Thursday, March 30, 2023

Active imagination in service of a new psychology

 Let’s recall Frye’s observation in The Education Imagination, that the language of the imagination, through the use of figurative devices like metaphor, simile, personification is a unifying of one thing with another, in a picture. And while the first ‘thing’ is not LITERALLY the thing to which it is being compared, the linkage deepens and clarifies, and enhances the “image” in both the imagination of the writer/poet/novelist/playwright and  the reader/audience. The double “linkage”, if entered fully by all participants, cannot be either denied or avoided.

Similarly, from the perspective of James Hillman, each moment, crisis, accident, illness, tragedy, if it is to be “mined” fully as if it were a poem, in an of itself, and then related imaginatively to a universal, timeless, voice of a god, goddess, myth or legend, keeping in mind that gods never act singularly, this way of seeing human psychology, provides a timeless, universal, cultural, psychological and often religious ‘linkage’ to persons and patterns, in and through those archetypes. And it is in the paradoxical relationship, based on the profound uniqueness of each individual, as discerned “backwards” (borrowing from Kierkegaarde) that surprisingly illustrates and embodies our shared human story.

Not only is Hillman pushing back against literality, nominalism, and all forms and faces of reductionism, opposing clinical diagnostics of psychiatry and psychology and the regard of the illness as the problem to be rectified through interventions of pharmaceutics, or shock therapy or ‘talk’ therapy, he is also acknowledging, without prejudice or contempt, the fact that the medical profession, by its own acknowledgement, has access to the evidence of the ‘presenting problem’ through the eyes and larynx and facial expressions of the patient. It is not surprising, then, that the whole biography lies at the core of the approach of archetypal psychology. And, as in the discernment, through the imagination of individual figurative devices in literature, there is no implicit morality in the image itself, so too, from the perspective of archetypal psychology, dwelling inside the ‘image’ of the moment, and remaining open to the evocation of the mythic/archetypal voices that “might” by inherent in and coming out of that image. Furthermore, since archetypal psychology posits a polytheism of voices, and challenges the cultural adherence to a monotheism (not merely from a Christian, Judaic or Muslim) but as a lens through which the culture tends to perceive.

Adopting or borrowing the word “soul” or “psyche” not as a thing, but as a way of seeing, (another of the linguistic challenges from Hillman), he has attempted to obstruct and then to deconstruct not only ‘what’ we ‘see’ and consider significant, but also ‘how’ we see ourselves, and our critical moments.

Hillman does, however, seek to differentiate the active imagination in his work, A Blue Fire, pps. 57-58)

v from the spiritual disciplines, because there are no prescribed or proscribed fantasies

v from artistic endeavour, and the creative production of paintings or poems,

v from silence and stillness but at story or theatre of conversation, emphasizing the importance of the word, as an instrument of feeling

v from mystical activity, for the sake of reaching select states of consciousness

v from a psychological activity in only the personal sense for the sake of curing symptoms, calming or abreacting terrors and greeds, bettering families, improving and developing personality…not as a problem solver.

v From a psychological activity in the transpersonal sense of ritual magic, the attempt to work with images by and for the human will.

…Hillman further articulates:

Therefore, active imagination, so close to art in procedure, is distinct from it in aim. This is not only because active imagination foregoes an end result, in A physical product, but more because its intention is Know Thyself, self-understanding, which is as well its limit—the paradoxical limit of endlessness that corresponds with the Heraclitean endlessness of psyche itself. Self-understanding is necessarily uroboric, an interminable turning in a gyre amid its scenes, its visions and voices. From the viewpoint of narrative, the visions and voices are an unfolding story without end. Active imagination is interminable because the story goes into death and death is endless-who knows where it has to stop? From the viewpoint of narrative, self-understanding is that healing fiction which individuates a life into death. From the imagistic viewpoint, however, self-understanding is interminable because it is not in time to begin with. Know Thyself is revelatory, non-linear, discontinuous; it is like a painting, a lyric poem, biography thoroughly gone into the imaginative act. We may fiction connections between the revelatory moments, but these connections are hidden like the spaces between the sparks or the dark sears around the luminous fishes’ eyes, images Jung employs to account for images. Each image is its own beginning, its own end, healed by and in itself. So, Know Thyself, terminates whenever it leaves linear time and becomes an act of imagination. A partial insight, this song now, this one image; to see partly is the whole of it…..To see the archetypal in an image is thus not a hermeneutic (branch knowledge that deals with interpretation) move. It is an imagistic move. We amplify an image by means of myth in order not to find its archetypal meaning but in order to feed it with further images that increase its volume and depth and release its fecundity. Hermeneutic amplifications in search of meaning take us elsewhere, across cultures, looking for resemblances which neglect the specifics of the actual image. Our move, which keeps archetypal significance limited within the actually presented image, also keeps meaning always precisely embodied. No longer would there be images without meaning and meaning without images. The neurotic condition that Jung so often referred to as ‘loss of meaning’ would now be understood as ‘loss of image,’ and the condition would be met therapeutically less by recourse to philosophy, religion, and wisdom, and more by turning directly to one’s actual images in which archetypal significance resides. (A Blue Fire, pps. 59-60)

For this scribe, there is a significant stretch, away from what has become conventional vernacular, borrowing and stealing from Jung, into a new phase of ‘seeing’ images of and for their own sake…without attempting to deploy the various conventional ‘deployments’ and uses and goals of contemporary culture and therapy, and religion and philosophy. Hillman is staking out territory exclusive to psychology, in a vigorous attempt to remove surgically, epistemologically, and iconoclastically, some of what he considers the barnacles of medicine, law, literalism, nominalism and agency between and among individuals, including between client and therapist/analyst.

Charting a new voyage for psychology, through the maze that has been overgrown by both academic and professional institutions and regimes, and opening possibilities of new “births’ in how we might begin to “see” ourselves and each other. We need no longer start from a cultural perspective that holds ‘differencce and deviance and abnormality’ as primarily and unequivocally either good or bad. There is a chaotic aspect to what Hillman proposes, that opens, without closing, the process of Know Thyself….and that not merely defers from quick and glib ‘nomenclature’ but rather remains in and open to the myths/voices/legends that lie at the heart of each image.

He posits the dream, as an example of images that continually appear, without the will of the dreamer, as his best ‘process analogy’ for the enterprise. Figures in our dreams, considered as they are, without instantly comparing them to the ‘vernacular’ or the cultural notion of their meaning and identity. And as this process of Know Thyself is begun and continued, we have to face another ‘Hillman’ image, that of the uroborus snake, with its head in its tail. A professor of mine, now deceased, introduced me to the word, in the context of a person/organization/culture that merely repeats itself, grinding a trench of tradition, comfort, expectation and dependability and reliability.
(the old adage of some teachers having ten years of experience, while others have 1 year of experience ten times comes to mind) Hillman uses the word uroboric, as a descriptive, without prejudice, without moralizing, without termination, by linking all moments to our death….when who knows?

The steepness of the cognitive, epistemological, psychological, anthropomorphic  and cultural mountain Hillman is asking his readers to climb, while considerable, will differ for each, depending in part on the degree to which each shares Hillman’s own rebelliousness, his iconoclasm, his depth and range both of scholarship and of psychic experience. Some of us have resisted the kind of nomenclature of the DSM’s for decades, for a variety of reasons. For example, the definition of depression is derived from the patient interviews with primarily female patients. And moving away from the conceptual framework of a diagnosis, to the fullness of the image of the moment, irrespective of the gender, age, ethnicity, culture and language of the client, seems to this scribe as both refreshing and revivifying.

There is a profound difference between an intellectual concept, and our vernacular abounds with words that pose them as “realities” as if our sociology is our personal reality. Similarly, conceptual words have found a welcome home in the field of psychiatry and psychology, and have flooded into the practice of ministry. I have actually encountered a clergy who designed and who wrote her homilies directed to the demographic depiction of her congregation, based on their results on the Myers-Briggs typography, rationalized as an attempt to “reach” as many people as possible.

There is a ‘herd’ aspect to the linguistic, ‘intellectual’ and sociological lens that comes with each pair of prescription eye glasses (metaphorically). We have ‘bought in’ to the mass perceptions that unless we are ‘self-improving’ we are devolving downward. The self-help and the pharmaceutical/pharmacological empires, along with the insurance and the ‘war machine’ so dominate at least American culture, and to a slightly lesser extent Canadian culture, that we have lost the potential first to step away from that psychic edifice, which Hillman seems to suggest is encapsulated in the reign of Molloch (the god of Money), while this scribe might challenge that perhaps Ares, the God of War, might merit a place in the pantheon of contemporary American culture.

From, we read:  
(Ares) in literature he represents the violent and physical untamed aspect of war, which is in contrast to Athena who represents military strategy and generalship as the goddess of intelligence. Although Ares embodies the physical aggression necessary for success in war, the Greeks were ambivalent toward him because he was a dangerous, overwhelming force that was insatiable in war. He is well known as the love of Aphrodite, ….and though Area plays a limited role in literature, when he does appear in myths it is typically facing humiliation….He was most often characterized as a coward in spite  of his connection to war; he responded even the slightest injury with outrage…Ares was never very popular-either with men or the other immortals, As a result, his worship in Greece was not substantial or widespread….His bird was vulture.

Hillman’s overt linking of the anima mundi (world soul) with the psyche/soul of each person, and this perspective is also a direct challenge to the psychological establishment which in North America, has turned a blind eye, a deaf ear and a resistant intellect to his work, at their own, and our own peril, it says here.

Imagine, for a moment, a school in which the study of ageing, in a medical faculty under the rubric of gerontology, having both the vision and the courage to contemplate first reading, and the formally discussing and then implementing, even as an experimental project, the study by graduate students of Hillman’s Archetypal Psychology through such works as Revisioning Psychology, A Blue Fire, Suicide and the Soul, Mythic Figures, and most importantly, The Force of Character, dedicated to those of us with grey beards and/or no hair!....what a fantasy!

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

A personal path toward a poetic basis of mind...

This scribe “feels” like a newbie swimmer in turbulent, unpredictable, oscillating and even eddying waters with whirlpools and tree roots, rock outcroppings and the occasional creature, each of them far more innate to and comfortable in these waters. A gestalt-type of depiction for these waters is the swirling, iridescent and magnetic force of what Hillman calls “archetypal psychology. What I am learning is, first, that everything I tried to learn, even to master, as a student, teacher, free-lance journalist, athletic coach, and basic student of piano is as much a ‘trap’ from a epistemological perspective as it is a harness that held me in check while attempting to both perform and to ‘fit in’ with whatever the situation, institution and politics seemed to require. Tonsilitis led to a tonsillectomy; a separated shoulder led to aluminium pins and then physiotherapy; clouded eye lenses resulted in synthetic replacements. A pulled Achilles tendon was, according to medical sources, not amenable to formal treatment, nor were   arthritis-imbued joints.

And on the other side, that interior life that wakened one day back in the mid-eighties, to the question, ‘What the hell is driving me to sixteen-hour days, obsessive ambition to generate activity, to find new ways to write marketing and public relations copy, to drive enrolment and to function as a ‘change-agent’ in a small-to-medium sized educational bureaucracy?” Peggy Lee’s song, “Is that all there is?” kept ringing in my head. It seemed to me that I was deeply embedded in a pursuit of applause, compliments, results that were validated by others, and at the same time, I was (and still am) highly impacted by negative criticism, especially if and when it comes from people whom I consider important, relevant and intimate. There had been hints of such sensitivity, or perhaps vulnerability, before the mid eighties.

Once, in a television interview with the then local member of Parliament at the time when the people of Alberta specifically and the west generally were complaining vigorously about the “bilingual Corn Flakes boxes.” They saw no justifiable reason why they should have to read French on their boxes of cereal. Although I strongly disagreed with their bigotry, and specifically noted my disagreement on air, prior to my question, I nevertheless wanted his response.  “What can and will the federal government do about the attitudes of the people in Alberta concerning French on their Corn Flakes boxes?” Having no interest or need, apparently, to consider the question relevant, appropriate or worthy of a response (hence not to dignify it), he uttered words that suggested, ‘the question is ridiculous’ to my ears. As the moment occurred barely half-way through a twenty-minute interview being conducted by both the station’s New Director and myself, I literally and metaphorically ‘froze’, psychically extricated myself from the interview, while remaining ‘on camera’ and bolted from the studio, to retreat to a recording booth at the radio station two doors down the strip mall. Shaking from both embarrassment and frustration, a little anger and disappointment, not because  asked the question, but because it elicited such a response. I was fully aware that the local member was a strong supporter of the French language and the French fact in Canada, and was adamant that bilingualism was necessary to move Canada forward, a position with which I fully concurred. What I was not even remotely conscious of, however, was the intensity and the abruptness, and the apparent arrogance of his ridicule, not of me, but of the question. It was barely five minutes after seeking refuge in that booth, when the door opened, and the MP entered, with a full-throated apology for his behaviour in the interview. Since that moment, I have read, watched and listened as the national debate unfolded, and in some ways continues today, if differently, as the nation attempts to bridge issues of language and culture with those of economics, politics and nation-building.

Sensibilities, both to the larger situation, as well as to my own personal ‘feeling’ component, have been linked from a very early age. When, in grade thirteen, I asked a question in history class about the way the United Nations had/was/and would likely address a particular situation, the teacher’s response, to my lasting chagrin went something like this: “We do not have time for such questions; we have to prepare for final examinations!” Barely, seven years later, while teaching in that same history department under that same ‘head,’ I begged the principal to be relieved of the ‘curriculum’ which landed in my mail box each Monday morning, with a foolscap sheet listing the chapter and paragraph headings from the prescribed text, for the coming week, based on a text on modern European History. When asked what I would like to ‘do’ in place of that lock-step, memory-based, fossil-grounded pedagogy, I replied, “I would recommend a new approach in and through a study of the United Nations itself, based on a text of papers and essays that, in a scholarly manner, dig into the importance of the United Nations.” His immediate response, “Do it!” For this I am forever grateful.

Somewhere along the way, from this perspective, there seemed to be an inevitable, predictable and insurmountable tension between the immediate ‘task’ and the perceptions of that task by those in charge, with a longer, wider, more expansive vision of what might be possible, if a full range of options were to be considered. Attempting to see both simultaneously, from the perspective of at least a thought process, first, before considering the feasible possibilities, and before even accessing the emotional implications of all options, has its “up-side” as well as its ‘down-side”. The “up-side” is that there are always ideas available; the ‘down-side’ is that ‘tradition’ and what others expect from their experience, learning and vision, does not seem to be valued.

These two energies, the one based in the interior search for ‘what am I doing that seems to be so ‘obsessive, demanding, and potentially damaging?’ and the energy around the force-field that persists in seeking, expressing, advocating for and even arguing about a ‘different view’ from the conventional norm, finally collided with what can now be seen, and even then could have been predicted, as a ‘train-wreck.’

While generating marketing materials, newsletters, Smoke-less strategies, and multi-year planning documents, (really, only collating the contributions of others), I had the delightful opportunity to have lunch, in my office, with a retired kindergarten teacher from Great Britain, now a practicing Anglican clergy. She, at least two decades my senior, listened to my babbling, about whatever topics and issues seemed to be relevant during our shared time, interjected her unique and inimitable wit, and, slyly, almost inconspicuously, the notion of ‘theology’ as a potential route for next steps in my journey. She was unaware that, a mere decade-plus earlier, I had paid a visit to two schools of theology, Knox and Emmanuel, at the University of Toronto School of Theology, with the expressed intent of enrolling. When I informed my then spouse of my intention, I received this immediate, unequivocal, non-negotiable retort: If you go into theology, I will divorce you on the spot!” The subject was not mentioned, to my memory, for the next fifteen years.

The conversation with ‘Muriel’ took place in the midst of an interior jumble of both thought and feeling which sought answers for a self-sabotaging pattern as well as what I perceived to be a crumbling marriage. I had already entered therapy as one approach to sorting out my own inner life, and then proposed that both my spouse and I enter joint therapy to discern both what might be ‘askew’ in the marriage, and what we might do about it. The latter attempt at therapy terminated prematurely; the former continued until I finally resolved to leave the marriage and enrol in theology.

Never remotely considered at that time as a process of ‘saving the world’ by entering the study of theology, I was merely seeking guidance through reading, retreat, prayer, community of others interested in a similar journey, and new awareness of ‘what God might want’….as an inarticulate, and cliché and still applicable question of my place in the universe. And, in the midst of that inner voice, I now see that my words and concepts, perceptions and the identifying of those perceptions were, in a word, literal, empirical, nominal, and as far as I could rationally determine, rational and logical.

Although I had spent considerable time teaching English to high school students, including a segment focussed specifically on Greek mythology, I had barely scratched the surface of that genre. Historic literary periods, schools and the various stages of literary criticism had occupied much of both the pedagogy and the perspective of the world garnered from those readings. British culture, seen in and through the writing of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Donne, Keats, Shelly, Coleridge and Eliot, etc. as well as the occasional piece of American literature like Death of a Salesman, Catcher in the Rye, Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, and the memorable, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Pearl, as well as the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost, were included in the curriculum. Short stories and essays, too, offered models both for reading and interpretation as well as for student writing assignments. Subsequently, Canadian authors began to figure in the mix, including Hugh MacLennan, Morley Callaghan, W.O. Mitchell, Mordecai Richler, Irving Layton, Leonard Cohen, Earle Birney, Raymond Souster, F.R. Scott and many others. These writers offered both to the instructor, and hopefully to at  least a few students, windows on both their world view and their choice of language as an integral component of their respective art.

Occasionally, too, there would be opportunity to dip into the contemporary writing of editorial writers, arts reviewers, political junkies and cultural owls like Richard Newman in the Globe and Mail. Language, specific words, seen through such critical pieces as Northrop Frye’s Massey Lectures, entitled, The Educated Imagination. This piece specifically articulated the difference between the language of practical sense that sought to divide and compare, and the language of the imagination, specifically expressed in metaphor, simile, personification that sought to unite…by connecting one thing with something else…a cat with a burgler, for example, denoting the stealth of both.

Along the way, the writing of Freud (Ego, Id, and Superego) crossed the eyes of most English instructors, as did, later the glimpses of Jung’s unconscious, anima and animus, and the process of individuation. Questions about the overlap of the psychological models with the literature, were one of the windows that seemed like ‘low-hanging fruit’ for exploration, along with the critical insights of people like Aristotle whose definition of tragedy was inevitably brought out of the closet for use in Shakespearean tragedy discussion and exegesis.

Earlier in my youth, I had attended an extremely virulent evangelistic and fundamental Christian church, where I had openly, and vehemently withdrawn from attendance following a blatantly bigoted homily against Roman Catholics. (Written about in other pages in this space.) I had also be invited to participate in a public forum on the ‘relevance of the Christian faith as part of a Lenten study session, in which I advocated for more deliberate discussion, in seminar format to foster engagement with the stories, including the language and meaning, their various interpretations and applications to individual and family life, as compared -with the top-down, unilateral and ego-driven homilies dedicated to building both dollars and bottoms in pews, as a measure of the success of the religious enterprise.

From my perspective, church was not similar to, analogous to or comparable to a business operating on the Main Street, although many of its primary leaders were deeply imbued with this approach. One of my teachers in grade twelve French, Miss Jean Craig, whose scholarship, demeanour, humility, reflection and quiet presence, seemed to epitomize the life of a Christian pilgrim. A middle-aged spinster, nuanced, specific, observant, patient, disciplined and expecting high standards, and eminently steeped in her languages, both French and Latin, Miss Craig, I later learned, was a sister to an Anglican clergy, and may also have been a daughter of an Anglican clergy. Nevertheless, irrespective of her genealogical background, she embodied, incarnated and exemplified both the discipline and  boundless ‘light’ of faith, hope and charity.

From language, to theology, to scholarship and to a personal crisis of meaning, purpose and a psychic cross-road, I finally entered seminary. And from there, with more exposure to Jung, Myers-Briggs, the psychological differences between ‘extrinsic’ and ‘intrinsic’ aspects of personal life, along with three different sessions in clinical pastoral education, one in chaplaincy, and two in pastoral counselling, I attempted to serve in active ministry.

And here, I found, a dearth of both imagination, theological exploration and discussion, a fixation on both sexuality and finance, as if these were the two most detestable sins. The turning point, from my perspective, was a ‘charge’ to the diocese in 1998, by the then bishop, reduced to what I considered little more than a recipe for a corporate annual general meeting agenda: 10% more people and 15% more money. What I publicly declared was nothing more than “General Motors religion” was not taken lightly in the bishop’s office. Nothing about how to accompany parishioners in their spiritual struggles, how to address parish tensions and conflicts, and nothing about the nature of the culture in the parish and diocese that might be impacting the life of the church. Growth, measured in numbers, people and dollars, irrespective of how that might be addressed and collaborated on, even studied with reference to both scripture and church teachings, was a starvation diet, laced, of course, with more antipathy and hatred for the LGBTQ+ community.

For the past twenty-plus years, fortunately, James Hillman’s work has been not an obsessive, but a constant reminder of how psychology has failed itself, and its failure has also seriously and negatively impacted the church, both in its hierarchy, as well as in its laity and clergy.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Plunging into the swirling water of 'free will' and autonomy

  If Hillman’s theory/perception/notion about emotions holds ‘water,’ and our emotions are more like gifts or flags rather than exhibiting or defining our ego, or our self, or our identity, what about the concept of ‘free will’ in relation to our emotions and our decisions?

What about????….the question that for some has neither substance nor direction, and is thereby irrelevant for any legitimate probe into any ‘nugget’ or issue, seems to be a kind of invitation into another potential unpacking of another mystery. Previous readers in this space will know that one of, if not the first reference, s/he will encounter will be to the work of James Hillman. Believing that Hillman’s gift of Archetypal Psychology holds promise for many people, many academic and professional disciplines and for a significant potential transformation of the western culture, this scribe leans on Hillman here once again.

In Hillman’s The Soul’s Code, in a chapter entitled, “Fate,” he writes:

‘But if the soul chooses its daimon and chooses its life, how have we still any power of decision?’ asks Plotinus. Where is our freedom? All that we live an believe to be ours, all our arduously-arrived-at decisions, must in truth be predetermined. We are snared in a delusional veil, believing that we are the agents of our own lives while all along each life has been laid down in the acorn and we are but fulfilling a secret plan in the heart. Our freedom, it seems, consists only in opting for what the acorn demands…To cast off this erroneous conclusion, let’s make clear what the genius does and does not do. Let’s become more precise about the range of the acorn’s powers. In what ways is it effective and how is is limited. If it causes behaviors in childhood, what do we mean by ‘cause’? If it intends a specific way o life, such as theatrical performance, mathematical invention, or public politics, what do we mean by ‘intention’? Has it a final end in view, even an image of fulfillment and a date of death. If it is so powerful as to fatefully determine school expulsion and childhood illnesses, what do we mean by ‘determinism’? And finally, if it the acorn that gives the feeling that things could not be otherwise, that even the wrongs have been necessary, what do we mean by ‘necessity’?....

Fatalism is the seductive other side to the heroic ego, which shoulders so much in a do-it-yourself, winner-take-all civilization. The bigger the load, the more you want to put it down or pass it off to a large, stronger carrier, like Fate. The hero is America personified. The heroic ego landed on Plymouth Rock, went with Danial Boone into the wilds with gun, Bible, and dog, stands tall in Tombstone with John Wayne, and stonewalls his corporation against the whole bloody planet. This ego cuts its way through the forest and made its own path despite competitors and predators.

Even she, Little Red Riding Hood, has to cope with harassment by the predator wolf on her lonely path. This burden of being al one with your own self-dame destiny in a world lurking with figures that want to do you in makes life one helluva struggle. If I do not beat back the obstacles and push my way forward, I could be ‘left back’ in school, or become an ‘underachiever’ and sent for counselling to get me through psychological ‘blocks’ and ‘fixations.’ I have to advance from preschool onward, I have to develop, to climb, defend, secure simply to exist, for that is the heroic definition of existence. Not much fun here—and when Little Red Riding Hood does pause to pick flowers to put in her generous basket of goodies for Grandmother, up pops the toothy wolf.

In this paranoid definition of life- life as struggle, competition for survival, the other as either ally or enemy- fatalism offers surcease. It’s all in the stars; there is a divine plan; whatever happens, happens for the best in the best of possible worlds (Voltaire’s Candide). The world is off my shoulders, for it is really carried by Fate and I am really in the lap of the gods, just as Plato’s myth says. I am living the particular fate that has come straight from the lap of Necessity. So it doesn’t matter what I choose. I’m not really choosing, anyway; choice is a delusion. Life is all predetermined.

That way of thinking is fatalism, and it is not what is meant by fate. This way of thinking reflects a belief system, a fatalistic ideology, not the goddess Moirai, whom we call in English the Fates and who appear in Plato’s myth arranging the lots and leading the daimon toward our birth. They do not determine each and every event as if life were set up by them.

Rather the Greek idea of fate would be more like this: Events happen to people. ‘They cannot understand why it happened, but since it has happened, evidently ‘it had to be.’ (Ref: E.R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational, Berkeley, Univ. of California Press, 1951, p. 6) Post hoc, ergo propter hoc. After the event, (post hoc), we give an account of what made it happen (ergo propter hoc). It is not written in the stars that the stock market must crash in October 1987. But after it crashed, we find ‘reasons’ that clearly made it necessary for it to have crashed right then. For the Greeks, the cause of these untoward events would be fate. But fate causes only events that are unusual, that oddly don’t fit in. Not each and every thing is laid out in a superior divine plan. That sort of comprehensive explanation if fatalism, which makes for paranoia, occultist Ouija board prognostics, and passive-aggressive behavior combing meek submission to fate with bitter anger against it.

So, it is better to imagine fate as a momentary ‘intervening variable.’ (p. 192-193)

Fatalism bestows a feeling that what happens in my life is intended to ward a distant misty goal. Something is meant for me…..I am meant to have success, or be cursed and wronged and luckless, or to die in a certain way on a certain day….’Teleology’ is the term for this belief that events are pulled by a purpose toward a definite end. Telos means aim, end, or fulfillment.  A telos is opposite to cause as we generally thing of causes today. Causality asks, ‘Who started it?’ It imagines events pushed from behind by the past. Teleology asks, ‘What’s the point? What’s the purpose? It conceives events aimed toward a goal…..Teleology gives a logic to life. It provides a rational account of life’s long-range purpose. (p. 196)…

The idea of telos gives value to what happens by regarding each occurrence as having purpose. What happens is for the sake of something. It has intention….But adding an ‘ology’ to ‘telos’ declares what that value is. It says what is intended in the tantrum and the obsession. It dares to pronounce the purpose. The acorn acts less as a personal guide with a sure long-term direction that as a moving style, an inner dynamic that gives the feeling of purpose to occasions…This supposedly trivial moment is significant, while this supposedly major event doesn’t matter that much. Let’s say the acorn is more concerned with the soul aspect of events, more alive to what’s good for it that to what you believe is good for you. This helps explain why Socrates’ daimon told him not to escape imprisonment and execution. His death belonged to the integrity of his image, to his innate form. A death…..may make more sense to the image and its trajectory than to you and your plan. (p. 202-203)

This “Hillman lecturette” is offered as an introduction to one perception of the often-conflated concept of fate. The conflation in our culture is coloured with many over-lapping and interspersed and blended notions from a variety of sources. One of those sources is the doctrine of predestination, which is often cited as a biblical  doctrine that God in His sovereignty chooses certain individuals to be saved. Clearly, the question/issue/existence/definition of free will inevitably abuts this doctrine, and has been explicated in religious thought and writing as ‘voluntary choosing’ to follow God’s will. The free will, in that instance, is expressed through the voluntary, and not compulsory, choice of the individual.

One of the most mountainous obstacles to be overcome for anyone to begin to wade into the waters of Hillman’s (Plato’s, et al) daimon, as a guiding light, and not as a determinative force that confounds one’s free will is the plethora of research into the neuroscience community around the notion of free will. In a piece in The Guardian, April 27, 2021, entitled: ‘The Clockwork universe: is free will al illusion?’ Oliver Burkeman writes:

The difficulty in explaining the enigma of free will to those unfamiliar with the subject isn’t that it’s complex or obscure. It’s that the experience of possessing free will- the feeling that we are the authors of our choices-is so utterly basic to everyone’s existence that it can be hard to get enough mental distance to see what’s going on…..According to the Public intellectual Yuval Noah Harari, free will is an anachronistic myth- useful in the past, perhaps, as a way of motivating people to fight against tyrants or oppressive ideologies, but rendered obsolete by the power of modern data science to know us better than we know ourselves, and thus to predict and manipulate our choices.

Hillman’s depiction of and advocacy for the daimon, as an angel, a guiding light acting in the highest interests of each individual, while still have the potential to ‘turn dark or south,’ seems perhaps to have anticipated presciently the more recent research on brain activity, the timing of the electrons/waves in the direction of a decision, from a poetic perspective. The daimon’s imaginal existence as an ‘idea’ does not impose a molecular/neural/empirical/literal/nominal force that can either be anatomized under an electron microscope nor disputed as a defiance of a religious belief. Indeed, it is so subtle and so sophisticated, so ephemeral and ethereal, and only potentially discernible from a perspective of looking “backward” into one’s life that is has the significant advantage of magnetically/imaginatively refocusing those accidents, those emergencies, those traumas and those unforgettable moments into a psychic landscape that seems to have been moving toward an enveloping artistic archetype that includes and represents the voices of many gods goddesses, myths and legends.

Whether we chose to eat the banana or the orange for breakfast this morning might seem like a totally personal choice. And whether or not neuroscience can detect that the electricity in the brain had already started to “move” in the direction of the choice we eventually made, the culmination of our choices, decisions, happenstances, accidents, and even our traumas are like psychic landmarks in our personal biography. Each of them, if sat in and reflected upon, with a longer lens than one that searches  for immediate ‘causes’ or ‘motivators’ or cultural enemies, or religious beliefs, and begins to imagine an existence that is ‘connected’ not merely in a genetic, or a sociological, or a demographic or even an ethnic framework, or even in a framework that incorporates all of these ‘data-banks,’ and tends to take the perspective that in each act is a poem and that the totality of the poetry of each life is a unique existence, that embraces all of life and death, all of love and apathy, all of time and space, all of history and meta-history, all of human voices from our several locations and myths, perhaps not literally but imaginatively.

And in the course of re-visiting our lives through such a lens, we are more able and more likely to shed some of the pretentious “meant-to-be’s” that have ensnared us, and some of the ‘exceptionalities’ that our heroic culture has foisted upon us as part of its over-weening propaganda to conform, to climb and to win. Looking down, rather than ‘up’ all the time, pursuing quiet reflection and legitimate links to those various voices that have accompanied the human story forever, and seeing in and through the lens that each poem is linked both in content and purpose to our demise, rather than to our secular and empirical ‘treasure and wealth and power’…we might find that our meaning and purpose, that ‘holy grail’ of the existentialists, is contained in and beneficiary of voices new to our perception and vision and values.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Considering our emotions as 'flags' not our 'ego' or 'self'....

On a recent episode of the nineties television comedy, “Frasier,” the radio-talk-show-host psychiatrist returned to his mentor because he was feeling down, lonely and unfulfilled. In the course of the ‘session’ it became apparent that, in answer to each of his mentor’s inquiries, Frasier had a rational or logical explanation, or rationalization. Missing from each response were his ‘emotions,’ his feelings. And, as his mentor insightfully pointed out, he had ‘distanced’ himself from everyone, essentially causing his own predicament.

Many of the clinical therapies that have evolved over the last twenty year plus, especially in the field of clinical pastoral training, have focused on helping the client search for, identify and claim ownership of his/her emotions. It is as if these features of one’s life, previously unnoted, unnoticed, unmentioned and thereby under-valued were active in a form of psychological repression. And the theory goes that by naming and releasing emotions, including the whole range from the most pleasant and happy to the deepest anger and sadness, the client would come to know him/herself better and feel less constricted. Culturally, too, the expression of emotions in professional and public life, has been circumscribed by unwritten rules that foreclose on their full release. And while emotional intimacy as well as emotionally destructive actions are not tolerated in public, the question of the ‘stiff upper lip’ and all that goes with a Stoic version of how to ‘be’ with others, has been a norm for well over a century, possibly rooted in a stoicism that has deep historic roots. The question of being responsible for one’s emotions, however, has been paramount in much of our cultural perceptions of how we respond to various emotions. Indeed, whether verbalized or not, how we “feel” about a situation, or a person, or a negative circumstance has a significant impact on how we react that that person/event, and how others react to our reaction, at a level that exceeds mere naming.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), more recently, has emerged as a different way to approach psychological stress, providing the link between ‘thoughts and actions’ that, while not eliminating emotions, gives them less clout in the person’s angst. Used to improve the symptoms of a variety of mental health challenges and disorders such as anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD, phobias, substance use disorders. The approach typically works by identifying unhelpful or incorrect thought patterns and digging into how they may be affecting a person’s emotions and behaviors before actively replacing them with healthier thought patterns, thus positively impacting the person’s feelings and actions. (From ‘What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? Updated March 17, 2023, Medically Reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW, on

The intersection of thoughts and feelings, cognition and emotional intelligence, has been at the centre of much research and theory among the psychological and psychiatric professions seemingly forever. Different from both clinical therapies that work with the client to unearth deep emotions and CBT that works through thoughts and their linkage to actions, James Hillman posits a different approach. He writes in Revisioning Psychology:
Archetypal psychology…attempts to envision emotions less personally, less as resultants of human forces. For when freed from human eccentricity, reverted to fantasies, and then to mythic patterns, emotions have a different quality of experience. The family quarrels, the lovers’ enthusiasms, the office explosions, all have profound backgrounds; whether epic, tragic, or comic they area always mythic, far larger than life and at a distance from life. (p. 177) …Like afflictions, emotions put me in the center of things, giving importance and existential assurance to human being. They seem so centrally mine. Yet they are external to the individual person. We share in emotions and hold them in common; they transcend history and locality; we read them in another’s face beyond language and culture, feel them in the gestalt of landscapes and natural things, receive them from images buried thousands of years ago and from the sounds and shapes and words of inorganic art objects. Grief, jealousy, comedy have their images that require no interpretative apparatus; they bear archetypal significance beyond your or my personal experiences of them…By showing emotion’s phylogenic (evolutionary) sources and parallel expressions in animals, (scientific) psychology was indirectly recognizing the nonpersonal background of human affect. In theological accounts of emotion, it has been attributed to a sinful essence or a cataclysmic prehuman event (the Fall), or to the generative principle of the beast, only accidentally rather than essentially attached to man. This perspective toward emotion which in one way or another keeps its origin or its essence distinct from human being has led to many practical methods which further support the fantasy of the separability of emotion from man. Ataraxia (tranquillizing), apathia (freeing from passion), and katharsis (casting off or washing away) are all methods which work from the premise of this distinction: the psychic events of emotion can be discriminated from human being. We do not use these guised of concealment for what we want to say. They are in any case pejorative, their way of making the distinction is in value language; emotion is archaic, inferior, sinful, disordering. Whereas our distinction between human and emotion treats it as a ‘divine influe,’ to use the poetical language that appealed to Blake. Emotion is a gift that comes by surprise, a mythic statement rather than a human property. It announces a movement in soul, a statement of the process going on in a myth which we may perceive in the fantast images that emotion accompanies. This means that human beings are not responsible for their statements of emotion. Aesthetics recognizes this, finding emotion an incomplete artistic statement which requires personal shaping to be considered valid art. Law, too, recognizes this, and so does common speech. We are not altogether ourselves in undergoing strong affects and so not humanely accountable for what is not our property. (p.176-7)

These last statements from Hillman do not come to this scribe, or doubtless to you dear reader, as just another cup of morning coffee, predictable, comprehensible, digestible and totally grasped/drunk. Rather, they come as a kind of ‘shock’ to the senses, to the mind, to the body and to the sense of where and how we each see ourselves, our emotions and their place in our lives. Emotions, as gifts, seem to be considered by Hillman as gifts, yes, but also as leaves on a deeper and flowing river of the myth on which the emotions surface and pass. The commonly accepted notion, even the conventionally moral tenet of our culture is that we bear responsibility for our emotions, and if they are pleasing, then we are pleased with the ‘other’. If they are unpleasant, however, we find that unsettling, Like the weather-vane of the fantasy image which has engaged us, they are not the weather, or the myth itself. Taking them literally as expressions of the specific experience, as Hillman counsels, ‘results in literalizing the experience and the experiencer.’ He goes further, in his deconstruction of the notion of a centralized moral person…I am suggesting further that we entertain the extreme view that the notion of human being as centered in the moral person of free will is also a mythical fantasy, an archetypal perspective given by a single Hero or a single God; our freedom to choose, our moral center and decisiveness, our free will- all is the code of a transpersonal dominant. Moral codes, including those which attempt the simplification of universality (the Judaic, the Christian, the Kantian, or the Delphic) are the literalization of an archetypal position….The moralistic fallacy is central to the myth of man in the middle, humanism’s psychology of a self-identified ego, the Hero whose decisive sword divides in two so that he may choose between good and evil. Moralism plagues psychology, as it must if we remember psychology’s origins in the Reformation and Melanchthon’s attempt to bring about the ethical culture of Germany. Even empirical psychology ha sit moralistic tone, tending to be both descriptive and normative together. Whether in the fantasy of Watson, Skinner, and Mowrer (two factor theory of avoidance) or in Freud, Maslow, Laing (The Divided Self, Politics of the Family, wanted to make madness normal) and Jung, psychology want to show in the same demonstration both how we are and how we should be—the ‘should be’ disguised by saying, ‘This is how mankind really is; here is our basic nature; this is what it is to be human.’ What does not fi/, in becomes inhuman psychopathic, or evil. Every student of psychology is forced into moralistic positions and every patient of psychology caught in moral judgements about the soul.(p. 178)

The notion of a psychological/moral/ethical centre, achieved primarily in and through the therapy that seeks to identify and to clarify emotions as an expression of the self or the ego, is being challenged by Hillman, as, perhaps one of his most penetrating views.

The notion of ‘how mankind really is’ is about as epic a phrase as the phrase ‘knowing the mind of God’….and perhaps we live in the river that flows between these two banks. Attempting to discern either 'bank’, and certainly both, is one of, if not the most challenging of enigmas we all face. And, given the western history of attempting to ‘encircle’ the definition of ‘human being’ within a circumference of both therapy and morality that begins with a fixed notion of the limits and boundaries of that circle, we might be prompted to ask, “How is that working out for us?”

Our jails and courts are literally and metaphorically enduring a tsunami of human beings, whose behaviour has ‘crossed’ some line of law, based on some fixed notion of morality, at the time the law was written. And then, surprise, that notion of what was ‘right and good’ changed to something else. Of course, we are all immersed in the jargon of the arc of justice tending upward as the cliché has it. And for many minority communities, that arc has a seeming glacial pace, and has left them behind what they consider ‘equality’ and ‘equity’ with the while, straight, ‘christian’ majority.

Our “feelings” as Frasier’s psychiatrist mentor put it, have been at the centre of the many conversations about ‘evolved’ men, for example, as compared with many women who have been familiar and conversant with, and circled around their shared feelings for decades, if not longer. Our feelings have been considered to be integral to how we ‘consider’ or analyse, or diagnose, or respond to any specific situation or relationship. At the cores of those feelings, as the culture demonstrates so unequivocally, is the perception of whether we are being ‘respected, valued, honoured and in a position in which we are ‘sharing’ the power.

In any power differential, however, irrespective of the situation, whether in a family, a school, an athletic team, or a corporation, those who ‘have’ power are those who have demonstrated the capacity and the will to do what it takes to have attained that status, Those who do not ‘have’ power, on the other hand, are too often regarded by those with power as ‘less than’ and as ‘less worthy’ and as sometimes even ‘worthless.’

And while there is always an emotional component of each of our experiences, the emotions themselves are like ‘flags’ that can prompt serious delving into questions like “what is my part in this situation and what do I want to do about it?” For those who consider such questions as irrelevant, their perception of the ‘cause’ of their feelings lies with another person or force. For those open to such a question, they have already begun a reflective process of discernment of their own reality, how that reality might be impacting others, and if and how they might wish to amend both their perceptions, attitudes, and actions.

Hillman’s counsel, for each of us, irrespective of what professional or what social level we inhabit, is to detach our emotions from our ‘moral responsibiltiy’ (as in the adage, there are no wrong feelings) and to then reflect on what kinds of patterns we have embodied in our lives, as a more responsible and also humbling perspective on our ‘ego’ as our ‘identity’.

It was Admiral James Stavridis, (retired), former Supreme Allied Commander NATO from 2009-13, Dean, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts University, 2013-2018), Vice-Chair, Global Affairs, Chair of the Board of Trustees, the Rockefeller Foundation, appearing on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, who, when asked about the then impending visit of the Chinese Premier to Moscow and its implications for the United States, replied in words to the effect, ‘with both Russia and China enhancing their power and influence in the world, the United States will have to re-evaluate its position on the world stage, and consider a more humble approach given that it is no longer the solitary world power.’

If such an insight can and does come from that source, given Stavridis’ personal and professional history and legacy, one wonders, from outside the United States, if such a view of the world embracing American humility, and thereby even slightly ‘shading’ American ‘hubris’ can be uttered on national television, one wonders if the prospect of that perspective might not be enhanced at least partially, by a full reading and study of the American psychologist, James Hillman’s thoughts, perceptions and insights?

Human psychology can never be excised or surgically removed from any legitimate consideration of the zeitgeist, and thus theory and policy and practice in government, the military, the corporate world and the scientific community, as well as the ecclesial realm cannot be segregated from the ‘family’ and ‘personal’ realm of human psychology. As Hillman writes to this effect, ‘it is right to be angry and depressed about the world given the kind of decision and attitudes being displayed in the world. We can no longer tolerate the academic, political and conventional balkanization of our minds, our hearts and our souls from the world we are living in.

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, 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 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. (


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, 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, 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.