Daimonic Energy, Creativity, & Families

Eugene O’Neill is one of my favorite playwrights. I just read a book review in the New York Review of Books in which his personal foibles were put on the table, letting us see once again that so many men and women of “the arts” are the “toy of some great pain” as Ranier Rilke put it.  O’Neill’s personal life was often tragic and the tragedy was passed on to his children, two of which committed suicide and another drank herself to death.  This review described him as narcissistic and often physically and emotionally abusive of his wives.  It is as if he was living out the script that his father had left him. (The book is, “By Women Possessed: a Life of Eugene O’Neill” by  Arthur Gelb and Barbara Gelb)

Life is painful.  Most of us hide it well, living out our lives in a pedestrian manner, finding solace in the amusements and distractions that our culture affords us.  We have boundaries that keep the pain beneath the surface, boundaries that I like to describe as the “fig leaves” that God gave us to hide us from our nakedness.  Creative people, those who frolic about in “the arts”, do not have boundaries that are solid and thus daimonic energy flows through them and from that primitive source of all good…and bad…the gods communicate with us.

T.S. Eliot was aware of this daimonic energy in families. In his play, “The Family Reunion” he painted the picture of one very conflicted,  even dysfunctional, upper-class family through whom one particular individual seemed destined to carry the load of these dark forces. And, from his own personal life, he clearly was speaking of himself.  In this selection from the play he describes the “sin bearer” of this family, the scape-goat in a sense, who he described as the families “bird sent flying through the purgatorial fire.”

What we have written is not a story of detection,

Of crime and punishment, but of sin and expiation.

It is possible you have not known what sin

You shall expiate, or whose, or why.  It is certain

That the knowledge of it must precede the expiation.

It is possible that sin may strain and struggle

In its dark instinctive birth, to come to consciousness

And so find expurgation.  It is possible

You are the consciousness of your unhappy family,

Its bird sent flying through the purgatorial flame.

Indeed it is possible.  You may learn hereafter,

Moving alone through flames of ice, chosen

To resolve the enchantment under which we suffer


Someone noted, “Always remember when you encounter someone, he is carrying pain.”  The point is to be willing to allow some slack to this individual for you don’t know what is going on with him.  Auden put this eloquently when he noted that all of us, “Wage the war we are.”  Each of us have our ways of handling this duress and most of the times these adaptations are within the pale of social acceptability and everyone is happy.  But people like O’Neill, Eliot, and “the artists” in general, are more open to this pain, this “daimonic” energy, and that is why our culture usually grants them a little more slack.  They bring great beauty and wisdom to us, without which we’d be condemned to live only on the surface of life, missing the breath of fresh air that the gods offer us.


Two other blogs of mine are listed here which I invited you to check out:





the surface of life without these breaths of fresh air from the gods.


4 thoughts on “Daimonic Energy, Creativity, & Families

  1. Anne-Marie

    So true! I wrote in my journal this morning from the Prologue in ‘The Rule of St Benedict’: “What is not possible by nature, let us ask the Lord to supply by the help of his grace.” Our gifts and our problem are too sides of the one coin. If we seek to try to remove our problem, often we destroy our true gift.
    A lot of thoughts are coming to me. I’ve been reading about conversion in Laurence Freeman’s, ‘The Wisdom Jesus’. It is ongoing. It is learning to see ourselves with soft eyes, as we are without illusions. It is coming into ‘The Kingdom of Forgiveness’, of self and of others. He writes, “The Kingdom is experienced when we acknowledge the loving power of God over the power of egotism and all the ego’s personal and social manifestations or structures…. ignorance, greed, pride, illusion, insecurity, anxiety, despair, impatience, intolerance, isolation….the Kingdom offers an inexhaustible hope and liberty….”. As my eyes are being opened to seeing these traits in me, I’m finding that instead of condemning myself, it is helpful to acknowledge and praise a risen Power greater than myself, yet also in myself and others (the True Self). The ‘thorn in the flesh’ that we all carry, may be just what is needed to bring about self-compassion and compassion for others.


    1. literarylew Post author

      Again, very well stated. Thank you. Have you ever checked out “A Course in Miracles”? It is beyond the pale…given my past…but is very powerful. There is some real wisdom there about forgiveness.


  2. Bonnie Roberts

    I see you are still writing. Thanks for the effort you put into your articles.

    Right now I am beginning to practice letting my heart and mind be an empty canvas as I consider Henri Nowen’s recommendation from the Abbot at the Genesee Abbey in upstate New York. This is a quote take from the book called “The Genesee Diary”. The Abbots suggest that Henri meditate three particular considerations. ” Entering into the depth of your own soul, there you an be with him who was before you came to be, who loved you before you could love, and who has given you your own self before any comparison was possible”. I can “sit” with this until I die.





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