SPIRITUAL SOAP: Weird & Güd - Where Did All the Daemons Go?
The little deaths we don't see.
Before we were The Black Sheep, we were a newsletter named Spiritual Soap. Please enjoy this article from our history!
I enjoy research too much and I’m a shameless critic. Weird & Güd is the conjoining of those misanthropic qualities into something useful: recommendations and fascinations neatly packaged together for you every week, some hermit-ism required after all.
What can you be accused of with no tangible evidence, but suspicion and opinion alone? What accusation tarnishes your very morality, transforming the focus from the action to the person? What accusation is only further proved by your denial? What accusation leaves little room for nuance, immediately uniting a mob against you? What accusation receives a final sentence before it ever sees a trial?
This pattern might sound familiar today, but back up to the 16th century — the start of the witch trials.
Our justice system and culture in the west join seamlessly to create an environment where the idea “If I’ve done nothing wrong, why should I have to worry?” seems reasonable. If you’re a tinfoil hat enthusiast, a sentence like that strikes fear into your heart. For the conspiracy theorist, innocence and freedom are childish fantasies that exist only as long as they remain convenient to Big Brother.
Both the naive and paranoid characters exist in a time that provides just enough protection to distort their perception of it. Enter: the European witch-hunts, an atmosphere where paranoia is the standard and naivety is extinct.
The Burning of Louisa Mabree
Any belief that spread throughout an entire continent and lead to the violent deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people can’t be dismissed as simply time-specific ignorance. The European witch-trials have been studied from plenty of angles, from feminist, to political, and legal. Were the witch trials spurred on by economic insecurity and famine? Possibly. Were the witch trials a cover for misogynistic femicide? Partially, but not significantly. How can the legal treatment of witch trials inform our own laws?
For one, what cannot be proved should not be punished.
What made the witch-trials such a deadly and dark period was how it affects our naive question from earlier: “If I’ve done nothing wrong, why should I have to worry?” In a climate where an accusation alone was condemnation, what was framed as driven by morality was more often fear and power.
Your rude neighbor? Witch. Your unattractive wife? Witch. Your successful competitor? Witch. The unproductive village outsider? Witch. The professor who refused to give you a pass on the final exam? Wi—Oops. Wrong period of social panic.
What makes the witch trials so fascinating is how it spread as quickly and widely as any trend. There weren’t tens of thousands of witches, but there certainly was a demand for finding them. Supply and demand is more than just economics — it’s natural law. Where there’s a desire, there’s someone who’ll sell it to you. In 1644, that someone was Matthew Hopkins, who preferred the humble title of Witchfinder General.
Hopkins saw an opportunity and took it. He single-handedly threw gasoline on the flame of social panic and increased the number of executions for witchcraft in 3 years above what it had been in the previous 100 years. He developed a truth-proof method for finding witches where they stubbornly refused to exist. It turns out threatening someone’s survival can get even a puritan to admit they’ve slept with Satan.
But why stoke mass hysteria and order the murders of innocent people? Psychopathy aside, the business of morality is always booming.
Matthew Hopkins was paid by the town for every witch he found. It was a match made in a hotter hell than any of Hopkins’ witches supposedly danced in. Townsfolk being townsfolk, they wanted a reason to dust off their pitchforks and watch a body or 20 burn. Opportunists being opportunists, Hopkins was happy to author a philosophy that turned anyone into a witch at any moment.
When the crime is not your action but your very essence, when an accusation alone is condemnation, when turning in your neighbor takes the witch-finding eyes off you for another day, innocence goes extinct and paranoia flourishes in its place.
Hopkins built a career out of condemning others for unproven crimes. The end of that career was caused by tuberculosis, but there were two other ends on the horizon by the time he was sick that are much more compelling. Closing in on him from one side was John Gaule, a clergyman who took the risk of preaching against witch-hunting and openly questioned Hopkins’ methods.
On the other side of Hopkins’ demise were the villagers themselves — it turns out even witch-hunting has a natural price-ceiling. As taxes had to be raised to fund their thirst for witch-hunting, villagers lost interest in these increasingly expensive, execution-fueled events. Perhaps the test of true morality is simply whoever is willing to foot the final bill for their own beliefs.
Witch-hunting might seem like the result of an ignorant era, but that’s just the book cover on an ancient story.
What doesn’t expire easily is the human desire for self-preservation and the willingness to exploit that.
If you’re ever feeling unimportant and unremarkable, just remember that you were born with your very own special daemon to torment you for all your life. Not in the magical-curse sense, but in the more real human-curse sense.
The daemon is an idea that has existed since the ancient Greeks. Throughout time it’s taken different forms, from the unseen spirit to the unknowable self and more modernly, the secular stroke of genius.
Regardless of how you understand it, the daemon is that science-spiting, rebellious reality that makes us what we are, or should we deny it, what we aren’t.
Socrates spoke of “a voice” that guided him only through warnings; it never told him what he should do, only what he shouldn’t. No matter how atheistic you are, you’ve experienced that “feeling” lasting no longer than a moment that makes you pause and reconsider your path. It’s that feeling Socrates credited for his wisdom, having chosen to always obey it, even when it meant not escaping his own execution.
Carl Jung and Rollo May saw the daemon as a two-sided spirit. While this ancient muse can guide us towards our highest aim, it can also drive us straight into the ground. For many artists, it has.
We don’t talk about inspiration or creativity in terms of mysterious power today. We attribute what was once the purview of spirits to ourselves instead, to individual talent or skill — much tamer and more explainable concepts. Skill and talent don’t kill, though.
When the talented musician ends his life, his talent offers no answer, but his daemon does.
If the force that guides our interest toward art, engineering, philosophy, or family is nothing but simple skill, then what “skill” guides us into destruction when we fail to fulfill that interest? Humans have always feared the unknown, but perhaps that fear grows the more that unknown shrinks in our modern world.
By ignoring the shadow behind inspiration, we don’t see the destruction that comes of denying our daemon.
Happiness is to live in harmony with one’s daimon.
The daemon has long been spoken of as an unruly visitor, one that overtakes the person unwilling to rule it. You may not believe in spirits or the unseen, but there’s a useful trick in seeing the mystery of our creative life force/energy/whatever you want to name it, as more than just ourselves. In naming the daemon, we reckon with the daemon.
Rather than fool ourselves into thinking we are always under our own control, reserving a little fear for that unknowable aspect of ourselves that pulls us toward an unseen path breeds respect for it.
You might pretend you know yourself, but you can’t pretend to know your daemon.
What destruction brews for you as punishment for ignoring its pull?
I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be güd.
I sit alone at a desk biting my nails to bring you every edition of Spiritual Soap. Is it worth it? Don’t tell me, show me.