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In His Dark Materials, what are Daemons?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 23, 2024
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Daemons are fictional creatures from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials fantasy series. They are external representations of the soul, and are inextricably linked to a single person, with whom they share an immensely intimate bond.

In the mythos of the books, an equivalent for daemons appears to exist for all sentient creatures and in all universes, although their forms may differ wildly. Those most discussed in the books are animal familiars associated with people in Lyra’s universe. They may take on various animal shapes while their human companion is still a child, but once the child grows up they settle on one form, which is representative of a range of character traits the human possesses.

Daemons are generally of the opposite sex from their human counterpart, though this is not always the case. It has been suggested that a human having one of the same sex might indicate homosexuality, or might indicate some sort of supernatural power. Daemons also have their own names, given to them by the daemons of the human parents, and their own distinct personalities. They often give advice to their human companion, and so are certainly of their own mind. Some are be more cowardly than their human, others may be more brave; some may be very wise, while others may act as a sort of conscience.

They cannot move too far away from their human companion, otherwise the human begins to feel severe discomfort. If they continue being pulled away, ultimately death will result. In some cases this can limit the movements of the human, such as for a sailor whose daemon settles in the form of a dolphin, and therefore must always be in the water.

In the books, the energy linking a daemon with his or her human companion appears to be immense. When the bond is severed, as by a sort of guillotine used by the General Oblation Board or Lord Asriel, incredible energy is released which can be harnessed. Once severed from their daemons, however, people lose most of their will, effectively becoming zombies. Although the General Oblation Board appears to be the first group in Europe to experiment with such things, it is implied throughout the books that such practices have existed for many years in parts of Africa.

Other sentient beings also have corollaries to daemons, although theirs may differ drastically from those humans have. The witches, for example, who seem to be nearly human, have animal daemons similar to humans. Theirs appear to be mostly in bird form, and are able to travel hundreds of miles away from their witch without any discomfort being felt, in stark contrast to humans and their short tether. The armor of the panserbjørne appears to have a similar status, as it is the source of their strength.

In other universes daemons may or may not be visible, but they still exist one way or the other. In our universe, for example, it is implied that the daemon is still there, but that we have not learned to see it or express it. In the universe of the mulefa, it appears that the pods they ride upon are their daemons, tying them intimately to the Dust. There is some suggestion that in some universes a person’s Death, which follows them around at all times until their time to die comes, may act as in a similar fashion, but it is uncertain.

Touching another person’s daemon is considered the strictest taboo. Although a lover may touch another’s daemon if invited, outside of this circumstance it is virtually unheard of. Even in battle, soldiers will avoid touching enemy daemons out of respect. Daemons, however, may touch one another freely, and may do battle in order to play out a struggle between their two human companions.

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Discussion Comments

By croydon — On Dec 21, 2013

@pleonasm - More than actually having one, I just wanted to know what kind of animal my daemon would be as I grew up. I mean, we all kind of hope that it will be something cool, like the snow leopard, but it seems like there would be an awful lot of dogs and cats and sparrows and things like that.

I wouldn't like to actually have one to be honest though. I found those scenes where the Daemon of one person was manipulating the daemon of another and it would bleed through to their own relationship kind of creepy. I mean, it was really well written and creative, but not something I'd want to experience in real life.

By pleonasm — On Dec 20, 2013

@MrsPramm - I remember thinking that as well, but there would also be so many downsides. Particularly if your daemon ended up being an animal like a dolphin, so you basically had to stay near the water for the rest of your life.

Not to mention the fact that in the books they found a way to separate people from their daemons. Considering the other human rights abuses that go on in real life, I'm sure it wouldn't be all that uncommon for it to happen here if we had a similar set up. So you'd always be living in fear of that.

Plus, I don't know if I'd like having something there all the time. If you were an introvert it could get very annoying to never be able to get your own space.

By MrsPramm — On Dec 20, 2013

When I read these books I was so jealous of the idea of having a daemon. Just having a little creature with you all the time that will always be able to help you and will serve as a window into your personality and soul.

It would just be so nice to know that you would never be alone and would never be without someone who loved you.

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