soon?” In retrospect I should have asked her to be more specific. What does this mean? By Thursday? In ten lifetimes?). All I needed to do was take refuge in the truth, in the light, in myself. This was an example of how my life could unexpectedly become dreamlike in an instant. In any case, this prophecy confirmed my sense that I had fallen into playing a role in a deeper archetypal process that transcended my petty personal concerns.

Erich Neumann, speaking about the “creative drive” of the artist “which moves through generations and peoples, epochs and individuals,” writes in his book Art and the Creative Unconscious that this impulse “compels” the artist “to travel the road of Abraham, to leave the land of his birth, his mother, and the house of his father, and seek out the land to which the godhead leads him.”[7] Artists are “called” by a power beyond themselves to “leave the house of their father.” A slayer of mythic dragons, the artist must symbolically kill the figure of the negative father, who, mythically speaking, represents the dominant values, the old rules, laws and “shoulds.” The creative artist becomes a hero who must deconstruct the old in order to make possible the dawning of the new. In making and living their own laws, the creative artist transforms, dethrones and overthrows the conventional, soulless world of the traditional canon filled with its life-killing routines to seek and follow an unknown directive, a higher authority, what Jung would call the Self, the wholeness and guiding force of the deeper personality. Committing the “crime” of stepping out of the consensually agreed-upon reality, the artist pays back their psychic debt by creating new values that inspire others to snap out of the limited and limiting collective hypnotic trance. Psychotherapist Alfred Adler used to say that the artist teaches humanity to see.

If we find ourselves poor in spirit and limited in imagination, it is not because our parents stifled and even tried to kill our creativity (though this may have happened), but rather, because we have failed to respond creatively to their mishandling of us. Though we can’t dismiss their influence, we don’t have to be defined by or become the products of it. As Nietzsche writes in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, “Creation─that is the great redemption from suffering.” It is redemptive to find adequate language for our suffering; a language called art. Nietzsche comments, “The sublime [is] the artistic conquest of the awful.”[8] Instead of fending off our suffering, art can join forces with our suffering to evoke the healing power of the psyche. Art is the medium through which artists release themselves from the suffering of the unexpressed. When we have our own words to sing, our voice appears. In connecting with my voice and finding my words, I imagine it is similar to when a songwriter discovers a song emerging from their depths. Artists liberate themselves from suffering by connecting with and giving novel shape and form to something that belongs to the essential nature of reality. I am not talking as an intellectual, scholar or academic, but out of my own experience—this book being my living testament.

Jung writes, “The unborn work in the psyche of the artist is a force of nature…. We would do well, therefore, to think of the creative process as a living thing implanted in the human psyche.”[9] The creative spirit is truly a force of nature growing within the human psyche. Jung comments, “Art is a kind of innate drive that seizes a human being and makes him its instrument. The artist is not a person endowed with free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to realize its purposes through him.”[10] If this “force of nature” is obstructed, it can create illness. Being a daemonic energy, the wetiko spirit literally “seizes” people; if the person so taken over is able to re-channel this energy consciously, they become an “instrument” for the “innate drive” of the creative spirit to realize its purpose through them in a constructive, rather than a destructive manner. Creatively expressing what is moving us is the very act which liberates us from the compulsion of having to unconsciously re-create these energies (self)-destructively in a way that continually re-traumatizes both ourselves and the world around us.

As artists, it is essential to dispatch ourselves to the call of the creative. Being an artist always involves following our calling, wherever it may lead, which can potentially result in finding our true vocation. Jung writes, “But vocation acts as a law of God from which there is no escape…. Anyone with a vocation hears the voice of the inner man: he is called.”[11] As previously discussed, my father did everything in his power to stop me from following my calling to become a creative artist. A memory: I’m sitting in the living room of the apartment I grew up in with my parents. My father is holding up a beautiful pencil study I did of one of Rembrandt’s self-portraits, which is in one hand. In his other hand is an upper-level economics paper that I had written for a course in college. “This,” my father proclaims, holding up the economics paper, “is better than this,” as he then holds up the drawing, trying as best as he can to broadcast and coercively impose his perspective into my head. This example doesn’t so much illustrate his violent oppression of my creativity, but rather, is a surreal combination of being comical, absurd, heavy-handed and pathetic, all at the same time.

Instead of aborting my pursuit of the creative spirit, however, my father’s anti-support and oppression only added fuel to my creative fire, forging in me an “inner necessity”[12] (a term which captures the incredible drive for creative expression of the “German Expressionist” artists during the early part of the twentieth century) to connect with the living primal creative instinct that I was discovering within a deeper, more authentic part of myself. As Jung writes, “The creative spirit cannot be discouraged anyway, otherwise it would not be creative.”[13] If it’s truly the creative spirit, it can’t be kept down for long.

My continually connecting with, stepping into, and drawing riches from the creative spirit are the very activities that help me to deepen my own healing. The blazing fire of a soul set aflame with its own destiny, burning with the passion of following its deeper calling, fulfilling its mission in life, puts a stake through the heart of the inner vampiric figure of wetiko. Doing what we are born to do is lethal to the internalized abuser. The more we pursue what we love and what gives meaning to our life, the more we “kill” the inner vampiric figure which craves us for itself alone. It is artist William Blake’s opinion that every man who is not an artist is a traitor to his own nature.    

When I reflect upon my life, it is clear that, like so many of us, I was being called by a deeper part of myself to step out of a traditional mainstream vocation into my life as a cr[14]eative person. If I hadn’t been fortunate enough to connect with the creative spirit, choosing the artist’s sacred way, breathing its life-giving oxygen, I have no doubt that I’d be depressed, neurotic, crazy and/or dead. The conflict between my father and me regarding my desire to become an artist was not only between two individuals who happened to be father and son, but was a collision between two world views. We were two inseparable poles, contained in and expression of a deeper underlying dynamic archetype. In one genuinely inquisitive moment revealing his lack of understanding, my father asked me why people still make paintings after the invention of the camera. He mistakenly thought that the purpose of art was to describe reality instead of to create it, to capture our world instead of to liberate it.


[1] Jung, Civilization in Transition, CW 10, para. 655.

[2] Neumann, Art and the Creative Unconscious, p. 191.

[3] Jung, Psychology and Religion: East and West, CW 11, para. 562.

[4] Jung, Alchemical Studies, CW 13, para. 139.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 357.

[7] Neumann, Art and the Creative Unconscious, p. 129.

[8] Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music.

[9] Jung, The Spirit in Man, Art and Literature, CW 15, para. 115.

[10] Ibid., para. 157.

[11] Jung, The Development of Personality, CW 17, para. 300.

[12] I was introduced to this term by eminent Art Historian Peter Selz in his book on German Expressionism. Because this term was so meaningful to me, when I moved to Berkeley I actually met with Professor Selz, who was a professor at UC Berkeley at the time.

[13] Jung, Letters, vol. 1, p. 108.


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