Vocation

   What is it, in the end, that induces a man to go his own way and to rise out of unconscious identity with the mass as out of a swathing mist?  Not necessity, for necessity comes to many, and they all take refuge in convention.  Not moral decision, for none times out of ten we decide for convention likewise.  What is it, then, that inexorably tips the scales in favour of the extra-ordinary?

   It is what is commonly called vocation: an irrational factor that destines a man to emancipate himself from the herd and from its well-worn paths.  True personality is always a vocation and puts its trust in it as in God, despite its being, as the ordinary man would say, only a personal feeling.  But vocation acts like a law of God from which there is no escape.  The fact that many a man who goes his own way ends in ruin means nothing to one who has a vocation.  He must obey his own law, as if it were a daemon whispering to him of new and wonderful paths.  Anyone with a vocation hears the voice of the inner man: he is called.  That is why the legends say that he possesses a private daemon who counsels him and whose mandates he must obey.  The best known example of this is Faust, and an historical instance is provided by the daemon of Socrates.  Primitive medicine-men have their snake spirits, and Aesculapius, the tutelary patron of physicians, has for his emblem the Serpent of Epidaurus.  He also had, as his private daemon, the Cabir Telesphoros, who is said to have dictated or inspired his medical prescriptions

   The original meaning of “to have a vocation” is “to be addressed by a voice.”  The clearest examples of this are to be found in the avowals of the Old Testament prophets.  That it is not just a quaint old-fashioned way of speaking is proved by the confessions of historical personalities as Goethe and Napoleon, to mention only two familiar examples, who made no secret of their feeling of vocation.  TDoP 176

   Vocation, or the feeling of it, is not, however, the prerogative of great personalities; it is also appropriate to the small ones all the way down to the “midget” personalities, but as the size decreases the voice becomes more and more muffled and unconscious.  It is as if the voice of the daemon within were moving further and further off, and spoke more rarely and more indistinctly.  The smaller the personality, the dimmer and more unconscious it becomes, until finally it merges indistinguishable with the surrounding society, thus surrendering its own wholeness and dissolving into the wholeness of the group.  In the place of the inner voice there is the voice of the group with its conventions, and vocation is replaced by collective necessities.  But even in this unconscious social condition there are not a few who are called awake by the summons of the voice, whereupon they are at once set apart from the others, feeling themselves confronted with a problem about which the others know nothing.  In most cases it is impossible to explain to the others what has happened, for any understanding is walled off by impenetrable prejudices.  “You are no different from anybody else,” they will chorus, or, “there’s no such thing,” and even if there is such a thing, it is immediately branded as “morbid” and “most unseemly.” 

   But what has the individual personality to do with the plight of the many?  In the first place he is part of the people as a whole, and is as much at the mercy of the power that moves the whole as anybody else.  The only thing that distinguishes him from all the others is his vocation.  He has been called by that all-powerful, all-tyrannizing psychic necessity that is his own and his people’s affliction.  If he hearkens to the voice, he is at once set apart and isolated, as he has resolved to obey the law that commands him from within.  “His own law!” everybody will cry.  But he knows better: it is the law, the vocation for which he is destined, no more “his own” than the lion that fells him, although it is undoubtedly this particular lion that kills him and not any other lion.  Only in this sense is he entitled to speak of “his” vocation, “his” law.    TDoP 178