The shimmer of spirit

A few times – not often, but I can definitely recall specific instances – I have had the extraordinary experience of seeing the shimmer of a person’s spirit in their face.  It is a powerful reminder of how much about another human being is beyond, and beneath, what we can see.

Two years ago, I wrote about seeing sparkles behind my eyelids as I fell asleep.  Now I understand that I was catching sight of the caverns of my own spirit for the first time.  I wrote of sensing inside my head and heart “an expansive space, a black sky speckled with constellations whose forms I don’t yet know how to read.”  And I have had the immense privilege of glimpsing what Catherine Newman calls the “hidden geode glittering” inside another person a few times.

This has been on my mind because I recently re-read Phillip Pullman’s marvelous book The Golden Compass.  My father gave me the trilogy many years ago, and I devoured it, and for some reason I’d been feeling the tug lately to reread.  I very rarely re-read, but for some reason I did so.  Once again I was transported by the story, by the narrative, by the human and yet extraordinary character of Lyra and, perhaps most of all, by the device of daemons.

In the world of The Golden Compass, every human being is accompanied by an animal called their daemon.  This animal, the physical manifestation of a person’s spirit, is governed by a set of rules.  It cannot get further than a certain distance away from its human.  It cannot be touched by any other person.  And, most fascinatingly to me, the daemons of children can shift their shape, from one kind of animal to another.  Adults’ daemons, however, are fixed, and as the child grows up the daemon selects an animal and settles on it.  This parable of maturation has all kinds of ramifications, and when I think of it I feel both a hint of sadness and a tinge of truth.

The daemons have already reminded me, a bit, of Harry Potter’s Patronus.  It takes effort, skill, and dedication to conjure a Patronus, as well as maturity.  Not just anyone can do it.  The form that a Patronus takes is unique to the individual.

I realize now that the reason I love both daemons and the Patronus is that they are examples of the spirit made manifest.  They are Pullman’s and Rowling’s version of that glimmer I’ve seen in peoples’ faces.  And I love knowing that others (in particular others that I so esteem) recognize the same thing I sometimes see, and wonder if I’ve imagined.  I haven’t.  I will keep looking for it, everywhere I go.

Have you ever seen the shimmer of someone else’s spirit in their face?  Do you know Phillip Phillman’s The Golden Compass?  Do you love Harry Potter as I do?

19 thoughts on “The shimmer of spirit”

  1. Oh… I do love Harry Potter. We are reading the first one aloud right now. Caroline does not like fantasy at all so this is the first time hearing it for both girls although I have read them all. I am sad though because Caroline has seen the movie and can’t get the image of Voldemort out of her head. She is almost too scared for us to keep reading… That said, this post also reminds me that I have never read The Golden Compass. I bought it a few years ago and it is always on my to be read list. I think it has just moved up the line.

  2. Loved loved loved the whole His Dark Materials series. Read the first aloud at bedtime with my boys, then by the end, once my husband had caught up with us, we all had to be in the car at the same time to listen to the CDs together, mostly on long weekend rides. Took us forever, but somehow a pact had been made, and we all agreed to hear it as a family.

    As for spirits, I see them mostly in the eyes of babes, and of my elderly friends and family. Something about how clear the eyes can remain, even when our bodies are heading south on us. And how clear the eyes of newborns can be, when it’s their only portal for communication…you look, and you see trust, fear, joy, love. No words required.

  3. I DO love Harry Potter, and in fact, I bought the last book on the day it came out; I was so excited. Her creativity and imagination are inspirational! Now I need to go out and buy The Golden Compass and read that too.

  4. I love this post – just love it. I have not read any of the HP books (I know, I know…), but have seen The Golden Compass and will now seek out the trilogy.

    The thing I connect to most in this is captured in your first two paragraphs – I see those “sparks” behind my eyelids at night, the “floating bubbles” when I daydream and allow my eyes to lose their laser-like focus for a few moments and just BE.

    Thank you for putting into words the things I have felt within me… Have you ever considered what your daemon might be? I know I’ll be thinking about it today…

  5. This is a beautiful post, and hopeful to me, a non believer (of sorts). I am also a huge fan of both Harry Potter (love love love!!) and The Golden Compass, though to be honest, I only listened to the books on tape (read by Philip Pullman, though, awesome!) while I walked and nursed my baby to sleep during her early days. But I’ve always wanted to read the actual books because, like you said, they were magical to listen to. I remember wondering what my daemon would be, but could never decide… what is yours?!?

    Wonderful blog, by the way. I discovered you from the Natural Parents Network from your gorgeously written post about 38 – which I turned last week and am thinking of my own list…

    Looking forward to reading more of your lovely words and thoughts,

  6. Lindsey, First, thanks for stopping by my blog to comment on Nina’s post. Appreciated! And thanks for this post. I LOVE Pullman’s books and am enchanted by the idea of having a daemon. I think about that idea of seeing another’s spirit–and agree with the reader who said they see this so often in kids and the elderly. I wonder if our spirits shine brighter when we are young and less jaded and old and more open? -Rochelle

  7. From the moment I read your opening line about the shimmer of spirit, I thought of “Namaste” – the light in me honors the light in you. As I have deepened my yoga practice recently, I am trying to see people this way ~ to see the light, the divine, in all people. I remember a moment at school a few months ago, during hall duty, watching students rush to class and gossip with friends, and I had a *moment*, where I saw in a smiling student’s face (I did not know the kid) the shimmer, the light. It was awesome, in the truest sense of the word.

    I must confess, I have never read HP or the Golden Compass…. may need to check them out!

  8. I was actually just re-watching Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban this weekend and thinking a little bit more in depth about the Patronus and the role it plays in that particular novel.

    And I love what you have noticed here about ways in which authors describe the essence of the spirit outside the body. And in so many ways, I too agree that our faces are that manifestation in the every day. If you pay close enough attention, you can see that pure essence of spirit.

    It is hard though to chose to look closely and really see what’s there.

  9. I love love love the Golden Compass books — but it’s been so long since I read them, I hardly remember them. I am going straight to Amazong to (I hope!) download them to my Kindle. Thanks for this reminder. 🙂 And, as a fellow HP fan, I have to ask — have you ever considered what kind of animal your Patronus would be? xox

  10. I have thought about my patronus, but I am not sure. What about you? And I’m so glad that we also share a love for the Golden Compass and the others in the series … absolutely enchanting. xo

  11. Oh, wow! I am jealous that you have both Harry Potter and His Dark Materials (the name of the trilogy) ahead! So much magic. And namaste … what a wonderful reminder. That’s just what that word means, isn’t it? Thank you for pointing that out. xox

  12. I think they must. Shine more brightly. It’s not an accident, surely, that both Harry Potter and the His Dark Materials trilogy are written both about and for children. As is so much wonderful, powerful fiction – Narnia comes to mind, too. xox

  13. Oh, I’d love to hear Philip Pullman read his books! I really love it – and prefer it – when authors read their own books on tape. What a wonderful way to pass those first few months of motherhood, with his voice and Lyra in your ear. I don’t know about my daemon … such a good question! So glad you commented. And glad we are both 38! xo

  14. Isn’t it both disorienting and absolutely wonderful, to glimpse that sparkle? I wrote about it before, about the dark cavern that we just can spy, fleetingly. As Catherine Newman said, another person is a hidden geode, glittering (I am paraphrasing, and probably poorly). So much truth to that. I don’t know what my daemon would be. What about yours? xox

  15. If you like HP I think you’ll like the His Dark Materials trilogy (of which The Golden Compass is the first). Wonderful! xox

  16. Oh, yes. Absolutely. Those newborn eyes – aren’t they, somehow, also 80 year old eyes? At least it’s always seemed that way to me. I love the image of your whole family listening to His Dark Materials in the car. xo

  17. I love, love love everything about this. Maybe this is one of my favorite things you have written but I feel that way about so many of your posts! I just love the faith and trust in here, that we crummy humans can have so much “glitter.”

  18. This happens to me all the time…it is kind of spooky, and always sets me a little off balance. I’m learning to love it…and I do love the HP books.

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