Next, in James Hillman’s book, Anima, the Anatomy of a Personified Notion, he considers whether or not ego, understood here as the most dominant part of our conscious experience and the agent of our identity, is a syzygy of anima and animus. Fascinating idea that can best be considered within the context of western cultural consciousness. While equally fascinating, there isn’t time here to fully consider the conscious experience of other cultures, or the possibility of an emerging global consciousness. Let’s begin with some quotes from the book (I can never do this book justice in these brief posts, and so do highly recommend Hillman’s book to anyone interested in the subject). First, from Jung, who remains the springboard for Hillman’s ideas:

Together they [anima and animus] form a divine pair … the divine syzygy … (CW   9.2: 41; cf. 25– 42)

… the syzygy motif … expresses the fact that a masculine element is always paired with a feminine one. (CW   9.1: 134)

Hillman uses these quotes to emphasize that pairings, often understood and expressed as opposites in our culture, are also a syzygy; tandem, interpenetrated couplings, which constellate together, often without our awareness of their interrelatedness. Within a syzygy of anima and animus Hillman notes the difficulty of seeing the pair together while one or the other always filters the lens of our perception:

For if anima has been the subject of investigation, animus has been the investigator. Or does it work the other way around – if animus has been the logos plan and the activity of making words serve critical discrimination, anima has been feathering those words and guiding their direction with her fantasies.

Australian Pelicans (Pelecanus conspicillatus), Claremont, Tasmania, Australia.
Anima and animus, as do all archetypes, show up in an inseparable tandem. Even more accurate, archetypal influence always comes to us in personified, but less than pure forms. It is the particular nature of the animus, or egoic, seemingly objective perception, that seeks to separate archetypal influence into pure forms. We see these personified notions in mythological beings with their specificity expressed in story by the roles they play in relationships to other personified forms. We also see and live it in our day-to-day lives. Jung concurs:

From this fact we may reasonably conclude that man’s imagination is bound by this [syzygy] motif, so that he was largely compelled to project it again and again, at all times and in all places” (CW   9.1: 120).

Imagination, remember, is not that thing we are told to develop for creative endeavors, but, for better or worse, it is the means by which we perceive and function psychologically. Hillman reminds us that the word psychology itself is a syzygy, and that neither he, nor his essay (or mine for that matter), is free from archetypal influence, and yet, psychology, at its best is the awareness and acceptance of the bounds of archetypal syzygies:

This essay is a mythical activity of anima coming on as a critical activity of animus. Yet, just this is psychology, the interpenetration of psyche and logos, within the bounds of the syzygy who sets the limits to our psychological field so that we cannot imagine beyond it.

Our western culture in particular seems to struggle with the acceptance of any limits of objectivity, while curiously ever reminding ourselves and others of the subjectivity that colors all opinion. Syzygy in action? Hillman suggests that a way to deepen our reflections beyond oppositional thinking and pairing, would be to shift the emphasis in our perception from the standpoint of animus, or the objective mode, to that of anima, by reimagining pairs, not as opposites, but through a variety of forms of relationship:

To imagine in pairs and couples is to think mythologically. Mythical thinking connects pairs into tandems rather than separating them into opposites which is anyway a mode of philosophy. Opposites lend themselves to very few kinds of description: contradictories, contraries, complementaries, negations – formal and logical. Tandems, however, like brothers or enemies or traders or lovers show endless varieties of styles. Tandems favor intercourse – innumerable positions. Opposition is merely one of the many modes of being in a tandem.

I so love his thinking here. How often do I find myself ready to do battle, whether interiorly, or exteriorly, as ideas and relationships often present as opposites, and opposites in turn often present themselves as being in conflict. I continually need to remind myself that life, and the ten thousand moments that make up a day, are not battles to be won, opinions to own or disown, but call for more and deeper reflection of the many other possible ways of perceiving all that presents itself at each moment.

Habsburg Peacock“ with the coats of arms of the Habsburg lands, Augsburg 1555

Along the same lines of thinking, it’s helpful to see that pairings do have a purpose. Because of their contrasting characteristics, we readily see them. That which eludes our consciousness is often too smeary and unclear to apprehend. Ironically, the more multiple the personified mythological, archetypal forms present themselves to us, the more unified they may seem. This is similar to seeing the forest from a distance in which the tree is no longer distinct enough to see. Alchemically speaking, this unity/multiplicity mode is often imaged as the feathers of the peacock.

Perhaps too, the tendency towards perceiving pairings and oppositional thinking arises psychologically so readily because it does so physically through the human experience of gender.

Nonetheless, essential to thinking in syzygies is thinking in genders. Unfortunately, the next step in analytical psychology has been identifying these genders with actual men and women, coupling kinds of syzygies between man-and-anima, woman-and-animus, man-and-woman, and fourth, anima-and-animus, even with diagrams, for example, the lengthy discussion of the Gnostic symbol of the Self.

Hillman reminds us, as do the alchemists, among others, who said, “as above, so below,” that whatever is going on externally has an internal correlation.

Projections occur between parts of the psyche, not only outside into the world. They occur between internal persons and not only onto external people.

A Hebe wants a Hercules and Hercules does it for Hebe – and not just on the college campus between cheerleader and linebacker but “in here.” My hebephrenic soul, young and silly and tied by social conventions, the bride and her shower, produces an ego that comes home like a hero showing off and bearing trophies. Or, within the smiling, innocent girl is ruthless ambition in a lion’s skin, forever wrestling Old Age and able to harrow Hell itself.

As in alchemy, images of the goal are often hermaphroditic, which curiously seem to be much more externally present in our western culture. Perhaps these images, literalized or not, express a cultural pregnancy awaiting a birth of a more psychological nature. I’d like to think so, even while remaining cautiously optimistic, and without an expectation or an understanding of what, or to where, that birthing might take us. A good quote to end with:

The objective spirit, that goal of our Western intellectual endeavor, is an attempt of the soul to free itself by means of the animus from the valley of its attachments. And the figure in dreams who judges is the one who both frees us from anima imprisonments and sentences us with his opinions. To consider every position in terms of the syzygy reflects a “hermaphroditic” consciousness in which the One and the Other are co-present, a priori, at all times, a hermetic duplicity and Aphroditic coupling going on in every event.

All quotes, except as noted, Hillman, James; Jung, C.G. (2015-08-14). Anima: Anatomy of a Personified Notion. Spring Publications. Inc.. Kindle Edition.

18 thoughts on “Syzygy

  1. I so enjoyed reading your post Debra …I’m sorry I seem to have lost track of you but now hope to receive notifications of your postings …a blessing to find you again , love , megxxx


  2. So fascinating, Debra. I am definitely going to grab this book as soon as I can. A lot of Hillman’s quotes you included resonated with me ( reading it at the hour of the lunar eclipse – the time of syzygy!) but especially this one: “within the smiling, innocent girl is ruthless ambition in a lion’s skin, forever wrestling Old Age and able to harrow Hell itself.” Hell yeah 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Monika,

      In the middle of reading my old hard copy, the book was released in Kindle form, which is not only cheaper, but so great for making notes and bookmarking passages too.

      This book is also unusual as Hillman took great pains to place Jung’s passages as”scripta,” side by side his own writing.

      Wow, it is astrologically a syzygy now? How cool is that? Is a syzygy in astrology have any psychological correlation to the idea of pairings? I’ve heard the term, but don’t know much about it. And although it’s tempting to say that I did not know about the current syzygy, perhaps some part of me did?
      And yes, as you say, Hell yes! Loved Hillman’s image and certainly have encountered that girl, inside and out.
      Love to you too!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I enjoyed your writing and sharing of Hillman and Jung, Debra. Your timing is fascinating to me as I have been contemplating a similar theme in writing about the upcoming Mercury retrograde in Libra- Mercury being a figure unifying opposites, going both ways, and Libra being a sign of finding balance within extremes. with gratitude, Gray


    1. Hi Gray,
      Interesting to hear that the Mercury theme is afloat! As has become the norm for me lately, I write when I feel compelled by an insight, usually inspired by reading or noticing something.

      I didn’t post the quotes here, but Hermes/Mercury comes up in Hillman’s book. He quotes Jung:

      “Together they [the anima and animus] form a divine pair, one of whom … is … rather like Hermes … while the other … wears the features of Aphrodite, Helen (Selene), Persephone, and Hecate. Both of them are unconscious powers, “gods” in fact” … (CW   9.2: 41)

      And Hillman makes a connection to Hermes through Eros and Aphrodite pointing out that although anima may initiate a sexual or romantic seduction, Hermes, is never far away from Eros, often acting as a bridge to something capable of moving the soul right along with the body.

      It’s exciting to me that these ideas of reflecting deeper on opposites and as you say, “finding balance within extremes” are showing up for a lot of us. Sometimes I wonder if the extreme polarizations seen in the collective atmosphere right now are pushing some of us into a third position; a triangulation of sorts.

      Looking forward to reading any future writings you may post on this theme!


      Liked by 3 people

      1. [It’s exciting to me that these ideas of reflecting deeper on opposites and as you say, “finding balance within extremes” are showing up for a lot of us. Sometimes I wonder if the extreme polarizations seen in the collective atmosphere right now are pushing some of us into a third position; a triangulation of sorts.] Your comment and this conversation makes me wonder about Robert Anton Wilson’s idea of the Reality Tunnel, which is that each of us looks at the world through a tunnel – and that the actual reality is greater than or bigger than or outside of the tunnel that we view the world with (As Tiramit alluded to) A great post with wonderful conversation surrounding it. Good Job!

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you for this word: syzygy. What it says to me is there is this oneness but ordinary human consciousness cannot embrace the immensity of it, and duality takes its place. Even using the word ‘oneness’ is misleading better to describe as what it isn’t: non-duality

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Nice Tiramit! Spot on. Necessarily, we must cut our meat to swallow it, but that doesn’t change the fact that the meat comes from a whole world deeply interconnected.
      Thank you!


  5. thank you Deb for this fascinating essay. Dualistic or extreme thinking is habitual to many, but not necessarily correct. This concept could be used to reconcile a seeming paradox or two as we make our way through life.

    Hugs, Linda

    Liked by 2 people

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