Powered By Blogger

Friday, May 26, 2023

Diving a little deeper into "psyche as generator/metabolizer of image"

“To mythic consciousness, the persons of the imagination are real” (In the Words of Hillman, accessed March 7, 2009).By encouraging imaginal figures to flow forth in and through the image towards the ‘maker’ of the image - moving from the image rather than towards it - the development, recognition and appreciation of its autonomy will become manifest, and a process of reciprocity between self and ‘other’ (image) becomes possible. This is an important point in terms of considering the ‘organism’ of psyche as being that of generator and metabolizer of image with the capacity to include and engage beyond its present parameters. A growing organism.

The nature of psyche is image. As an image-making organism, the psyche spontaneously produces images from the unconscious. These images then move quite naturally towards making some sort of sense or meaning on behalf of the personality. A simple analysis of this meaning-making process would include tracking the connecting of spontaneous images towards story, a linking of images into a cohesive narrative of sorts, which then creates a sense of continuity and hence, self. Again, self as process.

From www.academia.edu/3257834/James Hillman as Researcher of Psyche as Image and Myth, by Susanna Ruebsaat.

One of the most challenging junctions, for this scribe, in the initiative of mining of Hillman’s archetypal psychology, is the shift in and through the imagination from literal, cognitive, empirical, classical, rational to the poetic. Having explored various pieces of literature, both original creative works of the imagination like novels, poems, plays, as well as the critical pieces like ‘The Educated Imagination,’ I am aware, like most readers and students, of Frye’s notion of metaphor as linking as one two things that are not identical is one of the central components of the language of the imagination. However, this awareness omits or avoids the psyche as image-maker, image-generator, and ‘metabolizer’ as Ruebsaat describes it.

In our conversations, as well as in the multiple essays and seminars in which one participates, never, at least in my memory or consciousness, did the concept of the image ‘having me’ rather than the other way round arise. To consider each of our psyches as an image-making organism, thereby facilitating the moving out ‘from the image rather than toward it,’ is such as radical reversal of what classical thought considers the norm and requires some serious adjustments. If the image ‘has me’ rather than ‘I have the image’ the world is considered/perceived/experienced ‘bottom-up’, in relation to the rational, objective, and historically embedded approach that leaves ‘us’ with the illusion of being ‘in control’ of those images.

And while the neuroscientists will continue to inquire, research, debate and write papers about the question of whether we are ‘in control’ of what we know as ‘free will’, Hillman is advocating a psychological perspective that ‘re-orients’ each of us to this perception/acknowledgement/recognition of a way of considering the interior flow of those images, analogous to our dream images. Rather than a divide between our subjectivity and our objectivity, this spectre offers a ‘both-and’; perhaps offering a more detailed and ‘image-based’ ‘take’ on the Rollo May notion that the problem of being a human being is that at one and the same time we are subject and object. And that ‘identity’ can be considered as both within and without our ‘control’ and our ‘will’. The question, it seems, then becomes how to retrieve, identify, listen to, hear and make meaning of those images, regardless of their moral, legal, medical, theological, sociological, philosophic morality and ethics.

And therein lies another of the cultural, intellectual, academic, empirical ‘moats’ we have to cross, in order to see and to value the image/symptom/voice/myth as integral and authentic in and of itself. Therapists, counsellors, doctors and lawyers have, forever, attempted to hold to the maxim that their personal thoughts and feelings about the ‘case’ before them, had to give way to the ‘needs’ of the patient/client. Professional objectivity, in service of client/patient needs has given millions of occasions where, if such an ethical maxim were not closely preserved, patient/client needs would have been defaulted, ignored and even compromised.

Teachers, on the other hand, have a different ethical and professional standard. While we recognize and respect the dignity and the legitimacy of the student, we are not held to the same standard of detachment and objectivity as doctors and lawyers. Checking our personal preferences/attitudes/perceptions and exchanges with students, however, is an hourly exercise, and we are usually immediately conscious if we have treated a student inappropriately. Our relationship with our own psyche, however, is a pilgrimage for which many of us are unprepared, untutored, and perhaps even quite resistant. Images the emerge, take shape, sound, colour and perhaps even smell in our psyche, at least in my experience, have never had or warranted the kind of serious and nuanced and imaginative attention that Hillman is counselling. Indeed, as they come and go in each and every conversation, reflection, encounter, they take on a kind of ‘bird-song’ of ethereality, briefly noted and let free.

So, when are we most likely to pause, really pause, and begin to explore whatever images happen to be ‘flowing’ from and through our psyche if not when we are engaged in questions of serious matters like those of love, the pursuit of truth and death?

These images, however, are not the product of an over-active, striving and competitive ego; they are not either better or worse than the images another person might have in the same situation or at the same time. Like emotions, they are gifts without strings, except, in extremis, they warrant attention, potential sourcing and exegesis.

Subjectivity, that ‘perspective’ with which we think we are familiar, in and through the perspective of archetypal psychology, are given “back to the figures of the psyche and to the world….It is not only the ego that loves, but other figures, images and dreams love and desire us. Dreams also suggest that figures love each other. All of this love in the soul offers a way beyond the will to love or the commandment to love. The heroics of love give way to a gracious receiving of love….Hillman’s approach to the psyche is in every instance rooted in a love of whatever he finds. This absolute love is the basis for keeping clear of strong-willed acts in the name of health, that, however well meant, are antagonistic to the soul. Psychological love does not require an understanding of the processes and mysteries that are presented for reflection. It is a love that requires unlimited faith in expressions of soul. It is a love that inspires interest in all kinds of emotional suffering, crazy fantasies, absurd symptoms, and repeated mistakes. On the other hand, it engenders passionate anger in the face of soullnessness and inhumanity, irreverence, cruelty to nature and animal life, and, above all, puritanical oppressions of the vibrant springs of life. that want to burst forth where they will. Love that leads to psyche is not bound by human concerns and conditions. It is both active and receptive. It comes into life as a grace, so that, like Psyche of the tale (Eros and Psyche) one has a relationship to love itself. (Thomas Moore, in A Blue Fire, pps. 267-8)

Unpacking Moore’s words, themselves a kind of unpacking of Hillman’s thought, is a process that defies purely cognitive exegesis; it demands a perspective of the unfettered exercise of the imagination, open to whatever, wherever, whomever, however and if ever love itself “births” itself, including all of the multiple inevitable, epic and petty storms and betrayals in its unfolding.

In a culture in which the very word and all of its many incarnations of “LOVE” are regarded as potentially radioactive in their eruptions of moralisms, impurities, conflicts, court-room dramas, ‘domestic disputes’ and power-struggles, including more recently the identity of one’s person as defined by one’s gender choice, Hillman’s advocacy for a perspective of love that openly, courageously and maturely welcomes all of the many initiations that can and will only come to each person in and through the entry into intimate relationships is a ground-swell of fresh spring ‘water’ in the furnace.

If ‘love comes into life as a grace,’ as Moore extolls, one is confronted with an anima mundi of degredation and despair, in the wake of its many emotional, physical, psychic and economic volcanoes. And the intersection of these two polarities seems at least in part attributable to a naivety, an innocence, an immaturity and a mythically proportioned and embodied narrative that remains, for most of us, unimagined and virtually unimaginable. It is not a mere expression of another moralism to exhort each of us to adopt an imaginative perspective, of our own psyche’s flow of images, of each other’s own flow of different and equally appropriate and influential images, and even a flow of images that have taken the ‘us’ of the anima mundi. If we are sufficiently courageous and confident and perceptive and sensitive and expansive in our ‘view’ of the existence and influence of the images of which we are ‘possessed’ (without always reverting to a ‘voodoo’ interpretation of that possession, and without excluding that perspective as well), perhaps we can become open to, even welcoming of the many acts of imperfection, betrayal, initiation, without encasing those imperfections in moral turpitude or a developmental perfectionism.

It need not be merely another moralism, either, to reflect on the tectonic shift in the anima mundi which is feasible, if a few of us opened our ‘lens’ (soul) to a way of ‘seeing’ and ‘reflecting’ and ‘receiving’ and ‘sharing’ the images of which we are aware, with those with whom we feel safe enough to risk such sharing. Such a shift, too, would turn the lens of the anima mundi away from the obsessive first-take on right-wrong, literally documented, empirically collated and curated, clinically diagnosed and pharmaceutically tempered (all in the interest of alleviating psychic pain and distress) and open that lens to a way of seeing that seems, at least to this scribe, as inclusive, receptive, welcoming, integrating and supporting, (not from the perspective of more government largesse, or more social programs).

None of us is morally superior to another. None of us is inherently, and inevitably inferior to another, saving and excepting those ‘bad seeds’ whose existences are not the benchmark for establishing our norms. Fear of non-conformity, not fitting in is antithetical to a culture of creativity, compassion, empathy and mutual respect and dignity. We ‘work’ diligently and daily to ‘exclude’ as many ‘others’ as we can legitimize without incurring epithets like racist, sexist, ageist, homophobe, bigot. And walking the fine line between our unacknowledged insecurities and fears, our ignorances and avoidances, on the one hand, and our ‘better angels’ on the other, is a path fraught with our own blindness, denial, avoidance and the fears that undergird those defaults.

Paradoxically, it is a moral imperative, in the broadest sense, at least to consider reflectively, seriously, penetratingly and persistently, the thoughts of Hillman, in light of our current and shared cosmological crises. One potential outcome, without deferring to the apocalyptic, of clinging to our literal, empirical, nominal, scientific, academic mind-set, is to risk rendering the power of the imagination so injured, devalued, and irrelevant, while we commit to the growing topsy-like edifices of protection, defence, war and cyber and national security….all the while drowning in our own insecurities and fears.

And that is a moral failure for which we all share culpability!

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Unprepared are we for "love"...and yet....

 Thomas Moore writes (in A Blue Fire, Section 11, titled, Love’s Tortuous Enchantments, p. 266):

Hillman speaks for love that is soulful, rounded with psychological reflection, and he speaks for psychological life that honours love as it’s principle. Eros always leads to psyche. Even, and perhaps especially, impossible loves invite interiorizing. As the ancient tale spells out, the soul tortured by love is in an ordeal in which specific initiations are carried out. The psyche’s attachment to the love that is so difficult keeps it within the work of initiation. It’s leaning toward death echoes the subtle relationships between Eros and death, both enticing consciousness away from the logic of reason and pragmatics.

In Revisioning Psychology, Hillman writes:

In the tale of Eros and Psyche,…Aphrodite impedes Psyche. She wants to keep Eros for herself, keep him from Psyche, from becoming psychological. Is this because Aphrodite is too literalistic, too much in love with the sensate surface and visibility of things, too concerned with harmony (also one of her children), and with practicality? If so, then therapy that follows her style may teach us much about enjoying and managing the literal problems, while at the same time preventing eros from finding soul. And their union is essential for soul-making. Despite the riches that can be dug out of Aphrodite’s myths, neither all of love nor all of therapy can be awarded to one God. Psychotherapy, beginning with Freud’s introduction of death into its purview, has come to realize that soul-making leads beyond the pleasure principle and that love is not enough. As Norman Brown has written, ‘Love is a little moment in the life of lovers; and love remains an inner subjective experience leaving the macrocosm of history untouched. Human history cannot be grasped as the unfolding of human love….Blake must have sensed the insufficiency of love as the redeemer, for he called Jesus the Imagination, implying love of imagination, or love working in and through imagination. Love, then, is no longer an end but a means for the return of soul through the human psyche to its nonhuman imaginal essence. Love, in this view, is one of the many modes of archetypal emotion and fantasy, one style of madness, no more privileged than any other. Therapy is not for love’s sake but for the soul’s sake; the game is not that psyche should find eros, with love as goal, but that eros should find psyche-soul as aim. Love’s arrow, then, is to strike the soul, hit its vulnerability, in order to begin that state of deep pathologizing we call being-in-love. (op. cit. pps.185-6)

The notion of Aphrodite’s being ‘too literalistic, too much in love with sensate surface and visibility of things, too concerned with harmony and with practicality’ (Hillman above) and ‘the psyche’s leaning toward death…enticing consciousness away from the logic of reason and pragmatics’ (Moore above) together offer a frame through which to reflect upon what
Hillman considers love is and can be, and what might starve its full complexity. , albeit mostly unconscious, in a cultural and individual perception of superficiality, underlined, or perhaps even motivated by what seems like a hard-wired detachment to both people and things that camouflages and subverts intimacy.

I am about to ‘to out on a limb’ here and take what I and others might consider a significant risk.

Both from my own life experience and the encounters with hundreds of others, in various circumstances, some merely pragmatic and functional, others more engaged and complex, and others even more involved and complicated and intimate, I think there is a common shared and alienating aspect to how we ‘see’ both ourselves and others. It is not rocket science, especially following a pandemic, to observe the blanket of loneliness, separation, isolation and alienation that covers the North American continent. Forced isolation, for health protective reasons, while legitimate and necessary, only exaggerated what was already extant in human relationships, of both a social/political nature and of a domestic/intimate nature.

North American culture (anima mundi) has come to a place where human beings are considered through a lens that warrants some of these descriptors:

 superficial, transactional, functional, value-added-value-cost, loyal/disloyal, friend/foe, emotional/pragmatic, intellectual/uneducated, creative/reliable, articulate/manipulative

There are at least two fundamental features of these descriptors: first, they are based on a purely functional assessment of the individual, depending on the perspective of the observer; second, all descriptors have an opposite, engendering a binary polarity, from the point of the view of the observer. Our conversations oscillate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ depending on the occasion, the subject, the moment in history, the weather/climate, the linguistic ‘winds’ that are in vogue, and the nature of the personalities engaged. ,

Performance, whether as a child learning to accept and deliver ‘potty-training’ or a young student in a primary school classroom, is categorized as ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ and every child knows both the difference and the potential for rewards/sanctions, depending on the moment in the specific situation and the person administering the ‘conditioning’. We live in a classically conditioned family, church, school, athletic team, summer job, university program, permanent corporate job, profession, personal relationship and marriage. So we are both Pavlov’s ‘dogs’ and the experimenter in Pavlov’s extended experiment. We know the bell to hit to invoke the kibble, just as the ‘porty’ in our family room knows, without question, when and how to invoke compliance with her ‘parents’. Indeed, the mere task of learning both the ‘hot-buttons’ of another as well as the ‘soft-spots’ (the weaknesses), as in learning to drive while confronting red-amber-green lights, becomes second-nature, and comprises the building blocks of what we call our cultural norms.

The power of the observer/experimenter/instructor/supervisor is not, however, merely contained or incarnated in the decisions taken to reward/sanction the other. That ‘authority figure’ is both observer and participant in the incident, whatever the situation might be. The participant role of the authority figure, however, is considered, by him/her and others who share and support that power-exercise, sacrosanct, private, confidential and ultimately superior to the ‘recipient’ of the decision’s participation. We live in a culture in which those with power and influence are exempt from, immune from and cloistered from disclosure of their full subjectivity, their attitudes, perceptions, values, except in the parsing and deconstructing of their specific acts, decisions, rewards and sanctions.

In our homes, a cliché like, ‘she wears the pants there’ and/or ‘her partner is an abusive tyrant,’ become ‘street talk’ in each and every neighbourhood, especially in some towns, villages and communities where most people know, or think they know the ‘business’ of everyone else. Nonetheless, none of us really ‘knows’  what actually ‘goes on behind closed doors’….although we definitely pretend we do. Stereotypes like ‘wimp’ for men who seem to defer to their female partners, and ‘strident’ or witchy (or worse) like barnacles, grow on the shoulders of personal reputations, all of which demean both the subject of the stereotype and the deliverer of the name-calling. We throw the cliché around as if it were a weapon in our arsenal of attack, camouflaged in our blatant rationalization that we are merely protecting ourselves from the attack of the other.

Classical conditioning under the deceptive guise of ‘strength’ of character, (s/he will take no ‘shit’ from anyone) is a monumental wedge, not only within our communities, families, churches, schools, colleges and corporations. It is a wedge (beyond the political wedge issue of ‘wokeness’) that we have all come to both understand (minimally at best) and to participate in both consciously and unconsciously. Competition, for the sake of competition, then, lies at the heart of our culture, in various forms and faces, some of them openly opposed, while others remain closeted in ‘social status’ and upper-class gated communities (both of the mind and the street).

How does this dynamic of competition, literally and empirically conceptualized and psychologically ‘administered’ as ‘normative, impact the personal potential experience of love?

A young nursing student, then twenty-two, was open to a relationship with an eighteen-year-old freshman. Both shared mutual interests, long walks, weekly dances (for a quarter admission in the nurses’ residence) and lots of both serious and frivolous talks. Given the age difference (four years) and the simple fact that she was the daughter of a radiologist, the young man asked for time to consider. Raised in a lower middle-class home, in a very small town, where the status and stature of the doctors and lawyers almost literally glowed like neon on the ‘stage’ of town affairs. So highly regarded, then (early 1960’s) were these ‘professionals’ that another junior, also from Northern Ontario, aspiring to enter medical school, heard from his mother, “You can’t do that! We are not that kind of people!”

Social class, as an impediment to relationship, as well as to ‘academic’ and professional aspiration, is and was then, very real. So too is something called sophistication, or the aspiration for social status and the sophistication that ‘comes’ from/with that status. Is this person “good” enough for my son/daughter, is a question that is asked, if not openly at least silently, in many homes, among parents who think and believe that they are doing their best for their young adult. While we are not ‘victims’ of what is inconsequential, or ought to be, there is little doubt that these sort of ‘discriminations’ are pervasive. Racism, ageism, sexism, religious bigotry, and social and economic class are all determinative of at least the perceptions and attitudes of many young men and women, whether they are conscious and acknowledged or not.

Also, depending on the level of self-confidence of the young man or woman, there is always ‘in the air’ and in the imagination, the spectre of ‘rejection’ if someone in whom one is interested responds by pushing the overture away. “Fear” whether legitimate or not, likes a ghost, stalks the imaginative speculation of many potential romantic relationships. So too does something called ‘romantic idealism’ in that one person idolizes another, is infatuated with another, and thereby carries a heavy burden of expectation into the first encounter, often in the face of complete innocence and ignorance on the part of that ‘other’.

Dancing in the imagination of each of these hypothetic ‘lovers’ are images of other loves they have witnessed, other loves they have imagined, failed love relationships they have witnessed, and even stories of tragedies of the most horrendous nature, including betrayal, abandonment, physical and emotional abuse and even death. The unique ‘music’ or ‘canvas’ or ‘dance’ envisioned in each person’s imagination, including those voices that seem to be most influential, is part of both the challenge, adventure, mystery and hope/dread of the risk of full commitment to any new relationship.

Love songs like “Love Letters in the Sand” by Pat Boone, or “Heart-break Hotel” by Elvis Presley are just two of the (historically dated) examples of melodies and themes that played out in the late fifties and early sixties. Literally hundreds of others, plaintive and evocative, edgy and risqué, harmonic and hopeful comprised a ‘playlist’ of what was then pop music’s anthology, all dedicated to ‘young love’. Romantic idealists, all, in our teen years, and even into our early twenties, we are far less interested in, and thereby conscious of, what might go wrong in any relationship. We do not know ourselves, except as we have been ‘described’ by others; we certainly do not know ‘the other’ given that we have almost nothing except ‘impressions’ of beauty, brains, physical strength/agility, fun-loving or serious, and ‘rich-not-so-much….The lyricism of a voice, the flip of a lock of hair, the grace of a walk down the hall of the school corridor, the generosity of a smile, the friendliness of an act of sharing….these are some of the literal, empirical, superficial and insubstantial ‘hooks’ to which we cling, when we are ‘caught up’ in the throes of a ‘vision’ of romance and love, at an early age.

Hardly are such ‘hooks’, even if they are tested for a period of time, enough to offer any sort of assurance of a mutual, reciprocal, sustaining and life-giving long-term relationship. And yet, that is when and where most of us start our pilgrimage into adult relationships. Almost, as if we were entered on a ship voyage without the knowledge and experience of the ship, the weather/climate, the mapping or the destination. And while that mystery glows with benefits of optimism, hope and promise, it also risks foundering on the shoals of the very innocence that drove it.

And for some, perhaps many, those shoals are not necessarily a one-time foundering.

The loss of innocence, as it may take place like the peeling of a Spanish onion in layers, is the stuff of both committed love and the perspective of death being included in our vision both of ourselves and our wider existence.

Monday, May 15, 2023

This is not a self-help guide to love....

 No word, concept, notion or experience among the innumerable moments in each The subject of love has undoubtedly evoked more turbulence, emotional unrest, verbal cataracts, religious zeal and artistic/poetic/imaginative expressions that any other single subject.of our lives, is more embedded in our thoughts, our culture, our identities, and our beliefs than love. And, from the beginning, its magnetism as well as it torture have both uplifted and brought down men and women. Our literature, including our theatre, movies, poetry and even our religions have been and continue to be focused on the notion of both self-love and love of another. In all cultures, although it manifests in different acts, images, and rituals, it remains as a magnet for, explanations of, and reasons for relationships, both joining and ending, between individuals, irrespective of their gender identity. As a subject of popular cultural music, movies, television dramas, it comes loaded with highly provocative positive and negative moments, that, themselves, engender highly volatile emotions, including the potential for life-changing changes.

Idealized and taught in such religious phrases as, “God is Love” and then evidenced in the sacrifice of the Cross, the ultimate act of sacrificial love, in a culture that aspires to exemplify a Christian theology, many are left perceiving themselves as unlikely to ‘live up to such a role model’. The Cross, as sacrifice invoking forgiveness for personal sin, among fundamentalist Christians, marries the notions of love and sin, in an exceptionally radioactive cocktail, that renders the ‘church’ the moral arbiter of sexual relations. Once sex and sin (outside the boundaries established by the church) are enjoined, and mixed with the ideal aspiration of mutual love, and the many other faces/voices/images of love, Western culture, for centuries, has struggled under a yoke of potential, and too often inevitable shame, for not ‘obeying’ the strictures of church/religious/spiritual/theological morality.

Highly motivated and even more highly rewarded ‘stories’ of illegitimate love/sex, haunt the culture, seeded by tabloid journalism that levitates on ‘sex’ stories especially of the ‘royal’ variety. And scurrilous journalism is the vehicle not only to express but also to enhance the schadenfreud that triumphs in pubs and cathedrals and generates monumental sales and profits. Indeed, the tittering delight in gossip that runs amok especially among the ‘religious’ is one, if not the most, heinous of the hypocrisies that infest all churches. The stories of both Princess Diana and then Prince Charles are only among the better known of such tragedies. And the ‘spill-offs’ continue decades after the lethal and unconscionable exposure.

WE (including this scribe and the general public) neither know nor seek to know how much pain each individual (irrespective of status, rank, education, or role) has experienced in his/her life, that has bruised and potentially even permanently wounded, the sense of self-respect, that one brings into each venture  an of intimate relationship. Those stories comprise the private diaries, and the intimate conversations among and between trusted companions, if and when one reaches a stage in which trust has been established. Novels, plays, movies and even funerals are just some of the archival repositories of love stories, lauded and exposed, in libraries everywhere.

This ‘dark’ depiction of what are considered illicit relationships, along with the millions of attempted relationships that end in separation, divorce, and other more reckless deaths, is not intended to obviate the higher, lighter, even more compelling experiences of those whose “love” relationships not only endure for lifetimes, but significantly enhance the lives of the partners. Indeed, it seems no exaggeration to suggest, humbly and tentatively, that all of us, in some manner, at various times, seek a “love-partner” as an expression of and fulfilment of one’s most profound dreams and aspirations. Loners, isolates, outcasts, the homeless, many of the disadvantaged poor (in so many iterations of that state) too, perhaps even more earnestly than others, seek to be cherished, loved, honoured and respected.

Such honour, respect, dignity, are not available through laws, nor through government programs, nor through academic achievements. And the premise that “God offers that love” to the most despised, is hardly enacted in our conduct of our personal lives, excepting those, like Mary Jo Leddy, and others, whose lives are committed to refugees and the most needy among us, who seek new lives. Hollow words (God is Love), for the most part, in a culture that seeks fortune, fame, adulation and stardom, as hollow surrogates for love. Of course, there is a semblance of honour, dignity and respect offered to and for ‘stars’; yet, such elevation is no substitute for authentic, reciprocal/mutual, and committed one-to-one human love.

In our search for ‘connection’ and loving relationship, we come to an awareness that somehow our perception of our person is enhanced, ennobled, and even perhaps expanded, in and through the welcome of another human being, outside our parents and sibling, cousins and aunts/uncles. Validation, and the picture of learning about ‘the other’ as a mirror to/for/of ourselves, is innate, although it takes many shapes, forms and faces.

Models for our path of search for a companion, might include our parents’ examples, relatives, and potential role models (both positive and negative) that emerge from movies, plays, novels, and public life. Learning to navigate the intersection of our ‘personal’ preferences beginning in adolescence and continuing through early adulthood, is one of the more challenging adventures of our lives. And the potential for sustaining these early relationships rises and falls on the perceptions, attitudes and beliefs and expectations of each partner.

Much of this is so banal, as to be almost redundant for most readers. However, what has been useful, instructive and even eye-opening for this scribe is to encounter James Hillman’s writing about the excessive, and over-whelming pressure our (North American) culture places on something we call the ‘ego’. The weight of the responsibilities, duties, expectations, and the failures and the shame and the guilt that come with that ‘burden’ is, as Hillman sees it, unsustainable.

His proposed lens, the human soul, for coming to the many issues included in the psychology of each of us, emerges from the imagination, which Hillman ‘seeds’ with the voices, the patterns and the archetypes of already extant gods and goddesses, from human history. These mythical voices, the gods and goddesses, are neither diagnostic of syndromes, nor allegories of disease. This is the diagnostic perspective rather than the mythical, and we are looking not for a new way to classify psychopathology but for a new way of experiencing it. Here the Homeric and classical Greeks themselves provide a clue: their medical diagnoses were not in literal terms of myths and Gods, even though their thinking and feeling about affliction and madness was permeated with myths and Gods. So we must take care, remembering that mythical thinking is not direct, practical thinking. Mythical metaphors are not etiologies, causal explanations, or name tags. They are perspectives toward events which shift the experience of events; but they are not themselves events. They are likenesses to happenings, making them intelligible, but they do not themselves happen. They give an account of the archetypal story in the case history, the myth in the mess. (Hillman, Revisioning Psychology, p. 101)

Continuing his tutorial on the entry into myth, Hillman cautions:

Th(e) first entry in to myth needs an important correction. It commits the ego fallacy by taking each archetypal theme into the ego. We fall into an identity with one of the figures in the tale: I become Zeus deceiving my wife, or Saturn devouring my children, or Hermes thieving from my brother. But this neglects that the whole myth is pertinent and all its mythical figures relevant: by deceiving I am also being deceived, and being devoured, and stolen from, as well as all the other complications in each of these tales. It is egoistic to recognize oneself in only one portion of a tale, cast in only one role. Far more important than oversimplified and blatant self-recognitions by means of myths is the experiencing of their working intrapsychically within our fantasies, and then through them into our ideas, systems of ideas, feeling-values, moralities and basic styles of consciousness. There they are least apparent, for they characterize the notion of consciousness itself according to archetypal perspectives; it is virtually impossible to see the instrument by which we are seeing. Yet our notion of consciousness may derive from the light and form of Apollo, the will and intention of Hercules, the ordering unity of the senex, the communal flow of Dionysius. When any one of these is assumed by the ego as its identity and declared to be the defining characteristic of consciousness, then the other archetypal styles tend to be called psychopathological. (Op. Cit. p. 103)

The shift from what has become the norm, the conventional manner of both seeing and speaking/writing of myth, in our culture, as the ‘ego’s identity, or the ‘cause’ of the illness, or the glib ‘name-tag’ for something commonly known as a “complex” to the perspective detailed above, is and will be, not only monumental and revolutionary. The shift in perspective requires a degree of detachment, and imaginative ‘letting -go' of the foundational principles of rationalism, empiricism, literalism and egoism, not to mention moralism. The ‘river’ of mythic influences, themes, ideas, faces, narratives as they enter, depart, re-enter and re-shape the ‘who’ of our psyche is far more dynamic, creative, imaginative and filled with the energies of life and the situations and encounters we each experience.

For Hillman, the myth of Eros and Psyche, is the ‘primary myth of psychoanalysis’ (according to Thomas Moore, writing in A Blue Fire, (p. 266). Eros in relation with Psyche, a myth which has been depicted in carvings and painting and tales for more than two thousand years, offers a background to the divine torture of erotic neurosis—the pathological phenomena of a soul in need of love, and of love in search of psychic understanding. (Hillman, Revisioning Psychology, p,. 102)

(Eros) is the wild son of Aphrodite, easy to love and difficult to abide with. He brings the psyche promises of pleasure and many occasions for suffering. He pleases without measure, and he tortures without any apparent misgiving. Rather than present a program of painless love, the aim of many psychologies, Hillman explores the betrayals and impossibilities of love as valuable initiatory moments of the soul. Initiation is a rite of soul-making. Innocence may have to be punctured. Idealized notions of self, other, and love may have to earn their ripening shadows. A third element may have to appear to keep the two in love from closing their world in on themselves. Primal, Eden-like trust may have to mature so that one doesn’t go about life with an innocence frequently shocked and undone by disappointment and betrayal. (Thomas Moore, op. cit. p 266)

Writing on mythblast.com, Sunday May 15, 2023, in a piece entitled, Among You: The Mystery of Love, Scott Neumeister, writes, (parsing the Wedding Song, There is Love, by Paul Stooken of Peter, Paul and Mary):

‘He is now to be among you’: I find it interesting that Stookey’s first word is “He”. The song celebrates two people uniting in marriage, but this other—this third—occupies the prime stop, not ‘you’ or ‘you both’. (Stookey later clarified, ‘In matters of theology, it’s wise that we remember, in Christ there is no East or West, in God there is no gender,’) …In conversation with Bill Moyers, (Joseph) Campbell contends, ‘By marrying the right person, we reconstruct the image of the incarnate God, and that’s what marriage is. This incarnation of the third relates to Jung’s concept of the transcendent function, a living third thing..,.a living birth that leads to a new level of being.’…’At the calling of your hearts’: When Moyers presses Campbell on how one chooses this ‘right person,’ Campbell replies, “Your heart tells you.”

How ubiquitous and pervasive is/are the idealized notion(s) of oneself, another, especially one for whom the emotional ‘interest’ is aroused, and of love itself, in our culture. Indeed, idealization, romanticizing, and hypothesizing/envisaging/dreaming of this ‘new relationship’ so often evokes visions, illusory images of more than any of us might feasibly incarnate. There is a gravitas and a perspective of removing the blinders from the eyes of all lovers, in Hillman’s notion of initiation in and through the tortures that can and will only emerge from relationships entered into as “love” relationships.

Who among us has not been enveloped in the images of idealized, innocent and undoubtedly ‘immature’ love relationships? And who among us, if we had encountered a psychological perspective, stripped of moralisms and parental fears, might have been more conscious of our selves, others, and the many colours of love? And yet, who of us is not, on looking backward, able to testify to the many initiations that painfully greeted us, in our long path to where and who we are today?

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

A 'new' and different 'take' on emotions and morals....from Hillman and Blake

 Let’s explore the linkages between Hillman and Blake a little further; there are so many and they are not always discernible after a cursory readingfrom an empirical, scientific. perspective.

I have written many times about the importance of emotions, especially for men who have either consciously or not, locked down their ‘poetic heart’ for a variety reasons, some of them legitimate, others not so much.

Being ‘too emotional’ is a definitive descriptor for ‘untrustworthy’ and ‘‘unpredictable’ and even ‘sinful’ or ‘dangerous’ as they were depicted by an outraged catatonic bishop in a conversation about men needing to acknowledge, recognize and express emotions. Masculinity, at least the ‘alpha’ kind, has eschewed emotions for decades, if not centuries. Perhaps emotions are considered appropriate for playwrights and poets and novelists to share. However, in many corporate settings, sharing emotions, especially negative or doubtful emotions, is a sure path to irrelevancy, for the individuals who dare to ‘go there’. Optimism, especially in regards to ‘how to see’ a proposal, is the fist step in gathering allies. And openness, rather than tight closed ‘hearts and minds’ is considered a strength of character, so long as it is contained in verbal and body language that does not ‘offend’….as too heated, too enthusiastic, too obsequious, too immature…all descriptors of disdain.

Wearing our ‘hearts on our sleeves’ as the coach of the Winnipeg Jets NHL team, noted this week, can be a problem, especially if it conveys a truth to a public audience that some would have preferred kept in the dressing room, as his players noted about his expression of ‘disgust at the lack of push-back’ from his players in the recent Stanley Cup playoffs. On the other hand, cold, repressed, buttoned-up emotional distance is a sure way to be considered ‘calculating’ and unfriendly and even dangerous, almost reptilian, for some observers. “Calmness’ and ‘cool’ when ‘under fire’ is the epitome of proper, and perhaps even required, emotional consciousness for those engaged in military battle, surgical emergencies, birthing deliveries, and steeple-jack-iron-workers, on the skeletons of sky-scrapers.

There is a strong notion that our emotions are matters of personal choice, decisions made in the face of differing circumstances, situations, encounters and moods. In various treatment modalities, emotions are tranquillized in order to achieve what is considered a more ‘balanced’ perspective than one that compromises the effectiveness of one’s ability to function. Aristotle’s definition of tragedy, as a literary form, includes the ‘cleansing of the emotions of pity and fear’, called a catharsis.

Hillman proposes a further extension of the notion that emotions can be separate from humans. Rather than considering emotions as effeminate, “inferior, sinful, disordering….(O)ur distinction between human and emotion treats it as a ‘divine influx’, to use the poetical language that appealed to Blake. Emotion is a gift that comes by surprise, a mythic statement rather than a human property. It announces a movement in soul, a statement of the process going on in a myth what we may perceive in the fantasy images that emotion accompanies. This means that human beings are not responsible for their statements of emotion. Aesthetics recognizes this, finding emotion an incomplete artistic statement, which requires personal shaping to be considered valid art. Law, too, recognizes this, and so does common speech. We are not altogether ourselves in undergoing strong effects and so not humanly accountable for what is not our property. (Hillman, Revisioning Psychology, pps. 176-7)

The phrase ‘divine influx’ comes from Swedenborg: cf. K. Raine, Blake and Tradition, Bollingen Series, Princeton, 1968 (see footnote #12, page 251, Revisioning Psychology.) In his Varieties of Religious Experience, William James also wrote of emotions as gifts of the spirit. (p. 150-151)

Hillman extends his thesis about emotions, in a comparison with clinical therapy.

(C)linical therapy, which trades in emotions, insists that they belong to human nature; therapy makes its patients individually responsible and personally guilty for universal archetypes. We are made accountable not only for ourselves, but also for the doings of the Gods. Archetypal therapy, in contrast, attempts to envision emotions less personally, less as resultants of human forces. For when we are freed from human eccentricity, reverted to fantasies, and then to mythic patterns, emotions have a different quality of experience. The family quarrels, the lovers’ enthusiasms, the office explosions, all have profound backgrounds’ when epic, tragic, or comic they are always mythic, far larger than life and at a distance from life. (Hillman op.cit. p. 177)

Rejecting the literal interpretation of both emotions and the human ‘experiencer’ of those emotions, Hillman goes even further in challenging the conventional norm:

The literalizing of experience results in literalizing the experiencer…..I am suggesting further that we entertain the extreme view that the notion of human being as centered in the moral person of free will is also a mythical fantasy, an archetypal perspective given by a single Hero or a single God; our freedom to choose, our moral center and decisiveness, our free will---all is the code of a transpersonal dominant. Moral codes, including those which attempt the simplifications of universality (the Judaic, The Christian, the Kantian, or the Delphic) are the literalizations of an archetype. Here I am attempting to de-moralize the psyche from the moralistic fallacy which reads psychic events in terms of good and bad, right and wrong. This requires the fiction of a fixed subject, the Chooser, or a choosing subject, the Fixer, who can repair, amend, atone. The moralistic fallacy ic central to the myth of man in the middle, humanism’s psychology of a self-identified ego, the Hero whose decisive sword divides in two so that he may choose between good and evil….Again, we find Blake seeing through the moralistic fallacy. Kathleen Raine (quoted above) writes of his (Blake’s) view as follows: ‘Satan’s first step is to invent a moral code based upon the false belief that individuals can of themselves be good or evil. This is in direct contradiction to the real nature of things, by which the proprium (person’s sense of self) is merely the recipient of the divine influx. The morally ‘good’ specter is as satanic in every way as the morally ‘evil,’ since what is alike in both is their negation of the Imagination. (Revisioning Psychology, p.178)

Mark Vernon, in The Guardian, August 17, 2014) in a piece entitled, William Blake’s picture of God, writes about a gallery exhibition of Blake etchings: Blake thought it is laughable to imagine the divine as a father-figure, as God is found within and throughout life, he believed, hence referring to Jesus as ‘the Imagination’) Instead Urizen is the demiurge, a ‘self-deluded and anxious’ forger of pre-existent matter, as Kathleen Raine Explains….Blake loathes the deistic, natural religion associated with Newton and Bacon. He called it ‘soul-smothering.’ Materialism he dismissed as ‘the philosophy in vogue.’ He thought Enlightenment had created a false deity for itself, one imagined by Rousseau and Voltaire as projected human reason. The ‘dark Satanic mills’ of Jerusalem are the mills that ‘grind out material reality,’ as Peter Ackroyd writes in his biography of Blake, continuing: ‘These are the mills that entrance the scientist and the empirical philosopher who, on looking through the microscope or telescope, see fixed mechanism everywhere. Urizen is theirs. The demiurge presides over a world that suffers under the tyranny of the laws of nature, and Urizen is as imprisoned by the constraints of space and time as are the individuals who follow him. ‘He who sees the Ratio only,’ Blake mused. The materialist’s view of the world is a prison because it’s a world created by limited perceptions.

So, for Hillman, not only are emotions deemed “divine influxes” so too are morals. They (morals) are effects of Gods who structure our consciousness according to definite principles. There is a morality of Hermes where cheating belongs, of Ares where raging destruction belongs, of Dionysius where victimization belongs. The necessity that rules the Gods gives a necessity to each of their imaginal positions and prevents any single one from overstepping the limits presented by the images themselves. The principles of one mythical perspective do not go beyond the myth itself and are not general rules for all conduct. Conflicts between these perspectives are the themes of the human comedy and its tragedy…So-called amorality is also an archetypal enactment, whether of Cain, Prometheus, the Trickster, or another….Rather than looking at myths morally, archetypal psychology looks at moralities mythically. By considering morals as the claims of the imaginal powes, morality itself become imaginal.

Morality is rooted in psychic images and psychic images are moral powers. These images remind us that we are not alone, choosing and deciding, but that in our choices and decisions we are always reflecting mythic stances. To follow a morality literally is the fallacy that forgets morality’s imaginal background; it is even an immoral or impious stance, for it forgets the God in the morality. So when Blake says that choosing in terms of good and evil negates Imagination, it is implied that the first step in recovering the imaginative perspective is to set aside all moral points of view toward the images of fantasy, dream and pathology. Images are to be left free of judgements, good or bad, positive or negative. We have been so dominated by the heroic ego that questions of free will and self-determination have become central concerns of Western thought. Let us return morality to the imagination, and instead become concerned with its free play and free workings in order to understand the soul’s images and changes exempt from taxing burdens of moralisms…(W)e have come to believe that responsibility, commitment, standing for our every word and deed are psychological notions, whereas they are moral ideologies…(T)he persons of the psyche are not mine. I do not own them, and so I do not own their feelings and actions either. These other persons give me ethical dilemmas and crises of conscience; but when I own up to all their events as mine in the name of moral responsibility, I commit the even greater sin of satanic self-hood, the ego who owns what is archetypal. The very recognition of the ‘others’ as not mine, disowning them, limits their scope of action. They can be heard but not literally obeyed….Archetypal reflection of each psychic movement returns the morality of actions to the Gods from whom all morality supposedly comes.
(Revisioning Psychology, pps. 178-9-80)

In contemporary culture, we often deploy the epithet, ‘they are soul-mates’ in reference often to two people who seemed eminently fitted for each other, as if the relationship had been determined by forces beyond a sharing of mutual interests. Reading Hillman, and his mining of the thought of William Blake, evokes the same epithet, “soul-mates” from very different backgrounds, histories, cultures and biographies.

Central to Hillman’s thinking, and also a primary focus of  his argument is the  ‘deconstruction’ of the heroic ego, in all of its many forms and faces. The implicit heroism, as well as what he calls the ‘faith in human feeling is nothing other than a new religion, a religion with teachers and terms, rituals and doctrines, but without Gods…The historical base of humanistic religion is not the humanism of the Renaissance…but the intellectualism of the Enlightenment. When the Goddess Reason was enthroned, subjective feelings were reduced to her inferior, irrational opposite. They are still as ideationally vacuous today as when they saw first daylight in Rousseau’s arms….Feelings too are metaphors, expressions of fantasy, indicative of psychic images. They are not immune to ego and its literalizations: feelings are no more truths than are ideas, no more facts than are perceptions. Feelings too are subject to archetypal power that govern their ethical values, their aesthetic judgements, their styles of relating, expressing absorbing. Feelings are not a faultless compass to steer by; to believe so is to make Gods of them, and then only Good Gods, forgetting that feeling can be as instrumental to destructive action and mistaken ideologies as any other psychological  function….Organizational loyalties can make us commit perjury; class solidarity and military pride can make us intolerant and cruel; and feelings of personal attachment can make us defensive, possessive and sentimental. (Revisioning Psychology, pps. 181-182)

The power of the human imagination, an energy that, through our dreams, fantasies, and even our emotions and our morals, through the images conjured therein, is also a pathway toward a far more complex, and even far more realistic and ‘humble’ attitude, than that riding the various waves of the ego. One of the more universal situations that illustrate these notions is our often highly simplified and one-dimensional notions of love.


Friday, April 28, 2023

Hillman and Blake, centuries apart, walking together

 In the last entry in this space, we touched on the link between Hillman and Blake. As if that were  a teaser, let’s dig a little deeper into the more intimate, profound and foundational links between William Blake, the seeker of spiritual concerns but not the joiner in religious institutions.

Hillman’s expressed agenda is boldly stated in Revisioning Psychology (p. xi):

To restore the mythical perspective to depth psychology by recognizing the soul’s intrinsic affinity with, nay, love for, the Gods. Or as the Greeks may have said, to reaffirm the tragic connection between the mortal and the immortal, that natural plight of the soul that lies at the base of any psychology claiming to speak of psyche.

With such a broad scope and purpose, it is inevitable that Hillman cuts through some of the linguistic and epistemological and philosophic concepts that have already been rooted in Western and especially in American culture. One of those first differences focuses on the concepts of personalization and allegory.

When eighteenth century poetry personified, as it was inordinately fond of doing, it confined its persons to the rational realm of allegory. The goal of such enlightened personifying was ultimately instruction: by means of personification ‘fictions of mind’ because ‘objects of sight,’ so that the reader could also become a spectator. \Personified images with capital letters were employed to reinforce abstract universal ideas; Justice, Harmony, Nature. But this allegorical use of such images vitiates (spoil or impair the value of) even as it seems to reinforce. Like any system that explains mythological imagery, its mythic persons were depotentiated (robbed of their power and influence) by the allegorism that was brought forward to account for them. There are two reasons for this. First, allegory keeps the autonomy and reality of the Gods at bay. By being ‘used’ for moral examples or educational homilies, they are no longer powers but rather technical tricks, categories, conceits. They become instruments of reason rather than the very forms that organize reason….That the Gods cannot be held by reason, by the allegorical attempt to make them emblems of concepts, is amply demonstrated by eighteenth century poetry: it became Romanticism, Blake, Keats, Shelley, the Gods rampant again, Prometheus Unbound, allegories no longer. (Revisioning Psychology, p. 7)

Personifying, however, is not totally rejected by Hillman. Rather than deploying the gods as allegory for concepts, Hillman’s perspective is mythopoetic. Rather than reason, or specific concepts, Hillman espouses a ‘mythic consciousness’ for which ‘personifying’ is considered appropriate. Hillman writes:

Mythic consciousness (says) ‘There is nowhere an it as a dead object, a mere thing. Subject and object, man and Gods, I and Thou, are not apart and isolated each with a different sort of being, one living or real, the other dead or imaginary. The world and the Gods are dead or alive according to the conditions of our souls. A world view that perceives a dead world or declares the Gods to be symbolic projections derives from a perceiving subject who no longer experiences in a personified way, who has lost his immagine del cuor. To rekindle this life we start with soul, reimagining its internal processes anthropomorphically. This leads to the ultimate conclusion that we do not actually personify at all. Mythical consciousness is a mode of being in the world that brings with it imaginal persons. They are given with the imagination and are its data. Where imagination reigns, personifying happens. We experience it nightly, spontaneously, in dreams. Just as we do not create our dreams, but they happen to us, so we do not invent the persons of myth and religion; they too happen to us. The persons present themselves as existing prior to any effort of ours to personify. To mythic consciousness, the persons of the imagination are real. (Revisioning Psychology, pps. 16-17)

And here one of Hillman’s prime differences with contemporary, academic and professional psychology:

The present cult of person in psychology in every one of its manifestations-personality development, personality inventory, personal psychodynamics, research into personal difference and opinions, their fascination as subjects for research—is based upon an ideological literalism: personalism. Psychology has taken the metaphor of personifying and literalized it into an ontology of persons. We have personalized the soul, pressing it all into the human being. Psychology itself is a part of this steady withdrawal of soul into the narrow confines of the human skin. The last stage of this process is shrinking soul to its single and narrowest space, the ego, and thereby swelling this ‘I’ into the inflation called ‘ego psychology.’ For ego psychology is what our souls today are left with; whether body-ego, feeling ego, or individuating-ego, psychology is engaged in ego-making and not soul-making. The field dedicated by its very name to psyche expends its resources in strengthening and developing a phantom which may at any moment fall prey to depersonalization. By identifying the soul and psychological work with the subjective ego and its aims, psychology becomes satanic. For precisely this identification of soul or of personality with the experiencing subject is, according to the visionary psychology William Blake, the way of Satan. (Revisioning Psychology, p. 48)

Sitting on this desk, at this moment, is a book entitled, “The Psychology of Religion,” An Empirical Approach.. the actual textbook for those studying to be certified for the practice of ministry at Huron College, in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Throughout, the book references research into such subjects as:

·        The psychological nature and function of religion

·        The operational definition of religion

·        Childhood stages in religious development

·        Impact of family and schools on religious development

·        Religion in adult life

·        Religion and death

·        Religious experience

·        Mysticism

·        Conversion

·        The social psychology of religious organizations

·        Religion and morality

·        Religion and mental disorder

·        Psychology, psychologists, and religion, present realities and future trends

From Hillman’s perspective, just as the research and theory about suicide is sociological, so too is this text not about psychology of religion (of the soul) but of the various pieces of research that have attempted to ‘describe’ in extrinsic terms, various issues in the intersection between people and their religious lives. A primer in the language and perceptions of those who operate the churches, perhaps. And yet, embodying a blind-spot to the matter of the soul, except as with a conversion or a moral judgement might be perceived and judged.

Here is a quote from this psychology text book, that focuses on the degree of commitment of those attending church:

Perhaps one of the most widely utilized theories to explain church commitment is deprivation theory. Largely associated with the empirical work of Glock and Stark, such theories generally assume that church commitment compensates in some sense for deprivation. Hence religion is a substitute compensator for the otherwise distraught. However,…numerous empirical studies have failed to find that church attenders are more deprived on either objective or subjective criteria of deprivation. (Campbell, Converse and Rogers, 1976, Hood, 1983) (The Psychology of Religion, Spilka, Hood, Gorsuch, p.242)

Now let’s dip into some thoughts from Hillman, entitled, “Psychological Faith”…

Imagination and its development is perhaps a religious problem because imagination becomes real only through belief. As theology tells us, belief is an act of faith, or it is faith itself as a primary investment of energy in something which makes that something ‘real’. Inner life is pale and ephemeral (just as is the outer world in depressed states) when the ego does not turn to it, believe in it, and endow it with reality. This investment, this commitment to inner life, increases its importance and gives it substance. The interest one pays soon pays interest. The frightening forces become gentler and more manageable, the inner woman more human and reliable. She no longer only seduces and demands; she begins to reveal the world into which she draws one and even gives an account of herself, her function and purpose. As this ‘she’ becomes more human, the moods one is subject to become less difficult and personal and are replace by a steadier emotional undertone, a feeling-tone, a chord….This faithful attention to the imaginal world, this love which transforms mere images into presences, giving them living being, or rather reveals the living being which they do naturally contain, is nothing other than remythologizing. Psychic contents become powers, spirits, gods….There is a further consequent of the credit one pays to the images of the soul. A new feeling of self-forgiveness and self-acceptance begins to spread and circulate….Shadow aspects of the personality continue to play their burdensome roles but now within a larger tale, the myth of oneself, just what one is which begins to feel as if that is how one is meant to be. My myth becomes my truth; my life symbolic and allegorical. Self-forgiveness, self-acceptance, self-love; more, one finds oneself sinful but not guilty, grateful for the sins one has and not another’s, loving one’s lot even to the point of desire to have and to be always in this vivid inner connection with one own individual portion. Such strong experiences of religious emotion seem to be the gift again of the anima. This time she has a special quality that might best be called Christian and which only begins to reveal itself-this anima naturaliter christiana- after long attentive care has been given to much of the psyche that might not be Christian. (Hillman, A Blue Fire, p.84-5)

I once inquired of a popular bishop, about the ‘spiritual life’ of one of his most favoured church wardens, also a highly valued and reputed political consultant: What is his spiritual life about?

“I think it would be ‘red’ book’, he replied.

End of discussion. The point of including such a seemingly innocuous and inappropriate conversation here is that, if a spiritual life is tied to, loyal to, and embedded in a particular liturgical, traditional book of prayer, as opposed to another also deployed book of prayer, which shifts the theology from “emotional poverty” to hope and aspiration, one has to wonder several questions.

How much conversation about theology, God and the spiritual/disciplined life had been part of the relationship between those two men? That same warden, at a breakfast in the King Edward Hotel in Toronto, reflected on a conversation with this scribe, then a student intern, when speaking with that same bishop, “That guy saw right through me when he got me talking about my ‘fatalism;’ I have never had that conversation with anyone before; I felt exposed!”

Clearly, this scribe is disappointed in both the manner and content of the seminary curricula, in two different schools of theology. However, that pales in light of the empirical obsessions of what is conceived of and perceived of and considered ‘religion’ in mainline churches, at least from the limited experience of this neophyte. Men, women and children, while skimming over the surface of multiple ‘biblical stories,’ without so much as even a minimal shift in the lens deployed, from history, to genealogy, to poetry, to prophecy, to myth, and to reporting….are deprived of the multiple layers not only of the text itself, but also of the full import of the various textual excerpts on their own ‘myth’.

The church, while attempting to be a communal, perhaps social service agency, purportedly offering and confirming some connection with a long-standing religious tradition, fails in the deepest darkest and most significant moments of each of our lives. And of course, we will instantly hear the argument, ‘What about the privacy, confidentiality of each person’s life?

It is the very provision of a way of seeing, and not the community’s role to expose individuals private lives to public scrutiny, especially in the church confines where moral judgement is the ruling gestalt, that archetypal psychology has the potential to offer. And, if we were able to appreciate our own lives from a variety of mythical perspectives, as opposed to the ‘rules of morality’ that have supplanted our personalities, we might be both willing and even eager to enter into conversations of a much less ideological, inflamed, and ‘personal’ language and tone….Seems both Blake and Hillman might be mentors for such a ‘vision’.

IMAGINE! What a concept!

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Hillman echoes Blake...

There is really no final definition of soul, as one reads Hillman. In A Blue Fire, edited by Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul, in a note and section entitled,

“The Salt of Soul, The Sulfur of Spirit”, writes:

The modern world assumes a two-tiered reality: body and mind, or matter and spirit. Hillman reinstates the Neoplatonic view that soul is the ‘in-between’ factor keeping mind in touch with body and matter with spirit. Fantasy and image make spirituality and material endeavors soulful. Soul, Hillman says with his metaphor of peaks and vales, resides in the valleys of experience. Soul is always tethered to life in the world. It can’t be separated form the body, from family, from the immediate context, from mortality. Spiritual efforts, important in their own right, tend to transcend these limitations of the valley….Soul..enters Hillman’s writing as shadow. He allows contradictions and ambiguities to rise to the surface. He gives al most perverse, loving attention to abused expressions of the psyche: panic, masturbation, paranoia, superficiality and gossip. …the soul finds its enduring  fixity in its salt, in the blood, sweat, and tears of ordinary life. Life with soul is filled with felt experience. (A Blue Fire, pps. 112-3),

From Hillman’s talk entitled, ‘Peaks and Vales,’ we read:

Vales do indeed need more exposition, just as everything to do with soul needs to be careful imagined as accurately as we ca., Vales comes from the Romantics: Keats uses the term in a letter and I have taken this passage from Keats as a psychological motto: ‘Call the world, if you please, the vale of soul-making.’ Then you will find out the use of the world. Vale in the usual religious language of our culture is a depressed emotional place—the vale of tears; Jesus walked this lonesome valley, the valley of the shadow of death….

 This highly sensitive and sensible, exalted and humbled recognition of not something, but rather a way of perceiving, seeing, considering and even reflecting upon the contradictions, the ambiguities, the absurdities, and the ‘blood-sweat-and-tears’ of ordinary life as integral to human psychology, and not only the ‘way of the Cross’ or the way of Satan that warrants much further attention, reflection, prayer and openness, especially from the Christian church. While there is a profound and often liturgical place of commemoration for pivotal moments in the human life, (baptism, confirmation, marriage, funerals and the penitential) by the church, the first three of those moments are ceremonials of hope, and promise and occasions for celebrating ‘spirit’ and light.

The latter two, funerals and the penitential, embrace those moments of mortality and accountability, respectively, often in deep sadness and darkness. However, it is the ‘business’ culture of operational language, thought, relationships and evangelism that are the Achilles heel of the theology, in the view of this scribe. Ascribing ‘sins’ and the regular discipline of a confessional to aspects of human life that constrict, repress and then find both immoral and ultimately unethical, in the eyes of the church, as if those acts, attitudes, and beliefs were counter to the will of God, that reverses the theology of the deus absconditus (the unknown God) with dogmatics of faith that have been enmeshed into the secular culture, in a manner that sanctifies the abuse of power.

The obvious argument, 'who is this scribe to declare what is or is not the will of God? warrants attention. For some time, the equation of God’s will and intentions have been seen to be paramount within the various ecclesial institutions. The spectre of a set of rules, dogmatically theologized, promulgated as elevated and surrounded and ensconced by centuries of preservation, observance and liturgical and intellectual justification, and enforced through various institutional agents and structures, as a way of preserving the moral and spiritual purity of the institution, provide a veneer of social and political and cultural and perhaps even intellectual respectability, stature and history, on which to offer guidance and gravitas to those seeking God. Those very highly inculcated ‘rules-and -regs’, however, have resulted in the justifications of exclusions and even wars and killings in the name and service of God.

To seek God, however that impulse might appear to an individual, is to recognize that such a step and process will neither be easy or smooth. And the notion of some ‘road-to-Damascus’ conversion as a threshold into that pilgrimage as a magnetic and reverential and sanctified ‘right of passage’ in that process, and then to elevate that ‘step’ as a model for new aspirants, while useful and appropriate for some, clearly relegates other paths as less than sanctified. And, that is only one of the many benchmarks and judgements considered holy and God-given, that have come to us through the writings, the homilies, the lectures and the minds and hearts of those whose reputations have become foundational for the various church ‘theologies’.

It is the narrow, constricted and ultimately self-righteous, sanctimonious and self-edifying pathways, perhaps unique to each ecclesial denomination, that defy a life that is fully conscious of the complexities of the human being, in search of God. And any overt or unconscious avoidance, denial and cover-up of what are legitimate human needs and aspirations, in the name of God, is a reduction of both humans and God. Let’s start with the search for the truth, a noble and honourable pursuit, in any and all human endeavours. Not only are we living in a culture in which the truth has no ‘standing’ to borrow a legal term; ‘alternative facts’ has become a new epithet depicting our own intellectual, cultural and moral and ethical failure, in the secular world. And the obsession with the literal as definitions of the dogmatic, as the definition and the circumference of human experience, exemplifies our shared blindness. In swimming willingly and deliberately and perhaps co-dependently in the rivers of linguistic and imaginative literalisms, the church has abandoned its place and purpose in honouring and celebrating not only God but also the people in its pews.

And, there seems to be incontrovertible evidence of links between Hillman and Frye, as well as between Hillman and William Blake. These lines describe his vision of his own task, from Blake’s poem, Jerusalem:

To open the immortal Eyes

Of man inwards into the worlds of

Thought; into Eternity

Ever expanding in the Bosom of

God, the human imagination…..

And also from the same poem:

I will not cease from Mental Fight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my


Till we have built Jerusalem,

In England’s green & pleasant land.

And from his poem, The Everlasting Gospel (1818):

The vision of Christ that thou dost


Is my Visions Greatest Enemy

Both read the Bible day & night

But thou readst black where I read


The theological implications of Hillman’s archetypal psychology, while his precepts are not dedicated to, or even honouring a specific faith, point to something inherent in all faiths.

One such example, is the ‘literal’ definition that our culture ascribes to the word ‘myth’ as if such tales were unworthy of our attention, and even worse they ares incompatible with a religion worthy of the name. In the practice of ministry, having referenced the story of the Garden of Eden as an important myth, I was instantly, and unceremoniously and publicly harangued as a heretic, an apostate, for even venturing into that evil notion. Just introducing the possible process of unpacking the story first as literature, and then as theology, I was castigated for my lack of faith. ‘How could such an important and defining story, as the opening chapters in the most holy book in the world, be considered a myth?’ was the underlying assumption. And that thought and feeling and cognition and metaphysic of the literal has been a constant companion since the day I faced its judgement.

Christian theology has, for centuries, debated, not always modestly or moderately, the assignment of responsibility for the ‘fall’ as a way of, for example, providing the roots to the arguments that pit men and women as historic and eternal competitors. Whose fault was it that Adam and Eve ‘ate the apple’ (pomegranate?)?

She prompted him so she is more culpable. And yet he ate first, so he is more culpable.

And herein lies a fundamental blindness both of God and of human beings. Judgement, as a matter of apparent need, justified as a cornerstone of the Christian faith, follows this kind of ‘either-or’ binary, Manichean perspective. And that ‘methodology’ and perspective continues into so many of the discernments (judgements?) we ascribe to ourselves and to others, in circumstances that ought to be considered from a wholly different perspective.

Humans live in a state between, and require a lens through which to view, envision, imagine and discern not only the acts and attitudes they hold and express, but also the world in which we/they live. And, both of those universes, the individual human psyche and the ‘anima mundi’ (cultural consciousness), from Hillman’s perspective, are neither static nor developmentally programmed for improvement, enhancement and ‘individuation’ as a process of being and becoming ‘whole’. It is this very truth, that such empirically theorized and researched academic psychologies uphold, reinforce, and pedagogically disperse, either deny or refuse to acknowledge. There is a kind of detachment, not only from the traditional theory and practice of psychology, according to Hillman, but it says here, among Christian theologians and ecclesial leadership, that subscribes to this denial and/or refusal. Succumbing to the prevalent, exhortatory and too often affirmed ‘triumphal’ and some metaphoric psychological hard drive to ‘holiness’ and ‘sanctification’ and more and ethical purity among disciples of God, has installed blinders on the Christian faith.

Hillman’s invitation to a far more open, honest and courageous lens that views our many deep and dark absurdities and inconsistencies and incongruities, from a perspective of the various voices of gods, goddesses and myths that together form an unconscious chorus within, neither negates a religion, a God, or a worship of that deity. Rather, it offers an intermediate step of psychic perception that relies on the human imagination, as the first ‘lens’ through which to view any and all of our personal crises. Myths and the gods and goddesses in their ‘objective correlatives’ of story, do not comply with a superficial and glib moral judgement. And, as Hillman would have us begin to envision, neither do we. And the razor-edge of such a potential judgement on each and every act, with that sky-hanging golden ‘ring’ of the hero hanging over each of us, from the perspective of our culture, renders each of us victim to our own concepts of who we are, and how we relate to the universe, including whatever deity is our preferred deity.

Of course, the Neoplatonic perspective suffers obliteration from the perceptions of an empirical, literal, nominal cultural and religious, legal and medical lens. And, Hillman’s valiant efforts to restore it, along with those like Blake upon whose shoulders Hillman walks, warrant serious consideration and reflection by those whose lives are dedicated to illuminating their own and others’ journey in search of God.

Not only was a castigating voice dumped into the conversation at the word ‘myth,’ an even more suspicious and condescending voice erupted when the word God was associated with the pronoun ‘she’ as if masculinity were the only form fitting for a deity. Imprisoned  a lens that seeks and permits only ‘literal’ words, literal concepts, and diagnostic nominalisms, faith and culture are robbed of their inherent life and imagination, fitting perhaps to those who seek complete control, but reprehensible for those of us still trying to breathe with our whole beings.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Myths govern our lives...

 Everything we have read and reflected on from Hillman points to an unmistakable and for some of us, irrefutable premise:

Myths govern our lives. They steer a case history from below through the soul history. The irrationality, absurdity, and horror of nature’s experiments, which we try to live, are taken up by the images and motives of myth and in some way made understandable. Some people must live life wrongly and then leave it wrongly. How else can we account for crime, perversity and evil. The fascinating intensity of such lives and deaths shows things at work beyond the human. Myth, which gives full place to every sort of atrocity, offers more objectivity to the study of such lives and deaths than any examination of personal motivation….The rational morality of life itself has always been open to question; is it any different for death?...(T)he soul seems to have elements of premonition and transcendence. For the soul, it is as if death and even the manner and moment of entering it can be irrelevant, as if it did not matter, as if almost there were no death for the soul history at all….(T)he soul needs the death experience. This can come about through various modes. Some of the inner images and emotions of the experience…(include) suicide, depression collapse, trance, isolation, intoxication and exaltation, failure, psychosis,  dissociation, amnesia, denial, pain and torture. These states can be experienced symbolically or concretely. They can be present in case history or soul history. The mode to psychological experience seems not to matter to the soul providing it has the experience. (Hillman, Suicide and the Soul, pps. 65-6-7)

For many, these words will read as black, depressing and therefore highly toxic and justifiably avoidable. However, if we pause for a moment to think and to recall some of those mythic figures, and their stories we read, or had read to us, in childhood, we cannot help but recall ‘the little engine that could’…(a humble an contrite Hercules?), or  the ‘big bad wolf’ (symbol of Ares?), confronting the innocent young girl (Astraea, star-maiden, virgin goddess of innocence, purity?) In was not so unsettling to read, as students in high school, words of Northrop Frye in The Educated Imagination to the effect that anything is possible in literature, in the language of the imagination, different from the language of practical sense. Stories of family, social, cultural, familial and political alienation abound in both literature and in the annals of social and cultural ‘case histories’….whose background soul histories remain hidden, even to the individuals being documented.

Stories from the New Testament, too, exemplify stories of the life of Jesus, from different perspectives, in four gospels: in Mark as the lonely figure abandoned by his followers and abandoned by God; in Matthew as Messiah, King, Lord, new Moses to free his people from bondage; in Luke as the compassionate care-giver for the poor, oppressed and marginalized; in John, as the source of eternal life, and  the more ‘spiritual, ethereal and uplifting’ for many. These various images, were included in Hopewell’s work, Congregation, in which he attempts to identify the ‘God’ image that is more relevant to people sitting in church pews: as King, Teacher, Care-giver, Saviour…and the attitudes, perceptions, and theological leanings of each. Of course, it is not only a single image of Jesus, and God that dances in our imagination, given that God is the ultimately unknowable (absconditus).

Similarly, we have had teachers and supervisors who exhibited a variety of interactions, each of which, if we were given the opportunity to examine them, would reflect/mirror images that have become active in their imaginations. And each behaviour is not and cannot be, like a 1:1 ration, attached to a single god or goddess, in that there are invariably more than a single god/goddess/myth that is engaged in each of our deepest sufferings.

Here is one of the more significant points of nexus, between theology and archetypal psychology: and that is belief….and the different purposes of belief in each case. In the case of theology, we believe as an act of worship. We envisage the various chapters and encounters in the life and death of Jesus, (for Christians) and then attempt to enact their theological significance in our lives in liturgical dates and events, through prayer, through sacraments, through Mass/Eucharist, and through seasonal readings.

In archetypal psychology, on the other hand, the gods and goddesses are not believed in in order to be worshipped. The belief is, rather, attached to the imagination, and to their relative influence, and energy and ambiguity and mystical aura in those moments in our lives when we seem most vulnerable. They are conceptualized, envisaged, imagined and sketched in light pencil marks, or today, perhaps in holograms that dance in our imagination. Like the figures that ‘have us’ in our dreams over which we have no control, these mythical figures continue to accompany us on our journey, most of the time seemingly untouchable, unreachable, innocuous, and irretrievable, given our strong attachment to our senses.

And when we were writing about the differences between a case history and a soul history, we did not mention the fact that skills, while never excluded from a soul history, are not necessary for a soul history. In fact, the acquisition of skills, in and through which we are expected to deliver ‘value’ for some organization, and in and through which we are judged as employable in the first place, offers another of those literal, empirical, and highly comparative and even more highly competitive stages on which we are expected to compete, to establish our value and worth in the ‘eyes’ of the system, the culture and the economy. And it is in regard to the economy, and the political decisions that first envisage the purpose of a public decision-making process in both philosophy and political theory, and then enact in public policy that we are envisaged, indeed incapsulated…as digits in that economy.

Even within our churches we are numbers of bodies, enrollees, attendees, communicants, choir members, Sunday school attendees and of course, numbers of dollars in those proverbial collection plates. And, of course, the “political and psychological” grafting of ideas, images and narratives, that comprise the various theological positions that are articulated from the pulpit, as well as the various theological views extended in Christian education classes, Bible classes, prayer meeting reflections, cannot be underestimated. And one of the more obvious, as well as more counter-intuitive to the whole mission of the faith, is the corporate model of organization that concentrates, indeed, obsesses, over the literal numbers on its balance sheet, to assess, reward, punish, and even evict its leaders.

“I am happy to have been very instrumental in removing the last priest because he was not spiritual enough, and you’re not either!” are the words of a direct quote from a corporate executive in an urban church. His ‘conception’ of ‘spiritual enough’ was tied directly to his notion that contemporary rock/pop instruments and vocalists performing contemporary religious music would be the necessary magnet to attract and to retain young people to their community. Another quote from another parishioner in a small-town church is part of the suffocation of the corporate-balance-sheet-profit-loss business mentality for and in the church:  “Jesus was history’s best salesman!” And just to add to the ideological and political and cultural enmeshment of the church in the relationship of the ecclesial institution with the political culture, after hearing, in a homily, a direct criticism of a recently elected provincial premier and his right-wing government which had announced serious cuts to the budget of WheelTrans, the public transportation vehicle on which disadvantaged men and women relied for their movements about the city, immediately rushed to the presiding rector with these words: “We can’t have any clergy criticizing from the pulpit the premier we just elected!”

Indeed, the theology of moral perfection, linked with the sexual lives and identities of those who in any way and at any level seek community within the church, as the path of and to discipleship, is itself another of the many self-sabotaging bases of the authenticity and integrity of both the theology and the praxis of the faith. And the exercise of power, from a position of top-down authority, itself, endemic to the military and the corporate organizational theory and practice, is also a reduction of the notion of any authentic faith relationship. The self-righteousness, moral superiority, sanctification and all of the many liturgical and reflective and hymnal rubrics and poetry and genuflections, in themselves, represent a dangerous risk to the pursuit of and relationship with God, for many.

One has to wonder, indeed, if the mythology embodied in the crucifixion itself, and the deeply embedded ‘excommunication’ as well as the formal and informal decisions within the church to ‘exclude’ those it considers apostates, heretics, non-conformists, is not so deeply seeded into the ecclesial tradition, that the notion of engaging in an act of association within a faith community is itself a risk predicated on the crux of that faith community. A Russian professor once told his class in comparative education about the Russian method of solving problems: eliminate them. And when we hear about Alexi Navalny and Vladimir Kara-Murza having been ‘excommunicated’ from the Russian public life, and imprisoned, and poisoned, without adequate advocacy and human rights, without a robust universal (not exclusively within Russia) protest, we are witnessing what happens in the corporate, the political and the ecclesial domains every day.

Self-adopted and declared impunity from errors in judgement, and in all manner of conduct in the exercise of power, for the sake of the institution, as if such conduct would enhance the life and success of that institution, is itself counter-intuitive to the spiritual and ethical and relational lives of those both in power and under that power. Authority vested in a ‘critical parent’ over ‘children’ whose behaviour and beliefs and attitudes are neither sought nor explored, but, in crisis, are only deployed as evidence that those in power and authority have not ‘protected’ the church’s reputation on a high moral ground from which it can only topple. Indeed, the very notion of the celibate clergy, itself, sets up an unsustainable model for clergy attempting to serve. The soul, in a word, is not amenable to dogma, nor is it amenable to institutional, calendar, pecuniary nor even academic regulation.

And all of the many and varied attempts, including both the dogma and the institutional mores and traditions and pomp and circumstances that surround and encompass all of even the tone of the conversations within the sanctuary, are analogous to the reprehensible conversations in hospital rooms when the bed-ridden patient is considered to be in a coma, a ‘reverential’ and ‘respectful’ whisper, as if the patient must not be disturbed, when really it is as much a kind of fear of the visitor about his own proximity to death and mortality.

There are so many stories, actually myths, within each faith community that offer models of both thought and praxis to pathways of deeper relationship with God, without compromising either the integrity nor the authenticity of either the institution or the penitent. Telling the truth, as opposed to running along tracks of obvious, overt and covert hypocrisy, holds far more promise than regulating behaviour, attitudes and beliefs from the top. Power over, in a pyramidal structure, with embedded instructions and protocols of enforcement, infantalizes and colonizes those in the pews, and, also those in the pulpit as well. And the maintenance of power and authority, by officialdom, known by whatever name, is an endemic corrosion of living life to the full, for both those in power and those over whom they discharge their responsibilities.

Is it the presumption of the right to ‘trash’(remove, dismiss, discharge, imprison, excommunicate) another both literally and metaphorically, without a full, deep and intimate search for the soul of that/those persons, that rusts the very liturgical vessels of the eucharist and those engaged in the ceremony. And this presumption, assumption, and normalization of practice is both enhanced and enabled in and through a literal, nominal, empirical, academic, scientific obsession of the culture in which the churches function.

Neither God nor any full expression of theology can be reduced to a rational, literal, empirical, scientific language or image. And, so far the optimum lens for beginning the process of a relationship with a deity, seems to be in and through an active imagination that recognizes and respects and indeed relies on a manner of ‘seeing’ in and through the soul. And, institutionally, the most appropriate locus for such a premise to be practiced is within the ecclesial communities. While each liturgy and tradition will differ somewhat, there is a common unifying thread of perspective that the care of the soul is dominant, and the institution can adjust not only its liturgical and dogmatic words but also its practice and attitudes and perceptions to that end. And the potential ripples from that starting place in psychology are only faintly visible in the mythic mists.