Archetypal Psychology – a Brief Account, Part I

As a lasting legacy to James Hillman, Spring publications has been publishing his writings in a 10 volume set called the Uniform Edition. The latest of these offerings now available in both cloth-bound and for Kindle readers, is his Archetypal Psychology, described by Spring as:

“Originally written for the Italian Enciclopedia del Novecento, this indispensable book is a concise, instructive introduction to polytheism, Greek mythology, the soul-spirit distinction, anima mundi, psychopathology, soul-making, imagination, therapeutic practice, and the writings of C. G. Jung, Henry Corbin, and Adolf Portmann in the formulation of the field of Archetypal Psychology.”

The book was written as an overview of what Hillman came to call Archetypal Psychology in distinction to Jung’s Analytical Psychology, or Freud’s Psychoanalytic theory. Unlike the legacy of Feud and Jung and their schools of thought, Hillman did not want to create a formal school with a following, and especially not one that advanced a training program for a therapeutic practice.

The book is brief and includes a comprehensive listing of resources that extends beyond his own works to include all those who have either influenced or collaborated with Hillman.

This list is intended as a tool for those interested in archetypal psychology. Works were selected for inclusion if they are important sources for, or are clearly within the tradition of archetypal psychology. We hope to have included the most significant works of those who have published in the field.

 

We begin with a definition of Archetypal Psychology:

It is a psychology deliberately affiliated with the arts, culture, and the history of ideas, arising as they do from the imagination. The term “archetypal,” in contrast to “analytical,” which is the usual appellation for Jung’s psychology, was preferred not only because it reflected “the deepened theory of Jung’s later work that attempts to solve psychological problems beyond scientific models” (Hillman 1970 b); it was preferred more importantly because “archetypal” belongs to all culture, all forms of human activity, and not only to professional practitioners of modern therapeutics.

By traditional definition, archetypes are the primary forms that govern the psyche. But they cannot be contained only by the psyche, since they manifest as well in physical, social, linguistic, aesthetic, and spiritual modes. Thus, archetypal psychology’s first links are with culture and imagination rather than with medical and empirical psychologies, which tend to confine psychology to the positivistic manifestations of the nineteenth-century condition of the soul.

Moving archetypal psychology away from the “professional practitioners of modern therapeutics” invites a larger audience, an audience not necessarily coming out of the milieu of psychopathology, but from a broader spectrum of the culture – to read, study and reflect on the nature of psyche or soul moving ideas back into the arenas of our world; arts, music, literature, politics, science, technology and religion, places where we not only live out our calling, but where we meet one another and make soul, both on a personal level and through a shared world of Anima Mundi, or soul of the world.

Hillman acknowledges the significance of the work of C.G. Jung and particularly for his extensive research into the common motifs seen throughout the ages in mythology, ritual, religion, archeology and for the ongoing significance of archetypal patterns still found today:

jung1

From Jung comes the idea that the basic and universal structures of the psyche, the formal patterns of its relational modes, are archetypal patterns. These are like psychic organs, congenitally given with the psyche itself (yet not necessarily genetically inherited), even if somewhat modified by historical and geographical factors. These patterns or archai appear in the arts, religions, dreams, and social customs of all peoples, and they manifest spontaneously in mental disorders. For Jung, they are anthropological and cultural, and also spiritual in that they transcend the empirical world of time and place and, in fact, are in themselves not phenomenal. Archetypal psychology, in distinction to Jungian, considers the archetypal to be always phenomenal (Avens 1980), thus avoiding the Kantian idealism implied in Jung (de Voogd 1977).

Hillman understood these patterns as not only an aspect of psychopathology, but that of everyday human experience. We are all in psyche, living through the lens of fantasy, personifying archetypal patterns that speak through us.

The primary, and irreducible, language of these archetypal patterns is the metaphorical discourse of myths. These can therefore be understood as the most fundamental patterns of human existence. To study human nature at its most basic level, one must turn to culture (mythology, religion, art, architecture, epic, drama, ritual) where these patterns are portrayed. The full implication of this move away from biochemical, socio-historical, and personal-behavioristic bases for human nature toward the imaginative has been articulated by Hillman as “the poetic basis of mind.

Hillman refers to Jung as the first father of archetypal psychology naming the Parisian Islamic scholar, Henri Corbin as the second father. From Corbin we understand image as an unmediated, primary, pre-lingual phenomena from which all else follows. So rather than imagination being in us, we are in psyche, we are being imagined by powers (archai) we pretend to understand.

But more important than the ontological placing of archetypal realities is the double move of Corbin: (a) that the fundamental nature of the archetype is accessible to imagination first and presents itself first as image, so that (b) the entire procedure of archetypal psychology as a method is imaginative. Its exposition must be rhetorical and poetic, its reasoning not logical, and its therapeutic aim neither social adaptation nor personalistic individualizing, but rather a work in service of restoration of the patient to imaginal realities. The aim of therapy is the development of a sense of soul, the middle ground of psychic realities, and the method of therapy is the cultivation of imagination.

 

Archetypal psychology seeks to reorder the place of image by placing us in image. The reasons for this come clearer in the discussion that follows.

The source of images – dream images, fantasy images, poetic images – is the self-generative activity of the soul itself. In archetypal psychology, the word “image” therefore does not refer to an afterimage, the result of sensations and perceptions; nor does “image” mean a mental construct that represents in symbolic form certain ideas and feelings it expresses. In fact, the image has no referent beyond itself, neither proprioceptive, external, nor semantic: “Images don’t stand for anything” (Hillman 1978). They are the psyche itself in its imaginative visibility; as primary datum, image is irreducible.

Therefore, Hillman sees the attempt to see the image as the product of the imagination as backwards. The image is primary.

…all empirical studies on imagination, dream, fantasy, and the creative process in artists, as well as methods of rêve dirigé, will contribute little to a psychology of the image if they start with the empirics of imagining rather than with the phenomenon of the image – which is not a product of imagining. Empirical approaches of analyzing and guiding images strive to gain control over them.

My sense of Hillman is that he is appealing to us for an acceptance of living with ambiguity, fluidity, metaphor and desire that is not resolved by the finality of any state of being such as wholeness, individuation and salvation might suggest.

An image always seems more profound (archetypal), more powerful (potential), and more beautiful (theophanic) than the comprehension of it, hence the feeling, while recording a dream, of seeing through a glass darkly. Hence, too, the driving necessity in the arts, for they provide complicated disciplines that can actualize the complex virtuality of the image.

In part II, we’ll look at the archetypal image itself and explore the implications of Hillman’s idea that the image is primary and therefore universal, regardless of age, gender, religion, ethnicity, nationality, time or geographical location – to an understanding of the nature of image and how our sense of self and cosmology is both guided and misguided by how we are lived by their invisible presence in our lives.

An arche-typal image is psychologically “universal,” because its effect amplifies and depersonalizes. Even if the notion of image regards each image as an individualized, unique event, as “that image there and no other,” such an image is universal because it resonates with collective, trans-empirical importance.

All excerpts from: Hillman, James (2013-09-18). Archetypal Psychology (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman). Spring Publications. Kindle Edition.

20 thoughts on “Archetypal Psychology – a Brief Account, Part I

  1. Some part of me already understands the preverbal layers. This sort of exploration, though engaged through words, puts me in a wordless place where no explanation is needed, dancing in your finely tuned paradox. Thank you, Debra!

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  2. Thanks for your comment on my last post, I responded although my response does not appear below your comment, and I want to add that your comment reminds me that reading thinkers like Hillman or Jung is a process that develops over time, often measured in decades. I enjoy how in this post you relate the work of Hillman and Jung to our everyday experience of images, of symbols, of the unconscious.

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    • Thanks Paul, and for telling me about your reply on your blog. WordPress doesn’t always let you know about the replies 🙂
      Yes, decades, agreed. Life’s work, very gratifying, and always with us along the trail.

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    • Thanks Henry! Me too. It’s helpful for me in acknowledging that language feels like the translation of raw immediate experience into words.
      Language is magical, and necessary, but always perhaps an approximation of what it tries to convey.

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  3. “The source of images – dream images, fantasy images, poetic images – is the self-generative activity of the soul itself.” 🙂 Wonderful post. Thank you for sharing.

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  4. “…Images don’t stand for anything” (Hillman 1978). They are the psyche itself in its imaginative visibility; as primary datum, image is irreducible.”

    I find this deeply profound and I’m pondering on it at length. Wonderfully challenging post Debra – Thank you.

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    • Likewise Monika!
      These are big, seemingly bottomless worlds to navigate. I so appreciate your, I am tempted to call it mythographical skills at displaying the mythical figures and their correlations with each other and sharing the richness of their imagery and stories.
      Thank you 🙂

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  5. My sense of Hillman is that he is appealing to us for an acceptance of living with ambiguity, fluidity, metaphor and desire that is not resolved by the finality of any state of being such as wholeness, individuation and salvation might suggest. ~ This seems to me like the key to living life on its own terms, in the moment with an open heart and acceptance of what is.

    wonderful Debra! I hope at some point you will delve into the Red Book, I have yet to get my hands on one 🙂

    in light,
    Linda

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    • Thanks Linda!
      Yes, I am mid-way through the Red Book. Love to read Jung’s account of such raw encounters with these figures. It’s a lot to take in, so I read a bit and put it down.
      I don’t often do this, but I have about 4 books I am reading and today I bought a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.
      Yes, life on its own terms…heart open, acceptance, that’s it, and everyday another chance to practice.
      Hugs,
      Debra

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