After his judges had found him guilty of corrupting the youth of Athens, Socrates explained why he did not intend to dispute their verdict:
“In the past the prophetic voice to which I have become accustomed has always been my constant companion, opposing me even in quite trivial things if I was going to take the wrong course. Now something has happened to me, as you can see, which might be thought and is commonly considered to be a supreme calamity; yet neither when I left home this morning, nor when I was taking my place here in the court, nor at any point in any part of my speech did the divine sign oppose me. In other discussions it has often checked me in the middle of a sentence; but this time it has never opposed me in any part of this business in anything that I have said or done. What do I suppose to be the explanation? I will tell you. I suspect that this thing that has happened to me is a blessing, and we are quite mistaken in supposing death to be an evil. I have good grounds for thinking this, because my accustomed sign could not have failed to oppose me if what I was doing had not been sure to bring some good result”.
From Xenophon as well as from Plato, the picture that emerges of Socrates’ daemon is reasonably clear. He assumed that it was a minor deity, or a divine messenger, transmitting the gods’ instructions to him through the medium of his inner ear by what is now known as clairaudience; he could listen to them in the same way as he could listen to conversation. And the instructions, he had found, had always been valuable.
The daemon had followed him since childhood, he told Theages; ‘it always signifies to me the abandonment of what I am about to do; it never incites me.’ It also delivered warnings to him to transmit to his companions. When Timarchus had risen from a banquet, Socrates had not been aware that he was leaving to commit a murder; but he knew he must try to stop him.
By no means, said I, rise up; for there has been to me the usual daemon signal. Upon this he stayed. And after a slight interval, he was again going away, and said - Socrates, I am going. And there was again the voice.
Again, therefore, I compelled him to stay. The third time, wishing to escape me unnoticed, he rose up without saying anything to me, and escaped unnoticed, having watched me, while I had my attention otherwise engaged; and thus departing he perpetrated the acts, through which he went away about to die. Hence he told his brother, what I have now told you, that he was going to die, through his not believing in me.
Socrates was in no doubt, however, that other people had daemons which could provide them with inspiration. ‘The authors of those great poems which we admire do not attain to excellence through the rules of any art,’ he told Ion; ‘they utter their beautiful melodies of verse in a state of inspiration, as it were possessed by a spirit not their own.’ Only in this possessed state could they compose their poems, ‘for whilst a man retains any portion of the thing called reason, he is utterly incompetent to produce poetry’; he must enter into a condition of ‘divine insanity’ to enable his muse to possess him. Although his daemon could interrupt his normal train of thought or conversation, Socrates himself used occasionally to enter a trance state in which he appeared to be unconscious of the outside world, rapt in contemplation.
Socrates’ powers of divination - that is, of exploiting extrasensory perception for the benefit of himself and others - were only slight, he told Phaedrus; but they were just sufficient for his own purposes, as they allowed him access to his daemon’s instructions.
And strongly though he disapproved of consulting auguries to obtain advice on everyday matters, such as choosing a driver, he told Xenophon that ‘if any one desired to attain to what was beyond human wisdom, he advised him to study divination’, because ‘he who knew by what signs the gods give indications to men respecting human affairs, would never fail of obtaining counsel from the gods’.
Following their experience at Pentecost, when tongues of fire descended on them and they began to speak in languages they did not know, Jesus’ disciples came to regard the Holy Spirit as their guide and protector; but the notion of a personal daemon filtered into Christianity from pagan sources, notably through Gregory ‘the Thaumaturge’, or wonder-worker, in the third century. In his Panegyric he described how he was the fortunate possessor of ‘a certain divine companion, beneficent conductor, and guardian’, who had been responsible for leading him to the theologian Origen - the crucial event of Gregory’s youth, leading as it did to his conversion to Christianity. For this, he thanked ‘that being who, by some momentous decision, had me allotted to him from boyhood to rule, and rear, and train - I mean that holy angel of God who led me from my youth’, and who had continued to sustain him.
Being a part of the Judaic tradition out of which Christianity emerged, ‘angel’ was preferred to the pagan ‘daemon’, which was eventually to take on its wholly sinister connotation: an agent of the devil. But even angels, after a time, became suspect. They were acceptable when they appeared to holy and manifestly orthodox men and women in the privacy of their cells, and were not made the subject of boasts. But if their instructions conflicted those of the church, or the authorities acting in the church’s name, they could be condemned as indications of heresy. If the devil could cite scripture for his purpose, his demons could surely simulate angels, to delude the unwary - as, her accusers maintained, they did in the case of Joan of Arc.
JOAN OF ARC
Of all the men and women who have claimed spirit guidance, Joan of Arc presents the hardest case to explain away in rationalist terms. This has not been for want of trying; from Voltaire, with his ‘poor idiot’, to Anatole France, arguing that she was a simple, ignorant peasant girl, a pawn in the game played by unscrupulous courtiers and crafty clerics.
Initially, in an article, later in The Maid of France, the shrewd historian, anthropologist and folklorist Andrew Lang showed that this version of Joan simply does not fit the known facts of her career. Simple she was, in many respects; but her defence of her actions at her trial displayed an enviable intelligence and resourcefulness, extraordinary for anybody of her age. By all her contemporaries’ accounts, so was her grasp of military strategy and tactics. ‘Come to the Salpetriere hospital,’ a sceptic told an abbe, according to Lang, after the war of I870. ‘And I will show you twenty Jeannes d’ Arc.’ ‘Has any one of them,’ the abbe mildly replied, ‘given us back Alsace and Lorraine?’ Joan believed she had been selected by God as the instrument through which France would be freed from English domination.
His instructions were transmitted by angels - St Catherine, St Margaret, and St Michael - who were so real to her that at times she could actually see and touch them, though ordinarily they communicated to her through voices. How “real they were to her was clearly demonstrated at her trial because her insistence upon their reality, as she well knew, could only ensure her condemnation as a heretic.
Although Joan had no way of proving that her information came from angels, she could show that it was sometimes of a kind which she would not have acquired except through extra-sensory perception.
Again and again she demonstrated telepathy- she repeated the words of a prayer which the king had composed mentally; clairvoyance - she ‘saw’ where a sword lay hidden behind the altar at a Fierbois church; and precognition - she showed the place on her body where, she knew, she would be wounded by an arrow in the impending battle for Orleans; a correct prediction which was actually recorded before the event by a Flemish diplomat. A copy of his letter, Lang pointed out, has survived, lending confirmation.
In view of Joan’s fate, Christians who had similar experiences were not likely to boast about them, and it became all the more necessary to keep silent about them after the publication in 1484 of Malleus Maleficarum, the witch-hunter’s manual which was to lead to the persecution of those who heard voices or saw visions as the victims, or the exploiters, of diabolic possession. And although the rising tide of rationalism was eventually to spare them from being burned at the stake, it was only to put them at risk of the more protracted torment of incarceration, often for life, in a lunatic asylum; the voices and visions came to be diagnosed as symptoms of insanity. The concept of daemon would surface from time to time, as it did in Antony and Cleopatra, where the Soothsayer tells Antony, “Thy demon, that’s the spirit that keeps thee, is Noble, courageous, high, unmatchable”.
But gradually it faded away.
By the nineteenth century educated people in general were beginning to feel that they ought to dismiss the entire range of spirits as a superstition. Ghosts, fairies and the rest of the denizens of folklore inevitably had to go, too. The belief in ‘powers that be’ lingered; many a sceptic who professed to disbelieve in ghosts would not have cared to accept an invitation to sleep in a supposedly haunted room - just as many people who would have denied that they were superstitious continued to touch wood after a boast (and were uneasy if they could find no wood to hand for the purpose).
But angels were relegated to heaven, there to play harps and sing hymns; demons to hell, to prod the damned with pitchforks.
Although ‘guardian angel’ lingered on, it was most commonly used much as ‘Thank the Lord’ is used, without any religious connotation.
The concept of daemon, in its Socratic usage, faded out: Goethe accepted it, in his rearguard action against advancing materialism, but by his time it was beginning to qualify for ‘Obs.’ in dictionaries. In our century some dictionaries had ‘Daemon, see Demon’; others left it out. Few people, except those whose classical education had taken them up to the point of construing Plato, would have come across it.
The underlying concept of a guiding and protecting force, however, did not entirely disappear. Usually it has been attributed to divine intervention; but a few agnostics have preferred to leave the issue of its source open, contenting themselves with expressing the belief that such a force has played a positive part in their lives.
The description of somebody as ‘bearing a charmed life’ has long lost its impact, but it certainly applied to Churchill. He knew it, and he attributed it to a protector. ‘I sometimes have a feeling - in fact I have it very strongly - a feeling of interference,’ he told a gathering of miners in 1943. ‘I want to stress it. I have a feeling that some guiding hand has interfered.’ In his youth he attributed the interventions to ‘that Higher Power which interferes in the sequence of causes and effects more often than we are always prone to admit’; and in My Early Life he cited as an example the way in which he managed to escape from captivity during the Boer War. Foiled in his intention of clambering onto a goods train going in the direction of Mozambique, he wondered whether it would be safe to go to a place where he saw fires burning at a distance, which he took to be a Kaffir kraal. The Kaffirs, he had heard, loathed the Boers and might be friendly. But what if they were hostile? He sat down, baffled.
Suddenly without the slightest reason all my doubts disappeared. It was certainly by no process of logic that they were dispelled. It just felt quite clear that I would go to the Kaffir kraal. I had sometimes in former years held a ‘Planchette’ pencil and written while others had touched my wrist or hand. I acted in exactly the same unconscious or subconscious manner now.
When he reached the fires he found that they were from the furnaces around a coal mine. There was nothing for it but to take a chance. Some British subjects, he had heard, had been allowed to stay to keep the mines working. He knocked at the door of a house, explaining his dishevelled appearance by saying he had had an accident, and he was let in. His host, who held a revolver, listened sceptically to his tale, so obviously unimpressed that Churchill felt compelled to reveal the truth.
My companion rose from the table slowly and locked the door. After this act, which struck me as unpromising, and was certainly ambiguous, he advanced upon me and suddenly held out his hand.
‘Thank God you have come here! It is the only house for twenty miles where you would not have been handed over. But we are all British here, and we will see you through.’ His host hid Churchill down the mine until he could be concealed in a railway wagon destined for Lourenco Marques, where he regained his freedom.
In My Darling Clementine, the biography of Lady Churchill published in 1963, the story is related of an occasion during the Blitz when Churchill refused to go in the armoured car provided for him, because it was so uncomfortable, and instead commandeered a staff car. As he was about to get in, a strange thing occurred. The nearside door of the car was opened for him - he always sat on the nearside. For no apparent reason, he stopped, turned, opened the door on the other side of the car himself, got in, and sat there instead.
This was something he had never done before. On his way home, a bomb fell near the car, lifting it up on two wheels. If he had been sitting on the nearside, the car would have unquestionably turned over as the full force of the explosion lifted up the offside. Only Winston’s extra weight had prevented disaster.
Although he didn’t mention this escape to Clementine, she heard about it and asked, why did you get in on that side? ‘I don’t know, I don’t know,’ Winston answered at first. Then he said: ‘Of course I know. Something said to me “Stop!” before I reached the car door held open for me. It then appeared to me that I was told I was meant to open the door on the other side and get in and sit there.’
Churchill recognised what he felt was a guiding hand; Arthur Koestler had several similar experiences, but did not accept a daemonic interpretation of them - or perhaps it would be closer to the truth to say that he would have been embarrassed to admit, even to himself, that such an interpretation could be put on them.
As a boy, Koestler was fascinated by mathematics and science.
While still in his twenties, he was appointed science correspondent to the prestigious Ullstein chain of newspapers in Germany; and his delight in scientific rigour was reinforced by the philosophy of dialectical materialism which he embraced on joining the Communist Party. Yet at the same time, he had experiences which made it impossible for him to dismiss psychic phenomena out of hand. In his childhood he was regarded as being ‘endowed with somewhat awe-inspiring potentialities’ which meant he was ‘much sought after for table-lifting séances’ - still, in the early 1900s, a popular pastime. The split between his intellectual beliefs and his occult encounters continued to trouble him almost to the end of his life. ‘I know that these phenomena do exist,’ he said in a television interview in 1966. ‘At the same time my rational mind - my scientific mind, if you want- rejects them.’ In the two-volume autobiography, Arrow in the Blue and The Invisible Writing, Koestler managed to overcome his reluctance to discuss his personal experiences of what could be regarded as psychic or daemonic interventions, by relating some of them, and leaving it to the reader to decide what to make of them. One such episode occurred in 1934, when his failure as a writer, and the onset of disillusionment with Communism, decided him to end his life.
I stuck Scotch tape on the draughty slits of the door and window, and opened the gas tap. I had placed my bug-stained mattress next to it on the floor, but as I was settling down on it, a book crashed on my head from the wobbly shelf. It nearly broke my nose, so I got up, turned off the gas and tore off the tape. Of all one’s failures, a failure in suicide is the most embarrassing to report. The book that fell on my head was the second Brown Book, Dimitrov contra Goering, with the story of the Reichstag Trial. A more drastic pointer to the despicableness of my antics could hardly be imagined.
In The Invisible Writing Koestler eased himself out of having to commit himself to an explanation with a quip: ‘I must either have kicked the shelf, or it was a case of the dialectic producing a miracle.’ Later, his research for The Midwife Toadwas to provide another let-out. Paul Kammerer, whose tests with midwife toads threatened to restore credibility to the Lamarckian theory of evolution, had been fascinated by coincidences, which he meticulously recorded; many of them trivial, but some striking. In the course of his research, Koestler recalled in The Challenge of Chance, ‘a whole series of coincidences seemed to descend on me - like a meteor shower on a summer’s night. It was as if Kammerer’s ghost were beckoning with a malicious grin: “I told you so.”’ And some of the coincidences were daemonic, in the sense that they came to Koestler’s help, providing him with information he needed.
Coincidences provided Koestler with a way to avoid the embarrassment of committing himself on the subject of some psychic phenomena. Whereas many scientists, including some he admired, rejected them out of hand, nobody could claim that coincidences do not occur. They are also clearly fascinating to people who experience them, as he found when hundreds of accounts poured in to him, following an appeal for them in the New Scientist. Some of them fell into the· ‘meaningful’ category, as he showed in The Challenge of Chance, including one of his own. In 1972 the Sunday Times had invited him to report on the world chess championship which was being held at Reykjavik, and he went to the London Library to do some preliminary research.
I hesitated for a moment whether to go to the ‘C’ for chess section first, or to the ‘I’ for Iceland section, but chose the former, because it was nearer. There were about 20-30 books on chess on the shelves, and the first that caught my eye was a bulky volume with the title: Chess in Iceland and in Icelandic Literature by Williard Fiske It was published in I905, by - of all things - ‘The Florentine Typographical Society, Florence, Italy.
The most remarkable case of a meaningful coincidence which Koestler personally encountered occurred after his release from the Seville gaol, during the Spanish civil war, where he had been under sentence of death. Following his experience there of the oceanic feeling, which relieved him of his fear of execution, he had recalled the episode in Buddenbrooks, in which Consul Thomas Buddenbrooks, with death approaching, found consolation in a book which had lain for years unread in his library, in which there was a passage explaining that death is not the end, only a transition. When he was freed, Koestler wrote to Thomas Mann to thank him for the comfort this recollection had provided. Mann replied, describing what had happened when the letter arrived, as he had recorded it in his diary. The entry ran: Stirring letter from the journalist Koestler, writing from Gibraltar. Sentenced to death and only saved at the last moment, he claims he was able to endure the ordeal with the help of my writings, specifically the Schopenhauer chapter in Buddenbrooks. When his letter arrived I was reading that very chapter in Schopenhauer, ‘Concerning Death’, which I had not looked at for thirty-five years.
For Koestler, the decisive episode in his career was the experience of the oceanic sense. Whiling away his time in solitary confinement, he took to scratching mathematical formulae on the wall of his cell; and one of them was Euclid’s proof that the number of primes is infinite. He had always thought of it as aesthetically as well as intellectually satisfying, but on this occasion it overwhelmed him.
It was as if, for him, ‘I’ had ceased to exist, in ‘the draining of all tension, the absolute catharsis, the peace that passeth all understanding’.
When, three years later, Darkness at Noon was published, it was regarded as a political tract, with its devastating exposure of the methods used to extort the confessions of the old Bolslieviks in the Russian treason trials of the 1930s. Political tract it certainly was, one of the most immediately influential ever written. Yet this was not quite what Koestler had in mind when he was writing it. At the end of the book Rubashov, awaiting execution, recalls the ‘queer sense of exaltation’ he had felt after a prolonged bout of torture. But the oceanic sense, he knew, had been condemned by the Party as petty-bourgeois mysticism; and he had toed the Party line. So, for a few years, had Koestler. In Darkness at Noon he was, in a sense, explaining why, and at the same time trying to come to terms with the oceanic sense, which had finally banished his dialectical materialism, filling him with a certainty that a higher order of reality existed.
There were three orders of reality, he decided. The first was ‘the narrow world of sensory perception’; the second, some related phenomena that the senses could not perceive, such as magnetic fields, which filled in the gaps ‘and gave meaning to the absurd patchiness of the sensory world’. But it was the third order that was to him all-important. It not merely ‘enveloped, interpenetrated and gave meaning to the second’; it also contained ‘occult’ phenomena which could not be explained either on the sensory or on the conceptual level, and yet occasionally invaded them, ‘like spiritual meteors piercing the primitive’s vaulted sky.’ This testament to the effect of his oceanic experience was written when he was still in his forties. His belief in the importance of occult phenomena, and the need to understand them better, was certainly not the aberration of a man in his dotage; and his decision to leave his capital to set up a chair of parapsychology had been taken long before his death. His reluctance to cite personal experiences as evidence - other than coincidences - would have made him wary of being classified as an example of a daemonic man; but those who knew him would agree that he would have been diffidently intrigued with the notion.
Of all the people whom Arthur Koestler met when he joined the Society for Psychical Research in 1956, Mrs Heywood was the one he most admired and trusted. He was to dedicate The Roots of Coincidence to her, as ‘catalyst in chief’. She had smoothed his path in the Society - no easy task, as he found some of the council members irritating; and she was also, for him, a model of the way in which psychic faculties, for those who happen to possess them, should be employed.
Mrs Heywood’s The Sixth Sense, published in 1959, was the first book for many years to provide a readable survey of the progress of psychical research since the Society had been formed in 1882. It attracted respectful, even enthusiastic, reviews from critics of the calibre of Sir Julian Huxley, Arnold Toynbee and Raymond Mortimer. It even won praise in the New Scientist. Emboldened by the reaction - or, more probably, as she was modest, pushed by her publishers and friends - she went on to write The Infinite Hive, about her personal experiences.
They were of two main kinds. One was the occasional telepathic or clairvoyant episode of the type that might happen to anyone.
The other was frequent, and unusual: ‘an inner prompting to action or comment on behalf of other people, which seems beyond my normal capacity, or absurd in the light of facts known to me at the time, but turns out to be relevant in the light of other facts learned later on’. She did not know how these ‘Orders’ - as she came to think of them, because they seemed more definite, more urgent, than simple promptings - came to her; but she was sure they did not come from her conscious self.
Although she called them ‘Orders’, she might have attributed them to her daemon, as they played so large a part in her life. In one respect, however, hers was different from others: it did not look after her, so much as look after her husband, family, friends and acquaintances, by compelling her to take some course of action which would help them, though at the time she might have no notion how, or why.
While she was with her husband in Washington, where he was working for the British embassy, they came to know and like ‘Julia’, whom they would occasionally meet at parties; and when Julia was killed in an air crash, Mrs Heywood felt she ought to write a letter of condolence to her mother. Before she could despatch it ‘Orders’ came, in the form of what seemed to be instructions from Julia. She was not to post it; instead, she was to go to Julia’s mother, ‘straight away, and tell her to stop all that ridiculous mourning at once’.
Mrs Heywood hardly knew the mother, and was understandably worried that if she were rebuffed, it could create a minor scandal, which might be embarrassing for her husband. Confident that his wife’s ‘Orders’ were to be trusted, he told her to go ahead. She found the house, with all the blinds down, and was told that Julia’s mother was conducting her mourning in bed.
That settled it. ‘I must see her,’ I insisted, and after much protest they let me up to her room. There, indeed, was the poor woman, alone, in the dark, in bed. Intensely embarrassed, for I supposed this was by her own choice, I got out my message, expecting to be thrown out at once as mad or impertinent. But her face lit up. ‘I knew it,’ she cried. ‘I knew she’d hate it, and I didn’t want it. I shall get up and stop it at once. ’ For the most part, though, the ‘Orders’ related to mundane matters, prompting Mrs Heywood to ring friends without knowing why, only to find that they had need of her, often for some quite trivial reason, such as having forgotten a name which she was able to provide for them. This extra-sensory link was strongest with her husband. Out of numerous examples, a typical one related in The Infinite Hive was vouched for by friends who were staying with her at the time, towards the end of the Second World War.
Colonel Heywood, who was on the Allied staff at their Brussels General Headquarters, had written to say he was arriving at Victoria the following Wednesday at eight in the evening. A little more than an hour before the train was due, ‘Orders’ compelled her to check the arrival time of the train. It turned out to be 7 p.m. In her anxiety not to miss him, she told her friends what had happened, dashed out into the street, and begged a total stranger to drive her to Victoria-which, when he heard the reason, he did. As ‘Orders’ had told her, she engaged a porter. When her husband arrived, he told her that he had forgotten to allow for the hour’s difference between Continental and British time; and as he was laden down with packages which had descended on him at GHQ, too many to carry, ‘all I could do was to send you a mental message while I was coming up in the train. ’ Although occasional telepathic contact between close friends or siblings is often reported, the ability to exploit it, as Colonel Heywood learned to do, must be very rare. He could even use it to the point of dispensing with the telephone if, for some reason, making a telephone call would be inconvenient. On occasion he picked up distress calls from her. She could not, however, tap his thoughts.
To outward appearances, the Heywood’s were a conventional couple. His career took him through the army, the diplomatic service and eventually into business. She brought up their children, ran the local Women’s Voluntary Service during the Second World War, and was a governor of the English-Speaking Union. She did not boast about her ‘Orders’; she did not need to, as those who knew her soon came to think of them as natural, even mundane.
That two such engagingly sensible, down-to-earth people should have employed such a sensible, down-to-earth, extra-sensory communication, thanks chiefly to her ability to sense his needs, is yet another indication of the variety of ways in which the daemon’s instructions get through - if not repressed (as she felt hers might easily have been, had not service as a nurse in the First World War liberated her from a stifling family background).
SIR ALEC GUINNESS
In the introduction to his Blessings in Disguise, Sir Alec Guinness recalls that when Hamish Hamilton suggested he should attempt to write an autobiography, ‘Ego was immensely flattered and I was appalled.’ The writing necessitated a compromise between him and his actor doppelganger. Each contributed, from the time when Ego, ‘now heavily disguised as a small, reddish-haired and very freckled child, makes his fearful entrance, upstage-centre; pursued by his infantile demons but greatly comforted by his good angels’.
The ‘demons’ and ‘angels’ turn out to be rather more than figures of speech. His earliest memories are of the house in St John’s Wood where his mother had the top flat - ‘the whole place was chilly and spooky, and to pass the empty flats, with their locked doors of peeling black paint, I found terrifying even if my hand was held’- and in New York during the war, when he had a brief respite from his naval duties to play in Terence Rattigan’s Flare Path, he went almost nightly to fortune tellers. Only one of them, however, impressed him, using Tarot cards. Guinness had not seen them before; they made a disturbing impression on him, which was to revive after the war. ‘If I hadn’t had the good impulse, in about 1950, to chuck cards, books and all to do with the Tarot, into the fire, I might well be under their baleful influence today.’ Although obviously disinclined to make much of his psychic experiences, he relates a couple of examples of protective precognition.
In 1943, when he was in charge of a landing craft, he received orders to proceed to a Yugoslav island. Knowing that he would be up all night, he took time off for a nap in the afternoon.
It was a heavy dreamless sleep I fell into until just before 1800 hours, when I woke with a start, the sweat pouring off me, and frightened as I had never been since childhood. I was wide awake when, as it seemed to me, a very unpleasant voice spoke close to my ear; just one word - ‘Tomorrow’. It was penetrating, gloating, and undoubtedly evil. It implied that by the same time tomorrow I would be dead.
Turning it over in his mind since, Guinness feels that he cannot dismiss it as something purely subjective. ‘There was a clarity and intention which I couldn’t mistake; and whatever may have troubled me in my sleep, I know I was fully conscious when I had the experience.’ That night a storm blew up, with winds estimated at up to 120 miles an hour. He and his crew were fortunate to survive it; they had to make a forced landing on the rocks at Termoli, leaving the landing craft a wreck.
In 1955 Guinness went to Hollywood to make his first film there. He was met by Thelma Moss, who had written the film script of Father Brown, and who invited him out to dinner. Three restaurants turned them away because she was wearing slacks; a fourth, which would have accepted them, was full. As they were leaving, ‘I became aware of running, sneakered feet behind us, and turned to face a fair young man in sweat-shirt and blue-jeans. “You want a table?’’ he asked. “Join me. My name is James Dean.”’ They followed him gratefully, but before entering the restaurant Dean wanted to show them his new sports car, which he had not even driven.
Exhausted, hungry, feeling a little ill-tempered in spite of Dean’s kindness, I heard myself saying in a voice I could hardly recognise as my own, ‘Please, never get in it.’ I looked at my watch. ‘It is now ten o’clock, Friday the 23rd of September 1955. If you get into that car you will be found dead in it by this time next week.’ He laughed. ‘Oh, shucks! Don’t be so mean.’ Guinness apologised, explaining that it was from lack of sleep and food, and they enjoyed their meal together. But he continued to feel uneasy. ‘At four o’clock in the afternoon of the following Friday James Dean was dead, killed while driving the car.’ Once, at least, Guinness’s own good angel turned in a remarkable performance on his own behalf - though curiously, he does not relate it in Blessings in Disguise. Arthur Koestler happened to be present at lunch with him, on an occasion when he told the story; and Guinness wrote it out in full for inclusion in The Challenge of Chance.
When working in London, he used to get up at 07.20 on Sunday mornings to attend mass in Westminster Cathedral, before catching the 09.50 from Waterloo to his home in the country. His habit was to set two alarm clocks, to be on the safe side; but usually he woke up shortly before they rang.
On this particular morning I woke, glanced in the half light at the clock and thought ‘My God, I’ve overslept!’ It appeared to me the clock said 07.40 (I didn’t refer to the second clock). I rushed through washing and so on, and hurried to the Cathedral. Very unexpectedly - in fact it had never happened before-: I found a taxi at that early hour, so I thought I was at the Cathedral at 07. 55. With time to spare I went to confession.
Although the attendance was considerably larger than usual, which surprised him, it was not until the sermon that he glanced at his watch, to find that he was at the 09.00, not the 08.00 mass; he would have to catch the 10.50.
When I arrived at Waterloo at 10.30 there was an announcement that all trains on the Portsmouth line were delayed for an unspecified amount of time. An inquiry gave me the information that the 09.50 train had been derailed a few miles outside London. Subsequently I found that it was the front coach of the train that had toppled on its side and that, although no one was killed, or even grievously injured, the occupants of the coach had been badly bruised and taken to hospital. My habit, when catching the 09. 50 on Sunday morning, had been to sit in the front compartment of the front coach because, when in Waterloo station, the coach was in the open air, away from the roofing of Waterloo and consequently with more light for reading and less likelihood of being crowded . . .
As Koestler pointed out, not only had Guinness overslept, but he had also misread the time by an hour. Had he not done so, he might have decided to skip mass and catch the 09.50. ‘If one opts for the ESP hypothesis - unconscious precognition- one must also assume that the unconscious cunningly persuaded the conscious self to misread the clock.’ Or could Guinness’s daemon have been the hidden persuader?
Of all the people in recent times who have acknowledged a daemonic component in their lives, the man who was most clearly aware of it, and who devoted most of his life to exploring its modes of communication and action and its significance, was Jung. From childhood; his daimon (the spelling he used) instructed him through dreams; but it also adopted an unusual method of prompting. It played paranormal tricks in his vicinity, as if determined to wean him from the materialist assumptions which had been instilled into him during his schooldays and his training as a medical student.
In I898, realising that he did not have the financial means to fulfil his ambition to become a surgeon, he was thinking of settling for a post as a general physician in a local Zurich hospital when something occurred that was to have a profound effect upon him. He was sitting reading a textbook in a room adjoining the family dining room in which there was a walnut table.
Suddenly there sounded a report like a pistol shot. I jumped up and rushed into the room from which the noise of the explosion had come. My mother was sitting flabbergasted in her armchair, the knitting fallen from her hands. She stammered out, ‘W-w-what’s happened? It was right beside me!’ and stared at the table. Following her eyes, I saw what had happened. The table top had split from the rim to beyond the centre, and not along any joint; the split ran right through the solid wood. I was thunderstruck. How could such a thing happen? A table of solid walnut that had dried out for seventy years - how could it split on a summer day in the relatively high degree of humidity characteristic of our climate? ‘That means something,’ his mother said; and Jung was disturbed, because he could think of no natural explanation.
Some two weeks later I came home at six o’clock in the evening and found the household - my mother, my fourteen-year-old sister, and the maid in a great state of agitation. About an hour earlier there had been another deafening report. This time it was not the already damaged table; the noise had come from the direction of the sideboard, a heavy piece of furniture dating from the early nineteenth century. They had already looked all over it, but had found no trace of a split. I immediately began examining the sideboard and the entire surrounding area, but just as fruitlessly. Then I began on the interior of the sideboard. In the cupboard containing the bread basket I found a loaf of bread, and beside it, the bread knife. The greater part of the blade had snapped off in several pieces. The handle lay in one corner of the rectangular basket, and in each of the other corners lay a piece of the blade. The knife had been used shortly before, at four o’clock tea, and afterwards put away. Since then no one had gone to the sideboard.
There was nothing wrong with the steel, a master cutler told Jung after examining it. It could only have been broken, he thought, piece by piece, by sticking the blade into a crack and snapping off bits, a piece at a time; or it might have been dropped on a stone from a great height.
Jung was still not convinced that forces were at work which conventional science could not account for. But a few weeks later he had the opportunity to investigate a medium, and although occasionally she resorted to trickery, he was sufficiently impressed by some of the phenomena she produced to make his investigation the subject of his doctoral thesis. And although he did not immediately decide to become a psychiatrist, his anxiety to fuse such experiences with conventional science soon convinced him that this was to be his career.
It led him, a few years later, to become a disciple of Freud - Freud’s chosen successor, in fact. But again, occult forces intervened.
Freud warned him against taking psychical research seriously, ‘In terms of so shallow a positivism that I had difficulty in checking the sharp report that was on the tip of my tongue’. Then, I had a curious sensation. It was as if my diaphragm were made of iron and were becoming red-hot - a glowing vault. And at that moment there was such a loud report in the bookcase, which stood right next to us, that we both started up in alarm, fearing the thing was going to topple over on us. I said to Freud: ‘There, that is an example of a so-called catalytic exteriorisation phenomenon.’ ‘Oh, come,’ he exclaimed. ‘That is sheer bosh.’ ‘It is not,’ I replied. ‘You are mistaken, Herr Professor. And to prove my point I now predict that in a moment there will be another loud report!’ Sure enough, no sooner had I said the words than the same detonation went off in the bookcase.
To this day I do not know what gave me this certainty. But I knew beyond all doubt that the report would come again. Freud only stared aghast at me. I do not know what was in his mind, or what his look meant.
In any case, this incident aroused his mistrust of me, and I had the feeling that I had done something against him.
Jung claimed that he never afterwards discussed the incident with Freud; but that it stuck in Freud’s mind seems clear from the conversation they had the following year when Jung visited him in Vienna. Freud begged him never to abandon the sexual theory - ‘the most essential thing of all’ - which to Jung was bad enough.
But Freud went on to say, ‘We must make a dogma of it, an unshakeable bulwark.’ Against what? Jung wondered. ‘To which he replied, “Against the black tide of mud”- and here he hesitated for a moment, then added”- of occultism.”’ It was this that finally destroyed their friendship. To Jung, ‘what Freud seemed to mean by “occultism” was virtually that philosophy and religion, including the contemporary science of parapsychology, had learned about the psyche.’ Impressed by J. B. Rhine’s research at Duke University in the 1930s, Jung adopted the findings for his own purposes. Telepathy, clairvoyance and precognition had previously been ‘purely descriptive concepts’. The characteristic feature, he asserted, ‘of all these phenomena, including Rhine’s psychokinetic effect and other synchronistic occurrences, is meaningful coincidence, and as such I have defined the synchronistic principle’. ESP and PK, in other words, were two of the channels through which synchronicity operated. And he did not doubt that a daimonic element was involved. ‘We know that something unknown, alien, does come our way,’ he noted: just as we know that we do not ourselves make a dream or an inspiration, but that it somehow arises of its own accord. What does happen to us in this manner can be said to emanate from mana, from a daimon, a god or the unconscious. The first three terms have the great merit of including and invoking the emotional quality of numinosity, whereas the latter - the unconscious - is banal and therefore closer to reality.
Jung preferred to stick to ‘unconscious’ for that reason, even to the point of asserting that ‘daimon’ was no more than a synonym for the unconscious - ‘that is to say, we know just as much or just as little about them as about the latter.’ But he conceded that ‘daimon’ had one great advantage; as a personification it had an emotional quality. And he had no hesitation about using it in connection with his own career.
There was a daimon in me, and in the end its presence proved decisive. It overpowered me, and if it was at times ruthless it was because I was in the grip of the daimon. I could not stop at anything once attained. I had to hasten on, to catch up with my vision. For this reason, he admitted, he had made many enemies.
Reiterating, ‘A creative person has little power over his own life.
He is not free. He is captive and driven by his daimon’, he went on to quote Holderlin: Shamefully A power wrests away the heart from us For the Heavenly Ones each demand sacrifice: But if it should be withheld Never has that led to good.
Where the daemonic power has not been withheld, can it be claimed that it has always led to good? Clearly, no. Some of the men who are remembered for their military conquests were clearly in the grip of daemonic forces. It is as if the forces themselves are neutral, capable of being put either to noble or to base uses.
If ever anybody had the devil’s own luck, it was Adolf Hitler; and it helped to convert him from the preposterous figure he cut in the abortive coup of 1923 to the menacing Fuhrer of the Second World War. The process apparently began during the first, when he was in the trenches: a nightmare warning of impending death woke him from sleep, and hardly had he scrambled out of the dugout when it was demolished by a direct hit from a shell.
From that time on, Hitler relied for guidance on intuitions, which he took to come from a divine source. In an article, ‘Hitler: “psychic”, shaman or paranoiac?’, the psychiatrist Jan Ehrenwald cites a German industrialist as saying that the Fuhrer had ‘an antenna to tune him in directly to the Almighty’, and his immediate circle came to regard him, as coup after coup came off successfully, as the ‘supreme magician’.
Hitler’s luck, or intuition, saved him again and again. Shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, he went to deliver a speech to the Old Guard at their Munich beer-cellar meeting place.
Ehrenwald happened to be listening to the speech on the radio; in retrospect he finds it intriguing that it was ‘heavily laden with premonitions of impending death for some of those present. “None of us knows whether it is going to hit him next,” was one of his concluding remarks.’ Hitler had planned to stay on, talking with old colleagues, as he usually did. But a warning came that fog was expected, and rather than risk being held up, he decided to take a train back to Berlin, and consequently left early. A few minutes later a bomb exploded, killing eight of the old comrades and injuring scores of others who were in the cellar.
In March 1943 a more carefully designed plot was hatched by a group within the military which had ranged themselves against Hitler’s dictatorship. Major General Henning von Tresckow, a Chief of Staff on the Eastern Front, and a junior staff officer, Fabian von Schlabrendorff, smuggled a delayed-action bomb onto Hitler’s aircraft when he was about to fly back from the front, disguised as a present of brandy for an officer at Hitler’s HQ. The detonator failed, and the aircraft landed safely; Schlabrendorff had to risk his life calling up to ask that the package should not be delivered, and flying over the same route to collect it. A few days later another member of the group, Colonel von Gersdorf, offered to undertake a suicide mission by accompanying Hitler round an exhibition with a time bomb in his pocket, to be exploded whenever a suitable opportunity occurred. Once again, the plot was foiled because Hitler decided to leave the exhibition early.
In the summer of 1944 Hitler was provided with even more striking proof, had he needed it, of destiny’s protection. The culmination of the conspiracy to kill him was the placing of a briefcase carrying a bomb in the conference room where Hitler and his generals were meeting. Count Stauffenberg left the briefcase beside a table-support, next to which Hitler would be standing, and slipped out of the room. When he heard the explosion he assumed Hitler must have been killed, and left to alert the conspirators to take over. One of the generals, however, had moved the briefcase so that the table-support - a heavy wooden plinth- was between Hitler and the bomb. The bomb demolished the table, brought down the roof of the conference room and killed four of those who had been present, injuring many others; but General Fellgiebel, another of the conspirators whose task it was to telephone the news of Hitler’s death to Berlin, to his dismay saw Hitler emerge. As Roger Manvell and Heinrich Fraenkel described the scene in The July Plot:
‘His hair was on fire, his right arm partially paralysed, his right leg burned, his ear-drums damaged; his uniform torn by blast and falling debris, and his buttocks so bruised that, as he described it himself, he had a ‘backside like a baboon’ - but he was alive’.
A few months later Hitler was to foil yet another assassination project. His armaments minister Albert Speer, one of his favourites, discovered that Hitler had settled for a scorched earth policy in the last winter of the war, and was giving orders that the retreating Wehrmacht should destroy cities, dams, bridges and factories to provide a Wagnerian conclusion if the tide of the war could not be turned. Speer decided that the Fuhrer and his ministers ought to be wiped out, a feat which he thought could be accomplished with surprisingly little difficulty, as they met in Hitler’s underground bunker which was ventilated through a funnel in the Chancellery grounds. Poison gas, Speer worked out, could quite easily be introduced into the air-conditioning system, leaving nobody in the bunker alive. When everything had been prepared, Speer found that Hitler had just decided to protect the funnel - perhaps against the risk of bomb damage - in a way which rendered the assassination project impracticable. It was as if destiny had determined not to be robbed of the final Gotterdammerung curtain.
In the course of his life, Goethe recalled in his Poetry and Truth, he had come across several people in whom the daemonic element was the distinguishing characteristic.
Such persons are not always the most eminent men, either morally or intellectually, and it is seldom that they recommend themselves to our affections by goodness of heart; a tremendous energy seems to be seated in them, and they exercise a wonderful power over all creatures, and even over the elements; and indeed, who shall say how much farther such influence may extend? All the moral powers combined are of no avail against them; in vain does the more enlightened portion of mankind attempt to throw suspicion upon them as deceived if not deceivers - the mass is still drawn on by them.
A century later, Hitler was to fulfill the specification with uncanny precision.
Scores of people, a few eminent, many obscure, have testified to their conviction that a mysterious power of some kind has watched over them, acting as guide, goad or prompter. Many of them have attributed their protection to an all-seeing and all-caring God.
Some have come to the conclusion that it is the work of a spirit entity specifically charged with looking after them, as Socrates did.
Some, Churchill among them, have accepted the existence of a higher power without committing themselves to assumptions about its source. Some have speculated about the existence of doppelgangers, as Goethe did: psychic doubles, having a partially independent existence. And some have regarded daemonic activity as, in effect, an evolutionary device, a kind of psychic concomitant to the genetic development of man. Maeterlinck presented his version - the Unknown Guest.
There is another, a more secret and much more active existence which we have scarcely begun to study and which is, if we descend to the bed-rock of truth, our only real existence. From the darkest corners of our ego it directs our veritable life, the one that is not to die, and pays no heed to our thought or to anything emanating from our reason, which believes that it guides our steps. It alone knows the long past that preceded our birth and the endless future that will follow our departure from this earth. It is itself that future and that past, all those from whom we have sprung and all those who will spring from us. It represents in the individual not only the species but that which preceded it and that which will follow it; and it has neither beginning nor end: that is why nothing touches it, nothing moves it which does not concern that which it represents.
Goethe, too, thought the daemonic power was in the service of humanity, rather than of the individual. ‘Every extraordinary man has a certain mission,’ he asserted in his autobiography.
If he has fulfilled it, he is no longer needed upon earth in the same form, and Providence uses him for something else. But as everything here below happens in a natural way, the daemons keep tripping him up till he falls at last. Thus it was with Napoleon and many others. Mozart died in his six and-thirtieth year. Raphael at the same age. Byron only a little older. But all these had perfectly fulfilled their missions; and it was time for them to depart, that other people might still have something to do in a world made to last a long while.
Maeterlinck agreed. The Unknown Guest, he asserted, ‘is always the winner, humiliating our reason, crushing our wisdom and silencing arguments and passions alike with the contemptuous hand of destiny’. But suddenly a tiny shock, which our senses had not even transmitted to our brain, wakes it with a start. It sits up, looks around and understands. It has seen the crack in the vault that separates the two lives. It gives the signal for departure. Forthwith panic spreads from cell to cell; and the innumerous city that we are utters yells of horror and distress and hustles around the gates of death.
The term ‘daemon’, though, can be used in a looser sense, as Sir Julian Huxley clearly used it in his own case. As the grandson of T. H. Huxley, ‘Darwin’s bulldog’, and the son of Leonard Huxley, one of the most eminent literary figures of the twentieth century, Julian was ‘born with great advantages, genetic and cultural’, as he put it in his autobiography. In his youth he had been too timid, too unsure of himself, to exploit them; yet he felt driven relentlessly, until he had overcome his timidity. ‘Looking back, I seem to have been possessed by a demon, driving me into every sort of activity and impatient to finish anything I had begun. ’ It pushed him also into a great diversity of interests, to the irritation of some of his more specialist-oriented colleagues - but ultimately qualifying him to be offered the role of the first director-general of UNESCO.
Huxley may well have used the phrase ‘possessed by a demon’ in one of its colloquial senses, implying little more than that there was an unconscious determination to succeed in spite of diffidence - as in Bernard Shaw’s case, when he felt compelled to get up and make speeches at meetings in order to banish his nervousness. In such cases, the prompting often appears to be similar to ‘the voice of conscience’ - childhood conditioning about right and wrong returning to nag. Yet in others, this explanation is unsatisfactory as the nineteenth-century positivists clearly recognised. They did not dispute that Socrates and Joan of Arc heard voices; they simply diagnosed the voices as symptomatic of mental instability. In this, they harked back to Dryden: “Great wits are oft to madness near allied And thin partitions do their bounds divide”.
In 1837 F. Lelut, an alienist at the Bicetre hospital in Paris, could claim that there were only three possible explanations of Socrates’ daemon: that Socrates’ description of it had been misunderstood; that he and his associates were frauds; or that Socrates was un fou.
There could be no doubt, Lelut decided, that the last was the correct diagnosis. Socrates was insane.
Lelut was no lightweight; he was later elected to the Academy, and served for many years as a deputy in the National Assembly.
His diagnosis, too, was endorsed by the much more influential Cesare Lombroso, inventor of scientific criminology. Genius, Lombroso asserted, was a morbid condition displaying almost all the characteristics of congenital mental abnormality. He had been horrified, he admitted, when his findings compelled him to identify ‘those individuals who represent the highest manifestations of the human spirit’ with idiots and criminals; but he had become reconciled to this view after studying research which had revealed that the phenomena of ‘atavistic regression’ - trances, visions, voices and so on - ‘did not always indicate true degradation’. Often they appeared to be a form of compensation; just as giants often displayed mental weakness, ‘so the giants of thought expiate their intellectual force in degeneration and psychoses’.
This view was powerfully reinforced by Dostoevsky in The Idiot (1868), with Prince Myshkin’s reflections on the phenomena associated with his epilepsy. For a few moments, all his worry ‘resolved itself into a superior harmony’ a serene and tranquil gaiety’ before he suffered the fit. Once, on recovering, the prince said to himself: These fleeting moments, in which our highest consciousness of ourselves - and therefore our highest life - is manifested, are due only to disease, to the suspension of normal conditions; and if so, it is not a higher life, but on the contrary, one of a lower order.
Paradoxically, Dostoevsky continued, this did not prevent the prince from feeling that it might be worth having the disease, if its consequence included ‘the very highest degree of harmony and beauty’. For Lombroso this made the explanation simple. A few individuals, including Socrates and Dostoevsky, were fortunate; although they suffered from ‘degenerative psychosis, belonging to the family of epileptic afflictions’, they happened to have a variety of the disorder whose symptoms included providing them with great thoughts, plays or poems.
That so grotesque a proposition could have been quite widely accepted can only be accounted for by the orthodox assumptions of the time about ‘mind’. The existence of an unconscious - let alone a subliminal - mind was still unacceptable in conventional scientific circles; the only possible explanation for visions and voices breaking in was that they were pathological. It took courage for anybody in the scientific establishment to argue that in view of the historical evidence, this was nonsense, but Oliver Wendell Holmes, in addition to being professor of anatomy at Harvard, had established his reputation as a popular writer and homespun philosopher with his ‘Breakfast Table’ books, and felt he could afford to denounce the positivist creed in his Mechanism in Thought and Morals, published in 1871. ‘We all of us have a double,’ he contended, ‘who is wiser and better than we are, and who puts thoughts into our heads and words into our mouths.’ This double, a creating and informing spirit, which is with us, and not of us, is recognised everywhere in real and in storied life. It is the Zeus that kindled the rage of Achilles; it is the Muse of Homer; it is the daemon of Socrates; it is the inspiration of the seer; it is the mocking devil that whispers to Margaret as she kneels at the altar, and the hobgoblin that cries ‘Sell him, sell him!’ in the ear of John Bunyan; it shaped the forms that filled the soul of Michael Angelo when he saw the figure of the great lawgiver in the yet unhewn marble, and the dome of the world’s yet unbuilt basilica against the black horizon; it comes to the least of us, as a voice that will be heard; it tells us what we must believe; it frames our sentences; it lends a sudden gleam of eloquence to the dullest of us all.
Frederic Myers agreed. His Human Personality represented a filling-out, with case histories, of Holmes’s idea. But it was Freud’s version of the unconscious mind, instinctual and unorganised, that captured the market - such of it as was not appropriated by positivism’s legacy to psychology, the behaviourism of John Broadus Watson and his followers, who sought to sweep away the mind, conscious or unconscious, as a concept; replacing it with a hail of neurophysiological conditioned reflexes.
Freud may no longer be so dominant a figure in the analytic school, and behaviourism is largely discredited; but in orthodox psychology circles there is little disposition to re-examine the teachings of Myers. Many psychological students graduate without even having heard of him. Major surveys of research into the human mind appear which do not so much as mention intuition, let alone explore its implications. Some of Jung’s most devoted disciples shy away from the occult notions he propounded. Since the advent of the counter-culture, admittedly, there has been a greater willingness to explore territory previously shunned as irrational.
Writers within the frontiers of academic respectability, as well as others outside them, have been examining intuition, creativity and related subjects. But the daemonic element has received little attention; and its use of hallucination, even less.
There is confusion, too, over another aspect of daemon: possession - ‘not the loss of consciousness’, as Julian Jaynes of Princeton defines it, ‘so much as its replacement by a new and different consciousness’. Although certain that it represents another evolutionary device, he finds it disconcerting; understandably, because although it is not difficult to attribute the visions and voices which were taken to come from the gods to the workings of the central nervous system, a great deal of what the gods of the Iliad did (in The Origins of Consciousness, Jaynes cites them as a model) cannot be thus accounted for. Not merely did they protect their heroes by diverting spears thrown at them; they levitated them out of danger, and possessed them, where necessary, in order to be able to give instructions without identifying themselves.
In our time, possession is generally regarded as a form of mental disorder, dual or multiple personality; or, among Christians, as diabolic. But it also emerges in automatic writing, drawing and musical composition, either by allowing the hand to act without conscious control, or with the help of a planchette and a ouija board. The products rarely have more than curiosity value, but there may be an intimation that they are inspired, in the sense that they transcend anything which the writers can do when in their ‘right’ minds. They also occasionally provide information by what appears to be extra-sensory means. Possession, in this role, seems to be another evolutionary expedient; as if daemon is trying another way to make its presence felt. And it has achieved some of its most impressive results in the character of Muse.
“Daemon” is a chapter from The Unknown Guest: The Mystery of Intuition by Brian Inglis