Friday, April 28, 2023

Hillman and Blake, centuries apart, walking together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

·        The psychological nature and function of religion

·        The operational definition of religion

·        Childhood stages in religious development

·        Impact of family and schools on religious development

·        Religion in adult life

·        Religion and death

·        Religious experience

·        Mysticism

·        Conversion

·        The social psychology of religious organizations

·        Religion and morality

·        Religion and mental disorder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMAGINE! What a concept!


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