A dæmon /ˈdiːmən/ was the physical manifestation of a human soul in Lyra's world. Humans in other worlds had dæmons. However, they were invisible to those who had not learned the technique to see them.
Dæmons were able to hold different intuitions to their humans and reveal emotional responses to their surroundings that might not otherwise be obvious in their humans. Dæmons shared the same dreams as their humans and could communicate both verbally and non-verbally with them.
Dæmons were named by the dæmons of the child's parents. During the childhood of a human, a dæmon could shapeshift into any kind of animal. This change could be due to emotion, need for a particular skill such as night-vision, or simply a whim. Frequent changing of forms and a wide variety of forms were generally thought to be a good indicator of intelligence in a child. Asta was able to add the characteristics of one animal to another form.
Uncertainty in children translated into uncertainty in which form to take. Sister Fenella did not know how dæmons were able to take forms they had never come across before but her dæmon, Geraint, used to be a mole when he was frightened. Asta believed it was a question of feeling ‘moleish’ rather than knowing about them.
When the human and their dæmon reached maturity, the dæmon would settle into a permanent form. This form represented the personality of their human.
When dæmons took the form of an animal, they were never really animals, and all other animals would only be able to sense a human.
Dæmons didn't always settle into a permanent form their humans wanted. An example given by Jerry was of a sailor who couldn't leave his ship due to his dæmon settling as a dolphin, and who was only truly happy when he was finally buried at sea. Forms were sometimes linked to professions: both Mr Croker, a woodwork teacher, and Mr Taphouse, a carpenter, had woodpecker dæmons. Roofers, tilers and steeplejacks had daemons that could fly or fit in a pocket to make ladder work viable. Kerin suggested that a settled form could not be chosen, but could be ‘helped’.
As a human and their dæmon were one being, the death of one resulted in that of the other. Upon death, the dæmon instantly scattered as Dust. Dæmons could also be permanently injured, as was the case for Gerard Bonneville.
As a human and their dæmon were one being, it was physically and emotionally painful for them to separate too far from each other. Death usually followed such separation due to the severe trauma. The General Oblation Board attempted to perfect the intercision process, to separate the human and dæmon in a way which did not result in death. Nevertheless, this resulted in the human losing some of their willpower and vitality. Less advanced methods were used to create hollow servants called zombi.
Witches were known to be able to separate but the knowledge that humans could was less common. Will Parry and Lyra Silvertongue gained the ability after leaving their dæmons on the shore of the world of the dead, although this did not give them the longevity, power of flight or bird forms that also characterised witches. As a shaman, John Parry was also able to separate from his dæmon without great pain.
Humans were able to separate from their dæmons in moments of great necessity without dying. This allowed them to live completely independent lives in the most extreme cases. When he was eleven, Malcolm Polstead separated so that his dæmon Asta could stay to look after a baby Lyra whilst he went to help Alice Parslow fight off Bonneville.
Dr Strauss and Anthony Hassall could separate after the completing the journey akterrakeh, which Strauss believed to be the worst and most necessary thing he ever did. Dæmons felt the incredibly painful journey into Karamakan to be a great betrayal. Chen, their guide, was feared and shunned by other camel-herders for his ability to separate.
There was a dæmon trade in Seleukeia for those who had lost their own dæmon. Poor Tajiks and others in desperate situations sold their dæmons, or had them sold as children, and were then regarded with disgust and scorn for the rest of their lives. People like Chil-du and Yozdah were not even granted their own personal names, instead named after numbers (odd for women, even for men). Medical knowledge was advanced enough in Seleukeia to mean most that people survived the separation operation. There were rumours that big medical corporations were experimenting before moving into Europe and that they were powerful enough to encourage authorities to ignore any deaths and illicit trade. Among the sellers operating out of the Park Hotel was Selim Veli, who claimed satisfactory tolerance and even affection could be achieved. He boasted to have sold to Françoise Guillebaud, Amedea Cipriani and Gottfried Brande.
People known to have been separated
- See also: Intercision#Known severed people
- All witches who had completed a separation ritual
- Lyra Silvertongue
- William Parry
- John Parry
- Malcolm Polstead
- Anthony Hassall
- Dr Strauss
- Rosamond Cantacuzino
- Cornelis van Dongen
- Vaclav Kubiček
- Marisa Coulter (possibly)
- Gottfried Brande
- Françoise Guillebaud
- Amedea Cipriani
- Martin Lanselius
It was considered taboo for a person to touch another person's dæmon. Humans whose dæmons were touched by others generally felt a strong sense of repulsion. One exception was when two people touched each other's dæmons in a gesture of love, an act that marked the settling of Pantalaimon and Kirjava. Malcolm Polstead observed that the taboo appeared to be learnt, rather than instinctual, when he was touched by a baby Pantalaimon. He was shocked by the experience but felt privileged rather than disgusted.
The witches had a rite of passage in which the witch entered a barren land where no dæmon could enter. After doing so, the witch and her dæmon were able to separate over long distances. One such place was Tungusk in Siberia. Coram van Texel told Lyra of a gyptian man who could separate, having made the same journey as the witches in the hope that he would be able to live as long as his witch lover. He died soon after.
Dæmon is an Anglicisation of the Ancient Greek word daimōn which means 'spirit'. It is a neutral term with none of the malevolent connotations associated with the modern English word demon.
Behind the scenes
- The idea of the dæmon was inspired by paintings such as Leonardo da Vinci's "Lady with an Ermine" where there seems to be a psychological connection between the lady and the animal. Pantalaimon changes to an ermine numerous times during the series, especially when sleeping.
- Early editions of Northern Lights suggested dæmons could turn into humans. One coin for the dæmon of a previous Master of Jordan College inside the Jordan catacombs depicted a fair woman.
- Northern Lights
- Northern Lights - The Graphic Novel
- The Golden Compass (film)
- The Golden Compass (video game)
- The Subtle Knife
- The Amber Spyglass
- His Dark Materials (TV series), Series 1
- Lyra's Oxford
- Once Upon a Time in the North
- La Belle Sauvage
- The Secret Commonwealth
- La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 1
- La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 14
- Northern Lights, Chapter 16
- BBC Radio 4 - Philip Pullman Webchat
- La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 5
- La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 3
- Northern Lights, Chapter 10
- The Subtle Knife, Lantern Slide 2
- La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 9
- La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 6
- La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 12
- La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 21
- Northern Lights, Chapter 17
- Northern Lights, Chapter 6
- La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 11
- Northern Lights, Chapter 7
- Northern Lights, Chapter 3
- The Amber Spyglass, Chapter 36
- The Subtle Knife, Chapter 13
- The Secret Commonwealth, Chapter 6
- The Secret Commonwealth, Chapter 5
- The Secret Commonwealth, Chapter 32
- The Secret Commonwealth, Chapter 25
- The Secret Commonwealth, Chapter 20
- She showed some signs of unusual separation distance in Northern Lights, Chapter 15. The TV series made the ability explicit in both series.
- The Amber Spyglass, Chapter 37
- La Belle Sauvage, Chapter 19
- The Secret Commonwealth, Chapter 16
- The Secret Commonwealth, Chapter 15
- Intelligent Life - 
|Humanoid||Angels • Dæmons • Deaths • Gallivespians • Ghosts • Humans • Mermaids • Witches • Zombi|
|Other||Cliff-ghasts • Harpies • Mulefa • Night-ghasts • Panserbjørne • Spectres • Will-o’-the-wykes|