It has been a wonderful adventure re-reading and sharing here James Hillman’s wonderful book Alchemical Psychology. Every time I read Hillman I am inspired to keep digging the well that continues to give me sustenance, joy and the feeling that life does make sense. The writing of this series is my attempt to pay tribute to Hillman by presenting a smattering of his writing to you, along with a few of my own thoughts. Hillman has had a profound and lasting influence on my life and my intent here is to be true enough to the gift he has given me – keeping alive his spirit by passing along a bit of his writing to you. Links to parts One through Seven of this series of posts can be found on the Index page of the blog.
Hillman begins the last chapter of Alchemical Psychology by referring to Jung’s final work, Mysterium Coniunctionis in which Jung refers to the idea of the Caelum as:
‘ “a Heavenly Spirit that makes its way into the essential forms of things” ;
the “anima mundi in matter,”
“the truth itself,”
“a universal medicine,”
“a window into eternity,”
radiating “a magic power,”
“the unus mundus”
“unio mystica with the potential world, or mundus archetypus”
and the final realization of the alchemical opus. We are headed to the edge.’
The chapter begins with a reflection about transcendent experience from a poem by Lisel Mueller partly quoted here:
“I will not return to a universe of objects that don’t know each other, as if islands were not the lost children of one great continent. The world is flux, and light becomes what it touches, becomes water, lilies on water, above and below water, becomes lilac and mauve and yellow and white and cerulean lamps, small fists passing sunlight so quickly to one another that it would take long, streaming hair inside my brush to catch it.”
And a story about Gustav Fechner, a 19th century German Philosopher and Experimental Psychologist who lost his sight for a while becoming completely house-bound when upon regaining his sight experienced the things of the world anew, as if now radiating light from within:
“I stepped out for the first time from my darkened chamber and into the garden … It seemed to me like a glimpse beyond the boundary of human experience. Every flower beamed upon me with a peculiar clarity, as though into the outer light it was casting a light of its own.”
About Fechner’s return to the world Hillman says:
“The book on the soul that followed his return to life was subtitled “a walk through the visible world in order to find the invisible.” Fechner now wore blue glasses. To protect his eyes? Or to protect his vision from the materialist perspective that preceded his blindness and which he now called the “night world”, i.e., the nigredo from which he had emerged.”
We don’t need science to point out what the poets and many others have always known to be true.
This last stage is a return to blue, although not the blue of “the Blues,” that we find in an earlier stage of Alchemy discussed in chapter two of Hillman’s book.
This blue is that which connects heaven and earth and is indeed the marriage of spirit and matter.
In 1944 Carl Gustav Jung suffered a heart attack that brought him very close to death in which he experienced what might be called a Near Death experience. What he experienced was a lifting up from earth into the heavens in which he then sees the beautiful blue world below:
“I experienced dreams and visions which must have begun when I hung on the edge of death … I had reached the outermost limit … It seemed to me that I was high up in space. Far below I saw the globe of the earth, bathed in a gloriously blue light. I saw the deep blue sea and the continents … its global shape shone with a silvery gleam through the wonderful blue light. ”
Hillman sees the common thread running through these blue visions as a move towards the edge, which bring a unifying sense of the matter and spirit in the cosmos.
“Again that theme: cosmos without horizon, without partitions, as if a deeper layer of existence, which is “the foundation of the world of objects,” and is initiated by the blue experience.”
Jung, deeply touched, describes his experience as a rebirth:
“The being which had been reborn in me … with a sudden shudder of happiness … is nourished only by the essences of things … A minute freed from the order of time has recreated in us, to feel it, the man freed from the order of time.”
I have come to accept the existence of deeper spiritual layers that cannot be adequately defined by the conventional concept of time. The logical consequence of this is that death of the single individual in these layers does not have its usual meaning, for they always go beyond personal life. ”
This idea of going beyond the personal may perhaps need some clarification. Transcending the personal does not mean leaving it behind in favor of a greater and more glorious transcendent world. I do worry that some may read into this that a move beyond the personal is a goal in which we attempt to abandon the personal mundane aspects of our lives. I do not see transcendence as a state to be achieved in which we leave behind the material, personal nature of our lives, but one in which a bridge between the two is built. The physical form of our bodies, our earthly life including the material nature of things, with their height, weight, birth and death are as much intended and necessary as is the spiritual and psychic nature that enliven us.
It also worth keeping in mind that these states are not limited to a chosen few, but available to us all. Many of us not only sense that there is more to this life than our physical, visible world, but that being inclined to favor one over the other is just as unsatisfying as being stuck in the mud of physical existence pining for the freedom of a purely spiritual existence. It’s the marriage of the two worlds that brings joy and ignites the passion of the creative force that delivers the gifts that each of us is to give.
Hillman puts it this way:
“Embodiment: is that not what is meant by macrocosm and microcosm together, a unus mundus? If embodiment is presaged already in the “blues” that sing of sadness and pull the soul down into the body’s longings and mournings, then the caelum expands skyward (Jung’s vision in the hospital, Pauli’s cosmic clock), the senses awakened to the presence of the whole wide world, urged forward as Miles Davis felt, enlivened as Proust says, as Fechner perceiving the dazzling flowers. Blue initiates “the birth of the aesthetic sense.” ‘
“As I contemplate the blue of the sky I am not set over against it as an acosmic subject; I do not possess it in thought, or spread out toward it some idea of blue … I abandon myself to it and plunge into this mystery, it ‘thinks itself within me,’ I am the sky itself [my italics] as it is drawn together and unified … my consciousness is saturated with this limitless blue.”
The point again having more to do with the marriage; an aesthetic sense of our lives which we find in the stories, display, or “things as they are.” Hillman rightly worries that his former profession, Psychology, has dropped the Psyche in favor of the Ology, boxing the soul in with formulas for interpretations rather than letting our stories show us where we are and “which god we have followed home.”
Hillman frequently insists that by sticking to the image, we will see what is there to be seen and that moving away from the image risks replacing them with concepts and formulas that move us away from the phenomena of the world, rather than towards it, in which we can then welcome what is trying to be born.
“Alchemy caught me and taught me with its aesthetics – its colors and minerals, its paraphernalia, freaks, and enigmatic imagistic instructions. It is like a vast collective artwork built through centuries. It offers an aesthetic psychology: a myriad of aperçus, images, sayings, stories, formulae; and all the while engaged with the matters of nature. It tells us to throw away the book of conceptual systems; no need for male and female, typology, stages, opposites, transference, self. Conceptual systems may be useful as a scaffolding for better access to the massa confusa, which alchemy presents to a logocentric mind. Too soon, however, the conceptual scaffold replaces alchemy itself, reducing it to merely providing examples to support the conceptual scaffold. ¡Que lastima!”
There is much more to this book than I could possibly present here, but I will stop here with Hillman’s nod to astrology in which he so beautifully summarizes the Caelum:
“The caelum, then, is an aesthetic condition of mind, on which the entire opus depends. Envision it as a night sky filled with airy bodies of the gods, those astrological images that are at once beasts and geometry and participate in all things of the world as their imaginal ground. The caelum does not take place in your head, in your mind, but your mind moves in the caelum, touches the constellations. The thick and hairy skull opens to let in more light, their light, making possible a grand new idea of order, a cosmological imagination whose thought speaks for the cosmos in the aesthetic forms of images.”
Hillman, James (2011-10-10). Alchemical Psychology (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman). Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
Links to all posts in this series:
Colour My World , Alchemical Psychology, Part I – Black http://wp.me/pZ0y1-T7
Alchemical Psychology, Part II – Blue http://wp.me/pZ0y1-TA
Alchemical Psychology, Part III – Silver http://wp.me/pZ0y1-Um
Alchemical Psychology, Part IV – White http://wp.me/pZ0y1-UT
Alchemical Psychology, Part V – Yellow http://wp.me/pZ0y1-WV
Alchemical Psychology, Part VI – Red http://wp.me/pZ0y1-XT
Alchemical Psychology, Part VII – Air http://wp.me/pZ0y1-11b
Alchemical Psychology, Part VIII – Caelum http://wp.me/Z0y1