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Friday, April 21, 2023

Case history AND soul history....really!

 Given that our culture has become familiar with and at least partially comfortable with the concept of the ‘case history’ as it applies to medical work-up’s and social workers’ documentation of the presenting issues in analysing the needs of their clients, it seems appropriate, and perhaps even timely (from the perspective of this scribe and blog, as we attempt to embrace, digest, reflect upon and share some of the more significant differences between what Hillman is talking, writing, theorizing and positing as ‘archetypal psychology’.

Even psychologists and psychiatrists write up case histories, each from their own perspective. In earlier posts, we found that suicide has attracted multiple observations, interpretations, and strategies and tactics for therapists to intervene with a view and purpose of prevention. These observations have, as Hillman underlines, come from the outside and applied various depicters to explain, and to attempt to comprehend this most tragic of human choices. We know that the DSM, in whatever iteration and edition, outlines, describes and denotes various psychiatric ‘conditions’ based on the compendium and interpretation of data from schooled psychiatrists over many years. Many of these criteria of illness are determined in a manner similar to the diagnostic methodology of medicine, given that psychiatry has been a child of that academic discipline.

In attempting to ‘work with’ a human choice like suicide, categories, premises , phobias, compulsions, the call of love have all been deployed as explanations of the act. And the literature is voluminous and precise in this section of the psychiatric library. Words like ‘nervous breakdown’ have been associated with the event, as have such descriptors as alcoholism, depression, bi-polarity, and schizophrenia. What might be helpful, as an alternative window into our understanding of suicide, and by inference, all other experiences of deep and profound pain and suffering, from a psychological perspective. From disease, crime, psychosis and addiction, all of them well established as ‘causes’, Hillman offers a path that seeks to develop a ‘case history’ of the soul….not merely of the body and mind.

Such extrinsic events, as home life, education, marriage, employment, achievements and failures, losses and victories, while significant in a ‘case history’ all have ‘behind’ them an inner life’ the life of the soul.

Case history reports on the achievements and failures of life with the world of facts. But the soul has neither achieved nor failed in the same way because the would has not worked in the same way.  Its material is experience and its realizations are accomplished not just by efforts of will. The soul imagines and plays—and play is not chronicled by report. What remains of the years of our childhood play that could be set down in a case history? Children, and so-called ‘primitive peoples,’ have no history; they have instead the residue of their play crystallized in myth and symbol, language and art, and in a style of life. Taking the soul history means capturing emotions, fantasies, and images by entering the game and dreaming the myth along with the patient. Taking a soul history means becoming part of the other person’s fate. Where a case history presents a sequence of facts leading to a diagnosis, soul history shows rather a concentric helter-skelter pointing always beyond itself. Its facts are symbols and paradoxes. Taking a soul history calls for the intuitive insight of the old fashioned diagnostician and an imaginative understanding of a lifestyle that cannot be replaced by data accumulation and explanation through case history. We cannot get a soul history through a case history. But we can get a case history by prolonged exploration in soul history, which is nothing other than analysis itself….The rediscovery of soul history shows itself in the reawakening of emotion, fantasy, and dream, in a sense of mythological destiny penetrated by the transpersonal, and by spontaneous acausal time. It reflects the ‘cure’ from a chronic identification of theso9ul with outer events, places and people. As this separation occurs, one is no longer a case but a person. Soul history emerges as one sheds case history, or, in other words, as one dies to the world as an arena of projection. Soul history of a living obituary, recording life from the point of view of death, giving the uniqueness of a person sub specie aeternitatis. As one builds one’s death, so one writes one’s own obituary in one’s soul history….Case history classifies death by car crash differently from death by overdose of sleeping tablets. Death from disease, from accident, and from suicide are called different kinds of death—and so they are, from the outside. Even the more sophisticated classifications (unmeditated, premeditated, submeditated death) fail to give full credit to the involvement of the psyche in every death. These categories do not fully recognize that the soul is always mediating death. In Freud’s sense, Thanatos is ever present: the soul needs death and death resides in the soul permanently. (Hillman, Suicide and the Soul, pps.64-65)

While these words are written and borrowed in the context of suicide, the notion that our inner psychic (soul) existence is different from our ‘external’ life remains for our lives, from the perspective of Hillman’s archetypal psychology. His ideas move away from the observable, the empirical and the literal into the mythical, the imaginal and the much more ambiguous, abstract and perhaps even unconscious.

Two concepts leap out from the above quote: projections and Thanatos.

We have noted projections in previous pieces, in this space. The concept of projections of what each of us considers difficult feelings or personal features (and thereby denied and/or avoided) onto another rather than dealing with them head-on, is a deeply established notion in modern psychology. History has it that at least one man, deeply engrossed in suicidal ideation, only hours before his death, expressed to his secretary, “Beware of the projections!” Hillman uses the phrase to describe the ‘outside world’ as a ‘world of projections.’ Considered to be unconscious, projections are therefore highly secretive and deceptive both to the one uttering them and clearly to the target. In my own life, although I have been engaged in several business operations, from the marketing and public relations perspective, and have written sell-lines, and advertising copy and generated leads through guerilla marketing techniques, I have a deep-seated angst about the whole mind-bending, propaganda, political-correctness mind-set and the practitioners in that profession. My disdain for the dynamic of mind-bending can be nothing less than a projection…and it has been noted with contempt by those whose lives have been immersed in that profession, rendering me and my attitudes, heretical, and even untrustworthy.

Hillman has even more to say about projections, that might be of interest to readers, as it is to this scribe. In A Blue Fire, from a section entitled, Therapy: Fictions and Epiphanies, he writes:

Projections occur between parts of the psyche, not only outside into the world. They occur between internal persons and not only onto external people. The alchemical idea of projection referred to interior events. Ruland’s alchemical dictionary describes projection as a ‘violent interpenetration’ of substances; there is a ‘sudden egression’ which is projected over a matter by another matter therewith transforming it. Projection too can be psychologized; we can take back projection itself, interiorizing It as an activity going on blindly between anima and animus within.

From appliedjung.com, we read, in a piece entitled, The Archetypes of the Anima and Animus, by Stephen Farah:

The Anima/Animus related to our inner or soul life. Not soul as understood in metaphysical terms as something which lives on beyond our phnysi8cal existence but rather soul as in the inner force that animates us…..In a woman her contra sexuality is masculine and governs her rational thinking function and we call this the Anima. In a man his contra sexuality is feminine and governs his irrational feeling function and we call this the Anima….When we talk about the  role of the Anima and Animus we are talking about:

relatedness-our ability to relate a whole human beings to the world and other people. In order for the relatedness to have an equal measure of heart and mind the psyche relies on the contra sexuality to compensate for the natural one sidedness of the personality.

Animation or Spirit, the anima/animus plays a significant role in determining how we thing and feel about our lives in the innermost chamber of our hearts. It is not what we say but the spirit we bring to the world that we feel inside ourselves and that others become aware of  when they interact with us.

The archetype of the Anima/Animus forms a bridge between our personal unconscious and what Jung refers to as the Collective Unconscious (Hillman might dub this the anima mundi..) The anima/animus is the image making capacity which we use to draw inspirational, creative and intuitive images from the inner world (strictly speaking transpersonal inner world).

 For Freud, there are two driving forces in the human psyche: Thanatos and Eros.

(From geneseo.edu) Thanatos is the drive of aggressions, sadism, destruction, violence and death. Eros is the drive of life, love creativity, and sexuality, self-satisfaction and species preservation. …Freud notes that human beings, following Thanatos, have invented the tools to completely exterminate themselves; in turn Eros is expected to ‘make an effort to assert himself in the struggle with an equally immortal adversary.

For Hillman, the human soul is concerned with death: the soul needs death and death resides in the soul permanently, as we read above. His view seems to be different from both Freud and Jung, however, in that for Hillman, while Thanatos is essential and permanent as a partner of the soul, there are also many other mythic voices playing out in the psychic dramas of our lives. And these dramas, for Hillman, have meaning for our death. The notion of two competing archetypes, (Thanatos and Eros, for example, or for Jung, puer and senex), is stretched into a constant tension, in Hillman’s thought, in that these two, and other voices are engaged simultaneously, and unpredictably and only discernible in and through reflection.

Interior projections, as well as exterior projections, along with a chorus of mythic voices especially in the deepest and darkest moments of our suffering, in a world culture (society) that is also characterized as anima mundi, and all things in that world with their own animism is at least a beginning approach to how Hillman sees the world from the perspective of archetypal psychology. As compared with Jung who sought to enhance the Christian religion, Hillman is positing a psychology that, while closely connected to religion in that a belief in the mythic voices are credible, is neither speaking in favour of or in opposition to any specific faith.

Indeed, it is not a stretch to ‘see’ Hillman’s archetypal psychology, akin to Joseph Campbell’s study in mythic heroes, embracing each culture that is and has been alive, given that all have their own respective names for the various mythic gods, goddesses, and mythic names for various, sometimes even animal voices that they (we) imagine to be present in our psyche.

For many, the very notion of a ‘soul history’ as compared with a ‘case history’ would be not only narcissistic and self-indulgent, out of the reach of the literal, the empirical and the nominalism of contemporary cultural perceptions and values; it would also be considered a task too ephemeral, and too ethereal and too abstract and too inconclusive even to be worthy of engaging. And, for this scribe, it is only if and when we begin to consider our own ‘soul’ (psyche) with a view to the significance, relevance and imaginal engagement of those emotions, and thoughts and images that have held their respective influence, often without our awareness, that we might begin to ‘see’ and to ‘engage’ in the life of this universe, in a way commensurate not only with science and philosophy but also with the imagination.

Will the deferral from and by the official academic community of science and research to archetypal psychology provide a path to starving archetypal psychology of the oxygen and the investigation and the embrace it warrants, or, conversely and perhaps paradoxically, engender a kind of energy and interest from a cultural public that somehow sees and embraces the complexity and the richness and the darkness and the inscrutability of each and every one of us. And that richness and complexity is accessible for and to each of us, in some measure, without expecting or anticipating a blue-print, like a paint-by-number model, for us to use as a template for how to live.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Suicide and individuality....

 In an earlier piece, we looked at suicide alongside the dogma of the Christian churches, as an act that precludes repentance, and as an act that demonstrates hubris, in that our lives are the creation of God and therefore any decision to terminate a life is NOT OUR’S…

Trouble is, however, that such a dogmatic declaration of the churches’ position that seems to equate God, and all things holy with the LIGHT, while at the same time, denying that darkness in the human soul can be holy and not necessarily sinful. Criminality, perversion and evil, as also legitimate psychological, spiritual, ethical and religious concepts, need not necessarily wrap their arms around the act of suicide. For many that may seem like a division without a difference. However, there are many legitimate observations that warrant consideration from the perspective of “the human soul’s darkness’ as inclusive of, even emblematic of and incarnation the notion of the human being created imago dei, in the image of God.

Is it a stretch too far to contemplate the notion that if and when all hope is/seems/ is perceived to be lost that such a state is by definition evil, not of God’s ordaining, outside the definition of the fullness both of God and of the human being. Would any God, by offering ‘free will’ not be willing and able to include the choice of suicide in that landscape? Indeed, we can read, listen to, and reflect upon the Cri de Coeur on the Cross, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” (My God, my God, why has thou  forsaken me?”) as the epic, tragic, and archetypal cry for help that echoes throughout human history.

 As James Hillman writes about this moment:

The cry on the cross is the archetype of every cry for help. It sounds the anguish of betrayal, sacrifice and loneliness. Nothing is left, not even God. My only certainty in my suffering, which I ask to be taken from me by dying. An animal awareness of suffering, and full identification with it, becomes the humiliating ground of transformation. Despair ushers in the death experience and is at the same time the requirement for resurrection. Life as it was before, the status quo ante, died when despair was born. (Hillman, Suicide and the Soul, p. 75)

Hillman’s starting place for entering the experience of one on the brink of taking one’s own life, is that moment when there is no hope, and no God and only nothingness in the darkness of profound suffering. While most of us have not ‘gone there’ or not spoken with one who is at that moment in that blackness, the starting place, for Hillman, is the sine qua non of any psychological relationship with the person in that moment.

And Hillman offers a revealing, even if somewhat upsetting and unsettling paradox about that moment:

As much as worship, as much as love, as much as sex, hunger, self-preservation and dread itself, is the urge toward the fundamental truth of life. If some call this truth God, then the impulse toward death is also toward the meeting with God, which some theologies hold is possible only by death. Suicide, taboo in theology, demands that God reveal Himself. And the God suicide demands, as well as the demon that would seem to prompt the act, is the Deus absconditus (the concept of the fundamentally unknowability of the essence of God) who is unable to be known., yet able to be experienced, who is unrevealed, yet more real and present in the darkness of suicide that the revealed God and all His testimony. Suicide offers immersion in, and possible regeneration through the dark side of God. It would confront the last, or worst, truth in God. His own hidden negativity. (Op. Cit. p. 70)

Is this darkness-of/in/within/inherent to-God compatible with what has come to us as Christians, as a theology of death and resurrection? Clearly, on the surface, “No.” However, is it conceivable that we (collectively, honourably and authentically, as far as we could/would imagine) drew lines around, limits around and circumscribed our picture of the unknowable God? Is the Christian exclusion of suicide as a fundamentally religious, spiritual, disciplined and holy act really justified if God is truly “absconditus”? Is, was our need to put some kind of definition around our discussion, reflection, definition and worship of God instrumental in this exclusion? Has history tried to ‘show’ us how blinkered, with the best of intentions, our theology is and has been?

We know that a vast majority of people, fall into a category of “sensate” as measured by the Myers-Briggs personality assessment instrument. This design holds the view that a sensate personality is someone driven by strong cravings for sensory and sensual satisfaction. (International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, Vol.2, 1992, The Hare Krishna Character Type: A Study of Sensate Personality, (Book) Review: by Christopher Ross, p.65-67) We also know, implicitly, that the world functions at the level of demonstrable actions, words, and sensate experiences. And, it seems reasonable to suggest that, while symbols and images and abstractions and ethereal and ideal notions exist, they belong in a place of religious, spiritual, philosophical and psychological significance and relationship. We employ metaphors to better identify and explain our primary ideas. And, there is a strong theological principle that all “things” are included in what can be considered “ultimate” considerations, in order to bridge the language and epistemological divide between God and man, between the sensate and the intuitive. Nevertheless, there continues to be a deep dark avoidance, and intellectual and emotional antipathy within the churches to the act of suicide.

Life AND Death, however, continue to be regarded as opposites, perhaps even abstract and concrete enemies among conventional thought. Philosophy, however, considers them together.

Hillman again:

To philosophize is partly to enter death: philosophy is death’s rehearsal, as Plato said, It is one of the forms of the death experience. It has been called ‘dying to the world’. The first movement in working through any problem is taking the problem upon oneself as an experience. One enters an experience by joining it. One approaches death by dying. Approaching death requires a dying in soul, daily, as the body dies in tissue. And as the body is renewed, so is the soul regenerated through death experiences. Therefore, working at the death problem is both a dying from the world with its illusory sustaining hope that there is no death, not really, and a dying into life, as a fresh and vital concern with essentials. Because living and dying in this sense imply ach other, any act that holds off death prevents life. ‘How’ to die means nothing less than ‘how’ to live. Spinoza turned the Platonic maxim around saying (Ethics IV,67) that the philosopher thinks of nothing less than death, but this meditation is not of death but of life. Living in terms of life’s only certain end means to live aimed toward death. The end is present here and now as the purpose of life, which means the moment of death-at any moment- is every moment. Death cannot be put off to the future and reserved for old age…..When we refuse the experience of death, we also refuse the essential question of life and leave life unaccomplished. Then organic death prevents our facing the ultimate questions and cuts off our chance for redemption. To avoid this state of soul, traditionally called damnation, we are obliged to go to death before it comes to us. (Op. Cit. p. 51)

Here, redemption, is considered from the perspective of ‘this life’ in the here and now. So, from Hillman, we have already heard the archetypal cry “, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” (My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?”) which cries from the heart of the Christian story, and here we have another theological concept, redemption, only this time, not in the afterlife, but in the immediate life. Clearly he is not writing about the eschatological redemption, but rather the redemption from the brink of chosen mortality into a life less impaled, like a ship-wreck on the rocks of despair, into a potential acknowledgment of some raison d’etre that makes sense for the individual. In the previous quote, we read, Living in terms of life’s and only certain end means to live aimed toward death. The end is present here and now as the purpose of life, which means the moment of death at any moment, is every moment.

For this scribe, this concept of living one’s life “aimed toward death” is the book-end to Jurgen Moltmann’s notion of life being aimed also at the eschaton. The psychological perspective on the here and now on the one hand and the theological perspective of some connection to eternity on the other, while obviously both metaphoric and epic, are a stretch for how many of us see ourselves as victims. Victimhood can and often does emerge from a traumatic childhood, from the abuses that others have inflicted and the coldness of the world’s anima mundi. In Hillman’s perspective, such brutality as a run-away capitalism, a consumptive literalism, empiricism and a dogmatic obsession with a rampant morality and judgement are enough to make one deeply depressed. And while he fought, without success, against these behemoths, throughout his life, nevertheless, he persisted. How any moment, and here we are considering that moment in which an individual is poised to terminate his/her life, can be “lived” in the perspective and attitude and choices implicit in the question, ‘how does this moment and decision impact my death,’ is hardly a perspective that many of us have witnessed from our mentors,  teachers, parents and peers.

Smilarly, from the other Moltman perspective of life lived conceptually linked to the eschaton, we are potentially dedicating our lives to another dimension. Without having met, and only read sketchily from both, there seems to be a common note of lifting whatever aspects of ‘repression’ might be impinging one’s life. Here is how Hillman puts it:

We dull our lives by the way we conceive them. We have stopped imagining them with any sort of romance, any fictional flair. ….(T)oday’s main paradigm for  understanding a human life, the interplay of genetics and environment, omits something essential-the particularity you feel to be you. By accepting the idea that I an the effect  of a subtle buffeting and societal forces, I reduce myself to a result. The more my life is accounted for by what already occurred in my chromosomes, by what my parents did or didn’t do, and by my early years now long past, the more my biography in the story of a victim. I am living a plot written by my genetic code, ancestral heredity, traumatic occasions, parental unconsciousness, societal accidents….Victim is flip side of hero. More deeply, however, we are victims of academic, scientistic, and even therapeutic psychology, whose paradigms do not sufficiently account for or engage with, and therefore ignore, the sense of calling, that essential mystery at the heart of each human life….Before it can be lived, raises doubts about another paradigm: time. And time, that takes survey of all the world, must have a stop. It too must be set aside; otherwise the before always determines the after, and you remain chained to past causes upon which you can have no effect….As Picasso said, ‘I don’t develop; I am.’  (The Soul’s Code, chapter 1)

These words are not an attempt to erase the past, nor are they an indictment or contradiction or denial of one’s theology. Indeed, they are compatible with most contemporary theologies, given that they are written and are to be read, from a psychological perspective.

We also ‘dull our lives’ by the fear we have of the archetypal judgement day, emblazoned in the teachings of the church. And, living as a bologna in a time-theological-psychological-moral-ethical sandwich that is defined for many in literal terms, we have lost the lens and perspective of the metaphoric, the imaginal. And the literalists among us will call such a perspective as hypothetical, illusory, delusional, and out of touch with reality. Hillman (and we suggest also Moltmann) are both deploying and exhorting a stretch, in and through the human imagination, that sees “things” from a liberated and liberating perspective, one that accords with any conception of a deity worthy of worship and discipleship.

It was Aristotle who wrote, “The aim of art is not to represent the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” The probe of ‘inward significance’ is applicable, not only to those ‘things’ that appear on canvases in galleries. It is even more relevant to the person on the brink of ending his/her life, and there can be little doubt, that even without plunging into the specific darkness of that person, one can speculate that his/her world has ‘closed in and is suffocating him/her’ in ways that only s/he can ‘see’ and feel and articulate.

Hillman offers a clarion call for that moment:

A main meaning of the choice (to commit suicide) is the importance of death for individuality. As individuality grows so does the possibility of suicide. Sociology and theology recognize this….Where man is law unto himself, responsible to himself for his own actions (as in the culture of cities, in the unloved child, in protestant areas, in creative people), the choice of death becomes a more frequent alternative. In this choice of death, of course, the opposite lies concealed. Until we can choose death, we cannot choose life. Until we can say no to life, we have not really said yes to is, but have only been carried along by its collective stream. The individual standing against this current experiences death as the first of all alternatives, for he who goes against the stream of life is its opponent and has become identified with death. Again, the death experience is needed to separate from the collective flow of life and to discover individuality. Individuality requires courage. And courage has since classic times been linked with suicide arguments: it takes courage to choose the ordeal of life, and it takes courage to enter the unknown by one’s own decision. Some choose life because they are afraid of death and others choose death because they are afraid of life…(T)he suicide issue forces one to find his individual stand on the basic question-to be or not to be. The courage to be….means not just choosing life out there. The real choice is choosing onself, one’s individual truth, including the ugliest man, as Nietzsche called the evil within. To continue life, knowing what a horror one is, takes indeed courage. And not a few suicides may arise from an overwhelming experience of one’s own evil, an insight coming more readily to the creatively gifted, the psychologically sensitive and the schizoid. Then who is the coward who casts the first stone? The rest of us brutish men who go about dulled to our own shadows. (Hillman, Suicide and the Soul, p.52-53)

Here we see clearly the link between individuality and redemption, a pursuit in which we are all engaged, whether consciously or not.

Friday, April 14, 2023

KNOW THYSELF....as considered from a different psychological perspective

 In the last post, we considered suicide as an ‘ultimate concern’ if not the most significant dramatic ultimate concern. And while there are a myriad of reasons to support such a contention, one of the primary issues is the meaning of death.

Such a question to be pondered in a post-Easter week, seems incompatible with the bright, warm sunny morning outside the window at my right shoulder. Buds are creeping out from behind their winter coats; birds have spring into song; river are over-flowing with both intense rain and winter run-off; humans have emerged from their winter caves, walking their dogs, and strolling in the warm embrace of the sun and Spring breeze. Evidence of the pulsation of life, the energies that wake up, and in their waking, wake each of us from our winter ‘survival’ mode, into another season brimming with new signs of growth, life, colour, harmony and all of the accompanying ‘outside activities’ that are foreclosed and etherized by winter’s frost.

In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare writes:

When he shall die,

Take him and cut him out in

little stars,

And he will make the face

of heaven so fine

That all the world will be in love

with night

And pay no worship to the

garish sun.

Death must exist for life to have meaning, is attributed to Neal Shusterman, American writer of young-adult fiction, winner of the 2015 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for his book, Challenger Deep.

Multitudes of men and women, over the centuries, have mused about, prayed about, worried over, fantasized about, become traumatized about, and written, painted, danced and sung arias and lyrics dedicated to death. Every human activity, and each human being is engaged in some way(s) with the reality of death. Whether in league with the preventionists, or the avoiders, or the romantic poets, or the deeply religious, or the pathologists, or the self-declared atheists, or the Al-Quaeda terrorists, in their/our attitudes and convictions about death, death is an intimate, deeply personal and highly ethereal abstract and numinous a notion as known to humans.

In Suicide and the Soul, James Hillman writes:

To philosophize is partly to enter death; philosophy is death’s rehearsal, as Plato said. It is one of the 

forms of the death experience. It has been called ‘dying to the world.’ The first movement in working through any problem is taking the problem upon oneself as an experience. One enters an issue by joining it. One approaches death by dying.

“How” one “sees” this experience of death, as well as how one “sees” oneself, others, and all experiences, is a question that has engaged, bothered, frustrated and challenged thinkers, poets, educators, theologians and scientists forever. And the nexus of this question is manifest in the ‘experiential-imaginal’ lens in and through which one “sees”. The tension between the binary ‘’either-or’, cognitive-or-emotional, poetic-or-scientific, as both a language and a construct is the manner in which this issue has been debated. Rationalists and visionaries have explored their ‘perspectives’ and planted the seeds for their followers, in the archives of the world’s libraries.
To see in and through the imagination-soul-psyche, while, paradoxically eschewing the long-pursued ‘individuation’ of the individual into some coherent package, is to seek a different, and more abstruse, perhaps even abstract linkage, (not unity) with the voices that have been ‘singing’ through the sands, the caves, the towns and the lecture halls from the beginning. If there is to be “meaning” and “energy” and “ideas” and “images” in each of our moments, as well as in each of our encounters with others, and with nature and with buildings, towns, and travel, as Hillman envisions, the rest of us are being challenged not merely intellectually, nor even solely imaginatively, but wholeistically.

We too, as humans, are being ‘revisioned’ far from the madding voices of “merely agents of another’s purpose, or ‘merely accomplices in another’s conspiracies, or engineers/doctors/lawyers/priests/accountants as “fixers” of some empirically determined problem. The superstructure of our conventional thought imposes a kind of moral “scaffolding” on each and every incident, person, narrative, that ostensibly provides a kind of comfortable expectation for the smooth running of the culture. However, that scaffolding also ensnares and blinkers and focuses our thought-feeling-imagination into something “given” as if we were all pupils in the same classroom, when we know positively, intuitively, emotionally and theologically, we do not even know the names or the locations or the philosophies of those learning emporia. The prospect of rendering that superstructure as a little less permanent, a little less confining, a little less like an intellectual, moral, cultural, idol…seems to lie at the heart of Hillman’s ‘revisioning’.

 When we have entered the arena of ‘suffering’, including our own death, and problems with our ‘interior lives’ purportedly contained in words like psyche and soul, the scene is not amenable to the conventional linguistic, intellectual, emotional, theological, ethical, legal, medical manner of conceiving, and thereby of searching for and teasing out anything that looks and sounds and feels and sustains itself as “meaning”. Poets and writers have been exhorted to ‘write about whatever it is that you do not know”….as a paradoxical insight into the exploration of the ‘unknown mystery’ into which and from which each of us is earnestly seeking to Know Thyself”…one of the oldest, and least contemplated, yet richest epithet of all time, in the Western world.

Debate continues about its original author; perhaps it was Socrates, perhaps Pythagoras. However, whether interpreted as ‘knowing your limits’ or knowing your motivation,’ both alive and well as conventional applications, both of these imply a “relational” stance, to the outside world. As ‘how far can I go’ based  on my intimate awareness of my capabilities, and ‘confident in reaching my goal’ as a mental image of envisioned ribbons, trophies, championships, promotions, both of these templates have been securely planted in the culture in the West. Not so conversant, or even acceptable is a very different notion: knowing oneself simply for the purpose of knowing oneself. The concept of humans as “agents” for or against, in company with or opposed to, has so drowned our notion of what it is to be a human being, that we have relegated deep and penetrating, profound and imaginative pondering of the deepest recesses of our souls, (even and perhaps especially in the religious communities), to the sidelines of the ‘mystics, the spiritualists, the alchemists and the seers, as our way of dismissing the whole process.

Keeping things ‘understandable’ from a rational perspective, in order to create the illusion that we a “managing everything we need to manage and control,’ is not only a significant degree of self-imposed blindness,  (as it leaves out so much), but also a convenient way of ‘simplifying’ for the sake of avoiding confusion, and the resulting potential of chaos. Such pedagogical aphorisms, in the world of journalism, for example, as “write to a grade six reader” dumbs down the language and the level of nuance permitted to the writer/reporter on each and every story and opinion piece. The adage also protects and sustains the campaign for readers/viewers/listeners, who, themselves, when numbered, provide proof for advertisers to buy ads. Agency, for agency, for agency….and we are all enmeshed in this cultural, psychological, military, corporate, religious, political, fiscal, trap.

Any attempt to set aside, for the purposes intimate to and essential to Knowing Thyself, for its own sake, will be, initially considered rebellious, if not actually dangerous. It will be categorized as narcissistic, in a world and time when the narcissists seem to be taking over. It will be considered a ‘waste of time’ just as the idea/vision/image of becoming an artist was perpetually considered a waste of time for an aspiring college grad, by many if not most parents, who counselled a professional ‘job’ like law, medicine, engineering, accounting…where there is ‘real money’ to be made. It will also be considered by some to be a deviation from the need for a strong legal system to defer potential incipient criminals, and therefore, the superstructure depends on the church to sanctify its version or morality, first for children in the Christian Education program, and then in the school system, and then in the corporate world.

Given that morality, and ethics, are high on the totem pole of values, in Western culture, then those who ‘perform’ acts of criminal or illegal or immoral quality, will be considered first, as ‘outlaws’ in some sense of that word, rather than as human beings first, before consideration of the morality/legality/ethics of their decisions and actions. We have established cultural system dedicated to the pursuit of ‘wrong-doers’ as if that was the ‘best’ and most ‘optimal’ way to maintain social order. We have also established a health care system based on the search for, diagnosis of and treatment of an illness, and not on the premise that the goal of health is the responsibility of each person, for himself/herself. It extends the ‘sickness-intervention’ process which has been so deeply embedded in not only our socio-economic and political system, that, virtually all decisions about the public square are first and foremost diagnosed and decided on a cost-benefit basis, deploying a variety of variables depending on the body making the decisions.

Agency, agency, to-do lists, accountability, transparency, laws, regulations, enforcement, and armies of highly-paid, professional detectives and wardens to administer the system….based on a plethora of numerical, statistical, financial, electoral, medically-necessary, and religiously ‘popular’ data…this system, while having some functionality, and some modest justification, is not a raison d-etre to justify the new vision of psychology proposed by Hillman.

And among the first institutional edifices, including their hierarchy, that might give active consideration of a different way of seeing what is most important and meaningful in the life of an individual, especially in a moment of crisis, would seem to be the churches. We all know that the human soul is not amenable, reliant on, conducive to, or even tolerable of dogma, especially dogma that has been generated by those seeking approval from other church ‘fathers’ who, implicitly were engaged (had to be) in a process of planting, nurturing, growing and triumphing in their own success, as institutions. Numbers of dollars, and numbers of bums in pews, the cliché measure of success in most institutions in the contemporary western world, are not indicative of a successful religious, spiritual, disciplined pursuit of any deity.

God (s) are not desperate for greater numbers, nor greater power, nor greater arsenals, nor more positive reviews in public opinion polls. They are not dependent on sycophants whose religiosity is reduced to a weekly cheque, a weekly Mass/Eucharist, an assignment to teach in the education program, nor a clergy whose success, and value and spiritual growth is measured by the cash-flow and the attendance records each week. God(s) are not desperate for white robes, chasables, mitres, staffs and processions, however impressive, and seemingly sanctified and motivating they may be. God(s) do not need sky-reaching spires, nor bell-towers, to signify the humility, the agape, the prayer life or the mentorship of the disciple.

Indeed, God(s) are not likely to be impressed by ‘the largest military arsenal in history, as a sign that ‘we are protecting the American people in a Christian nation.’

That “Christian nation” appellation, claimed by the Americans, is so obviously unravelling on so many fronts, that, just perhaps, there might be some serious consideration given by significant thought leaders, religious leaders, and their colleagues to a different perspective on the high status and ethical value placed on the empirical attributes of American life.

KNOW THYSELF….is one of, if not the most complex, perhaps even incomprehensible, numinous, ethereal, moving, changing, ephemeral and profound activities, that engages the whole person, along with another “mirror” who might join in the process, as a way of echoing, reverberating, clarifying, questioning and supporting the process.

A first step, in the process, could well be to revision how we “see” and how we “consider” what we see, and expand the field of vision from the ‘outside’ to the ‘inner’ as a path for how we consider others as well as how we might envision our own persons.

And, while the process will not generate the ‘destination’ of perfect clarity and fixity, as a kind of dependable consistence, like a place name of a town or village, nor document a developmental graph of maturity, it might thaw some of the frozen lines of demarcation that neither express who we are, nor convey to others who they think we are. And, in that vortex of new imaginal, poetic, mythic possibilities, there is new psychic energy for all of us. And that process will embrace our atttudes, feelings and thoughts, images, even our theology of death.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

The illusion of hope....from a psychological perspective

 This is Easter Sunday, 2023, the day on the calendar when Christians celebrate the Risen Christ. It is the day on the liturgical calendar that, even more than the birthday of Christmas, symbolizes hope, new life, promise after a very day Good Friday and the Crucifixion.

We all speak, think and imagine hope in “light” as opposed to darkness; in melodic tunes and harmonies, rather than minor keys and dissonance; in impressionistic water pools surrounded by a surfeit of flowers, not in midnight alleys, with crawling felines and piercing sirens. In our private and personal lives, too, we attempt to keep a ‘stiff upper lip’ as a sign that we are walking on the cushion of hope, that things are ‘on the up-and-up’ and that those who signal otherwise are not merely sad and depressed, but they are also to be avoided, or at least encountered minimally. “A smile is the kindest gift you can offer to another,” reads a calligraphic poster in the dentist’s office, where it has both a literal and a metaphoric appropriateness.

Smile as a symbol of kindness, implies, however, that ‘frown’ is a symbol of unkindness, or at least unhappiness, that ‘being down’ is a condition ameliorated at least momentarily on this bright, crisp and Spring-embodiment of a Sunday morning. We have a gallery of names and faces of men and women in our lives who have been ‘smiling’ with, at, near or among us. We have good memories of those moments, and the face and name that we associate with those moments is printed in ‘India ink’ in our memory, never to be erased.

Nevertheless, for all we know, and for all we have shown the world, there are many times when they and we ‘smiled’ when we and they felt no more like smiling that we/they felt like catapulting across the Hoover Dam, from a sling-shot ‘bungy-cord’. We knew, however, that the smile is/was/and will be the signal we were expected to project in order to attract others who might ‘like and respect’ us. Whether we were meeting a new teacher, or professor, a new doctor, dentist, neighbour or friend, ‘first impressions’ are both singular and lasting. The cliché, among human resource professionals is that ‘we have only thirty seconds to make a positive first impression” and that first impression was the indelible imprint that we leave on the new person.

Naturally, we all want to ‘fit in’ with the conventional language, attitude, behaviour and reciprocity of the social and political culture in which we live. And while it may be an early and inescapable, as well as incontrovertible, axiom that ‘smiling’ is the ‘first foot’ to put forward in all of our personal encounters. However, there is another side to this ‘smiling’ cultural meme and expectation.

Linked intimately and inimitably to the smile, is the image of strength, confidence, balance, maturity and a comfort ‘within one’s own skin’ that the culture finds both pleasing and emboldening. Anything that detracts from this ‘smile’ (and it must not be exaggerated, as if in a former ‘Pepsodent’ commercial, lest  it convey the impression of inauthenticy) is noted as at best a question-mark in the mind’s eye of many people. Being nice, pleasant, easy to be with, and uncomplicated are all social goals and aspirations in the public arena. Indeed, many would consider them the sine qua non, (without not which, therefore the absolute essentials) for personal and professional success.

While some would undoubtedly push back on a notion I read recently, for the first time, in a work by James Hillman, in Revisioning Psychology, in which he espouses this perspective:

“The ‘rage to live’ is the one-sided affection for life that one often sees in tandem with symptoms.” Never before have reflected on the notion that one (anyone, including this scribe) might have a ‘rage to live,’ I had to step back, take a deep breath, and reflect if, in all of the many ‘encounters’ with others I have had, in which I was by far the more ‘enthusiastic’ and the more ‘committed’ and the more ‘singularly minded’ and the more ‘focused’ and the more ‘determined’ to execute whatever project or purpose that was at hand, among the several others who were also engaged in the endeavour, I was embodying a ‘rage to live’ as my way of masking my determination to demonstrate, indeed to prove, my worth and value. In some instances, that ‘enthusiasm’ was deemed to be an asset and therefore merited acceptance and even encouragement, depending on the specifics of the situation for which it was being considered. In others, however, it was considered a distinct, obvious and thereby an easy path for the other to resort to dismissal of my petition. Among adolescents, for twenty-five years, it never seemed excessive, given that the students’ exploding hormones and developing intellect and bodies were dominating their consciousness. Among adults, however, the enthusiasm was interpreted sometimes as obsequiousness to the hierarchy, or as a kind of escapism, (from what no one, including this scribe, really knew) or as a demonstration of impatience. This is and was especially evident in a bureaucratic culture where change involving multiple constituents, including the seeding of information, and the ‘schmoozing’ of key leadership personnel, and the nurturing of both the comprehension of new information and the sustainability of new colleagues was not only necessary it comprised the totality of the success of the projected changes.

Excess energy, to this scribe, however, was never deemed to be ‘excess;’ what I was experiencing seemed eminently ‘natural’ as this ‘state’ of hyperactivity (as others saw it) was a ‘condition’ that had/has been both familiar and comfortable for eight decades-plus. Even at eighteen, while sitting on a beach on Sloup Island in Georgian Bay, I commented, “I never expect to live until the age of forty, given that I expect to ‘burn out’ before I reach that age!”

It seems preposterous to me now, these sixty-three years later, that I might have had such a ‘premonition’ without knowing anything more than the raw flame of the intuition. Nevertheless, neither the flame nor the accompanying energy/enthusiasm nor the consciousness of it as illusion was unavailable until recently.

When attempting to make serious decisions, I sought counsel, while, holding back on actually making those difficult decisions. Something within was asking, over and over and over, if the decision I was contemplating was both necessary and ‘doable’, not from a pragmatic and fiscal and every-day responsibility perspective, but from an ‘inner’ psychic, and almost a bodily perspective. I did not realize then, at least three-plus decades ago, that some of the bloom on the ‘flower’ of both energy and ambition was wilting. For, that energy that I was incarnating was the expression of something very deep and “siamezed” to and with ambition. A cliché such as ‘I cannot survive with only sixteen-year-olds as my human and social fabric’ return now, in memory, uttered as a rational for seeking and finding extra-curricular work, first in a men’s wear shop, and later in free-lance journalism.

Undoubtedly, while seeking counsel for large decisions, such as leaving a marriage, I brought to the room some sense of hope that I would eventually reach a decision. Hope had to be implicit in my search, otherwise I would not likely have booked those appointments. What I did not then, and only recently have more fully realized was a ‘face’ and quality of hope that remained hidden to this high-paced, impatient and highly motivated individual: illusion.

Here is Hillman:

Because hope has this core of illusion, it favors repression. By hoping for the ante status quo ante, we repress the present state of weakness and suffering and all it can bring. (The length of time during which I procrastinated on making a final decision, now seems to indicate a kind of hope for things to be more tolerable and to return to something like they were in the beginning.) Postures of strength are responsible for many major complaints today- ulcers, vascular and coronary conditions, high blood pressure, stress syndrome, alcoholism, highway and sport accidents, mental breakdown. The will to fall ill, like the suicide impulse leads patient and physician face to face with morbidity, which stubbornly returns in spite of all hope to the contrary. One might ask if medical hope itself is not partly responsible for recurrent illness; since it never fully allows for weakness and suffering the death experience is not able top produce its meaning. Experiences are cheated of their thorough effect by speedy recovery. Until the soul has got what it wants, it must fall ill again. (Hillman, A Blue Fire, p. 78 from Hillman, Suicide and the Soul, 79, 156-158)

Today, in homilies around the continent, in parishes of various denominations, and in likely what are millions of well-intentioned Happy Easter greetings, both virtual and floral, snail male and texting, sincere and earnest family members and friends and colleagues will be wishing happy thoughts and prayers for a “new life” and a “new hope” in celebration of the Risen Christ. And while not attempting to diminish the love and the authenticity of such time-honoured wishes, including Chag Pesach sameach for the Jewish Passover and a Ramadan Kareem for Muslims.

The religious/spiritual occasion, for all three Abrahamic religions, is expressed in the keeping of the various rituals, in worship of a diety. The pursuit and celebration of hope, including the pursuit of happiness, on the other hand, is a personal, psychological and even secular matter, from which it is very troublesome to extricate the expectations of the theology.

What our society and culture seems to have difficulty with is how, if and when to separate the expectations of faith from those of the psyche. And while they are able to be disentangled, it would seem, from the perspective of this scribe, that those engaged in the proposition of enhancing and growing and nurturing the people of their respective faith, in that faith, inevitably and almost imperceptibly, wander in the desert that lies between the secular and the religious, in sands hot enough to scorch the feet and awaken the mind and heart.

The translation, for example of ‘prosperity gospel’ as an expression of the hope of the New Testament and Easter Sunday, not only ignores the full meaning and import of the deeply religious meaning and intent of the theology. The notion of highly esteemed and ubiquitous expressions of unalloyed and unsullied self-righteousness, too, defies the meaning and intent of the Risen Christ. So, too, was my own excess of both energy and ambition in the service of career and personal goals, to justify worth, and to claim to fill the vacuum of self-respect which hollowed out the purpose of any fully authentic life or faith.

We can hope that the illusion of hope on this most important day on the Christian calendar will not sully the experience or the celebration of the meaning and intent of Easter, even in the eating of a common meal of traditional Easter food, or in the happy ‘egg hunt’ that magnetizes the day for children. Not only will the extrication of the illusion of hope offer the possibility of fewer medical complaints and the elevation of the needs of the soul to their proper awareness.

Friday, April 7, 2023

Ideas, images in service of the active imagination....

 Northrop Frye, in The Educated Imagination, writes:

So, you may ask, what is the use of studying the world of imagination where anything is possible and anything can be assumed, where there are no rights or wrongs and all arguments are equally good? One of the most obvious uses, I think, is its encouragement of tolerance. In our imagination our own beliefs are also only possibilities, but we can also see the possibilities in the beliefs of others. Bigots and fanatics seldom have any use for the arts, because they’re so preoccupied with their beliefs and actions that they can’t see them as also possibilities. It’s possible to go to the other extreme, to be a dilettante so bemused by possibilities that one has no convictions or power to act at all. But such people are much less common that bigots, and in our world much less dangerous.

Note, ‘there are no rights or wrongs (in the imagination)” a phrase and concept with which Hillman would concur. And for readers in this space, you will already, perhaps long ago, be aware that this entire enterprise is premised on the notion, expressed when the process began well over a decade ago, that what I need to learn is the beacon in the lighthouse that helps chart these pieces.

The insights, nuances, images and their access of James Hillman’s writings in and about archetypal psychology have been, are, and continue to be so captivating, magnetic, expansive, challenging and, in a word, ‘stretching,’ that they warrant further study, reflection, exploration and assimilation by this scribe. Hence, we dig a little deeper into his thought, in a continuing endeavour to become not only more familiar with their meaning and applications, but also to experience their ‘washing’ over, and through my own imagination.

The question of what is an image, and how do we know one if and when we ‘sense’ one, seems to be lurking throughout these meanderings. And, not surprisingly, for Hillman, not only are images redolent of ripples of meaning and questions, they are also accessibile, not only in and through ‘ideas’ but also in and through the senses.

Let’s try to unpack.

For us, ideas are ways of regarding things (modi res considerandi), perspectives. Ideas give us eyes, let us see. The word idea itself points to its intimacy with the visual metaphor of knowing, for it is related both to the Latin videre (‘to see’) and the German Wissen (‘to know’). Ideas are ways of seeing and knowing, or knowing by means of insighting. Ideas allow us to envision, and by means of  vision we can know. Psychological ideas are ways of seeing and knowing soul, so that a change in psychological ideas means a change in regard to soul and regard for soul. Our word idea comes form the Greek eidos, which meant originally in early Greek thought, and as Plato used it, both that which one sees—an appearance of shape in a concrete sense—and that by means of which one sees. We see them and by means of them. Ideas are both the shape of events, their constellation in this or that archetypal pattern, and the modes that make possible our ability to see through events into their pattern. By means of an idea we can see the idea cloaked in the passing parade. The implicit connection between having ideas to see with and seeing ideas themselves suggests that the more ideas we have, the more we see, and the deeper the ideas we have, the deeper we see. It also suggests that ideas engender other ideas, breeding new perspectives for viewing ourselves and world….Therefore, the soul reveals itself in its ideas, which are not ‘just ideas’ or ‘just up in the head,’ and may not be ‘pooh-poohed’ away, since they are the very modes through which we are envisioning and enacting our lives….(But) when an insight or idea has sunk in, practice invisible changes. The idea has opened the eye of the soul. By seeing differently, we do differently…(The soul) learns by searching for itself in whatever ideas come to it: it gains ideas by looking for them, by subjectivizing all questions, including the How? To give any direct answer to ‘how’ betrays the activity of soul-making, which proceeds by psychologizing through all literal answers. As it gains ideas by looking for them, the soul loses ideas by putting them into practice in answer to how? There is in fact a direct relation between the poverty of ideas in academic and therapeutic psychology and their insistence upon the practical. To work our answers to psychological questions not only immediately impoverishes the ideational process but also means falling into the pragmatic fallacy.—the assumption that ideas are valued by their usefulness. This fallacy denies our basic premise: that ideas are inseparable from practical actions, and that theory itself is practice; there is nothing more practical than forming ideas and becoming aware of them in their psychological effects. Every theory we hold practices upon us in one way or another, so that ideas are always in practice and do not need to be put there. (Hillman, A Blue Fire, pps. 53-4-5, from Revisioning Psychology, 115-116, 121-123)rfhetypal p

Readers, you and I are exhorted and guided to shift from considering an idea as a concept from the perspective of both intellect/cognition and action….this would remove ideas from a purely ideological, or a theological, or a philosophical or an engineering, legal or medical or scientific perspective and use. This alternative ‘perspective,’ that of psychology, not only perceives the idea, but is enabled to see by the idea, and its import and meaning in considered from within. In a culture in which most of us have been educated, raised, mentored, role-modelled and incentivized by multiple classical conditioning ‘schemes’ to ‘do’ and to ‘implement’ and to ‘perform’ and to ‘provide value’….this process seems counterintuitive to many.

We have been rewarded if and when we brought honour to our family, we won a competition, we passed an examination or graduated from college or university. We have also been rewarded if, upon entering the workplace, we provided insights, ideas and innovations that reduced costs, enhanced sales and revenue, endeared us to the hierarchical structure, and paved the way for potential and actual promotions. We have also been ‘set back’ if and when we ‘failed’ some important test, and we ‘crossed some culturally and conventionally determined ‘line’ or boundary through which experience we ‘learned’ how to ‘succeed,’ and to ‘fit in’. Nuggets of wisdom, gleaned from a special poem or novel, our ‘tips’ for ‘success’ from an admired role-model, were epithets for many of us, that offered both guidance and inspiration. We deployed those ideas, in our ‘idea’ of our own best interests.

The shift Hillman notes, from that perspective, is more than miniscule, psychologically, and personally and professionally.

However, in a manner to evoke not compliance but serious consideration, Hillman goes on to note a profound insight to justify his contention:

…(P)sychological learning or psychologizing seems to represent the soul’s desire for light, like the moth for the flame. The psyche wants to find itself by seeing through; even more, it loves to be enlightened by seeing through itself, as if the very act of seeing through clarified and made the soul transparent—as if psychologizing with ideas were itself an archetypal therapy, enlightening, illumination. The soul seems to suffer when its inward eye is occluded, a victim of overwhelming events. This suggests that all ways of enlightening soul—mystical and meditative, Socratic and dialectic, Oriental and disciplined, psychotherapeutic, and even the Cartesian longing for clear and distinct ideas—arise from the psyche’s need for vision. (Ibid).

Try to imagine a moment, a day, a week or even a month or longer, when your life seemed to be overwhelmed by events, as if the events ‘had’ you by the throat, or had so clouded your capacity to function that you felt lost, ‘out to sea’ perhaps, or ‘falling off a cliff’…..such a moment, perhaps, is the nexus of Hillman’s argument. And, surely we are all conscious or such moments, and also of how we came out on the other side….and how those moments/events have shaped our lives. In such moments, surely ‘our inward eye is occluded, a victim of overwhelming events,’ and any pathway to enlightening that darkness, is eminently worthy of considering.

We can see how important ideas are to the process Hillman is carving through the ‘underbrush’ of clinical and academic psychology. We have previously considered the ‘active imagination’ and what its purpose is NOT. And we already, in several spaces, noted and underlined the significance of images, whether those images carry or convey an idea or not. Just to further enrich this journey into the unknown world of the soul, Hillman provides some guidance as to how, where, and through which of our capacities, we might come to ‘recognize’ a significant image.

Seeing, as through the ‘eye’ is, as we can all agree, not merely observing the external world, in a glance. Indeed, ‘seeing’ is metaphorically a far more intense and complex process in and through which metaphorical ‘insight’ emerges. Hillman suggests this ‘insight’ happens largely because I slowed my reading of the image from narrational sequence (what happened next? and the, and then?) to poetic imagistic reading. In narrational reading, the sense emerges at the end, whereas in imagistic reading there is a sense throughout…..The sense of smell alone may be a better analogy for image-sensing than both seeing and hearing together, because smell is more concrete, and less. Heraclitus…considered smell to be the mode of psychic perception…When Heraclitus further implies that the nostrils are the most distinguishing of the sense organs, and that the gods distinguish by means of aroma, he is referring to invisible perception or the perception of invisibles. Like perceives like: the invisible, intangible, inaudible psyche perceives invisible, intangible essences. Sensate intuition of intuitive sensation. Even the word essence has a double sense: both a highly volatized substance like a perfume and a primary principle seed-idea, form. Smell involves us in what is most sensate and most subtle; primitive and primordial in one and the same sense. (Hillman, A Blue Fire, pps.61-62)

He then goes on, in a response to a hypothetical ‘protester’ to list his reasons for his contention of the sense of smell as an analogy for ‘sensing’ images..These include:

· Smell is more gutsy than sight and sound

· Smell is the most parasitical sense, having hardly any language of its own…smells, like images are reflections, effluvia; smells cannot stand alone and must be linked to an particular body

· Smell refers to a particular image in which the smell inheres.

· Smelling images guards against optical illusions about seeing images…keeping them deliteralized, like archetypes: nonpresentable form.

· Smells are all there at once, like images, less likely to be read narratively

· Smell has a bad connotation, something negative, offensive is carried along with the sense, reminding us of our aversion to images. There is an intolerable aspect to every image, as image.

· The smelled image is both immediate and remembered, both animal and memorial.

· Smells cannot be summoned; we are subject to them, assailed by them, translated into their world. The egoless spontaneity of smell is similar to that of imagining.

· Spontaneity beyond control of will is not beyond limit…it is always of something, so imagining is always held within the bounds of a specific image—this image, right here, under your nose.

Having focused on ideas, and then the analogy of smell as a pathway to recognition of images, Hillman then poses one of his more significant, and perhaps difficult and diffuse notions, for the rational mind that bases its perceptions on the empirical: “Imagination, the ground of CERTAINTY”!

When the mind rests on imaginal firmament, then thinking and imagining no longer divide against each other as they do when the mind is conceived is the categories of nous (intellect). Now, nous can as well by psyche; the noetic, the psychological. Knowledge comes from and feeds the soul, and epistrophe of data to its first meaning ‘gifts.’ Knowledge is received by the soul as understanding, in exchange for which the soul gives to knowledge value and faith. Knowledge can again believe in itself as a virtue. Here is knowledge not opposed to soul, different from feeling or life, academic, scholarly, sheerly intellectual or merely explanatory…but knowledge as a necessity demanded by the silvered mind by means of which the soul can understand itself…..Modern psychological methods of examining images and imagination in terms of sensations or feelings start the wrong way around. Since imagination forms us into our images, to perceive a person’s essence we must look into his imagination and see what fantasy is creating his reality. But to look into imagination we need to look with imagination, imaginatively, searching for images with images. You are given to my imagination by your image, the image of you in your heart…and this image is composed not only of wrinkles, muscles, and colors accreted through your life, thought they make their contribution to its complexity. To see you as you are is an imagination….of structure, the divine image in which your essence is shaped….To read lines on the face of the world we need an animal eye. This eye not only sees man as animal but by means of the animal, seeing each other with an animal eye. To this eye, image and type appear together….The animal eye perceives and reacts to the animal image in the other. (A Blue Fire, pps. 64-5-6-7)
It seems to this ‘animal eye’ and nous, that Frye was echoing some core insights, and Hillman, whether or not he read Frye, is extending both Frye’s thought as well as Jung’s, into a kind of perceptual vortex, merging ideas, images, senses, and myth into a rich and captivating ‘rain forest’ of potential psychic sense. The potential in the process is open to all, irrespective of academic credentials, holy orders, scientific and professional training, or an archive of mythological gods and goddesses.

Neither is the process a ‘free-for-all’ without either intellectual or ethical boundaries, while depending on the active imagination to keep digging, together with a therapist or colleague, sharing a commitment to the process’s value and integrity. Not everyone is or needs to be a published poet, a consummate artist, or a professional composer; yet, we all have an imagination and the inherent interest in mining our ‘ocluded moments’ nor for the ‘right meaning’ but for the meaning that is innately ours.

Are we up for the adventure?

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

More from Mars....

 In the last post in this space, Mars, and the American (and other’s?) love of war, was the focus. Referred to as a template for an introduction to archetypal psychology, this discussion, while not an attempt eliminate war from our consciousness, either individually or collectively, it was an attempt to .a deferential, open and honest acknowledgement of the ‘voice’ of the gods and goddesses, it can be and was intended as a wake-up call.

Hillman, himself, notes his intention to ‘regain the mythical perspective. My thoughts have not bee aimed at finding another literal answer to either war or nuclearism. We each know the literal answer: freeze, diffuse, dismantle disarm. Disarm the positivism but re-arm the god; return arms and their control to the mythical realities that are their ultimate governances. Above all: wake up. To wake up, we need Mars, the God of Awakenings. Allow him to instigate our consciousness so that we may ‘escape the fate of violent death’ and live the martial peace of activism…..How can we lay out the proper field of action for Mars? In what ways can martial love of killing and dying and martial fellowship serve a civilian society? How can we break apart the fusion of the martial and the nuclear? What modes of thought are there for moving the martial away from direct violence toward indirect ritual? Can we bring the questions themselves into the postmodern consciousness of imaginal psychology, deconstruction, and catastrophe theory? Can we discern the positivism and literalism—epitomized by and the fantasy of the ridiculous counting of warheads—that inform current policies before those policies literally and positively deconstruct our life, our history, and our world? Let us invoke Mars. At least once before in our century (20th) he pointed the way. During the years he reigned -1914-1918- he destroyed the nineteenth century mind and brought forth modern consciousness. Could a turn to him now do something similar? Yet Mars wants more than reflection. The ram does not pull back to consider, and iron takes no polish in which it can see itself. Mars demands penetration toward essence, pushing forward ever further into the tangle of danger, and danger now lies in the unthought thicket of our numbed minds. Swords must be beaten into plowshares, hammered, twisted, wrought. Strangely enough, I think this deconstruction is already going on, so banally that we miss it. Is the translation of war from physical battle-field to television screen and space fiction, this translation of literal war into media, mediated war, and the fantasy language of war games, staging areas, theaters of war and theater commanders, worst-case scenarios, rehearsals and the Commander-in-Chief, an actor (Reagan)-is all this possibly pointing to a new mode of ritualizing war by imagining it?....A translation of the bomb into imagination keeps it safe from both military Martialism and civilian Christianism. The first would welcome it for an arm, the second for an Apocalypse. Imagination seems anyway to be the only safe place to keep the bomb: there is no literal positive place on earth where it can be held, as we cannot locate our MX missiles anywhere except as images on a drawing board or dump the wastes from manufacturing them anywhere safe. However-to hold the bomb as image in the mind requires an extra-ordinary extension, and extraordinary daring, in our imagining powers, a revolution of the imagination itself, enthroning it as the main, the greatest reality, because the bomb, which imagination shall contain, is the more powerful image of our age. Brighter than a thousand suns, it is our omnipotent god-term (as Wolfgang Giegerich* has expounded), our mystery that requires constant imaginative propitiation. The translation of bomb into the imagination is a transubstantiation of god to imago dei, deliteralizing the ultimate god-term from positivism to negative theology, a god that is all images. And no more than any other god-term can it be controlled by reason of taken fully literally without hideous consequences. The task of nuclear psychology is a ritual-like devotion to the bomb as image, never letting it slip from its pilar of cloud in the heaven of imagination to rain ruin on the cities of the plain. The Damocles sword of nuclear catastrophe that hangs upon our minds is already producing utterly new patterns of thought about catastrophe itself, a new theology, a new science, a new psychology not only burdening the mind with doom but forcing it into postmodern consciousness, displacing deconstructing, and trashing every fixed surety. Trashing is the symptom, and it indicates a psychic necessity of this age. To trash the end of this century (20th) of its coagulated notions calls for the disciplined ruthlessness and courage of Mars. Deconstructing the blocked mind, opening the way in faith with our rage and fear, stimulating the anaesthetized senses: this is psychic activism of the most intense sort…..Rather than blast the material earth with a bomb, we would deconstruct our entombment in materialism with its justification and salvation by economics. We would bomb the bottom line back to the stone age to find again values that are sensate and alive. Rather than bring time to a close with a bomb, we would deconstruct the positivistic imagination of time that has separated it from eternity. In other words: explode the notions; let them go up in a spirited fire. Explode worldliness, not this world; explode final judgements; explode salvation and redemption and the comings and goings of Messiahs—is not the continual presence of here and now enough for you? Put hope back into the jar of evils and let go your addiction to hopeful fixes. Explode endings and fresh starts and the wish to be born again out of continuity. Release continuity from history: remember the animals and the archaic peoples who have continuity without history….Then timelessness could go right on being revealed without Revelation, the veils of literalism pierced by intelligence, parting and falling to the mind that imagines and so welcomes the veiling. No sudden rendering, no apocalyptic ending; timelessness as the ongoing, the extraordinarily loving, lovable, and terrifying continuity of life. (Hillman, Mythic Figures, pps. 136-7-8-9)

While this eschatological essay/lecture is not written and delivered as an effort specifically appropriate for theology, and even serves as an indictment of the fusion of materialism/literalism/apocaplyticism that includes both redemption and a fixed conception/perception of the universe and our relationship to God, it does open up many issues for the person/nation/planet to consider without relinquishing or abandoning or denying our most life-affirming, complex and essential imagination. The anima mundi, in which we all breathe, exhale, drink and eat, read and think, reflect and pray, worship and grieve, celebrate and love….is a shared “soul” and the care of that “soul” depends on our capacity, willingness and orientation to the discipline of caring for our own soul, and the souls of all other  earthlings.

We are not likely to begin to consider, espouse, embrace and dedicate ourselves to the notion of our shared and essential life-sustaining resources, unless and until we begin to adopt a different way of seeing ourselves, our place in time and our fragility and vulnerability. And while Hillman’s rhetoric itself, has both a ring of and a trumpet blast of the warrior-prophet, his profound insight and empathy and intellectual ethic reverberates throughout this passage.

Nevertheless, in any attempt to reflect critically on our own lives, without the deferral from trauma, the betrayer within, the imagined ‘hero’, the imagined ‘lover’ and partner, and the heroic ‘ego’ that has been the centrepiece of the psychological menu for many decades, our families, our schools, churches, universities and corporations as well as our institutions of the state might like to take a page from the “Mars” playbook, as Hillman has articulated it to counter  the over-weening image of monotheism, literalism, as it has been grafted onto the anima mundi, as well as the definition and conception of the ‘healthy, well-adjusted, mature, admirable, and eminently emulatable human individual. This tectonic shift in how we look at ourselves, each other, and the driving energy of our culture will not be, and cannot be envisaged as a ‘quick-fix’ in order to magically transform the “ship” of our consciousness into a new and different definition of the hero. Indeed, the reverse is not only more likely; it is to be preferred.

There is a very ironic, and even paradoxical aspect to the thinking  of Hillman, who was raised in a Jewish home. In Jewish (Kabbalistic) thought, tsim-tsum, considered as the first step in the process by which God began the process of creation by withdrawing his own essence from the area. From the website, chabad.org, we read: Tsimtsum literally means ‘reduction.’ For a Kabbalist, a tsimtsum is a reduction of the divine energy that creates worlds-something like the transformers that reduce the voltage of the electric leaving the turbine generators, until it’s weak enough for a standard bulb to handle. So too, the divine energy needs to be stepped down so that the created  worlds can handle it.

And while positioning Mars as the wake-up call to re-visioning our dominant intellectual, cultural, religious and ethical/moral beliefs, structures, dogma and especially the images to which we seek to conform, seemingly a rejection of tsimtsum, for Hillman, it is precisely the embrace, in the imagination of all the relevant images in any situation, that can and will bring about the most real and enhanced questions, provocations, and awakenings.

There are so many ‘new’ (yet very old, if we knew and embraced their origin) images that have fallen into disrepute, that nevertheless remain ready for rediscovery, from the perspective of archetypal psychology, for all people, in all faith communities, in all ethnicities and in all periods of history, through an awakened, energized and courageous active imagination.

Hello Mars, welcome to our world!

*Wolfgang Giegerich defines psychology proper as fundamentally separate from the everyday person and the ‘human, all-too-human’ aspects of the soul. (National Library of Medicine, ed.ncbi.nlm.gov. From philpapers.org, in a piece entitled, Soul-Violence: Collected English Papers, Wolfgang Giegerich, by Routledge, (2020) we read: ‘All steps forward in the improvement of the human psyche have been paid for by blood’. Further to this statement from C.G. Jung, Wolfgang Giergerich’s third volume of Collected English Papers shows that the soul is not merely the innocent recipient or victim of violence; it also produces itself through violent deeds and expresses itself through violent acts.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Mars, the God of War, as another window into Hillman's archetypal psychology

In the last post in this space, there was a reference to Ares, (Mars) the God of War as the dominant and perhaps even prevailing archetype in the American anima mundi (world soul). While we can all agree that ‘the gods never act alone,’ it is also clear to anyone open to looking, that Molloch (God of Money) is still screaming and shouting from the tops of mountains, office towers, banks and financial institutions, as well as from the bell-towers of cathedrals, and the podiums in university and college lecture halls and their labs.

Far ahead and far more insightful than any observations this scribe might make, is the LED spotlight that Hillman pours into the perplexing and confounding, seemingly inextricable ensnarement of the United States, in the archetype of war. And consistent with his other thoughts about having to dive deeply into the heart of any matter that requires explication and detachment, he writes an extensive lecture, reprinted in Mythic Figures, ‘Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman, (second edition), Series Editor, Klaus Ottman, Spring Publications, 2021, p. 121, entitled, “Wars, Arms. Rams, Mars”.

Here are some of the insights, repeated for both the reader and the writer, as any attempt to become steeped in the “tea” of Hillman’s thinking is always, and inevitably a work in progress, without a final destination, leaving both the concepts and their application and interpretation flowing in the same river in which we are all trying to stay afloat.

Hillman opens his lecture, (originally delivered to the conference entitled, “Facing Apocalypse” at Salve Regina College, Newport, Rhode Island, June 1983) with a reference to the film “Patton,” the Hollywood depiction of General Patton’s role in the drive of the Third Army across France into Germany in 1944-45. “(He, Patton) walks the field after a battle: churned earth burnt tanks, dead men. The General takes up a dying officer, kisses him, surveys the havoc and says: ‘I love it. God help me, I do love it so. I love it more than my life’.”

Hillman then continues: This scene gives focus to my theme—the love of war, the love in war and for war that is more than ‘my’ life, a love that calls up a dos, that is helped by a god and on a battlefield, a devastated piece of earth that is made sacred by that devastation. I believe that we can never speak sensibly of peace of disarmament unless we enter into this love of war. Unless we enter into the martial state of soul, we cannot comprehend its pull. The special state must be ritualistically entered. We must be ‘inducted,’ and war must be ‘declared’—as one is declared insane, declared married or bankrupt. So we shall try not to ‘go to war’ and this because it is a principle of psychological method that any phenomenon to be understood must be emphatically imagined. To know war we must enter its love. No psychic phenomenon can be truly dislodged from its fixity unless we first move the imagination into its heart. War is a psychological task….It is especially a psychological task because philosophy and theology have failed its overriding importance. War has been set aside as history, when it then becomes a subchapter called military history. Or war has been placed outside the mainstream of thought into think tanks. So we need to lift this general repression, attempting to bring to war an imagination that respects its primordial significance. My method of heading right in, of penetrating rather than circumambulating or reflecting, is itself martial. We shall be invoking the god of the topic by this approach to the topic. (op. cit., p 121-122)

Those proponents of both philosophy and theology, especially the latter, will

already be “up in arms” in protest of Hillman’s observation that war is a psychological task “because philosophy and theology have failed its overriding importance.” This quote from ww1.ophen.org, in an essay entitled, The Great War and Modern Philosophy, supports Hillman’s contention about philosophy:

…(T)he war motivated an historically singular mobilization of philosophers to write about the war during the years of conflict; significant works of philosophy were written during the war years and immediately thereafter…Surprisingly, while the impact of war on literature, poetry, and the arts, political thought has been a subject of intense inquiry and interpretation, the significance of war for modern philosophy remains relatively unexamined, often misunderstood of simply taken for granted.

Subjects like ‘what constitutes the just war’ or the concept of the abandonment of war altogether, while part of the writing of philosophical offerings about war, do not delve into its philosophical implications, as Hillman sees their efforts. It would be reasonable to posit that either or both of these arguments are intimately embedded in the question of the morality of war. Similarly, the Bible, as articulated in a work entitled, “War, Moral or Immoral, the Biblical Doctrine of War, by Jr. R. B. Thieme, is briefly described on the Amazon website in these words: “Whether you like it or not, the Bible teaches that justified warfare is moral- war that is necessary to protect your country and defend your freedoms!. Immoral acts may be committed in war; but the principle of war is moral when war becomes necessary-not immoral.” Aquinas, the Roman theologian argues, in Summa Theologia, (Wikipedia.org) that there are conditions to be met in order to justify war:

· It must be waged on the command of a rightful sovereign

· It must be waged for just cause or to address some wrong

· Warriors must have the ‘right intent’ to promote good and to avoid evil.

Even the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, lists four strict conditions for ‘legitimate defense by military force:

§ Damage inflicted by the aggressor on the community of nations must be lasting, grave and certain

§ All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective

§ There must be serious prospects of success

§ The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.

The War and Peace section of the Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church….offers criteria of distinguishing between an aggressive wa, which is unacceptable, and a justified war, attributing the highest moral and sacred value of military acts of bravery to a true believer who participates in a justified war. (Wikipedia.org)

This document also accepts the Catholic rationale for the justified war.

After reading and transcribing some of these notes, I am prompted to recall a former friend, a man who was born to a Jewish family, who, upon facing the ‘draft’ in the United States, as part of the engagement of that country in Viet Nam, came to Canada and joined the Quaker Society of Friends, a religious group that denounces war. I am also prompted to recall another class-mate who, as a Canadian, enlisted in the American military, served in Viet Nam, returned to Canada to study theology and subsequently, after declaring a family rule that no one was permitted to speak about the war, suffered a massive cardiac event.


After detailing the weapons, the music, the manners, the names, the spit and polish that depicts, enshrines and ennobles the military in the United States, Hillman writes poignantly these words:

Our American consciousness has extreme difficulty with Mars. Our founding documents and legends portray the inherent non-martial bias of our civilian democracy…Compared with our background in Europe, Americans are idealistic: war has no place. It should not be. War is not glorious, triumphal, creative as to a warrior class in Europe from Rome and the Normans through the Crusades even to the Battle of Britain. We may be a violent people but not a warlike people—and our hatred of war makes us use violence against even war itself…Our so-called  double-speak about armaments as ‘peacekeepers’ reflects truly how we think. War is bad, exterminate war and keep peace violently: punitive expeditions, pre-emptive strikes, send in the Marines. More firepower means surer peace. We enact the blind god’s blindness (Mars Caecus, as the Romans called him and Mars insanus, furibundus (frenzied, maddened), omnipotens), like Grant’s and Lee’s men in the Wilderness, like the bombing of Dresden, overkill as a way to end war…..Gun control is a further case in point. It raises profound perplexities ion a civilian society. The right to bear arms (in the U.S.) is constitutional, and our nation and its territorial history (for better or worse) have depended on a citizen-militia’s familiarity with weapons. But that was when the rifle and Bible (together with wife and dog) went alone into the wilderness. The gun was backed by a god; when it stood in the corner of the household, pointing upward like the Roman spear that was Mars, the remembrance of the god was there, and the awe and even some ceremony. With the neglect of Mars, we are left only the ego and the guns that we try to control civilian secular laws. If in the arms is the god, then arms control requires at least partly, if not ultimately, a religious approach…..We worry about nuclear accident, but what we call ‘accident’ is the autonomy of the inhuman. Arms, as instruments of death, are sacred objects that remind mortals that we are not athnetos, immortal. The fact that arms control negotiations take on more and more ritualistic postures rather than negotiating positions also indicates the transcendent power of the arms over those who would bring them under control Military expenditures, of course, ‘overrun’ and handguns ‘get out of hand.’  I do not believe arms control can come about until the essential nature of arms if first recognized. (James Hillman, Mythic Figures, p.127-8-9)

Here in this passage, lie many of the fundamental, foundational ‘stones’ of the edifice Hillman is attempting to build in his exploration of what he terms ‘archetypal psychology’. The former acknowledgement of the god of War, as a quasi-religious significant feature in the lives of Americans, yet a different and separate entity and a different purpose and relationship for humans from the religious “God” and the Bible, and the disavowing of such a mythic ‘deity’ in favour of both ego and literal “personal security” goes to the heart of his perspective. Further excavation of Mar’s blindness, as a feature of the American anima mundi, illustrates, rather than a denial of his appropriation of the Roman god of War, but a full acknowledgement, disclosure and exposure of the god’s imperfection. For many readers, it may seem both improbable and literally  impossible to have a ‘god’ even in the mythic sense, who exhibits an inherent blindness.

Our use of, and comprehension of the word and concept “god” in and to the literal, while eliminating the metaphoric features of that word, is another of the blindnesses Hillman is attempting to unveil. The very existence of the mythic gods and goddesses, for Hillman, in and through both their acknowledgement and their embrace, as portrayals of the anima mundi, is a parallel he deploys in his explication of a psychology of the ‘abnormal’ among human individuals. And my referencing Mars, in all of ‘his’ strength and vulnerability, is one attempt to pave a pathway for a neophyte’s grasp of and significance of what Hillman is trying to share with his readers.

In another exploration of Mars, Hillman makes reference to the Roman Republic, where he was most developed as a distinct figure, (Mars) was placed in a Champs de Mars, a field, a terrain. He was so earthbound that many scholars trace the origins of the Mars cult to agriculture….Mars did not belong to the city. The focus of martial activity has usually been less the conquest of cities than or terrain and the destruction of armies occupying terrain. Even the naval war in the Pacific (19410-45) followed this classical intentions of gaining area. The martial commander must sense the lay of the land. He is a geographer. The horse (an animal of Mars) was so essential for martial peoples because horses could realize the strategy of winning terrain. Martial strategy is archetypally geopolitical. (Mythic Figures, p. 130-131)

And lest we be induced into thinking that Hillman is ‘fighting the last war’ as the cliché about the contemporary military establishment alleges, he is quick to draw from the nuclear age.

Hillman writes:

The nuclear imagination, in contrast, calculates in terms of cities, and its destructive fantasies necessarily include civilians. The city (and thus the civilization), whether taken out by ICBM’s or kept as intact prizes by the neutron weapon) is the main focus of nuclear imagination. The land between Kiev and Pittsburgh (hence Europe) is relatively irrelevant. (More about this from the perspective of 2023 below.) A second contrast between the martial and the nuclear: Mars moves in close, hand-to-hand, Mars propior and propinquus. Bellona (Ancient Roman goddess of war) is a fury, the blood-dimmed tide, the red fog of intense immediacy. No distance. Acquired skills become instantaneous as in the martial arts. The nuclear imagination, in contrast, invents at even greater distance-intercontinental, the bottom of the sea, outer space. Because of the time delay caused by distance, the computer becomes the essential nuclear weapon. The computer is the only way to regain the instantaneity given archetypally with Mars. The computer controls nuclear weapons, is their governor. Whereas the martial is contained less by fail-safe devices and rational computation than by military ritual of disciplined hierarchy, practiced skill, repetition, code, and inspection. And by the concrete obstacles of geography: commissary trains, hedgerows, bad weather impedimenta. (Hillman, op. cit. p 130-131)

Another enriching and enhancing deployment of the deep and searching active imagination arises in the evocation of Bellona, and continues the depiction of the anima mundi, as “doing psychology” from the perspective of the ‘active imagination, in and through the images of the gods and goddesses, in this instance, of war.

It is this perspective or the poetic basis of mind, expressed in and through the active imagination, courageously and diligently and relentlessly seeking for our psychic ancestors, as a way to restore psychology to what Hillman considers its rightful place in our panoply of disciplines. And this ‘poetic basis of mind’ and its agent, the active imagination, is accessible to everyone. Here is the nexus of the scribe’s interest in archetypal psychology and Hillman’s insights, intuition, including its depth and breadth of range. We are far more complex than our literal, nominal, empirical, and reductionistic vernacular and the parsing of exigent behaviour into merely moral opposites for the purpose of intervening and correcting.

Indeed, paradoxically, it is in our very dependence on the literal that we become ensnared, in a manner of self-sabotage, whether conscious or not, in our own blindnesses, denials, and paralyses. Naturally, we can assume that Hillman is not a war-monger; nor is he not deeply cognizant of all of the many historic, psychic, theatric and poetic features of our relationship with war and the military. Indeed, it is his very diligent and perceptive and imaginative and resourceful re-visiting of those voices that have planted many of the seeds of our collective and our individual psychic realities, most of which we are innocently unaware.

Not only is Hillman offering a cosmic ‘wake-up’ call, to individuals, but he is also offering a similar psychic alarm to the anima mundi.

Can and will we hear him?