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Friday, March 17, 2023

Dog-paddling in the waters of the river of love....

 If attempting to identify, and to explicate and comprehend evil is a cognitive, emotional, political and ethical minefield, then so too, perhaps even more enigmatic is the notion of love. Popular songs have been stuffed with the ‘language’ of love, including romance, brokenness, forgiveness, bitterness, revenge, promises, abandonments, fulfilments and dreams….and the list goes on.

For every adolescent, it seems there is a different ‘fantasy’ of a prospective ‘only one’ or the ‘most loving’ or the ‘most beautiful’ or the ‘most wanted’ other. Surrounded by classmates who have ‘found’ that other ‘loved one’, regardless of whether she or he considers the situation in terms of infatuation, adulation, hero-worship, or ‘real love’, the general description of the relationship from those observing is that it has ‘taken over’ the thoughts and the feelings and especially the time and attention of the participants. Seemingly subsumed in/by this drama, each ‘young lover’ is forever changed, given that this experience is like no other, from the past, or most likely from the future.

There are implications for the teen’s budget to pay for dates, for school credits and graduation, for the beginning of the process of separating from parents, for social relationships that portend reactions like support from friends, and/or jealousy from those shunted aside by one of the partners, social slurs that in innuendos of racial or sexual ‘shade’. However things happen, for the young person who has crossed the threshold into a romantic relationship, his and her world has changed. The length, depth, authenticity and adventure of the experience, while different for each person, will be a legacy that stays with him/her for a lifetime.

Endings of these adolescent relationships, too, and their timing and nature will have an impact on how each person ‘trusts’ another, and even potentially the rest of the world. And, inevitably, one’s emotional development is impacted, regardless of both the nature of the relationship and its mortality.

No relationship is or can be cut off from the cultural ethos of its origin. Small town kids will be visible and known to many; city kids will find some anonymity, in so far as their physical activities are concerned; all will face the onslaught of social media’s penetration and exploitation. And interesting observation from Jonathan Haidt, an American social psychologist in an interview with Bill Barr, who has studied the impact of social media on American youth says that ‘bullying for boys is physical, whereas for girls it is relational and never leaves on social media.’ Perhaps that insight helps to provoke a cultural and a political and even a parental re-think about the negative impact of social media.


The insight from Haidt, noted above, is among the many subtleties and nuances that separates the ‘awareness’ of young men from that of their female peers. And, indeed, the whole field of adolescent relationships (of the romantic kind) is legitimately considered a mine-field into which both young men and young women rush blindly, innocently, spontaneously, and obviously passionately. The ‘image’ of the other can be said to cast a kind of spell over the partner, and the range and depth of the imagination, rarely if ever specifically detailed, will impact the degree of mutual understanding of ‘who’ each person is to the other. Indeed, the whole notion of ‘image’ and ‘projection’ (in this case, of the highest and most magnetic fantasies) are likely outside of the consciousness of most adolescents, especially at the moment of the greatest attraction/vulnerability. Paradoxically, when we are the most vulnerable to the potential of a relationship is precisely the moment when we believe we are the most ‘fulfilled’ the most worthy, the most desirable and heroic.

And while shiploads of ink have been pored into the archives of all countries in all periods of history detailing the drama of romance, love still remains among the most elusive, most compelling and most complex of human experiences.

There are for each ‘romantic’ partner specific attributes, sometimes emerging from the patterns and images we glean from mother and father, and whether they might be a figure image of his ‘ideal’ or a car or uniform for her’s, ‘love falls for ‘something else,’ invisible. We say, ‘There’s something about her’; ‘The whole world changes in his presence.’ As Flaubert supposedly said: ‘(She was the focal point of light at which the totality of things converged.’ We are in the terrain of transcendence, where usual realities hold less conviction that invisibilities. If ever we wanted obvious proof of the daimon and its calling, we need but fall once in love. The rational sources of heredity and environment are not enough to give rise to the torrents of romantic agony. It’s all you, and never do you feel more flooded  with importance and more destined; nor can what you do turn out to be more demonic. This intoxication with self-importance suggests that romantic love ‘has in fact promoted the growth of individuality.’ According to Susan and Clyde Hendrick, it can be well argued that the Western sense of person parallels the place given to romantic love in the culture, as shown first by courtly romance and the troubadours, and then in the Renaissance. Ideals of individualism and individual destiny reached an apogee in the nineteenth century, as did the delirious exaggerations of romantic love, so that, ads the Hendricks say, romantic love may ‘be construed as a force or device to help create or enhance self and individuality.’ These psychodynamics must locate the call of love within the personal ‘self.’ My (Hillman’s) psychodynamics imagines this call more phenomenologically, using the language that love itself uses-myth, poetry, story, and song—and that places the call beyond the ‘self,’ as if it comes from a divine or demonic being. (Hillman, The Soul’s Code, p. 144)

One of the more significant social and cultural influences in the West, the church, has played and continues to play a role in the definition and conceptualizing of the notion of love, a concept, which, doubtless, enhances the ‘personal’ individual early integration of the concept. As part of the overt and subliminal effort to combat, mediate, forgive the fundamental human attribution of evil and sin, the church professes, and prescribes love. (From Christian theology),…the soul is conceived to stand primarily in love, because, as Augustine said, ‘No one is who does not love’; ‘love and do what thou willst’; for the first commandment is love, since love is the essence of God, in whose image the human soul is made; through love the soul is redeemed, for love comprehends all other ideas—truth, justice, and faith too, all virtues and sins, and this love gives to soul its immortal fire and the arrow of its mission to increase love’s dominion through ever widening unions. Even as it recurs in a variation in Freud’s idea of libido, this idea could not have taken hold so effectively unless it echoes an archetypal structure which images and experiences a cosmos ruled by Gods of love—Eros, Jesus, Aphrodite. (Hillman, Revisioning Psychology, p. 124)

Within the church, the Greek word ‘agape’ abounds. From christianity.com, we read: ‘Agape love’ differs from other types of love in the Bible. It is the highest, most pure form of love as a choice, not out of attraction or obligation. Agape love is a sacrificial love that unites and heals. It is the love of God that we see through the cross of Jesus Christ. This love saves and restores humanity in the face of sin and death.

Not only does the culture of the West not easily or readily distinguish between various faces, definitions or applications of love, the conflation of many of its forms and faces not only sullies their uniqueness and their authenticity, but clouds and diminishes their relevance and application in human lives. And whether one is a person of faith or not, one naturally and inevitably aspires to, fantasizes about, reaches for, commits to, and fully embraces what one conceives/perceives/considers to be an experience that exceeds one’s vision and fantasy and imagination….including a potential relationship with God. The transcendent, indeed, is central to the human aspiration and ambition and stretching to be part of something ‘outside of’ one’s self and ‘bigger than’ one’s self, and ‘awesome’ and transformative.

The literal, concrete, empirical aspects of a relationship and the ‘ethereal, idealistic, transcendent’ aspects of any relationship cannot be divided from each other, as the whole contains both (and more?). However, the culture, including much of the praxis of faith tilts toward the concrete, the immediate, the sensate and the cognitive. Whereas, the ephemeral, ethereal, transcendent, poetic, imaginative and the archetypal are all seemingly relegated to the weirdo’s, the artists, the isolates, the strange and even the social outcast. There are some real and risky implications of this ‘tilting’.

One is that the physical, the literal, the legal and the biological have reign, leaving the ethereal, the ephemeral, the transcendent and the imaginative and archetypal outside of both the vernacular and the anima mundi, the zeitgeist. The British psychiatrist and thought leader, Dr. Liam McGilchrist, in a 2009 work entitled, The Master and His Emissary, attempts to bridge the left and right hemispheres of the human brain. (from lifeitself.org) a review of the book reads:

(The book) provides a compelling exploration of the curious division of the brain into two hemispheres. It also relates this hemispheric divide which has fascinated and frustrated neuroscience for centuries, to a profound perspective on the nature of being and the evolution of western culture,…the hemispheres create two worlds, and that of the right is holistic, embodied, living and intuitive, while the left is more focused, linear and analytical. …He …demonstrates in painstaking detail over a few hundred pages that there is valuable substance to the idea of hemispheric duality. The book then diagnoses a widely suspected cultural illness in the West as resulting from its gradual alienation from the right hemisphere’s world.

Distancing himself from the pop culture’s way of perceiving ‘right’ and ‘left’ brain, as ‘what they do’ and not about ‘how they approach it. He writes: (Y)ou could say, to sum up, a vastly complex matter in a phrase, that the brain’s left hemisphere is designed to help us ap-prehend-and thus manipulate- the world; the right hemisphere to com-prehend it-see it all for what it is. (Wikipedia.com)


From his website, we read: Our talent for division, for seeing the parts, is of staggering importance—second only to our capacity to transcend it, in order to see the whole. (And) I believe that we are engaged in committing suicide; intellectual suicide, moral suicide, and physical suicide. If there is anything as important as stopping us poisoning our seas and destroying our forests, it I stopping us poisoning our minds and destroying our souls. Our dominant value-sometimes I fear our only value-has, very clearly, become that of power. This aligns us with a brain system, that of the left hemisphere, the raison d’etre of which is to control and manipulate the world. But not to understand it: that, for evolutionary reasons that I explain, has come to be more the raison d’etre or our-more intelligent, in every sense-right hemisphere. Unfortunately the left hemisphere knowing less, thinks it knows more. It is a good servant, but a ruinous-a peremptory-master. And the predictable outcome of assuming the role of master is the devastation of all that is important to us—or should be important, if we really know what we are about. 

Along with Joseph Campbell, it would seem to be a reasonable guess that James Hillman would readily concur with the neuroscientist’s observation of the neglect of the right brain. Would Hillman’s ‘poetic basis of mind’ not legitimately be construed as another path aimed at the recovery of the purpose and legitimacy of the imagination and the right brain? And would the effective bridging of different kinds of mental activity not be both reciprocal and necessary for effective and full realization of human potential?

The exercise of power, especially in intimate relationship with another, is and always will be critical to the effective understanding and working out of whatever tensions and conflicts that emerge. Concentrating on the method of resolving the tension, as so many therapeutic initiatives have been focused on, does not integrate the basic conceptual frameworks, including the voices of the gods and goddesses, the legends, the fantasies and the metaphors that are engaged, often without our conscious awareness. We have place the ‘how’ ahead of the ‘what’ in terms of our shared perceptions of reality, including the realities of our most important relationships.

Hillman, McGilchrist and Campbell are all engaged in an intellectual and affective pursuit of tentative answers to who we are, how we approach our world view, and how we might being to ‘see’ ourselves and our place in the world differently. Their work too is an act of love in all the important meanings of that complex and relevant concept. Concentration, commitment, sharing, vulnerability and risk-taking are all modelled by their persons. And, their shoulders, on which we walk, enable us to ‘see’ differently but also more deeply into our own reality as well as our relationship to our shared reality.

 Gratitude, it seems, is only one of the more appropriate responses…especially for the inspiration to continue to search, to learn and to share. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Attempting to peel the onion of demon/daimon in Hillman's depiction of Hitler

 Any and all attempts to discern, diagnose, analyse, and deal with what the world calls evil, is fraught with perils of many kinds. In the Western world, one of the primary sources of evil, promulgated in and by the Christian church is Augustine.

A short look at his view is that moral evil is not some thing that God created, but rather a corruption in human will. The ‘way’ one chooses, rather than the ‘thing’ is central to his approach. While the existence of evil helps humans appreciate the good, God does not cause or permit evil, as it is not a thing. Whether one approaches the problem of evil from a logical or evidential perspective, the focus of any discussion of evil tries to reconcile the existence of evil and suffering in our world view. The existence of evil juxtaposed to/with a loving God, lies at the core of the conundrum. And, while the question of a theodicy (an attempt to justify God in the face of evil) is relevant for theologians, here we are searching for a psychological approach to evil.

What is there about a human being that either causes, or implicates or provides evidence of an evil person, per se, and how do we go about attempting to first relate to that person and then how to address the question of mediating that dark impulse? Levi Asher, on litlicks.com, on July 17, 2010, in reference to a book by Lars Svendsen, a Norwegian philosopher, entitleds, ‘A Philosophy of Evil,’ writes:

Friedrich Nietzsche advised us to give up on morality and follow him ‘beyond good and evil’ in 1886, and it’s probably fair to say that academic philosophy has remained in that Nietzschean zone—beyond any common or widely accepted agreement on the meanings of the terms ‘good’ and ‘evil’—ever since. ….(A) useful breakdown of what Svendsen considers to be the four types of evil:

Demonic Evil is evil for its own sake, performed for the express purpose of harming others or for the enjoyment of the experience of watching others suffer.

Instrumental Evil is evil that occurs in order to carry out some other purpose.

Idealistic Evil is evil that is ‘justified’ by some greater cause…..Adolf Hitler, Chairman Mao and Osama bin Laden were all motivated by what they considered to be lofty ideals.

Stupid Evil is evil that occurs based on human incompetence, despite the fact that nobody wished it.

James Hillman begins a chapter in “The Soul’s Code,” entitled ‘The Bad Seed,’ with these words:

Crooks, criminals, sadistic guards and serial rapists—all the creatures large and small of the underworld—did their souls descend from the lap of Necessity? …Plotinus asked the question centuries ago: ‘How could a wicked character be given by the Gods? (p. 214)

He then goes on to inquire into the ‘figure who was the ultimate criminal psychopathic murderer of modern times, if not of all times: Adolf Hitler. (p. 214)

Differing from Svendsen who doubts the existence of demonic evil, Hillman writes: To be a conscious citizen in the Western post-Hitler age, not only must one recall the images and the lessons of the first half of this (20th) century, Hitler’s time in Western history, but also one is obliged to reflect about Hitler as a demonic potential in this same Western world. To reflect upon Hitler is to do more than present a case study in psychopathy or political tyranny, and more than a literary departure such as performed by Mailer, Capote, and Sartre on their psychopathic subjects. It is a ritual act of psychological discovery, an act as necessary to the claim of being a conscious human  as remembering the Holocaust and reviewing the Second World War. A study of Hitler is an act of contrition by all who share the Western psyche for that psyche’s unconscious participation in Hitler’s actions; and it is an act of propitiation of the particular demon who selected Hitler for its host. (The Soul’s Code, p. 215)

For some, the concept of the ‘demon selecting Hitler,’ may be a step too far. It stems in part from the basic notion in archetypal psychology that an image is not what one sees but the way in which one sees. An image is given by the imagination perspective and can only be perceived by an act of imagining. The autochthonous (original, earliest known) quality of images as independent of the subjective imagination which does the perceiving takes Casey’s* idea one step further. First one believes images are hallucinations (things seen); then one recognizes them as acts of subjective imagining; but then, third, comes the awareness that images are independent of subjectivity and even of the imagination itself as a mental activity. Images come and go (as in dreams) at their own will, with their own rhythm, within their own 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 (relating to mental activity or intellect) and the imaginal no longer oppose each other. ‘Yet this is still psychology’ although no longer science; it is psychology in the wider meaning of the word, a psychological activity of creative nature, in which creative fantasy is given prior place.’ (Jung)…Corbin**(1958) attributes this recognition to the awakened heart as locus of imagining, a locus also familiar in the Western imagination from Michelangelo’s imagine del cuor (the image within the stone). This interdependence of heart and image intimately ties the very basis of archetypal psychology with the phenomena of love (eros). 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 are imagined. (Hillman, Archetypal Psychology, A Brief Account, pp.7-8)

Images of the demonic, then, seem, for Hillman, another, and perhaps one of the more cogent and relevant, windows into the character of a man like Hitler, after having checked several other boxes of possible identifications of the invisible including: ‘the cold heart, hellfire, wolf, anality, female suicides, freaks and humorless Hitler’ (TSC p. 217-221) Hillman distinguishes between the vernacular ‘demon’ as an evil spirit, and the daimon an image he introduces in these words:

A theory of life must have a base in beauty if it would explain the beauty that life seeks. The Romantics grasped this essential truth. Their exaggerated overreach toward cloudy glories meant to bring into this world forms of the invisible they knew were necessary for imagining what life is. A last member of these Romantics, the Connecticut poet Wallace Stevens, makes clear these cloudy thoughts:

                   ….The clouds preceded us

                   There was a muddy center before we breathed.

                   There was a myth before the myth began

         Venerable and articulate and complete

(Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction, in The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, p. 383)

The tale we take from Plato about the soul choosing its particular destiny and a being guarded by a daimon ever since birth is such a myth—venerable, articulate, complete; and it is there before you began the other myth you call your biography. (TSC, p 39)

For many of us, the notion of a ‘myth before the myth we call our biography’ is outside our range of both language and thought. Indeed, it requires a leap of our imagination even to approach the paradox, as we might see it. And yet, if we enter into that state of suspended disbelief, as we are urged to do when we enter the theatre physically, emotionally and in our imagination, we might begin the process of opening to the possibility and then the imaginative reality of both a dark and even demon and a supportive, guiding and life-giving daimon. The relationship between these two mythic images, however, is not merely another way to envision the relationship between good and evil within humanity. It is Hillman’s way of distinguishing the daimon as a potential guardian ‘angel’ for each of us, from the demon that emerges if and when the daimon “goes south” into its own darkness.

In his depiction of the demonic, Hillman writes:

August Kubizek, a school friend of Hitler, said his mother was afraid of Hitler’s eyes—light blue, startingly intense, and lashless. Hitler’s high school teacher described his eyes as ‘shining’. Kuzibek also wrote: If I am asked where one could perceive, in his youth, this man’s exceptional qualities, I can only answer, ‘In the eyes.’…Hitler practiced ‘piercing glances in front of a mirror’ and played the game of ‘staring down’ other people….Once when he was seventeen, fortune did fail him, (although bullets seemed to miss him). He had taken a lottery ticket and had grandiose plans for what he would do with the winnings. He did not win and jhe went into a blind fury. He had been let down by the same ‘providence,’ Moira, Fate, or Lady Luck in whom he had absolute faith…He spoke of the goddess of fate, destiny, and history. Mein Kampf, setting forth his vision , opens with his version of the Platonic myth. He states that Brunau, Austria, had been selected by fate for his entry into the world. Hitler’s call gave him the self-appointed right to be a sleep-walker outside the human world. Outside also means transcendent, where the gods themselves live. Hitler’s certitude also confirmed his sense of always being right, and his utter conviction utterly convinced his nation, carrying it forward in its wrongs. Absolute certainty, utter conviction---these then are signs of the demonic. Already at age seven, ‘Hitler was imperious and quick to anger and would not listen to anyone,’ said his half brother Alois, just as later he would not listen to his generals. No woman had his ear, either; it heard only his daimon, his sole true companion. We begin to see how power corrupts as the guiding whisper becomes a demonic voice obliterating all others. The seed comes with sure and uncanny knowledge. But while a god is omniscient, a human becomes a know-it-all, and so Hitler has no use for exchange with others. There was nothing they could teach him. To show his omniscience he memorized masses of facts-locations of regiments and reserves, displacement and armature of ships, kinds of vehicles—all of which he used to overpower his questioners and embarrass his commanders. This information ‘proved’ his transcendence and disguised hie lack of thought and reflection and his inability to hold a conversation. The demonic does not engage; rather, it smothers with details and jargon any possibility of depth. (
TSC, pps. 224-225)

Drob l. Sanford, in newkabbalah.com, in a piece entitled, ‘The Depth of the Soul: Hames Hillman’s Vision of Psychology, writes:

For Hillman, like the kaballists, good must be drawn through the portals of chaos and evil.

It is in and through the chaos and the evil that we pass that we are enabled to sift the wheat of the daimon from the chaff of the demon, as illustrated in and through the depiction of Hillman’s Hitler.Hillman does exhort his readers, however, to acknowledge the demon, and all of its darkness, without dismissing it as too toxic, or too uncomfortable, or too threatening, to confront, prior to searching for our daimon. And, by inference, it seems he would hold that in North America we  have slipped into a kind of superficial, literal, nominal and objective grasp of ‘reality’ while ignoring, denying and thereby defying the demon. Unfortunately, for the world, Hitler’s daimon devolved into his demon, leaving only death and pain, destruction, from which we all still, these many decades later, trying to emerge….only to witness another ‘demonic take over of another political leader.

Prescient as is the daimon, we can only surmise that it was Hillman’s daimon who authored these words of warning as far back as 1996:

The demonic does not engage; rather it smothers with details and jargon any possibility of depth. Our republic (United States) should learn this lesson from Hitler, for we might one day vote into power a hero who wins a giant TV trivia contest and educate our children to believe the Information Superhighway is the road to knowledge. If one clue to psychopathy is a trivial mind expressing itself in high-sounding phrases, then an education emphasizing facts rather than thinking, and patriotic, politically or religiously correct ‘values’ rather than critical judgement may produce a nation of achieving high school graduates who are also psychopaths. (TSC, p. 225)

One has to wonder how Hillman would write about the last decade in American political life and whether any of those 74 million who voted for trump would take note.

*Casey, Edward S., Toward an Archetypal Imagination, Spring, 1974:1-32

**Corbin Henry, (1958), L’Imagination  creatrice dans le Soufisme d’Ibn’Arabi. Paris: Flammarion, 1958, (in translation Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi, Bollingen Series, vol. 91, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969)

Thursday, March 9, 2023

More on the parental fallacy and the daimon, thanks to Hillman

 Hillman’s depiction of mother and father is not intended, at least from this perspective, to be a rejection of the family. Rather it is a highly articulate and relevant critique of the various excesses, perfections even, that are expected, adopted and then suffered by many parents. Rather than be overcome by the ‘family-systems’ approach there is a case to be made for considering, reflection upon and then embodying a different perspective on the whole ‘business’ of parenting.

Whether parents live through their child’s accomplishments as a vicarious surrogate for their own somewhat ‘empty’ and ‘unfulfilling’ and ‘unfulfilled’ lives, or whether, on another hand, the parents over-reaches in setting expectations and demands on the child, (as only two possible both determinative and detrimental approaches), seeing the ‘acorn’ in the unusual, unique, different and potentially defining qualities of the child, as Hillman’s counsel suggests, requires a different perspective that one based on either accomplishment/reward/conditioning in order to validate the parent.

If and when the parent who gets to know what his daimon is about, and sets about to validate that process, there is a significantly reduced likelihood that the child’s life and daimon is either ignored or denigrated. It is the intensity and the degree of control over the conventional perks of childhood success, on the part of the parent, that Hillman is attempting to moderate. It is also the attempt, by Hillman, to help parents get to ‘know’ the deep and demanding voice of the child’s daimon,

a process best facilitated and enhanced by the parent’s claiming his/her own profound reality and truth.

A few words, from Hillman, about the envisaged father lying on the couch, ‘shamed by his own daimon for the potentials in his soul that will not be subdued. He feels himself inwardly subversive, imagining in his passivity extremes of aggression and desire that must be suppressed. Solution: more work, more money, more drink, more weight, more things, more infotainment, and an almost fanatic dedication of his mature male life to the kids so that they can grow up straight and straight up the consumer ladder in pursuit of their happiness…A ‘happy’ child was never and nowhere the aim of parenting. An industrious, useful child; a malleable child; a healthy child; an obedient mannerly child; a stay-out-of-trouble child; a God-fearing child; and entertaining child—all these varieties, yes. But the parental fallacy has trapped the parents also in providing happiness, along with shoes, school-books, and van-packed vacations. Can the unhappy produce happiness? Since happiness at its ancient source means eudaimonia, or a well-pleased daimon, only a daimon who is receiving it due can transmit a happy benefit to the child’s soul. Yes, I am saying that ‘care of soul,’ as Thomas Moore has written, may thereby help the child’s soul prosper. Should the onus of soul-making in the parent shift to making the soul of the child, then the parent is dodging the lifelong task set by the acorn. Then the child replaces the acorn. You feel your child is special, and you care for it as your calling, seeking to realize the acorn in your child. So your daimon complains because it is avoided, and your child complains because it has become and effigy of the parent’s own calling. Your mother…may be a demon, but she is not your daimon; so your child, too is not your daimon. (Hillman, The Soul’s Code, p. 83)

Hillman then goes into the details of the then current sociological condition of children in the U.S. using Michael Ventura’ observation that Americans hate their children….

What culture in history ever spoke more as a child, felt more as a child, thought more as a child, or was more reluctant to put all childish things away? And what culture today campaigns more to save the children globally, provides more emergency help for preemies and for surgical transplants in infants whatever the cost, and engages in more frontline defense of the fetus? Yet all this is a cover under which hides an appalling neglect. Just look at the evidence. Of the 57 million children (under fifteen years of age) living in the United States, more than 14 million are living below the official poverty level. The United States ranks below Iran and Romania in the percentage of low-birth-weight babies. One of every six children is a step-child, and half a million make their ‘homes’ in residential treatment centers and group and foster homes. More children and adolescents in the United States dies from suicide that from cancer, AIDS< birth defects, influenza, heart disease, and pneumonia combined. Each day at least 1 million ‘latchkey children’ go home to where there is a gun. Besides these children who  find their way into sociological statistics, there are those from all economic classes in treatment for attention deficit disorders, hyperactivity, obesity, defiance, bulimia, depression , pregnancy, addiction….Gross economic injustice, political passivity, and the delusions of circuses (without bread) are responsible for the plight of children. But also I accuse the parental fallacy of sponsoring this negligence. Parents’ deficient attention the individual call they brought with them into the world and the hyperactivity of their distraction from this call betrays their reason for being alive. When the child becomes the reason for your life, you have abandoned the invisible reason you are here. And the reason you are here as an adult, as a citizen, as a parent? To make the world receptive to the daimon. To set the civilization straight so that a child can grow down into it and its daimon can have a life. This is the parenting task. To carry out this task for the daimon of your child you must bear witness first to your own. Any father who has abandoned the small voice of his unique genius, turning it over to the small child he has fathered, cannot bear reminders of what he has neglected. He cannot tolerate the idealism that arises so naturally and spontaneously in the child, the romantic enthusiasms, the sense of fairness, the clear-eyed beauty, the attachment to little things, and the interest in big questions. All this becomes unbearable to a man who has forgotten his daimon. Instead of learning form the child, who is living evidence of the invisibles in everyone’s life, the father capitulates to the child, disturbing its growing down into civilization by setting it us in a toy world. Result: a child-dominated fatherless culture with dysfunctional children with pistol-packing power. Like the vampires that so fascinate them children in our culture, sentimentalized for their innocence and neglected on account of the other they cause, drain away the blood of adult life.
(Hillman, The Soul’s Code, p.83-4)

This scribe, without either the language or the conscious awareness of the words and perspective of Hillman, has experienced both the vicarious living out the daimon of the mother, and the flat-lining of the unfulfilled father. As an aspiring vocalist, partially trained, and highly ambitious for at least an audition for operatic roles, all of it lying relatively dormant and deployed occasionally in community choirs, especially when assembled to present Handel’s Messiah, mother was both insistent and over-weening in her determination that I study piano from a very early age. And then, as seemed somewhat natural, there were Conservatory examinations, Kiwanis Festivals, and solo performances at ‘high-society’ dinners of local service clubs. Performance, achievement, social recognition and reputation were the ostensible goals, as a path to her vicarious self-fulfilment, through my fingers. Never was the quality of the music, the intentions of the composer, the intonations of the dynamics or the over-all musicality of each piece a topic of conversation with her. Length of practice time, correct counting of each bar, perfect execution of each note, and hubristic extolling of the competitive grade on those exams, as compared with peers, comprised her intense focus. As the piano instructor told me, decades later, “It was your mother who had to win the competitions; that was not nearly as important for you.”

On the other side of the parental cast, my father harboured a deep-seated passion to become a dentist. And yet, after the death of his father, and his sense of responsibility for his younger sisters and widowed mother, he began work at seventeen, in a lumber yard. Years later, when he had married his partner, and when, as a graduate nurse, she pleaded with him to enrol in dentistry, he deferred. One can only speculate that, having attained only a grade ten education, he considered himself academically unworthy even to contemplate a professional university education and dental practice. A similar deferral emerged when, after decades as a successful hardware store manager, having been offered the purchase of his own store by the widow of a colleague. Again, his deferral became a pattern which hung like an unspoken and virtually unidentified cloud over the home.

A daimon, unlike a profession, or a talent, is more like a calling, in that it expresses how rather than ‘what’ a person is called to be. “In the beginning, even before Socrates and Plato, was Heraclitus. His three little words ‘Ethos anthropoi daimon” frequently rendered as ‘Character is fate,’ have been quoted again and again for twenty-five hundred years. No one can know what he meant, though few fail to offer interpretations as this list of English translations demonstrates:

                                ‘Man’s character is his genius.’

                                ‘Man’s character is his daimon.’

                                ‘A man’s character is his guardian divinity.’

 ‘A man’s character is the immortal and potentially divine                     portion of him.’

 ‘Man’s own character is his daimon.’

‘Man’s character is his fate.’

‘Character is fate.’

‘Character for man is destiny.’

‘Habit for man, God.’

The daimon part is easy enough, for we have already accepted the translation of daimon as genius (Latin) and then transposed it into more modern terms such as ‘angel,’ ‘soul,’ ‘paradigm,’ ‘image,’ ‘fate,’ ‘inner-twin,’ ‘acorn,’ ‘life companion,’ ‘guardian,’ ‘heart’s calling.’ ….Among native peoples on the North American continent, we find a parade of terms for the acorn as an independent spirit-soul: yega (Coyukon); an owl (Kwakiutl); ‘agate man,’ (Navaho); nagual (Central America/southern Mexico); tsayotyeni (Santa Ana Pueblo); sicom (Dakota)…these beings accompany, guide protect, warn. They may even attach to a person, but do not merge with your personal self. In fact, this ‘native’ acorn belongs as much to the ancestors, the society, the ambient animals as it does to ‘you’ and its power may be invoked for crops and hunting, for community inspiration and health—the actual world. The acorn stands apart from the inflated self of modern subjectivity, so separate personal and along. Though your acorn, it is neither you nor yours…..

The ‘self’ that permeates our daily language has expanded to titanic proportions. (op. cit. p 256-7)

Dentistry, for example, may have been only a possible iteration of my father’s daimon. His work with his hands, however, continues to light up his legacy in and through iron-wood lamp polished from its drift-wood salvage into a virtual sculpture; his hand-therapy, too, clings to hundreds of hangers, in the webbing of his patient wrapping. And his ‘grasp’ of hand, when encountering another, was memorable not merely for its muscle strength but for its authenticity. Similarly, performing ‘in’ the opera, may not have been mother’s daimon; yet performance at a very high level (including singing soprano), whether in nursing, gardening, food preparation, or  smocking of a two-year-old’s dress, had a quality of attention to detail and patience that discipline that accompanied each of her activities.

The daimon, however its voice emerges, does not bring a moral code, or a precise direction or vocation. It can also be, as Hillman calls, a “bad seed.”

And the bad seed is next.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Reflections on Hillman's critique of 'family systems' and the myths of both mother and father

How many of us are, have been and perhaps always will be enmeshed in the notion that our parenting is primarily responsible for our ‘fate’?

For a long time, and especially in my teens, I thought/perceived/believed that two parents were encapsulated in two historic models: hitler and chamberlaine. While stark and obviously black and white, to an adolescent mind, the conversation with my father that unearthed this comparison, authored by my father, has been a prevalent image for decades. Assigning responsibility for various traits which seemed inexplicable seemed to be easily and readily attached to one or other of those parents. Passive-aggressive behaviour on my part, seemed to have its root in the father, while bursts of anger, impatience and unpredictability seemed more easily and coherently the legacy of mother. And then, the images began to become fuzzy, and the ascribing of source/blame/responsibility for specific behaviours, attitudes, beliefs, perceptions seemed much less clearly rooted in one or other parent.

In the ‘outside world,’ however, there were cultural, social, political, and even what appeared to be epistemological and metaphysical ‘winds’ that tended either to underline the binary picture of inherited parental traits, whether psychological or biological or both, or to refute its claim. Embedded in the mid-twentieth-century public square of conventional ‘wisdom,’ along with Dr. Spock, was the concept of parental bonding. Closeness, warmth, affection, acceptance, and bonding with the very young and developing child was considered to be the prime requisite for highly effective, ethical, and responsible parenting. Another of those prominent winds, perhaps a precipitate left at the bottom of the social and cultural test tube (weren’t and aren’t we all examples and imitators of some kind of social, cultural, historical, political, religious experiment?) was the adage, “spare the rod, spoil the child” as a legacy of Puritanism, premised on the conviction that man was basically evil and that such evil proclivity had to be curtailed, if not actually erased. In the 1950’s, the second world war was over and peace brought a renewal of optimism, hope, prosperity and the rise of the middle class in North America. Baby bonus cheques from Ottawa were designed and delivered to encourage and support the growth of families. National Health Care was introduced in Ontario in 1961, and government bursaries for aspiring university applicants were another of feature of the bounty to which our generation was gifted.

The church as a highly influential institution on families and especially on youth, a superficial yet ubiquitous psychology from a pediatrician ‘guru’ whose book was in many homes, and post-war prosperity and opportunity were among the more influential, predictable, and thereby trust-worthy influences (influencers?) in an adolescent’s life. There was however, as it more clearly “seen” from decades later, a kind of tension between what passed as “good and proper” as opposed to authentic attitudes, behaviours as king of cultural pastiche. Religiosity as opposed to ‘a faith’ offered social standing; strict discipline as opposed to nurture, substituted for healthy parenting; fathers were bread-winners, mothers home-gardeners; a new car was a symbol of respectability, if not wealth; a profession (medicine, law, engineering, accounting, clergy) was the epitome of achievement, accomplishment and also trust. Entertainment, whether in the new invention of television or Hollywood movies, depicted moral dramas of predictable plots, with characters clearly visible as ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys.’ Sex, religion and politics, among friends and neighbours, was never mentioned, given the ‘respect’ of the other, the ‘fear’ of disagreement, and the ‘privacy’ of each family’s secrets. Adolescent pregnancies were shameful, and the young women who became pregnant were moved out of town to homes for unwed mothers, to carry and deliver their children. It is as if ‘stick or line’ drawings comprised the social, cultural, ethical, moral and political canvas, on which the colours of the lines were almost exclusively in pastels. A rare occurrence, a suicide, a major fire, or a doctor driving his navy Mercury into the carcass of a cow on a backroad, compromised what today we would call, water-cooler chatter. Also on the list of public chatter were the scores of the local hockey team, the Shamrocks, the latest hole in one at the golf course, and the return of local young men and women from their first year at college or university, symbols of the pride of the whole community.

This ‘sketch’ is a highly reductionistic rendering, from the perspective of several decades later. So much has been unearthed, (re-discovered, researched, probed and anatomized about various instrumental intellectual, cultural, organizational, and religious and scientific affairs, in the intervening decades, including the generation of the atom and the hydrogen bomb, nuclear medicine, pharmaceutical compounds and interventions, the impact of ‘discharge’ of various kinds,  human and material, of a physical, political, ethical, communication, education and cultural green-housing impact) that we can barely remember or recognize those early days.

From the perspective of human psychology, (Dear reader, you knew this was coming, didn’t you?), there are some insights, perceptions, attitudes and even convictions that now confront many of the previously ‘sacred’ cows, especially pertaining to the relationship of the culture to its children (focused on America, with clear spill-overs in Canada) in our shared culture with views designed to help to release us from many of the previously infallible factors that seemed to ‘govern’ us.  

James Hillman in The Soul’s Code (1997), references Peter and Ginger Breggin’s “The War Against Children.” Hillman writes:

 (The book) threatens American children with an epidemic of troubles caused by the methods that would cure them of their troubles. (Hillman writes): The familiar evils of other ages reappear in the guise of helping programs, pharmaceutical prevention, and apartheid segregations. It’s all back again—eugenics, white racism, sterilization, forced removal, banishment to beggary punishment and starvation. As in colonial days, drugs to ease the coolies’ pain and increase their indifference, will be provided by those who cause the pain. Children have become the sacrificial victims of “Saturn-Moloch (God of Money) as in the ancient Mediterranean. They are also the scapegoats for scientistic fears of the anomalous, of the excessive, and of the paradigm-shifting movements of imagination that first appear as new—that is, in the young. What is already taking place in our ‘mental health facilities,’ where drugs are dispensed with less shame than condoms, would have benumbed during their childhoods probably every one of the extraordinary people told about in this book. The vicious inadequacy of treatment is not intended by practitioners, who mean well. It results willy-nilly from the inadequacy, or viciousness, of theory. So long as the statistics of normalizing developmental psychology determine the standards against which the extraordinary complexities of a life are judged, deviations become deviant. Diagnosis coupled with statistics is the disease; yet diagnosis coupled with statistics is the very name -Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (or DSM)—of the universally accepted guide produced by the American Psychiatric Association and used by the profession. The health care providers, and the insurance payers. Yet the whole of that thick, heavy and lightweight book provides accounts of the various ways the daimons affect human fate and how sadly and strangely they often appear in our civilization. This book prefers to connect pathology with exceptionality, exchanging the term ‘abnormal’ for ‘extraordinary’ and letting the extraordinary be the vision against which our ordinary lives are examined. Rather than case history, a psychologist would read human history; rather than biology, biography; rather than applying the epistemology of Western understanding to the alien, the tribal, and non-technological cultures, we would let their anthropology (their stories of human nature) be applied to ours. …The extraordinary reveals the ordinary in an enlarged and intensified image. The study of the extraordinary for the sake of instruction has a long trail, from biographies of classical greats by Varro, Plutarch, and Suetonius, through later exemplars like the Church father and Vasari’s lives of Renaissance artists, and across the Atlantic to Emerson’s Representative Men. This tradition is accompanied all along by the moral lessons to be drawn form the stories of biblical types such as Abraham, Ruth, Ester, and David, and from the lives of the saints—all heightened examples of character. (Op Cit. p.30-31)

It is difficult to imagine such words, thoughts, criticisms, especially the incisive thrust against the idolatry to Moloch, being part of the conversation over the dinner table in a Canadian or American family in the 1950’s. Given the food shortages, the stamps for butter and other provisions, and the desperation that hung over the people, still a residual cloud on the horizon in that decade, the prospect, vision, and aspiration of rising ‘boats’ through prosperity in peacetime, was embodied in the popular music, and the highly celebrated movies like Breakfast at Tiffany’s and High Society. The rise of mega-corporations, dedicated exclusively to the ‘bottom line’ of both profit and shareholder dividends, had not yet abandoned all pretense to providing good jobs for the middle class, as they were to do over the next four decades plus. Working for a large meat-packing company, the Canada Packers of 1961, for example, I learned that as a sales representative faced with a customer complaint about a defective or damaged product (meats, lard, margarines) it was  very important to balance the interests of both the customer and the company. Good business, then, required a diligent and careful balance, not tilted in favour of  the company, as it seems to be sixty years later.

There were, however, basic assumptions with respect to parenting and relationships between parents and their children that Hillman sees through, in his chapter entitled, The Parental Fallacy, in The Soul’s Code. He writes:

If any fantasy holds our contemporary civilization in an unyielding grip, it is rthat we are our parents’ children and that the primary instrument of our fate is the behavior of your mother and father. As their chromosomes are ours, so are their mess-ups and attitudes. Their joint unconscious psyche—the rages they suppress, the longings they cannot fulfill, the images they dream at night---basically form our souls, and we can never, ever work through and be free of this determinism. The individual’s soul continues to be imagined as a biological offspring of the family tree. We grow psychologically out of their minds as our flesh grows biologically out of their bodies…..(T)he idea of parenting and parents is more hardened then ever in the minds of moral reformers and psychotherapists. The shibboleth ‘family values,’ expressed by catch phases like ‘bad mothering’ and ‘absent fathering,’ trickles down into ‘family systems therapy,’ which has become the single most important set of ideas determining the theory of societal dysfunction and the practice of mental health. Yet all along a little elf whispers another tale: ‘You are different; you’re not like anyone in the family; you don’t really belong.’ There is an unbeliever in the heart. It calls the family a fantasy, a fallacy. (p.63-4)

And debunking the way the culture ‘sees’ and considers the family, Hillman continues:

The myth of Mother in our culture carries the higher dignity and force of theory, and we are a nation of Mother-lovers in the support we give her by adhering to the theory. ….As nuclear one-on-one motherhood wanes, the myth hangs in there, clutching at the archetypal breast. We still believe in Mom even as we watch everything change: day-care centers, spread-out families, daddies doing diapers, homeless kids caring for younger siblings, teenage mother of two or three kids, forty-five-year-old mothers of their first….Nonetheless, the myth of the mother as the dominant in everyone’s life remains constant. For behind each birth-giver and care-provider sits the universal Great Mother, upholding the universe of that belief system I am calling the parental fallacy, which keeps us bonded to her. She appears shaped by the style of your personal mother, and she is as bad as she is good. Smothering, nourishing, punishing, devouring, every-giving, obsessive, hysterical, morose, loyal easygoing—whatever her character, she doo as a daimon, but her fate is not yours. (p.67-8)

And later, in a section entitled, “Absent the Father,” Hillman also writes:

Maybe Dad’s true task is not knowing about coffee, bleach, and mouthwash or how to resolve pubescent dating dilemmas and maybe his dumbness shows that this is truly not his world. His world is not shown in these sets, for it’s offstage, elsewhere and invisible. He must keep one foot in another space, one ear cocked for other messages. He must not lose his calling or forget obligations to the heart’s desire and the image that he embodies….Fathers have been far away for centuries: on military campaigns; as sailors on distant seas for years at a time; as cattle drivers, travelers, trappers, prospectors, messengers, prisoners, jobbers, peddlers, slavers, pirates, missionaries, migrant workers. The work week was once seventy-two hours. The construct’ fatherhood’ shows widely different faces in different countries, classes, occupations, and historical times. Only today is absence so shaming and declared a criminal, even criminal-producing, behavior. As a social evil, the absent father is one of the bogeys of the remedial age, this historical period of therapy, recovery, and social programs that try to fix what we do not understand. The conventional father-image, of a man at his job, comping home at dusk to his family, earning, sharing, and caring, with quality time for his kids, is another fantasy of the parental fallacy. This image is way off its statistical base…..Rather than blaming fathers for their absenteeism and the concomitant unfairness of loading extra burdens onto mothers, mentors, the schools, the police, and taxpayers, we need to ask where Dad might be when he’s ‘not at home.’ When he is absent, to what else might he be present? What calls him away? Rilke has an answer:

             Sometimes a man stands up during supper

             And walks outdoors, and keeps on walking

             Because of a church that stands somewhere in the East.

              And his children say blessings on him as if her were dead.


              And another man who remains inside this own house,

              Dies there, inside the dishes and in the glasses,

              So that his children have to go far out into the world

              Toward that same church, which he forgot.

Rilke accounts for the father’s absence. What about the quality of his presence—that anger, that hatred? Why is father such an abusive, brutal family destroyer? What is this rage? Is it his wife he hates, his children he wants to beat, because no one does what he says and they cost so much? Or might there be another factor, less personal and more demonic, that has him and doesn’t let up?

I have come to be convinced that the parental fallacy itself has harnessed Father’s spirit to a false image, and his daimon turns demonic in kicking against the traces. He is trapped in a construct of called American fatherhood, a moral commandment to be the kind of good guy who likes Disneyland, and kid’s food, gadgets, opinions and wisecracks. This bland model betrays his necessary angel, that image of whatever else he carries in his heart, glimpsed from childhood into the present day…The man who has lost his angel become demonic; and the absence, the anger, and the paralysis on the couch are all symptoms of the soul in search of a lost call to something other and beyond. Father’s oscillations between rage and apathy, like his children’s allergies and behavior disorders and his wife’s depressions and bitter resentments, form part of a pattern they all share—not the ‘family system,’ but the system of rip-off economics that promotes their communal senselessness by substituting ‘more’ for ‘beyond’. (p.81-2)

Perhaps, Hillman has a significant point about how we have been enmeshed in a ‘fixing’ system that fails to take in to account the radioactive energy of the worship of Moloch. 

Friday, March 3, 2023

In Lent, reflecting on death, psychologically and theologically

 Lent, 2023, a time when the people of Ukraine must be wondering if their God is dead, given the rampant, senseless, remorseless, criminal, heartless slaughter being inflicted on their land, their people, their institutions and their resilient faith and spirit. Their leaders’ (both president Zelenskyy and his wife) fortitude, stoicism, endurance and leadership are trumpeted universally as heroic models of strength under extreme duress (evocative of the Hemingway trope). And there is a potential beacon, in this political, military, criminal and existential crisis, that might find  resonance in unexpected source.

In his Revisioning Psychology, James Hillman, points to the image of Christ that “dominates our culture’s relations to pathologizing. The complexity of psychopathology with its rich variety of backgrounds has been absorbed by one central image and been endowed with one main meaning: suffering. The passio of suffering Jesus—and it is as translation of Jesus’ passion that ‘suffering’ first enters our language—is fused with all experiences of pathology. The crucifixion presents pathologizing first of all in the guise of emotional and physical torment. We read this suffering in the story (the days leading up to the crucifixion and the act itself) and we see it in paintings (the distressed agon in the scene). The allegory of suffering and its imagery has functioned so successfully to contain the pathologizing that one tends to miss the psychopathology that is actually so blatant in a configuration at once distorted, grotesque, bizarre, and even perverse: Golgotha, place of skulls; betrayal for money, Barrabas the murderer, the thieves and gambling soldiers; the mock purple robes and scorning laughter; the nails, lance, and thorns; the broken legs, bleeding wounds, sour sop; persecutory victimization along with route; women lovingly holding a greening corpse and their post-mortem hallucinatory visions. Quite an extraordinary condensation and overdetermination of psychopathological motifs….I am simply pointing out an obvious truth: religions always provide containers for psychopathology. (p.95)….However—by containing pathologizing, religion constricts it to the significance established by the allegory. The crucifixion model holds pathologizing to the one narrative and its governing idea of suffering, the theology of the passion. Therapy in our culture eventually comes up against the Christian allegory; whether the pathologizing is going on in an individual who is consciously Christian or not. (p.96)…If as some report, the Christ vehicle no longer carries our culture’s religious requirements, then it can no longer contain our pathologizings either. Fantasy no longer restscontent with the imitatio Christi (where sin means pain or pain sin, where love means torture and goodness means masochism, but all is redeemable for there is no real death, and so on)….It is, therefore, imperative to be as iconoclastic as possible toward vessels that no longer truly work as containers and have become instead impediments to the pathological process. (p.97) By iconoclasm, (I mean) shattering is crusted allegorization into a too-specific meaning which impedes us from recognizing the other figures within the Christ image and the other voices speaking through our pathologies, telling us neither of sin nor suffering, necessarily presenting neither testimonies of love nor gates of resurrection. As one instance: depression. Because Christ resurrects, moments of despair, darkening, and desertion cannot be valid in themselves. Our one model insists on light at the end of the tunnel; one program that moves from Thursday evening to Sunday and the rising of a wholly new day better far than before. Not only will therapy more or less consciously imitate this program (in ways ranging from hopeful positive counseling to electroshock), but the individual’s consciousness is already allegorized by the Christian myth and so he knows what depression is and experiences it according to form. It must be necessary (for it appear in the crucifixion), and it must be suffering; but staying depressed must be negative, since the Christian allegory Friday is never valid per se, for Sunday—as an integral part of the myth—is preexistent in Friday from the start. The counterpart of every crucifixion fantasy is a resurrection fantasy. Our stance toward depression is a priori a manic defense against it. Even our notion of consciousness itself serves as an antidepressant: the be conscious is to be awake, alive, attentive, in a state of activated cortical functioning. Drawn to extremes, consciousness and depression have come to exclude each other, and psychological depression has replaced theological hell. In Christian theology the heavy sloth of depression, the drying despair of melancholy, was the sin of acedia (apathy or not caring) (as it was called in the Church Latin). It is just as difficult to manage today in therapeutic practice because our culture on the New Testament model has only the one upward paradigm for meeting this syndrome…Depression is still the Great Enemy. More personal energy is expended in manic defenses against it, diversions from, and denials of it that goes into other supposed psychopatholgical threats to society: psychopathic criminality, schizoid breakdown, addictions. As long as we are caught in the cycles of hoping against despair, each productive of the other, as long as our actions in regard to depression are resurrective, implying that being down and staying down is sin, we remain Christian in psychology. Yet through depression we enter depths and in depths find soul. Depression is essential to the tragic sense of life. It moistens the dry soul, and dries the wet. It brings refuge, limitation, focus, gravity, weight, and humble powerlessness. It reminds of death. The true revolution begins in the individual who can be true to his or her depression. Neither jerking (p.98) oneself out of it, caught in the cycles of hope and despair, nor suffering it through till it turns, nor theologizing it—but discovering the consciousness an depths it wants. So begins the revolution in behalf of soul. (p. 99)

There is a social and political, indeed even a professional price to be paid for one’s darkness, truly acknowledged. One is unlikely to be hired, invited, selected, promoted, or even included in whatever activity one aspires to enter. One is also likely to be alienated from family, friends, neighbours and acquaintances. And while these implications of a protracted darkness are socially and political ande professionally distasteful, for a host of possible reasons, everyone knows that we all either have gone through, or will go through darkness, often when we least expect it.The Hillman ‘take’ on the culture’s embeddedness/indebtedness/dependence/reliance in and on the Christ/crucifixion/resurrection myth, however, can be said to be little if ever acknowledged, confronted, from a psychological perspective in North American culture. And while the church leaders, thinkers, ethicists, and professors of such subjects as Christology will defend their relative and nuanced perspectives on the theological significance of this Lent/Easter story, (which Hillman is neither denigrating nor dismissing), its psychological implications, as portrayed by Hillman seem both relevant and also significant.

Having participated in the liturgical rituals in which the Crucifixion/Resurrection story is enacted, I have noted the impact of the darkness on several men and women, without fully being conscious of the wider ‘anima mundi’ impact of the story. Indeed, when in a Lenten study session, I heard a senior woman utter these words, “Well, we all know there never was a Resurrection!” I retorted, unequivocally, “If there was no Resurrection, then this whole faith is a fraud!” I was not at that moment conscious of whether the woman’s understanding was literal or metaphoric; my own perspective, as best I can recall, was that the Resurrection had to have at least metaphoric significance if I or anyone was to believe that, although beyond intellectual or cognitive comprehension, it completed the story of the crucifixion, and the concept of metanoia that is embedded in the narrative.

· The practice of brushing ashes on a forehead, to commemorate Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, along with the tradition of ‘giving up’ a favourite food or activity, as a sacrificial commemoration of the suffering of the Christ;

· the Lenten study sessions that seek to dive more deeply into the meaning and application of the story to the people of the Christian faith;

· the Maundy Thursday washing of the feet, in imitation and commemoration of the act as recorded in the John 13:2-17, as an act of humility and selfless Jesus’ love for the apostles;

· the loud noise called the strepitus representing an earth quake when Jesus dies and the confusion following or perhaps the rolling away of the stone from the tomb;

· the recitation of the “Stations of the Cross”….

these are all part of the gestalt of ‘entering’ into the darkness, the grief, the deep reflection about the lives we are living and have lived, as a prelude to the symbolic moment of ‘forgiveness’ in and through the Resurrection and the promise of both metanoia here and eternal life in the hereafter.

Juxtaposing the Hillman psychological analysis of the crucifixion/
resurrection story with the ecclesial embodiment is done neither to sanitize or justify the belief of Christians nor to denigrate the psychological and cultural influence of the narrative. It is done to pay witness to the legitimacy of their co-existence. Indeed, it is the poetic basis of mind, as the lens through which Hillman considers this narrative, that has, from a decade-plus serving inside the church, been found to be largely absent from any and all conversations, dialogues, liturgies and papers included in the “professionelle formation” of apprentice clergy, at least from this scribe’s limited experience. The confluence of poetry and faith can neither be denied nor easily accommodated whether from an intellectual or an emotional perspective. Things ‘ethereal’ and ‘ephemeral’ and ‘eternal’ and ‘metaphysical’ that cannot be isolated from the ‘earth,’ the ‘blood,’ the ‘words,’ the ‘acts,’ and the ‘food,’ the ‘books,’ the ‘money’ of those whose lives flow in the ‘between’.

And while the history of the church, foundationally embedded in the writings and teachings of the scholars and the beliefs and the visions and dreams of the mystics, it is a cliché that most of what is taught/learned/absorbed/digested/prayed over in preparation for ministry never finds its way into the parish. Indeed, the obsession with filling news and coffers, analogous to the marketing plans of mega-corporations, has so taken over the aspirations, perceptions, psychology and even the theology of too many church hierarchy. This leaves the church institution co-dependent on the value of ministry being assessed in terms of literal numbers of people and dollars. Here may be where the 

Hillman exegesis of the dominance of depression as sin, and the exhilaration of full pews and coffers as the success/joy/evidence of the promise and abundance of the gospel’s message intersect.

Clergy celebrate “life” in many ways. These include baptism of a newborn, the ritual passage in and through Confirmation, the celebration of love of two people in marriage. They also ‘pray with’ families whose parents, siblings, children are in ill health. However, too often, from the perspective of ordinary people, such illness is conceived as some form of ‘punishment’ or penitence, from a judging God. And then, when life in this sphere ends, clergy also preside over burial rites, sometimes preceded by ‘last rights’. The notion undergirding these last rituals is the ‘promise that the deceased will return ‘home’ to a heaven which is the reward for a ‘good life’.

Expanding on the over-riding image of depression in the Christian lexicon, and the cultural implications is the exhortation to all Christians to life a “good” as opposed to an “evil” life, with the promise of life in heaven as the reward. The intensity of the acceptance of the promise, however, follows on the literal interpretation of both scripture and church teachings, from both purveyor and parishioner. Hillman’s exegesis, however, attempts to disconnect the experience of death, as well as all other experiences in our lives, from the immediate and pressing, the anxious and defaming, and too often debilitating judgement of morality, as the first and most important consideration of all human behaviour.

From Psychology Today, August 18, 2020, in a piece entitled, Death is Among IUS, by Elizbeth Chamberlain, quoting Hillman from Suicide and the Soul, we read: (D)each can impinge upon the moral ‘how’ of the individual’s life: the review of life, one’s faith, sins, destiny; how one got to where one is and how to continue. Or whether to continue. {(p.54)…(It, Death) need not be conceived as an anti-life movement; it may be a demand for an en counter with absolute reality, a demand for a fuller life. (p.52)Indeed, the interface of psychology and religion, as depicted, detailed and posited by Hillman, is worthy of the most serious consideration not only by the psychological community, but also by the ecclesial community. In this century, there is a wide and

In ‘The Acorn Theory,’ Hillman himself writes, just after recounted Houdini’s death from a ruptured appendix, after evading the ‘outer coffins’:

1.     Even the escape artist meets necessity. Ananke’s (fate) chains are both visible and invisible. When the ‘couldn’t be otherwise’ occurs, then the most plausible account of how life works and why they do is the acorn theory. The truer you are to your daimon, the closer you are to the death that belongs to your destiny. We expect the daimon to have prescience about death, calling on it before an airline flight or during a sudden attack of sickness. It is my fate, and now? And when the demands of our calling seem undeniably necessary, again death appears: ‘If I do what I really must, it will kill me; and yet if I don’t, I’ll die.’…Perhaps this intimacy between calling and fate is why we avoid the daimon and the theory that upholds its importance. We mostly invent, or prefer, theories that tie us tightly to parental powers, encumber us with sociological conditionings and genetic determinations; thereby we escape the fact that these deep influence on our fates don’t hold a candle to the power of death. Death is the only complete necessity, that archetypal Necessity who rules the pattern of the life line she spins with her daughters, the Fates. The length of that line and its irreversible one-way direction is part of one and the same pattern, and it could not be otherwise. (p.212-213)

Maybe during this Lent, we might reflect on the significance of ‘death’ both from the perspective of our individual psychological perspective and attitude, and from the perspective of our faith beliefs and their attitudes.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Another glimpse into imagining the myths...with thanks to Hillman

In the last post in this space, myth was the focus of our meanderings. Considered perspectives, rather than ‘objective things,’ by Hillman, tending to ‘shift the experience of events’ as he puts it (p. 101, Revisioning Psychology). By expanding on his theme, Hillman continues to elucidate some of the possibilities in his approach to the gods and goddesses.

 We can refer the manifestations of depression together with styles of paranoid thought to Saturn and the archetypal psychology of senex. Saturn in mythology and lore presents the slowness, dryness, darkness, and impotence of depression, the defensive feelings of the outcast, the angle of vision that sees everything askew and yet deeply, the repetitious ruminations, the fixed focus on money and poverty, on fate, and of fecal and anal matters….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 neuroses—the pathological phenomena of a soul in need of love and of love in search of psychic understanding. This story is particularly relevant for what goes on in the soul-making relationships which have been technically named ‘transference.’ In addition to these examples, it is also possible to insight the ego and ego psychology by reverting it to the heroic myths of Hercules, with whose strength and mission we have become to caught that the pattern of Hercules—clubbing animals, refusing the feminine, fighting old age and death, being plagues by Mom but marrying her young edition—are only now beginning to be recognized as pathology…..(Revisioning Psychology, p. 102)

And yet….. Hillman interjects:

(These) first entr(ies) into myth need an important correction. (They) commit 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 de3ceiving 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 myth 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 at 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.  (Op Cit, p 103) …No longer is ego able to cope by will power with tough problems in a real world of hard facts. Our falling apart is an imaginal process, like the collapse of cities and the fall of heroes in mythical tales—like the dismemberment of Dionysian loosening which releases from overtight constraint, like the dissolution and decay in alchemy. The soul moves, via the pathologized fantasy of disintegration, our of too-centralized and muscle-bound structures which have become ordinary and normal, and so normative that they no longer correspond with the psyche’s needs for nonego imaginal realities which ‘perturb to excess.’….Falling apart makes possible a new style of reflection within the psyche, less a centred contemplation of feeling collected around a still point, thoughts rising on a tall stalk, than insights bouncing one off the other. The movements of Mercury among the multiple parts, fragmentation as moments of light. Truth is the mirror, not what’s in it or behind it, but the very mirroring process itself: psychological reflections. An awareness of fantasy that cracks the normative cement of our daily realities into new shapes …..Ego consciousness as we used to know it no longer reflects reality. Ego has become a delusional system. ‘Heightened’ consciousness today no longer tells it from the mountain of Nietzsche’s superman, an overview. Now it is the underview, for we are down in the multitudinous entanglements of the marshland, in anima country, the ‘vale of Soul-making. So heightened consciousness now refers to moments of intense uncertainty, moments of ambivalence. Hence the task of depth psychology now is the careful exploration of the parts into which we fall, releasing the Gods in the complexes, bringing home the realization that all our knowing is in part only, because we know only through the archetypal parts playing in us, now in this complex and myth, and now in that; our life a dream, our complexes our daimones. (Op. cit. p 109-110)

Perhaps high-sounding and intensely challenging, especially from the perspective of our highly reputed, highly references, and highly fragile Herculean ego. At one point, Hillman blurts words to the effect, it is highly justified to be depressed living as we do in this western world dominated by such features a literalism, nominalism, fundamentalism and greedy capitalism. Taking the ‘moment’ (writing from the 1970’s until his death in 2011) Hillman is attempting to turn the psychological ‘ship’ around from the high-minded, highly sophisticated highly constraining and constricting ‘ego’ (now disintegrating) to the opportunity this disintegration offers. Challenging is the shift from a perspective that takes and reflects on metaphors (in poetry, for example) as compares their effectiveness within the poem dependent on the theme, tone, colour and intent of the poet, to a more fluid and non-literal, non-definite and non-limited flow of mythic images themselves swimming together in a river of both consciousness and unconsciousness, in a moment in time, begging our imagination to mine the various voices that have joined the chorus in our psyche….opens each of us to a reservoir of imaginal experience, beyond our feelings, beyond our genetics, beyond our environment, beyond our historical time period, beyond our culture into a shared, universal, timeless and far more nuanced and complex abundance that most of the contemporary therapies and mental constructs with which we have been working for decades, if not centuries.

It is not, in and through this creative, innovative and challenging imaginal, mythical and poetic lens that we generate a new theology; there is no worshipping Greek or Roman Gods, rather an appreciation of such voices and perspectives we have mysteriously ‘inherited’ without being conscious of the process of ‘osmosis’ which takes place in each time period in each culture. There is no longer a tight and perfectionistic clinging to the question of morality in each and every act, and each and every person, as the primary path to either understanding or appreciating ourselves and each other. And yet, in a courageous and imaginal process of asking ‘what has this event to do with my death?’ Hillman is revisiting the conventional, traditional and often frightening perception of death itself, from something to be feared and worried over, to something profoundly deep, quiet and still.

When, in the process of apprenticing in pastoral counselling, the issue of suicide was treated very delicately. If a client were to express suicide ‘ideation’ or thoughts of committing suicide, the therapist was to ask, matter-of-factly, if the client had a plan in order to flesh out how serious were the thoughts. Often, too, the notion of continuing in therapy with that therapist was to be discouraged, in order to separate the client from the implications of influence from the therapist, as well as to draw attention to the seriousness of the client’s desperation. Although Hillman’s work, Suicide and the Soul, has not arrived in my hands, I have begun to ,read reviews and this one written by Lex in the United Kingdom on November 12, 2020 got my attention:

His (Hillman’s) respect for the soul of the analysand is so great that, in Suicide and the Soul, he forbids the analyst from trying overtly to ‘save’ them from suicidal thoughts. He implores the analysts not to bring the medical mode of thought into the consulting room. He implores the analyst to acknowledge the suicidal person’s willingness to die as the very core of their agency. Denying this agency in the name of ‘commitment to saving life’ simply kills the analysand’s soul. Is Hillman really advising the analyst not to try to save the analysand’s lives? No. He simply proposes that the only way to save their lives is to save their souls first—and to save their souls, you need to acknowledge their willingness to die. You can then proceed to sit beside them in the absolute darkness of their isolation so that they may feel a little less isolated…and in due course, they may come out of the darkness on their own accord.

Not only from reading and reflecting on this review, but also from dog-paddling in Hillman’s thoughts, ideas, and challenges, is one prompted to ask if and whether much of our lives is/has been/ and continues to be focused on avoiding really dark ‘experiences’ when, in truth, we all know that ‘dark’ experiences are both inevitable and potentially dangerous and/or life-giving. The messes, inevitable and complex, dividing and alienating, frightening and potentially freezing, exhausting and inspiring, have commanded the attention of both the medical and legal/law enforcement professional communities, with the support and sanctions of the church, for centuries. We have excommunicated, ostracized, chained, electrified, medicated, and essentially put the persons at the centres of our social and political and religious and moral crises “away” as our way of creating a situation that can be legitimately described as “out-of-sight-out-of-mind”….so that we do not really have to face those who have “failed both themselves and their society” as we like to put it.

There are, and always have been, perhaps undisclosed and undesired, complex energies behind a mother’s beating of a child, or even of taking her child’s life, and behind a person’s desperation to want to end his/her life, and also behind the apparently indelible imprint of the Roman adage, ‘if you want peace, prepare for war’ as an imprint on cultures from the beginning. We are far more complex, interesting, challenging and ‘infinite’ than our literal empiricism either permits or warrants. We are all both capable and easily induced into not seeing what it is we find ‘too difficult’ to see, effectively into denial. Perhaps it is in lifting the mask from our blind denials even to our own most dark thoughts and feelings, those most frequently if not invariably, directly connected to our “messes,” where our access to a new, different, resonant and resilient perspective, not only of our own lives, but of the lives of all of those with whom we are connected, lies.

Personal experience of the chosen or seriously considered with a plan, of men whose lives had become too full of personal, internal and inescapable torment that they wished to terminate their existence, while, in the various moments, was distressing, those experiences have left their mark on a psyche that has been walking beside their stories for decades.

It is not in search of absolute, unequivocal, or even acquitting and excusing explanations for the decisions of those men that this scribe is motivated. The search and the inquiry is more about searching for (and admittedly believing it exists) a far more realistic, even if ironically far more imaginative, perspective on those lost and seriously scarred men’s live, and the lives of their close loved ones, that these readings, reflections and scribblings are directed.

Not to answer, ‘Why did he kill himself?” but rather the proverbial and exhaustive and challenging question, “What did we all miss?” and “Why?” …..Essentially, none of us lives in  a vacuum and how the aggregate of our cultural habits, patterns, perspectives, ideologies and theologies impacts some of our permanently wounded, or deceased by their own hands is a compelling question. And to focus on the demographics, and the sociology, and the neuroscience, and the morality/immorality seem to have proven to be less than adequate to address the questions.

More to come….