Dæmons (pronounced: Dee-men) are the physical manifestations of the souls of humans in Lyra's world. Although dæmons are a separate identity to their humans, together, both are considered to be one entity. Therefore, both the human and dæmon will die simultaneously, if one is killed.
Dæmons assume the forms of animals. During the childhood of a human, the dæmon can shapeshift into any kind of animal depending on whim or circumstances; after the child has attained maturity, their dæmon will settle into a permanent form, often reflecting the nature of their human. A person's dæmon is usually the opposite sex, although it is possible for both to have the same sex. It is a taboo for a person to touch another's dæmon; similarly, a dæmon cannot touch another person. One mentioned exception occurs when Will Parry and Lyra Belacqua touch each other's dæmon in love; this touch was described not as a violation, but as a stimulating and invigorating sensation that caused both dæmon to settle "having felt a lover's touch."
The separation between a human and their dæmon is very painful and emotionally afflicting. Excluding the dæmons belonging to witches, who could travel great distances away from each other, death would usually follow the separation due to the severe trauma. In the series, a device known as the Silver Guillotine was able to separate dæmon from their humans without resulting in death. Nevertheless, this resulted in the human losing some of their willpower and vitality. Less advanced methods have been used by shamans and the like to create hollow servants called zombi.
Witches' dæmons are able to travel far away from them due to a rite of passage where young witches enter a dead area in the north where no dæmon can go. Witches' dæmons are always flying creatures.
Ostensibly, dæmon can only be readily seen and acknowledged in Lyra's world. In other worlds and universes, including Will Parry's world, the dæmons are invisible and lack physical forms, but people can be taught how to see them as Mary was taught how to by Serafina Pekkala. Humans are possibly the only species who know that they possess dæmons. They are not, however, the only species to have dæmons, as in the world of the dead other sentient beings such as the Mulefa and the Gallivespians as well as many other sentient creatures. Not all intelligent creatures have dæmons, such as the Panserbjørne.
In ancient Greek, "d(a)emon" simply means "spirit" and is neutral. To specifically refer to an evil spirit, one needed to say "cacodemon" (a word which entered English by the 12th century), or "tychodaemon" or "eudaemon" if referring to a good spirit. In our universe "cacodemon" has generally been shortened to "demon" (hence Will's confusion on first hearing the term), although "daemon" has other meanings, especially in computing. "Cacodemon" has since the late 20th century primarily referred to one of the monsters in Doom.
Symbolism of some of the names of Dæmon are briefly presented below:
|Lyra Silvertongue:||Pantalaimon||Ermine: purity (Renaissance Symbology), "favourite" form|
Pine Marten: grace and empathy (Celtic Myth.) , settled form
|Will Parry:||Kirjava||Cat: guardian and protector, especially in confrontational circumstances (Celtic Myth.), settled form|
|Lord Asriel:||Stelmaria||Snow Leopard: understanding one’s shadow side (Pagan Myth.), associated with the devil (Christian Symbolism), settled form|
(from BBC Radio)
|Golden Lion Tamarin: cleverness and curiosity (Chinese Astrology), settled form|
|Roger Parslow:||Salcilia||Terrier: fidelity (Celtic Myth.), common form, also explained to be a form suited for servants in the series|
|Mary Malone:||never named||Alpine Chough: settled form. A bird of the mountains. This is the from Satan uses to sneak into Eden in "Paradise Lost".|
|John Faa:||never named||Crow: the soul of magic and link to the spirit world (alchemical symbol), settled form|
|Farder Coram:||Sophonax||Cat/Caracal (film): (see above) settled form|
|Serafina Pekkala:||Kaisa||Snow Goose: vigilance and protection (Celtic Myth.), settled form. The name Kaisa is a female name in Finland, although Kaisa the snow goose is male in the books.|
|Lee Scoresby:||Hester||Arctic Hare: The Moon and Resurrection (Pagan), settled form|
(of Jordan College)
(from BBC Radio)
|Raven: Bird used by Odin to collect knowledge, settled form|
|John "Jopari-Stanislaus Grumman" Parry:|
(aliases in likely order of origin)
|Sayan Kötör||Osprey: often linked to those of otherworldly vision; its also common a symbol of abundance, settled form|
|Carlo Boreal / Charles Latrom, CBE :||never named||Serpent: settled form.|
Possible scientific explanationEdit
It is possible dæmons are colonies of Dust that have, over the eons, formed a symbiotic relationship with humans. One so strong that, while a dæmon is not literally its counterpart's soul, it might as well be.