Demonic: Goethe, Emerson, Kierkegaard.

Johann Goethe 1749-1832 from his Autobiography book 20

In the course of this biography, we have circumstantially exhibited the child, the boy, the youth, seeking by different ways to approach to the Suprasensible first, looking with strong inclination to a religion of nature; then, clinging with love to a positive one; and, finally, concentrating himself in the trial of his own powers, and joyfully giving himself up to the general faith. Whilst he wandered to and fro, space which lay intermediate between the sensible and suprasensible regions, seeking and looking about him, much came in his way which did not appear to belong to either, and he seemed to see, more and more distinctly, that it is better to avoid all thought of the immense and incomprehensible.

He thought he could detect in nature—both animate and inanimate, with soul or without soul—something which manifests itself only in contradictions, and which, therefore, could not be comprehended under any idea, still less under one word. It was not godlike, for it seemed unreasonable; not human, for it had no understanding; nor devilish, for it was beneficent; nor angelic, for it often betrayed a malicious pleasure. It resembled chance, for it evolved no consequences; it was like Providence, for it hinted at connexion. All that limits us it seemed to penetrate; it seemed to sport at will with the necessary elements of our existence; it contracted time and expanded space. In the impossible alone did it appear to find pleasure, while it rejected the possible with contempt.

To this principle, which seemed to come in between all other principles to separate them, and yet to link them together, I gave the name of Daemonic, after the example of the ancients and of those who, at any rate, had perceptions of the same kind. I sought to screen myself from this fearful principle, by taking refuge, according to my usual habits, in an imaginary creation.

The personal courage which distinguishes the hero is the foundation upon which his whole character rests, the ground and soil from which it sprung. He knows no danger, and willingly is blind to the greatest when it is close at hand. Surrounded by enemies, we may, at any rate, cut our way through them; the meshes of state policy are harder to break through. The Daemonic element, which is in play on both sides, and in conflict with which the lovely falls while the hated triumphs; and, above all, the prospect that out of this conflict will spring a third element, which will answer to the wishes of all men this perhaps is what has gained for the piece (not, indeed, immediately on its first appearance, but later and at the right time), the favor which it now enjoys. Here, therefore, for the sake of many beloved readers, I will anticipate myself, and as I know not whether I shall soon have another opportunity, will express a conviction which, however, I did not form till a considerable period subsequent to that of which I am now writing.

Although this Daemonic element can manifest itself in all corporeal and incorporeal things, and even expresses itself most distinctly in animals, yet, with man, especially does it stand in a most wonderful connexion, forming in him a power which, if it be not opposed to the moral order of the world, nevertheless does often so cross it that one may be regarded as the warp, and the other as the woof.

For the phenomena which it gives rise to there are innumerable names: for all philosophies and religions have sought in prose and poetry to solve this enigma and to read once for all the riddle which, nevertheless, remains still unriddled by them.

But the most fearful manifestation of the Daemonical, is when it is seen predominating in some individual character. During my life I have observed several instances of this, either more closely or remotely. 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. Seldom if ever do the great men of an age find their equals among their contemporaries, and they are to be overcome by nothing but by the universe itself; and it is from observation of this fact that the strange, but most striking, proverb must have risen: Nemo contra Deum nisi Deus ipse. (No one against God except God himself.)

Ralph Waldo Emerson also wrote about demonology, quoting Goethe, in his essay: Demonology 1838-1839

NIGHT-DREAMS trace on Memory’s wall
Shadows of the thoughts of day,
And thy fortunes as they fall
The bias of thy will betray.

IN the chamber, on the stairs,
Lurking dumb,
Go and come
Lemurs and Lars.

The name Demonology covers dreams, omens, coincidences, luck, sortilege, magic and other experiences which shun rather than court inquiry, and deserve notice chiefly because every man has usually in a lifetime two or three hints in this kind which are specially impressive to him. They also shed light on our structure. The witchcraft of sleep divides with truth the empire of our lives. This soft enchantress visits two children lying locked in each other’s arms, and carries them asunder by wide spaces of land and sea, and wide intervals of time.

There lies a sleeping city, God of dreams!
What an unreal and fantastic world Is going on below!
Within the sweep of yon encircling wall
How many a large creation of the night,
Wide wilderness and mountain, rock and sea,
Peopled with busy, transitory groups,
Finds room to rise, and never feels the crowd.

’Tis superfluous to think of the dreams of multitudes, the astonishment remains that one should dream; that we should resign so quietly this deifying Reason, and become the theatre of delirious shows, wherein time, space, persons, cities, animals, should dance before us in merry and mad confusion; a delicate creation outdoing the prime and flower of actual Nature, antic comedy alternating with horrid pictures.

Sometimes the forgotten companions of childhood reappear

They come, in dim procession led,
The cold, the faithless, and the dead,
As warm each hand, each brow as gay,
As if they parted yesterday :

or we seem busied for hours and days in peregrinations over seas and lands, in earnest dialogues, strenuous actions for nothings and absurdities, cheated by spectral jokes and waking suddenly with ghastly laughter, to be rebuked by the cold, lonely, silent midnight, and to rake with confusion in memory among the gibbering nonsense to find the motive of this contemptible cachinnation. Dreams are jealous of being remembered; they dissipate instantly and angrily if you try to hold them. When newly awaked from lively dreams, we are so near them, still agitated by them, still in their sphere,—give us one syllable, one feature, one hint, and we should repossess the whole; hours of this strange entertainment would come trooping back to us; but we cannot get our hand on the first link or fibre, and the whole is lost. There is a strange wilfulness in the speed with which it disperses and baffles our grasp.

A dislocation seems to be the foremost trait of dreams. A painful imperfection almost always attends them. The fairest forms, the most noble and excellent persons, are deformed by some pitiful and insane circumstance. The very landscape and scenery in a dream seem not to fit us, but like a coat or cloak of some other person to overlap and encumber the wearer; so is the ground, the road, the house, in dreams, too long or too short, and if it served no other purpose would show us how accurately Nature fits man awake.

There is one memory of waking and another of sleep. In our dreams the same scenes and fancies are many times associated, and that too, it would seem, for years. In sleep one shall travel certain roads in stage-coaches or gigs, which he recognizes as familiar, and has dreamed that ride a dozen times; or shall walk alone in familiar fields and meadows, which road or which meadow in waking hours he never looked upon. This feature of dreams deserves the more attention from its singular resemblance to that obscure yet startling experience which almost every person confesses in daylight, that particular passages of conversation and action have occurred to him in the same order before, whether dreaming or waking; a suspicion that they have been with precisely these persons in precisely this room, and heard precisely this dialogue, at some former hour, they know not when.

Animals have been called “the dreams of Nature.” Perhaps for a conception of their consciousness we may go to our own dreams. In a dream we have the instinctive obedience, the same torpidity of the highest power, the same unsurprised assent to the monstrous as these metamorphosed men exhibit. Our thoughts in a stable or in a menagerie, on the other hand, may well remind us of our dreams. What compassion do these imprisoning forms awaken! You may catch the glance of a dog sometimes which lays a kind of claim to sympathy and brotherhood. What! somewhat of me down there? Does he know it? Can he too, as I, go out of himself, see himself, perceive relations? We fear lest the poor brute should gain one dreadful glimpse of his condition, should learn in some moment the tough limitations of this fettering organization. It was in this glance that Ovid got the hint of his metamorphoses; Calidasa of his transmigration of souls. For these fables are our own thoughts carried out. What keeps those wild tales in circulation for thousands of years? What but the wild fact to which they suggest some approximation of theory? Nor is the fact quite solitary, for in varieties of our own species where organization seems to predominate over the genius of man, in Kalmuck or Malay of Flathead Indian, we are sometimes pained by the same feeling; and sometimes too the sharpwitted prosperous white man awakens it. In a mixed assembly we have chanced to see not only a glance of Abdiel, so grand and keen, but also in other faces the features of the mink, of the bull, of the rat and the barn-door fowl. You think, could the man overlook his own condition, he could not be restrained from suicide.

Dreams have a poetic integrity and truth. This limbo and dust-hole of thought is presided over by a certain reason, too. Their extravagance from nature is yet within a higher nature. They seem to us to suggest an abundance and fluency of thought not familiar to the waking experience. They pique us by independence of us, yet we know ourselves in this mad crowd, and owe to dreams a kind of divination and wisdom. My dreams are not me; they are not Nature, or the Not-me: they are both. They have a double consciousness, at once sub- and ob- jective. We call the phantoms that rise, the creation of our fancy, but they act like mutineers, and fire on their commander; showing that every act, every thought, every cause, is bipolar, and in the act is contained the counteraction. If I strike, I am struck; if I chase, I am pursued

Wise and sometimes terrible hints shall in them be thrown to the man out of a quite unknown intelligence. He shall be startled two or three times in his life by the justice as well as the significance of this phantasmagoria. Once or twice the conscious fetters shall seem to be unlocked, and a freer utterance attained. A prophetic character in all ages has haunted them. They are the maturation often of opinions not consciously carried out to statements, but whereof we already possessed the elements. Thus, when awake, I know the character of Rupert, but do not think what he may do. In dreams I see him engaged in certain actions which seem preposterous,—out of all fitness. He is hostile, he is cruel, he is frightful, he is a poltroon. It turns out prophecy a year later. But it was already in my mind as character, and the sibyl dreams merely embodied it in fact. Why then should not symptoms, auguries, forebodings be, and, as one said, the moanings of the spirit?

We are let by this experience into the high region of Cause, and acquainted with the identity of very unlike-seeming effects. We learn that actions whose turpitude is very differently reputed proceed from one and the same affection. Sleep takes off the costume of circumstance, arms us with terrible freedom, so that every will rushes to a deed. A skilful man reads his dreams for his self-knowledge; yet not the details, but the quality. What part does he play in them,—a cheerful, manly part, or a poor drivelling part? However monstrous and grotesque their apparitions, they have a substantial truth. The same remark may be extended to the omens and coincidences which may have astonished us. Of all it is true that the reason of them is always latent in the individual. Goethe said: “These whimsical pictures, inasmuch as they originate from us, may well have an analogy with our whole life and fate.”

The soul contains in itself the event that shall presently befall it, for the event is only the actualizing of its thoughts. It is no wonder that particular dreams and presentiments should fall out and be prophetic. The fallacy consists in selecting a few insignificant hints when all are inspired with the same sense. As if one should exhaust his astonishment at the economy of his thumb-nail, and overlook the central causal miracle of his being a man. Every man goes through the world attended with innumerable facts prefiguring (yes, distinctly announcing) his fate, if only eyes of sufficient heed and illumination were fastened on the sign. The sign is always there, if only the eye were also; just as under every tree in the speckled sunshine and shade no man notices that every spot of light is a perfect image of the sun, until in some hour the moon eclipses the luminary; and then first we notice that the spots of light have become crescents, or annular, and correspond to the changed figure of the sun. Things are significant enough, Heaven knows; but the seer of the sign,—where is he? We doubt not a man’s fortune may be read in the lines of his hand, by palmistry; in the lines of his face, by physiognomy; in the outlines of the skull, by craniology: the lines are all there, but the reader waits. The long waves indicate to the instructed mariner that there is no near land in the direction from which they come. Belzoni describes the three marks which led him to dig for a door to the pyramid of Ghizeh. What thousands had beheld the same spot for so many ages, and seen no three marks.

Secret analogies tie together the remotest parts of Nature, as the atmosphere of a summer morning is filled with innumerable gossamer threads running in every direction, revealed by the beams of the rising sun! All life, all creation, is telltale and betraying. A man reveals himself in every glance and step and movement and rest:

Head with foot hath private amity,
And both with moons and tides.

Not a mathematical axiom but is a moral rule. The jest and byword to an intelligent ear extends its meaning to the soul and to all time. Indeed, all productions of man are so anthropomorphous that not possibly can he invent any fable that shall not have a deep moral and be true in senses and to an extent never intended by the inventor. Thus all the bravest tales of Homer and the poets, modern philosophers can explain with profound judgment of law and state and ethics. Lucian has an idle tale that Pancrates, journeying from Memphis to Coppus, and wanting a servant, took a door-bar and pronounced over it magical words, and it stood up and brought him water, and turned a spit, and carried bundles, doing all the work of a slave. What is this but a prophecy of the progress of art? For Pancrates write Watt or Fulton, and for “magical words” write “steam;” and do they not make an iron bar and half a dozen wheels do the work, not of one, but of a thousand skilful mechanics?

“Nature,” said Swedenborg, “makes almost as much demand on our faith as miracles do.” And I find nothing in fables more astonishing than my experience in every hour. One moment of a man’s life is a fact so stupendous as to take the lustre out of all fiction. The lovers of marvels, of what we call the occult and unproved sciences, of mesmerism, of astrology, of coincidences, of intercourse, by writing or by rapping or by painting, with departed spirit, need not reproach us with incredulity because we are slow to accept their statement. It is not the incredibility of the fact, but a certain want of harmony between the action and the agents. We are used to vaster wonders than these that are alleged. In the hands of poets, of devout and simple minds, nothing in the line of their character and genius would surprise us. But we should look for the style of the great artist in it, look for completeness and harmony. Nature never works like a conjuror, to surprise, rarely by shocks, but by infinite graduation; so that we live embosomed in sounds we do not hear, scents we do not smell, spectacles we see not, and by innumerable impressions so softly laid on that though important we do not discover them until our attention is called to them.

For Spiritism, it shows that no man, almost, is fit to give evidence. Then I say to the amiable and sincere among them, these matters are quite too important than that I can rest them on any legends. If I have no facts, as you allege, I can very well wait for them. I am content and occupied with such miracles as I know, such as my eyes and ears daily show me, such as humanity and astronomy. If any others are important to me they will certainly be shown to me.

In times most credulous of these fancies the sense was always met and the superstition rebuked by the grave spirit of reason and humanity. When Hector is told that the omens are unpropitious, he replies,— “One omen is the best, to fight for one’s country.”

Euripides said, “He is not the best prophet who guesses well, and he is not the wisest man whose guess turns out well in the event, but he who, whatever the event be, takes reason and probability for his guide.” “Swans, horses, dogs and dragons,” says Plutarch, “we distinguish as sacred, and vehicles of the divine foresight, and yet we cannot believe that men are sacred and favorites of Heaven.” The poor shipmaster discovered a sound theology, when in the storm at sea he made his prayer to Neptune, “O God, thou mayst save me if thou wilt, and if thou wilt thou mayst destroy me; but, however, I will hold my rudder true.” Let me add one more example of the same good sense, in a story quoted out of Hecateus of Abdera:

“As I was once travelling by the Red Sea, there was one among the horsemen that attended us named Masollam, a brave and strong man, and according to the testimony of all the Greeks and barbarians, a very skilful archer. Now while the whole multitude was on the way, an augur called out to them to stand still, and this man inquired the reason of their halting. The augur showed him a bird, and told him, ‘If that bird remained where he was, it would be better for them all to remain; if he flew on, they might proceed; but if he flew back, they must return.’ The Jew said nothing, but bent his bow and shot the bird to the ground. This act offended the augur and some others, and they began to utter imprecations against the Jew. But he replied, ‘Wherefore? Why are you so foolish as to take care of this unfortunate bird? How could this fowl give us any wise directions respecting our journey, when he could not save his own life? Had he known anything of futurity, he would not have come here to be killed by the arrow of Masollam the Jew.’”

It is not the tendency of our times to ascribe importance to whimsical pictures of sleep, or to omens. But the faith in peculiar and alien power takes another form in the modern mind, much more resembling the ancient doctrine of the guardian genius. The belief that particular individuals are attended by a good fortune which makes them desirable associates in any enterprise of uncertain success, exists not only among those who take part in political and military projects, but influences all joint action of commerce and affairs, and a corresponding assurance in the individuals so distinguished meets and justifies the expectation of others by a boundless self-trust. “I have a lucky hand, sir,” said Napoleon to his hesitating Chancellor; “those on whom I lay it are fit for anything.” This faith is familiar in one form,—that often a certain abdication of prudence and foresight is an element of success; that children and young persons come off safe from casualties that would have proved dangerous to wiser people. We do not think the young will be forsaken; but he is fast approaching the age when the sub-miraculous external protection and leading are withdrawn and he is committed to his own care. The young man takes a leap in the dark and alights safe. As he comes into manhood he remembers passages and persons that seem, as he looks at them now, to have been supernaturally deprived of injurious influence on him. His eyes were holden that he could not see. But he learns that such risks he may no longer run. He observes, with pain, not that he incurs mishaps here and there, but that his genius, whose invisible benevolence was tower and shield to him, is no longer present and active.

In the popular belief, ghosts are a selecting tribe, avoiding millions, speaking to one. In our traditions, fairies, angels and saints show the like favoritism; so do the agents and the means of magic, as sorcerers and amulets. This faith in a doting power, so easily sliding into the current belief everywhere, and, in the particular of lucky days and fortunate persons, as frequent in America to-day as the faith in incantations and philters was in old Rome, or the wholesome potency of the sign of the cross in modern Rome,—this supposed power runs athwart the recognized agencies, natural and moral, which science and religion explore. Heeded though it be in many actions and partnerships, it is not the power to which we build churches, or make liturgies and prayers, or which we regard in passing laws, or found college professorships to expound. Goethe has said in his Autobiography what is much to the purpose:

“I believed that I discovered in nature, animate and inanimate, intelligent and brute, somewhat which manifested itself only in contradiction, and therefore could not be grasped by a conception, much less by a word. It was not god-like, since it seemed unreasonable; not human, since it had no understanding; not devilish, since it was beneficent; not angelic, since it is often a marplot. It resembled chance, since it showed no sequel. It resembled Providence, since it pointed at connection. All which limits us seemed permeable to that. It seemed to deal at pleasure with the necessary elements of our constitution; it shortened time and extended space. Only in the impossible it seemed to delight, and the possible to repel with contempt. This, which seemed to insert itself between all other things, to sever them, to bind them, I named the Demoniacal, after the example of the ancients, and of those who had observed the like.

“Although every demoniacal property can manifest itself in the corporeal and incorporeal, yes, in beasts too in a remarkable manner, yet it stands specially in wonderful relations with men, and forms in the moral world, though not an antagonist, yet a transverse element, so that the former may be called the warp, the latter the woof. For the phenomena which hence originate there are countless names, since all philosophies and religions have attempted in prose or in poetry to solve this riddle, and to settle the thing once for all, as indeed they may be allowed to do.

“But this demonic element appears most fruitful when it shows itself as the determining characteristic in an individual. In the course of my life I have been able to observe several such, some near, some farther off. They are not always superior persons, either in mind or in talent. They seldom recommend themselves through goodness of heart. But a monstrous force goes out from them, and they exert an incredible power over all creatures, and even over the elements; who shall say how far such an influence may extend? All united moral powers avail nothing against them. In vain do the clear-headed part of mankind discredit them as deceivers or deceived,—the mass is attracted. Seldom or never do they meet their match among their contemporaries; they are not to be conquered save by the universe itself, against which they have taken up arms. Out of such experiences doubtless arose the strange, monstrous proverb, ‘Nobody against God but God.’”

It would be easy in the political history of every time to furnish examples of this irregular success, men having a force which without virtue, without shining talent, yet makes them prevailing. No equal appears in the field against them. A power goes out from them which draws all men and events to favor them. The crimes they commit, the exposures which follow, and which would ruin any other man, are strangely overlooked, or do more strangely turn to their account.

I set down these things as I find them, but however poetic these twilights of thought, I like daylight, and I find somewhat wilful, some play at blindman’s-buff, when men as wise as Goethe talk mysteriously of the demonological. The insinuation is that the known eternal laws of morals and matter are sometimes corrupted or evaded by this gypsy principle, which chooses favorites and works in the dark for their behoof; as if the laws of the Father of the universe were sometimes balked and eluded by a meddlesome Aunt of the universe for her pets. You will observe that this extends the popular idea of success to the very gods; that they foster a success to you which is not a success to all; that fortunate men, fortunate youths exist, whose good is not virtue or the public good, but a private good, robbed from the rest. It is a midsummer madness, corrupting all who hold the tenet. The demonologic is only a fine name for egotism; an exaggeration namely of the individual, whom it is Nature’s settled purpose to postpone. “There is one world common to all who are awake, but each sleeper betakes himself to one of his own.” Dreams retain the infirmities of our character. The good genius may be there or not, our evil genius is sure to stay. The Ego partial makes the dream; the Ego total the interpretation. Life is also a dream on the same terms. ….

The history of man is a series of conspiracies to win from Nature some advantage without paying for it. It is curious to see what grand powers we have a hint of and are mad to grasp, yet how slow Heaven is to trust us with such edge-tools. “All that frees talent without increasing self-command is noxious.” Thus the fabled ring of Gyges, making the wearer invisible, which is represented in modern fable by the telescope as used by Schlemil, is simply mischievous. A new or private language, used to serve only low or political purposes; the transfusion of the blood; the steam battery, so fatal as to put an end to war by the threat of universal murder; the desired discovery of the guided balloon, are of this kind. Tramps are troublesome enough in the city and in the highways, but tramps flying through the air and descending on the lonely traveller or the lonely farmer’s house or the bank-messenger in the country, can well be spared. Men are not fit to be trusted with these talismans.

Before we acquire great power we must acquire wisdom to use it well. Animal magnetism inspires the prudent and moral with a certain terror; so the divination of contingent events, and the alleged second-sight of the pseudo-spiritualists. There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant, and these are such. Shun them as you would the secrets of the undertaker and the butcher. The best are never demoniacal or magnetic; leave this limbo to the Prince of the power of the air. The lowest angel is better. It is the height of the animal; below the region of the divine. Power as such is not known to the angels.

Great men feel that they are so by sacrificing their selfishness and falling back on what is humane; in renouncing family, clan, country and each exclusive and local connection, to beat with the pulse and breathe with the lungs of nations. A Highland chief, an Indian sachem or a feudal baron may fancy that the mountains and lakes were made specially for him Donald, or him Tecumseh; that the one question for history is the pedigree of his house, and future ages will be busy with his renown; that he has a guardian angel; that he is not in the roll of common men, but obeys a high family destiny; when he acts, unheard-of success evinces the presence of rare agents; what is to befall him, omens and coincidences foreshow; when he dies, banshees will announce his fate to kinsmen in foreign parts. What more facile than to project this exuberant selfhood into the region where individuality is forever bounded by generic and cosmical laws? The deepest flattery, and that to which we can never be insensible, id the flattery of omens.

We may make great eyes if we like, and say of one on whom the sun shines, “What luck presides over him!” But we know that the law of the Universe is one for each and for all. There is as precise and as describable a reason for every fact occurring to him, as for any occurring to any man. Every fact in which the moral elements intermingle is not the less under the dominion of fatal law. Lord Bacon uncovers the magic when he says, “Manifest virtues procure reputation; occult ones, fortune.” Thus the so-called fortunate man is one who, though not gifted to speak when the people listen, or to act with grace or with understanding to great ends, yet is one who, in actions of a low or common pitch, relies on his instincts, and simply does not act where he should not, but waits his time, and without effort acts when the need is. If to this you add a fitness to the society around him, you have the elements of fortune; so that in a particular circle and knot of affairs he is not so much his own man as the hand of Nature and time. Just as his eye and hand work exactly together,—and to hit the mark with a stone he has only to fasten his eye firmly on the mark and his arm will swing true,—so the main ambition and genius being bestowed in one direction, the lesser spirit and involuntary aids within his sphere will follow. The fault of most men is that they are busybodies; do not wait the simple movement of the soul, but interfere and thwart the instructions of their own minds.

Coincidences, dreams, animal magnetism, omens, sacred lots, have great interest for some minds. They run into this twilight and say, “There’s more than is dreamed of in your philosophy.” Certainly these facts are interesting, and deserve to be considered. But they are entitled only to a share of attention, and not a large share. Nil magnificum, nil generosum sapit. Let their value as exclusive subjects of attention be judged of by the infallible test of the state of mind in which much notice of them leaves us. Read a page of Cudworth or of Bacon, and we are exhilarated and armed to manly duties. Read demonology or Colquhoun’s Report, and we are bewildered and perhaps a little besmirched. We grope. They who love them say they are to reveal to us a world of unknown, unsuspected truths. But suppose a diligent collection and study of these occult facts were made, they are merely physiological, semi-medical, related to the machinery of man, opening to our curiosity how we live, and no aid on the superior problems why we live, and what we do. While the dilettanti have been prying into the humors and muscles of the eye, simple men will have helped themselves and the world by using their eyes.

And this is not the least remarkable fact which the adepts have developed. Men who had never wondered at anything, who had thought it the most natural thing in the world that they should exist in this orderly and replenished world, have been unable to suppress their amazement at the disclosures of the somnambulist. The peculiarity of the history of Animal Magnetism is that it drew in as inquirers and students a class of persons never on any other occasion known as students and inquirers. Of course the inquiry is pursued on low principles. Animal Magnetism peeps. It becomes in such hands a black art. The uses of the thing, the commodity, the power, at once come to mind and direct the course of inquiry. It seemed to open again that door which was open to the imagination of childhood—of magicians and fairies and lamps of Aladdin, the travelling cloak, the shoes of swiftness and the sword of sharpness that were to satisfy the uttermost wish of the sense without danger or a drop of sweat. But as Nature can never be outwitted, as in the Universe no man was ever known to get a cent’s worth without paying in some form or other the cent, so this prodigious promiser ends always and always will, as sorcery and alchemy have done before, in very small and smoky performance.

Mesmerism is high life below stairs; Momus playing Jove in the kitchens of Olympus. ’T is a low curiosity or lust of structure, and is separated by celestial diameters from the love of spiritual truths. it is wholly a false view to couple these things in any manner with the religious nature and sentiment, and a most dangerous superstition to raise them to the lofty place of motives and sanctions. This is to prefer halos and rainbows to the sun and moon. These adepts have mistaken flatulency for inspiration. Were this drivel which they report as the voice of spirits really such, we must find out a more decisive suicide. I say to the table-rappers: I well believe Thou wilt not utter what thou dost not know, And so far will I trust thee, gentle Kate.

They are ignorant of all that is healthy and useful to know, and by laws of kind,—dunces seeking dunces in the dark of what they call the spiritual world,—preferring snores and gastric noises to the voice of any muse. I think the rappings a new test, like blue litmus or other chemical absorbent, to try catechisms with. It detects organic skepticism in the very heads of the Church. ’T is a lawless world. We have left the geometry, the compensation, and the conscience of the daily world, and come into the realm or chaos of chance and pretty or ugly confusion; no guilt and no virtue, but a droll bedlam, where everybody believes only after his humor, and the actors and spectators have no conscience or reflection, no police, no foot-rule, no sanity,—nothing but whim and whim creative.

Meantime far be from me the impatience which cannot brook the supernatural, the vast; far be from me the lust of explaining away all which appeals to the imagination, and the great presentiments which haunt us. Willingly I too say, Hail! to the unknown awful powers which transcend the ken of the understanding. And the attraction which this topic has had for me and which induces me to unfold its parts before you is precisely because I think the numberless forms in which this superstition has reappeared in every time and every people indicates the inextinguishableness of wonder in man; betrays his conviction that behind all your explanations is a vast and potent and living Nature, inexhaustible and sublime, which you cannot explain. He is sure no book, no man has told him all. He is sure the great Instinct, the circumambient soul which flows into him as into all, and is his life, has not been searched. He is sure that intimate relations subsist between his character and his fortunes, between him and his world; and until he can adequately tell them he will tell them wildly and fabulously. Demonology is the shadow of Theology. 

The whole world is an omen and a sign. Why look so wistfully in a corner? Man is the Image of God. Why run after a ghost or a dream? The voice of divination resounds everywhere and runs to waste unheard, unregarded, as the mountains echo with the bleatings of cattle.

Soren Kierkegaard also wrote about the demonical in his 1844 book The Concept of Anxiety. (p. 41-44, 118-137)

In innocence, man is not qualified as spirit but is psychically qualified in immediate unity with his natural condition. The spirit of man is dreaming. In this state there is peace and repose, but there is simultaneously something else that is not contention and strife, for there is indeed nothing against which to strive. What then is it? Nothing. But what effect does nothing have? It begets anxiety. This is the profound secret of innocence, that it is at the same time anxiety. Dreamily the spirit projects its own actuality, but this actuality is nothing, and innocence always sees this nothing outside itself.

Anxiety is a qualification of dreaming spirit, and as such it has its place in psychology. Awake, the difference between myself and my other is posited; sleeping, it is suspended; dreaming, it is an intimated nothing. The actuality of the spirit constantly shows itself as a form that tempts its possibility but disappears as soon as it seeks to grasp for it, and it is a nothing that can only bring anxiety. More it cannot do as long as it merely shows itself. The concept of anxiety is almost never treated in psychology. Therefore, I must point out that it is altogether different from fear and similar concepts that refer to something definite, whereas anxiety is freedom’s actuality as the possibility of possibility. For this reason, anxiety is not found in the beast, precisely because by nature the beast is not qualified as spirit. When we consider the dialectical determinations of anxiety it appears that exactly these have psychological ambiguity.

Anxiety is a sympathetic antipathy and an antipathetic sympathy. One easily sees that this is a psychological determination in a sense entirely different form the concupiscentia [inordinate desire] of which we speak. Just as the relation of anxiety to its object, to something that is nothing (linguistic usage also says pregnantly: to be anxious about nothing), is altogether ambiguous, so also the transition that is to be made from innocence to guilt will be so dialectical that it can be seen that the explanation is what it must be, psychological. The qualitative leap stands outside of all ambiguity. But he who becomes guilty through anxiety is indeed innocent, for it was not he himself but anxiety, a foreign power that laid hold of him, a power that he did not love but about which he was anxious. And yet he was guilty, for he sank in anxiety, which he nevertheless loved even as he feared it. That anxiety makes its appearance is pivotal.

Man is a synthesis of the psychical and the physical; however, a synthesis is unthinkable if the two are not united in a third. This third is spirit. In innocence, man is not merely animal, for if he were at any moment of his life merely animal, he would never become man. So spirit is present, but is immediate, as dreaming. It is in a sense a hostile power, for it constantly disturbs the relation between soul and body, a relation that indeed has persistence and yet does not have endurance, inasmuch as it first receives the latter by the spirit. On the other hand, spirit is a friendly power, since it is precisely that which constitutes the relation. What, then, is man’s relation to this ambiguous power? How does spirit relate itself to itself and to its conditionality? It relates itself as anxiety. Do away with itself, the spirit cannot; lay hold of itself, it cannot, as long as it has itself outside itself. Nor can man sink down into the vegetative, for he is qualified as spirit; flee away from anxiety, he cannot, for he loves it; really love it, he cannot, for he flees from it.

Innocence has now reached its uttermost point. It is ignorance; however, it is not an animal brutality but an ignorance qualified as spirit, and as such innocence is precisely anxiety, because its ignorance is about nothing. Here there is no knowledge of good and evil etc., but the whole actuality of knowledge projects itself in anxiety as the enormous nothing of ignorance. p. 41-44

S2. Anxiety About the Good. (The Demonic) p. 118ff
Rarely is anything said in our day about the demonic. The particular accounts of it in the New Testament are generally left in abeyance. Insofar as theologians seek to explain them, they generally lose themselves in observations upon one or another unnatural sin, and they find examples where the ascendancy of the bestial over a man is such that it almost announces itself by an inarticulate animal sound or by a mimicry of animals and a brutish glance. The bestial may have acquired a pronounced form in man, or it may in a flash, like a disappearing express messenger, suggest premonitions of what dwells within, just as the glance or gesture of the insane in a moment shorter than the shortest moment parodies, ridicules, and jeers at the rational, self-possessed, and clever man with whom he is talking. The phenomenon is described in such a way that it is clearly seen that the subject in question is the bondage of sin, a state that I cannot describe better than by recalling a game in which two persons are concealed under one cloak as if they were only one person, and one speaks and the other gesticulates arbitrarily without any relation to what is said. Similarly, the beast has taken on human form and now constantly jeers at him by gesticulations and farce.

Yet, the bondage of sin is not the demonic. As soon as sin is posited and the individual continues in sin, there are two formations, one of which is described in the foregoing section. If attention is not paid to this, the demonic cannot be defined. The individual is in sin, and his anxiety is about evil. Viewed from a higher standpoint, this formation is in the good, and for this reason it is in anxiety about the evil. The other formation is the demonic. The individual is in the evil and is in anxiety about the good. The bondage of sin is an unfree relation to the evil, but the demonic is an unfree relation to the good. The demonic therefore manifests itself clearly only when it is in contact with the good, which come to its boundary from the outside. For this reason, it is noteworthy that the demonic in the New Testament first appears when it is approached by Christ. Whether the demon is legion (cf. Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39) or is dumb (cf. Luke 11:14), the phenomenon is the same, namely, anxiety about the good, for anxiety can just as well express itself by muteness as by a scream. The good, of course, signifies the restoration of freedom, redemption, salvation, or whatever one would call it.

The demonic may be viewed as esthetic-metaphysical. The phenomenon then will come will come under the rubrics of misfortune, fate, etc. and can then be viewed as analogous to being mentally deranged at birth. Then the phenomenon is approached sympathetically. Sympathy, so far from being a good to the sufferer, is rather a means of protecting one’s own egotism. Not daring in the deeper sense to think about such things, one saves oneself by sympathy.

Only when the sympathetic person in his compassion related himself to the sufferer in such a way that he in the strictest sense understands that it is his own case that is in question, only when he knows how to identify himself with the sufferer in such a way that when he fight for an explanation he is fighting for himself, renouncing all thoughtlessness, softness, and cowardness-only then does the sympathy acquire significance, and only then does it perhaps find a meaning, because the sympathetic person is different from the sufferer in that he suffers under a higher form. When sympathy related itself in this way to the demonic, it will not be a question of a few comforting words, a mite, or a shrug of the shoulder, for is a person laments, he has something to lament about. If the demonic is a fate, it may happen to anyone.

The demonic may be viewed ethically, as something to be condemned. The terrible severity with which it has been persecuted, discovered, and punished is well known in our day, we shudder at the account of it, and we become sentimental and emotional at the thought that in our enlightened age we do not act in that manner. Is sentimental sympathy so much more praiseworthy? It is not for me to judge or condemn that behavior, only to observe it. That is was so ethically severe shows precisely that its sympathy was of a better quality. In identifying itself in thought with the phenomenon, it has no further explanation that that the phenomenon was guilt.

Therefore, it was convinced that when all is said and done, the demonic himself, according to his better possibility, would in fact desire all the cruelty and severity that was used against him. To take an example from a similar sphere-was it not Augustine who recommended punishment, even capital punishment, for heretics? Was it because he lacked sympathy? Or was his behavior different from that of our own time because his sympathy had not made him cowardly, so that he would have said about himself: God grant that if it should come to that with me, there would be a Church that would not abandon me but would use all its power.

The person who is not developed ethically to the extent that he would find comfort and relief if, even when he suffered the most, someone had the courage to say to him, “This is not fate, it is guilt,” that he would find comfort and relief when this was told to him sincerely and earnestly-such a person is not in a true sense ethically developed, because the ethical individuality fears nothing so much as fate and esthetic rigmarole that in the cloak of compassion would trick him out of the jewel, which is freedom.

The demonic has been viewed medically-therapeutically. And it goes without saying with power and with pills and then with enemas! Now the pharmacist and the physician would get together. The patient would be isolated to prevent others from becoming afraid. In courageous age, we dare not tell a patient that he is about to die, we dare not call the pastor lest he die from shock, and we dare not tell the patient that a few days ago a man died from the same disease. The patient would be isolated. Sympathy would inquire about his condition. The physician would promise to issue a report as soon as possible, along with a tabulated statistical survey in order to determine the average. And when one has arrived at the average, everything is explained. The medical-therapeutic view regards the phenomenon as purely physical and somatic, and as physicians often do, takes a pinch of snuff and says: It is a serious case.

That three so different views are possible show the ambiguity of the phenomenon and indicates that in a sense it belongs in all spheres: the somatic, the psychic, and the pneumatic. This suggests that the demonic covers a much larger field than is commonly assumed, which can be explained by the fact that a man is a synthesis of psyche and body sustained by spirit, and therefore a disorganization in one shows itself in the others.

The demonic is a state. The demonic is anxiety about the good. In innocence freedom is always posited as freedom; its possibility was anxiety in the individual. In the demonic the relation is reversed. In the demonic freedom is posited as unfreedom, because freedom is lost. The demonic is unfreedom that wants to close itself off in inclosing reserve and in the unfreely disclosed. Inclosing reserve is precisely the mute, and when it is to express itself, this must take place contrary to its will, since freedom, which underlies unfreedom or is its ground, by entering into communication with freedom form without, revolts and now betrays unfreedom ins such a way that it is the individual who in anxiety betrays himself again his will.

The demonic does not close itself up with something, but it closes itself up within itself, and in this lies what is profound about existence, precisely that unfreedom makes itself a prisoner. Freedom is always communicating; unfreedom becomes more and more inclosed and does not want communication. When freedom comes into contact with inclosing reserve, it becomes anxious. A demoniac in the New Testament says to Christ, “What have I to do with you?”, and then says Christ has come to destroy him, (anxiety about the good). Or the demoniac implores Christ to go another way. When the anxiety is about evil, see S1,  the individual has recourse to salvation.

The only thing that can constrain inclosing reserve to speak is either a higher demon (for every devil has his day), or the good, which is absolutely able to keep silent, and if any cunning tries to embarrass it by the examination of silence, the inquisitor himself will be brought to shame, and it will turn out that finally he becomes afraid of himself and must break silence. Face to face with a subordinate demon and subordinate human natures whose consciousness of God is not strongly developed, inclosing reserve conquers unconditionally, because the former is not able to endure and the latter in all innocence are accustomed to live from hand to mouth and wear their hearts on their sleeves. It is incredible what power the man of inclosing reserve can exercise over such people, how at last they beg and plead for just a word to break the silence, but it is also shameful to trample upon the weak in this manner.

The demonic is inclosing reserve, the demonic is anxiety about the good. … Disclosure is the good, for disclosure is the first expression of salvation. There is an old saying that if one dates to utter “the word,” the sorcery’s enchantment is broken, and therefore the somnambulist wakes up when his name is spoken.

The collisions of inclosing reserve with regard to disclosure may be infinitely varied with innumerable nuances, because the exuberant growth of the spiritual life is not inferior to that of nature, and the varieties of the spiritual states are more numerous than those of the flowers. Inclosing reserve may wish for disclosure, wish that it might be brought about from the outside, that might happen to it. It may will disclosure to a certain degree but still retain a little residue in order to begin the inclosing reserve all over again.

Inclosing reserve may wish for disclosure, wish that it might be brought about from the outside, that might happen to it. It may will disclosure to a certain degree but still retain a little residue in order to begin the inclosing reserve all over again.

note p 127 I have deliberately used the word “disclosure.” I could also have called the good “transparency.” If I feared that anyone might misunderstand the word “disclosure” and the development of its relation to the demonic, as if it were always a matter of something external, something tangible discloses in the confessional, but which as something external would be of no help, I certainly would have chosen another word.

What the inclosed person conceals in his inclosing reserve can be so terrible that he does not dare to utter it, not even to himself, because it is as though it would tempt him again What determines whether the phenomenon is demonic is the individual’s attitude toward disclosure, whether he will interpenetrate that fact with freedom and accept it in freedom. Whenever he will not do this, the phenomenon is demonic. This must be kept clearly in mind, for even he who wishes it is essentially demonic. He has two wills, one subordinate and impotent that wills revelation and one stronger that wills inclosing reserve, but the fact that his will is the stronger indicates that he is essentially demonic.

The demonic is the sudden. The sudden is a new expression for another aspect of inclosing reserve. When the content is reflected upon, the demonic is defined as inclosing reserve; when time is reflected upon, it is defined as the sudden. Inclosing reserve is the effect of the negative self-relation in the individuality. Inclosing reserve closes itself off more and more from communication. The sudden is always due to anxiety about the good, because there is something that freedom is unwilling to pervade. The sudden corresponds to weakness.

The question of how the demonic can best be presented may be considered from a purely esthetic point of view. If a Mephistopheles is to be presented, he might well be furnished with a speech if he is to be used as a force in the dramatic action rather than to be grasped in his essence. But in that case Mephistopheles himself is not really presented but is reduced to an evil, witty, intriguing mind. This is a vaporization, whereas a legend has already presented him correctly. It relates that the devil for 3,000 years sat and speculated on how to destroy man-finally he did discover it. If the emphasis is on the 3,000 year it is the brooding inclosing reserve of the demonic.

The demonic is the contentless and boring. The continuity that corresponds to the sudden is what might be called extinction. Boredom, extinction, is precisely a continuity in nothingness. The 3,000 years are not accentuated to emphasis the sudden; instead, the prodigious span of time evokes the notion of the dreadful emptiness and contentlessness of evil. When all ethical determinants of evil are excluded, and only metaphysical determinants of emptiness are used, the result is the trivial, the comic. The contentless and the boring represent inclosing reserve.

One cannot be inclosed in God or the good, because this kind of inclosure signifies the greatest expansion. Thus, the more definitely conscience is developed in a person the more expanded he is, even though in other respects he closes himself off from the whole world.

The negative has the defect that it is more externally oriented; it defines the relation to something else, which is negated, while inclosed reserve defines the state itself. When the negative is understood in this manner, I have no objection to its use as a designation for the demonic, provided that the negative can otherwise rid itself of all the bees that the most recent philosophy has put in its bonnet. The negative has gradually become a vaudeville character.

We now return to the definition of the demonic as anxiety about the good.

The bondage of sin is also unfreedom, but its direction is different, and its anxiety is about evil. Unfreedom, the demonic is a state and psychology regards it as a state. Ethics, on the other hand, sees how out of this state the new sin constantly breaks forth, for only the good is the unity of state and motion.

Freedom may be lost in different ways, and so there may also be a difference in the demonic. This difference I shall now consider under the rubrics: Freedom lost somatically-psychically and freedom lost pneumatically.

The body is the organ of the psyche and in turn the organ of the spirit. The utmost extreme in this sphere is the bestial. As soon as the serving relation comes to an end, as soon as the body revolts, and as soon as freedom conspires with the body against itself, unfreedom is present as the demonic. As long as freedom does not defect to the party of the rebels, the anxiety of revolution will still be present, not as anxiety about the good, but as anxiety about evil. … a hypersensibility and a hyperirritability, neurasthenia, hysteria, hypochondria, etc.-all of these are or could be nuances of it.

The utmost extreme of this sphere is what is commonly called bestial perdition. In this state, the demonic manifests itself in saying, as did the demoniac in the New Testament with regard to salvation: What have I to do with you? Therefore it shuns every contact with the good whether this actually threatens it by wanting to help it to freedom or only touches it casually. But this is also enough, for anxiety is extraordinarily swift. Therefore, from such a demonic is quite commonly heard a reply that expresses all the horror of this state: Leave me alone in my wretchedness. Or such a man says in referring to a particular time in his past life: At that time I could probably been saved-the most dreadful reply imaginable. Neither punishment nor thunderous tirades make him anxious, yet every word that is related to the freedom scuttled and sunk in unfreedom will do so.

Among such demoniacs there is a cohesion in which they cling to one another so inseparably and anxiously that no friendship has an inwardness that can be compared with it. This sociability of anxiety will manifest itself everywhere in this sphere. The sociability in itself furnishes an assurance that the demonic is present, but insofar as there is the analogous condition as an expression of the bondage of sin, the sociability is not present, because the anxiety is about evil. ….


The Autobiography of Goethe 1811-1832 by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 1749-1832
Demonology by Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803–1882 Mr. Emerson gave a course of ten lectures on Human Life, in Boston in the winter of 1838–39, of which “Demonology” was the last.
The Concept of Anxiety 1844 by Soren Kierkegaard 1813-1855

Published by kierkegaardschallenge

I found myself becoming interested in the writings of Soren Kierkegaard and can't get my interest to end.

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