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Saturday, June 11, 2022

Trying to 'dog-paddle' our way into the waters of archetypal psychology...

 So much of our conversation, that does not focus on the pragmatics of daily chores or public issues, seems to be focused on our emotions. Those “feelings” that seem to be attached to each and every experience, without prompting, thought, or even reflection. I “feel” happy when my dog cocks her head while seeming to listen to my question about her need. I feel sad when I know someone has been disappointed with me over something I either failed to do or something I did in a way that did not meet their expectations. I feel disheartened that the world has seemed to slide/fall/drown in the morass of so many significant crises, none of which, either individually or certainly not collectives, seem to be addressethough everyone knows the modest steps that could and would provide some relief.

I feel invigorated when reflecting on the beauty of the sunrise over the mist blanketing the river. The day even takes on an “aura” of renewed invigorating life….and I deeply regret the many estranged people whom I have been a contributor to their absence, whether for a day or two, or for a lifetime. Are these multiple, often complex and even conflicting emotions “my” identity, and “my” personality, and “my” ego playing out against the landscape of the events and people whose paths cross mine?

Or, is there another way to see these highly ‘infectious’ and even more highly captivating topics of both conversation at the water cooler, in the family and especially in therapy?

What does Willian Blake mean by considering “feelings” to be “divine influxes” (that) accompany, qualify and energize images, as noted by James Hillman, in “Archetypal Psychology a Brief Account” (p. 48). Hillman continues:

They (emotions) are not merely personal but belong to imaginal reality, the reality of the image and help make the image felt as specific value. Feelings elaborate its complexity, and feelings are as complex as the image that contains them. Not images represent feelings, but feelings are inherent in images….(Quoting Patricia Berry, An approach to the Dream, 1974) Hillman writes: They (emotions) adhere or inhere to the image and may not be explicit at all…We cannot entertain any image in dreams, or poetry or painting, without experiencing an emotional quality presented by the image itself.” Hillman then continues: This further implies that any event experienced as an image is at once animated, emotionalized, and placed in the realm of value….The task of therapy is to return personal feelings (anxiety, desire, confusion, boredom, misery) to the specific images which hold them. Therapy attempts to individualize the face of each emotion: the body of desire, the face of fear, the situations of despair. Feelings are imagined into their details. (Hillman, op. cit. p. 480)

Hillman’s thought continues: any emotion not differentiated by a specific image is inchoate, common, and dumb, remaining both sentimentally personal and yet collectively unindividualized. (p.49)

It seems relevant to refer back to the notion of what an image is, from the perspective of Archetypal Psychology (from Hillman, op. cit. p 7)

As ‘not what one sees, but the way in which one sees,’ an image is given by the imagining perspective and can only be perceived by an act of imagining….

First one believes images are hallucinations (things seen); then one recognizes them as acts of subjective imagining; but then, third, come the awareness that images are independent of subjectivity and even of the imagination itself and a mental activity. Images come and go, (as in dreams) at their own will, with their own rhythm, within their one fields of relations, undetermined by personal psychodynamics. In fact, images are the fundamentals which make the movements of psychodynamics possible. They claim reality, that is, authority, objectivity, and certainty. In this third recognition, the mind is in the imagination rather than the imagination in the mind. The noetic* and the imaginal no long.er opposed each other….Corbin attributes this recognition to the awakened heart as locus of imagining, a locus also familiar in the Western tradition of from Michelangelo’s imagine del cuor.# This interdependence of heart and image intimately ties the very basis of archetypal psychology with the phenomena of love. Corbin’s theory of creative imagination of the heart further implies for psychology that, when it bases itself in the image, it must at the same time recognize that imagination Is not merely a human faculty but is an activity of soul to which the human imagination bears witness. It is not we who imagine but we who area imagined. (Hillman, op, cit. p. 7-8)

An archetypal image operates like the original meaning of idea..not only ‘that which’ one sees but also that ‘by means of which’ one sees….An image termed archetypal is immediately valued as universal, trans-historical, basically profound, generative, highly intentional and necessary. (Ibid. p. 12-13)

If all of this reads like a dive into the “weeds” of abstractions, platonic ideals, and the esoteric aspect of the creative imagination, that is because to some extent it is. And a good part of my problem, and possibly others as well, is that we have been, like tea bags, steeped in a culture in which the abstract, the neotic, the poetic and the relationship of person to image has been “brewed” into us. That is, we are separate from, and also to varying degrees alienated from ourselves by having been taught to concentrate on what we were told is “objective reality” as opposed to “subjective reality” when, in fact, there may not be such a separation from a psychological perspective, especially an archetypal psychology perspective.

The fact that in some circles, archetypal psychology has been dismissed as outside the purview of pure science, and even verging into the world of the psychic cult, and then, as a consequence, been ascribed a similar reductionistic “diagnosis” as unable to be studied, or even intellectually considered as a discipline worthy of scholars.

Jung, Hillman and their ‘precursers and ancestors’ in this field are rarely considered appropriate for university curricula, especially Hillman. Just this week, in an email from a highly reputed Canadian scholar who focuses on the radical imagination, I read words and sentiments of “suspicion” about Hillman’s work, as proof of that scholar’s dedication and loyalty to his scholarly research. A couple of years ago, when I approached a faculty of education professor about the study of Hillman, I was dubbed ‘another similar to Jordan Peterson, the psychologist from U. of Toronto, whose writings have both inspired and outraged many around the world.

Trouble with all of this is that while an empirical, sentient and reproducible experimental science, and the frames of mind on which such scholarship is dependent, is eminently useful, honourable, and somewhat predictive of some aspects of our relationship to others, to nature and to anything remotely akin to a deity, or especially multiple deities, that process may not be the extent of either our human imagination, nor the limits of our capacity to envision ourselves in the universe.

If we were to begin our process from the imagination, the image itself, (as in the cliché ‘we think in pictures and not in words’)….then it may well be that the ‘image’ does indeed have us, for the moment, and the emotions that flow from that moment are just those ‘divine influxes’ (Blake) that provide the enrichment, the clothing, the aromas, the tastes and the fullness of the memory of that image. In other places, Hillman suggests that archetypal psychology begins in the “south” rather than in the “north” as if to say that our premises of our intellect are indeed ‘superceded’ not as more important, but rather as different as a starting place for our discovery both of self and our relationship to the universe.

If the ‘image’ has neither good or bad inherent qualities, but simply is, and if the image ‘has’ us in its ‘hand’ as it were, then we are in some somewhat fantastical way connected to and part of all others who too have been ‘in’ that image. Is that so fanciful as to warrant relegation to the “psychedelic” realm of the absurd, the bizaare, and the occult? Or, perhaps, rather, are those realms so dangerous and outside of our learned frame of reference of logic, and the extrinsic dimension of ourselves and each “other thing/person” that we have succumbed to the dominance of as single way of perceiving ourselves in the world, and the world itself.

If the image is not only an image in our imagination but a ‘way of seeing’ then whatever we are perceiving is also a lens through which we are engaged in that perception. If what we currently see in the world is an existential crisis, then we are also using that existential crisis as the lens through which we are perceiving the world. And if that sympathetic vibration between what we “see/perceive” and the “lens through which we are indeed “seeing/perceiving”, with all of the attendant emotions, and verbiage that comes with the fullness of that experience, are we not then far more intimately and profoundly engaged in a process that is part of the larger world of the creative imagination that has birthed, nurtured, wounded, murdered, caressed, loved, hated and alienated individuals forever.

Is it not then feasible to imagine that in a Christian church, for example, the act of the crucifixion of whatever/whomever is perceived as another ‘mythical savior’ would need to be hanged? And, is it not worth considering that we are all intimately and integrally and inescapably linked to other such archetypal narratives in which we find ourselves? And while the experience of those narratives preys on us as heavy and negative emotions, they also link us to a universe in which such images have been living, breathing vibrating and lashing through human psyches forever.

While this perspective, one in which I am trying to learn to “dog-paddle” (the first swimming stroke one learns), may demand a re-think, and a re-viewing, and a re-conceptualizing of who we are, where we are in the universe of both time and place and also which images are and have been ‘having’ us in their ‘hands’ ‘grip’ or ‘embrace’ much of those different ‘holdings’ in part dependent at least in part in how we perceive that moment, such a demand seems eminently worthy of our attention.

For example, the image of a deity or of multiple deities, as opposed to some anthropomorphism of a deity, is qualitatively different depending on the nature of the image, and its ‘hold’ on each of us. Beyond the boundaries of our logic, our definition of the nature around us, beyond time and place, beyond anything or anyone we might imagine, is it not possible that each of us carries, reconsiders, sets aside, picks up again, re-positions and then “repeats” such a process as the calendar of events, and people and successes and failures unfolds in the spaces where we live?

Next time, let’s take a reflective look as the difference between “spirit” and “soul” as archetypal psychology sees that difference.


*states of insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the s=discursive intellect. They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance, all inarticulate though they remain; and as a rule they carry with them a curious sense of authority (William James) Synonyms: cerebral, inner, intellectual, interior, internal, mental psychological, psychic.

#When the artist Michelangelo was crafting his masterpiece, David, he didn’t see a slab of stone. He chiseled what they call the imagine del cuore which means image of the heart. Michelangelo believed that the masterpiece was already inside of the stone. He just has to remove the excess to reveal it. (MadisonnJackson. wordpress.com)

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