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Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Hillman echoes Blake...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To open the immortal Eyes

Of man inwards into the worlds of

Thought; into Eternity

Ever expanding in the Bosom of

God, the human imagination…..

And also from the same poem:

I will not cease from Mental Fight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my


Till we have built Jerusalem,

In England’s green & pleasant land.

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

The vision of Christ that thou dost


Is my Visions Greatest Enemy

Both read the Bible day & night

But thou readst black where I read


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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