Anima, Soul, Psyche

Being that has soul is living being. Soul is the living thing in man, that which lives of itself and causes life…. With her cunning  play of illusions the soul lures into life the inertness of matter that does not want to live. She makes us believe incredible things, that life may be lived. She is full of snares, and traps, in order that man should fall, should reach the earth, entangle himself there, and stay caught….  CW 9, i, 56

Ba_ombre_sortie_tombe

The contentless asexual description of the anima archetype as “life,” analogous with Maya, Shakti, Sophia, and the p’o soul, points to a specific kind of life, life which projects out of itself consciousness. In other words, the life which Jung attributes to the anima archetype is psychic life: “The anima…. is a ‘factor’ in the proper sense of the word. Man cannot make it; on the contrary, it is always the a priori element in his moods, reactions, impulses, and whatever else is spontaneous in psychic life. It is something that lives of itself, that makes us live; it is a life behind consciousness that cannot be completely integrated with it, but from which, on the contrary, consciousness arises. James Hillman

Perhaps anima, understood here as that quality of soul which eludes our awareness, while at the same time lures us into life itself, could be seen as a quality feminine in nature, especially compared to the more willful masculine aspects of our conscious awareness. Hillman, in his book Anima, An Anatomy of a Personified Notion, slowly brings the discussion around to Jung’s own deeper understanding of the nature of anima as archetype, and especially, as the archetype of life itself.

Anima here is not a projection but is the projector. And our consciousness is the result of her prior psychic life. Anima thus becomes the primordial carrier of psyche, or the archetype of psyche itself.

She projects herself into consciousness through expression; expression is her art, whether in the extraordinary artfulness of symptom formation and clinical ‘picture’ or the artifices of anima bewitchments. And the wisdom that Sophia imparts is seeing sophically into these expressions, seeing the art in the symptoms. James Hillman

Hillman quotes Jung’s own distinction between the ideas of anima, soul, psyche – three words frequently used interchangeably, reflecting a lack of consensus regarding their meanings.

Anima means soul and should designate something very wonderful and immortal. Yet this was not always so. We should not forget that this kind of soul is a dogmatic conception whose purpose it is to pin down and capture something uncannily alive and active. CW 9, i, 55

Jung’s distinction of soul as an archetypal power contrasts notions dogmatically held by religious and philosophical concepts. Jung’s emphasis on the soul as ‘alive and active’ is worth pondering further, as this important distinction may indeed point us to an underlying current in modern consciousness often referred to as ‘patriarchal society.’ Perhaps the soul, as the primary psychic reality that supports all thought, fantasy, imagination and expression, through literal fixations, remains driven by an incessant need to pin down and capture the living, breathing flow that is the very definition of life itself. The fall into anima, or life, through a practice or work, alchemical in nature, or Hillman’s ‘soul-making,’ is necessary for expanding our awareness at the deepest level of consciousness.

Image-François_Pascal_Simon_Gérard_006Amid the confusion (is this inherent in the anima archetype herself?) between our ideas of anima, soul and psyche, Hillman has tried elsewhere (See The Myth of Analysis) to show an archetypal background to soul’s movement in Apuleius’ tale of Psyche (From Wiki):

Transformed into a donkey by magic gone wrong, Lucius undergoes various trials and adventures, and finally regains human form by eating roses sacred to Isis. Psyche’s story has some similarities, including the theme of dangerous curiosity, punishments and tests, and redemption through divine favor.[6]

About this he says:

My point there was to show phenomenologically that what starts out as mere anima moods and fantasies becomes psychological ambiguity, that is, receptivity, containment and imagination, so that the way to psychological understanding is through anima. My point here is to show conceptually that the process of anima becoming psyche can be deduced from Jung’s notion of anima itself. James Hillman

He defends this idea by showing that, although Jung associated feminine figures with the anima, the mother, or maternal element is consistently lacking from any association to anima and for good reason.

The anima makes possible a ‘purely human relationship independent of the maternal element of procreation.’ (CW 10, 76)…. The movement from mother to anima represents this shift in perspective from naturalistic to psychological understanding. In alchemy the relationship corresponding with the psychological perspective was exemplified in the adept’s relationship with the anima-soror. James Hillman

Moving us ever further away from the literal association of anima to female (as compared to feminine), Jung also associated anima with Mercurius. This association broadens the anima archetype even further and is the bridge itself from anima to anima mundi.

Very much more material is the definition of Mercurius as a ‘life-giving power like a glue, holding the world together and standing in the middle between body and spirit.’ This concept corresponds to … Mercurius as the anima media natura. From here is but a step to the identification of Mercurius with the anima mundi… CW 13, 262-63

This movement between anima and anima mundi is quintessential for bringing soul into relationship with the universals, and fosters an understanding of ourselves as living both within and through archetypal reality, meaning, we can no longer see soul, or any notion of ourselves and others with clear boundaries, or as either inside or outside of us – but that we are within soul and partake of archetypal reality – something much bigger, broader, ultimately unfathomable, forever flowing through us as the source of life herself.

This sort of extended notion of soul appears in alchemy, e.g., the soul described by Richard White which, Jung points out, differs extremely from the idea of psyche in ‘biological and personalistic psychology.’ This soul is at once the personified anima figured in a female form and the reflective psychological principle. As Jung notes, she joins in one the distinction between the wider notion of soul (anima mundi) and the narrower one (anima vagula). This distinction between soul and the soul or my soul did not bother the alchemists, and it was a distinction upon which Neo-platonism refused to insist, for Plotinus was able to discuss psychology on both levels at once: what takes place in psyche of course takes place in man’s soul. Jung sometimes concurs, saying for instance  “it often seems advisable to speak less of my anima or my animus and more of the anima and the animus. As archetypes, these figures are semi-collective and impersonal quantities…(CW 16, 469) James Hillman

I want to suggest that the ideas presented lastly here, of misplaced ownership, as they present themselves not only in our actions, but within our thoughts, shaping our conscious awareness itself, have yet to be given full recognition, especially as they relate to the troubles in our modern world. It’s no surprise then that even with the gifts of Jung and Hillman’s writings which brought these ideas into the cultural conversation, psychology, as well as much of the human community at large, still suffers from an ontologically mistaken identity and sense of ownership.

Except where noted, all quotes from James Hillman, Anima, An Anatomy of a Personified Notion, Spring Publications.

Class Notes – Session Twelve

“Enter alchemy – thing-words, image-words, craft-words. The five supposed sources of alchemy are each a technology. Each is a handwork physically grappling with sensate materials: (1) Metallurgy and Jewelry: mining, heating, smelting, forging, annealing; (2) Cloth and Fiber Dyeing: dipping, coloring, drying; (3) Embalming the Dead: dismembering, evacuating, infusing, preserving; (4) Perfumery and Cosmetics: grinding, mixing, distilling, diluting, evaporating; (5) Pharmacy: distinguishing, tincturing, measuring, dissolving, desiccating, pulverizing.”

Although admittedly going off on a tangent here, this post was inspired by Session Twelve of the Jung Platform’s course on James Hillman’s book, Alchemical Psychology. What I’ve recently come to appreciate is that the study of alchemy is as inexhaustible as is its application to my life.

Alchemy is styled and practiced in a number of traditions dating back at least to the 3rd and 4th century BCE. With that in mind, my focus here is to review the general structure of Western alchemy, while staying with Hillman’s emphasis to work one’s perspective by giving substance to soul and soul to substance.

Alchemy is a practice; a work in which a transformation of some kind is initiated through the desire and aim of a goal. In everyday life, it can be applied to cooking, writing, relationships to any person, place or thing, or the learning of a craft, trade or art. You may think of other applications.

Elihu Vedder (1836–1923) Title: Soul in Bondage

Prior to the 18th century, before science divorced herself from the arts, it may have been more readily understood that the work on the materials would simultaneously “work” the practitioner. Alchemy then was a quest for knowledge about the nature of particular substances and processes in the world.

The modern sense of our individuality reflects science’s need to distinguish between subject and object, self and other. These changes bring much freedom to the individual, while also coinciding with a loss of soul, or soul’s substantiality. Not only a sense of one’s personal soul, but the felt sense that the world herself is ensouled, enlivened by all creatures and substances and their varying degrees of autonomy and obeisance.

One might say that the more one feels the divide and separation between themselves and others, the more we might miss, or dismiss the autonomy of other beings and things, leaving no room for acknowledging the invisible, autonomous forces, except where science quantifies them (gravity, electromagnetism, etc.).

Modern ideas of alchemy deeply reflect these changes of self-perception and our place in the cosmos. To speak of a literal alchemy in which base materials are turned into precious metals has lost credibility with all but a few practitioners. As well, the work, if undertaken at all, seems narrowed by an emphasis on personal transformation. But, if alchemy itself is a reflection of an evolving consciousness of universal import, we might see this modern emphasis on self as a necessary stage before the gap between material and non-material existence can dissolve.

Limbourg brothers, Title:Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry English: Anatomical Man.

If alchemy lives on anywhere, as a practice of noting influence and correspondences between the microcosm of one’s human experience and the macrocosm of the hidden nature of the greater cosmos, we have astrologers to thank. For astrologers have never abandoned the idea that human nature and experience is a reflection of the nature, motion and resemblance shared throughout the cosmos, enhanced all the more by our apprehension of it.

With that in mind, we can break alchemy down into three dimensions of the practice: the materials, the operations and the stages of the work.

Materials

In alchemy, as in astrology, the elements are the givens, each of which have mythological, planetary or astrological correspondence. The idea of turning base medals into gold, literally or psychologically, requires coming to know the nature of each material substance. Alchemical psychology and Western astrology, borrowing much from their mythological heritage, see in each planet a corresponding metallic nature.

When alchemists link the planet Saturn to lead, it sees leaden characteristics, knowable by working directly with the substance lead. Alchemy, like astrology, does not stop here, but sees lead’s slow, heavy nature as an influential psychic force corresponding to our nature as well. For example, Saturn’s influence is said to be felt as weighty, depressive, slowing us down in some way in both mind, body and circumstance. As Saturn is associated with the Greek god Kronos, where we get our word for time (chronology), there may also be a need for time or attention to some aspect of our lives.

Hillman says of the alchemists work with metals:

“The metals were imagined to be made of coagulated moist vapors, like a condensed gas whose spirit could be released by the proper operations. Because the metals were inherently moist, that is, embodying phlegm, they had a phlegmatic tendency to be passive or inert, requiring fire. Resistance to change is given with the seeds of our nature and only intense heat can move human nature from its innate inertia.”

When we moderns deprive ourselves of seeing any correspondence between ourselves and the nature and motion of the cosmos, we risk increasing the feeling we may already have of alienation, with both ourselves, others and the world we are literally pieces and parts of.

Saturn = Lead

Jupiter = Tin

Mars = Iron

Sun = Gold

Mercury = Quicksilver (Mercury)

Venus = Copper

Moon = Silver

Operations

The operations used in alchemy for initiating action and reaction upon the materials are primarily salt, sulfur and mercury. Salt as agent for thickening, loosening and resistance to heat, sulphur for heating and combustion, and mercury or quicksilver for fluidity. Hillman warns that there is no purity in substance, operation or stages of alchemical work but a blending and merging of one into the other.

Making Waffles – Alexander Hugo Bakker Korff (1824–1882)

“Whatever is said about salt is always contaminated, and must be so contaminated by the materials, vessels, and operations with which it is in interaction. Psychic materials are always in diffuse interpenetration, with other materials and do not remain singly self-consistent, and so require multiple interpretation. In fact, this very contamination is part of their definition: let us say that alchemy is soft-edged. Lines between its elements cannot be drawn hard and fast because these elements are also elementary living natures.”

Stages

The work both progresses and regresses in stages associated with coloration, usually three or more of the following: Black, Blue, White, Yellow, Red. The colors themselves have astrological and mythological associations. Alchemy in contrast to modern science, is the practice of knowing the nature of anything by the qualities it presents to us. Where modern science reduces things down to size and mathematical relationships, alchemy seeks essence through the quality and nature of relationships within and between things.

Hillman emphasizes the alchemist’s ability to see psychologically through any practice that involves working with the worlds substantive qualities. From this work a truer understanding of ourselves and the nature of the world emerges into the unique expression each of us then presents daily to the world. In coming to know the substances, images, environments and actions/reactions which influence us, we are continually ensouled through our sensual, everyday experience that sees our nature reflected back to us through the nature of the cosmos.

All quotes: Hillman, James (2011-10-10). Alchemical Psychology (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman). Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Class Notes – Session Eleven

“The Suffering of Salt, Toward a Substantial Psychology,” is the title of chapter three of James Hillman’s book, Alchemical Psychology, and the starting point for the first class of year two of the Jung Platform’s online course. Hosts Patricia Berry and Robert Bosnak focus the discussion on the notions of salt, commonality and substance.

I am beginning to see an increased importance in the ideas presented in this chapter to much of Hillman’s work, as I understand it anyway. The alchemical marriage itself may be at the heart of Hillman’s proclivity to substantiate ideas, and also to see interiority within substance, even granting to substance a subjectivity. Beyond human subjectivity, he asks us to look within each substance for inherent qualitative aspects. The stones will cry out!

Might there be a subjective truth that invites us to look to the interiority of otherness for its own subjective qualities? That seeking will tell us something about our interiority, but with practice expand the qualitative distinctions we glean from others, enlivening us, and the world as ensouled; an Anima Mundi.

The alchemical work of psychology is precisely then the work of coming to know qualities; to learn of their essence as we learn of ours. Understood this way, we see much of the work as a practice of discernment; separating and specifying the nature of psychic substance, such as ideas and sensation, giving weight to them as we more readily do with physical substance. Here we will find the commonality of experience, as is the alchemical “sal” and salt in nature. At the same time, we educate our perception, looking more directly at the nature of both our, and the world’s suffering.

“Not only is the macrocosmic world personified and alive with subjective qualities that we nowadays allow only to human beings, but the microcosm of the human being, because it is a microcosm of nature, is also a mineral, physical object, consisting of substances such as salt.”

Our modern sensibilities may resist the notion that all substances and beings have a discernible nature accessible to others. Aren’t we locked up inside our skin, limited to knowing only through our own subjectivity? A deeper study of anything, or anyone, will admit that the limitations on what we can know, do not entirely keep us ignorant of the subjectivity of others. We better know that fire can burn, people can harm us, and as well, that we need warmth and love to live. We are not alone. Ours is a between state, one that we continually negotiate. The desire to settle into, or concretize any pattern as permanent, is death or at least ignorance of the inherent motion of all things.

“…we shall be activating the image of salt (1) as a psychological substance, which appears in alchemy as the word sal; (2) as an operation, which yields a residue; (3) as any of many physical substances generically called “salts”; and (4) as a property of other substances.”

In alchemy, psychic quality belongs as part of physical substance:

“The word sal in alchemical texts, especially since Paracelsus, often indicates the stable basis of life, its earth, ground, body. However, the term also more particularly refers to alums, alkalis, crystallizations, bases, ashes, sal ammoniac, potash, as well as to the sense qualities equivalent to these materials: bitterness, astringency, pungency, mordancy, desiccation, and crustiness, dry stings and smarts, sharpness and pointedness.” Emphasis added.

So why the “suffering of salt?”

Robbie and Pat talked a lot about salt as both common and necessary. We suffer the salt through the commonality of our human experience. To find our own essence, we must first see our commonality, how impersonal our fate and suffering may be. Then, instead of the focus of suffering aimed at what was done to me, we turn to the qualitative experience of our suffering. Failing to see the commonality of what we suffer, seeing only what was done to me, we are more apt to crystallize experience into encrusted memories whose force of repetition itself is a rewounding that remains open until we see into, or interiorize the nature of the wound rather than the wounder.

To be clear, it’s not so much how suffering occurs, but how we experience it.

Zubdat-al Tawarikh in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts in Istanbul

Although not discussed, it occurred to me during the class that Hillman begins the book with the suffering of salt because the practice of alchemical psychology, whether in the context of therapy, or within an individual’s life, is indeed a work of deepening experience through the stages of what the material presents to us, transforming not only our relationship to physical substance, but also giving substance to our ideas and coming to see how they work on us. Hillman suggests that we all embody both the ideas and the substances; that they make us. We encapsulate in miniature the nature of the cosmos, physically, and therefore, psychically. That is also the basis for astrological correspondence. We are each of us, a microcosm, salt of the earth.

“Not only is the macrocosmic world personified and alive with subjective qualities that we nowadays allow only to human beings, but the microcosm of the human being, because it is a microcosm of nature, is also a mineral, physical object, consisting of substances such as salt.”

Our work then is to know our common suffering, working the salt as a salve. Through deeper discernment of the nature of ourselves, our wounding, our commonality helps us to belong, embracing it as what unites us. Embracing our wounds and working the salt moves us out of crystallizing, or feeling stuck, towards curiosity, where love, compassion and forgiveness for ourselves and others, including the non-living, are granted through our recognition of their own substantial nature, apart from, but always in relation to us. Awareness of the suffering of our commonality, and the commonality of our suffering, frees us to express a life more fully lived.

“The microcosm/macrocosm model requires a micro/macro-awareness. It asks that we feel into the world of matter with sensitivity for qualitative differences. It asks that we find in our objective experiences analogies with and metaphors of physical processes and substances. The micro/macro model works in two directions. While endowing the world with soul, it also indicates that human nature goes through natural processes of an objectively mineral and metallic sort. Our inner life is part of the natural world order, and this perspective saves us from taking ourselves so personally and identifying what goes on in the soul with the subjective ego.”

Previous Class Notes here, or here.

All quotes: Hillman, James (2011-10-10). Alchemical Psychology (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman). Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Revolution

Once upon a time, some men believed that the sun revolved around them. Then one day, here and there, some very brave men decided they wanted to know how true we could be. Why would the sun, so precious to life, participating in the very gift of our life, revolve around us? Our big Lion King, regal and alive with powerful star energy is a force to be reckoned with. Who can even see his face?

Imagine the adjustment to be made, when one by one, people everywhere reimagine their place in the world knowing it is they, not the sun, who are doing all the revolving. Who then, is beholden to whom?

Take heart though, for there is still the beautiful face of the moon which is so attracted to us that she faithfully revolves around us every 29.530589 days. She’s just a little off, like we are, revolving as we do around the sun every 365.256363004 days. But in an incomprehensible act of faith she keeps her face turned to us. Is there anyone you have ever known so faithful and true as that? It’s true that the sun, along with our own joy of spinning, do, from time to time, hide the lovely Lady moon’s beauty from us. It’s just as well because we have to get some work of living done now don’t we?

Although many of us have yet to digest the implications, it’s clear to some of us that things are just as they need be, for this particular story to take place. What story? The one we’re in of course.

We’re aligned with opportunity. We spin around an amazingly powerful sun, basking in his rays, fed by his birthing of all sorts of growing things. And the lady of our dreams stays with us, faithfully showing, with just the right amount of solar light reflected back to us, a Holy presence in her, and so, in each one of us. Her faithfulness to the beautiful marbled ball we call Earth, could be our faithfulness. But, just like a woman, she let’s us see exactly what we want to see, passing no judgment. For without her lovely mirror, how else could we ever receive any truth?

The Unseen I

“The unseen eye remind me of a midnight dream

You know it remind me of somebody I have never seen”

Sonny Boy Williamson

What is meant when we say, “I?” What we know of self and other may only be an immediate perception; a glance, a choice of words or clothing, a smell, or intuitions of recognition and deception – all steps on a never-quite-finished bridge from me to you.

For some, who we are is an idea so old and tiresome it’s no longer compelling or useful to ponder. The impossibility of knowing lessens the value of our imaginings. Whoever or whatever we are seems too slippery, incomprehensible or mercurial to be grasped; void of any tangible meaning worth imagining. For who is it that imagines the very self we want to comprehend? Are there then two of me? Ugh.

Yet, the life span of the body, the persona of an “I,” accumulates, weaving time and memory into a continuous sense of me. Underneath the limits of language, essentially there is something here, even if definition and identity fail to uphold an enduring portrait. With depths hidden even to oneself, others will see even less than that.

As much as we moderns may disparage the separateness that the “I” invokes, seeing the very notion as the source of strife, conflict and suffering, who among us could tolerate being unselved, without the opportunity to feel and respond uniquely as we do? What there is to know of self and other, begins with what shows up, and continues with what is revealed.

And, do we ever act completely independently of others? Are not others just as much ungraspable, mysterious extensions of our (in)ability to differentiate? Perhaps the drive to differentiate is the very thing compelling us to see anew. For who would remain an undifferentiated “I” sees neither others nor themselves. The more we are able to differentiate subtle distinctions, the more articulate our responses. From that comes an ability to see more of the whole.

The palette expands though not for quantities sake, but for quality – where beauty, love and compassion, already rooted in our being, respond as a tree to moisture and sunlight. What we learn through distinction and relationship is to appreciate the strange, the unknown which afford us access to the source of creation, that unseen I.

Like others, I am driven by both an urge to see, comprehend, understand and to reveal. But the double-edged sword of seeing and revealing will admit that through differentiating, focusing, defining, or what alchemy calls the separatio – necessary as they are, are themselves a mode of perception and never the whole story.

A time of darkness, not seeing, not even looking, can then become a place for renewal. Like the womb of our birthing, the dark periods of life can seem forbidden, empty, neither separate, nor unified, but a place of mystery of life itself, as necessary as food and shelter. Willingly or not, sometimes we find ourselves in the dark womb. Immersed in undifferentiated unity, we now belong, unquestionably protected and loved. The noun and verb as one, actor and act, lover and beloved, creator and created, heaven earthing, no “I” here to see or be seen.

It has only been with age that I begin to see “as above, so below.” As above, my life embodies the pulse of the universe as comings and goings, and like the weather, I watch and tend to them as best as I can, trusting in an unseen “I.”

File:NGC 3132 "Southern Ring".jpg

A jewel of the southern sky, NGC 3132 – Judy Schmidt

The unseen “I” immersed in the womb, sleeps and dreams itself into the next incarnation. Is there only one “I?” Perhaps that is so, and we may sense this strongly in times of convergence where the walls tumble-down, “things” smear into undifferentiated unity. No worry. Perhaps you’ve slipped back into the womb.

Time, the stream that moves us like seeds in the wind, needs us – our small life, in ways we may never fully understand, both giving illusions and taking them away, articulating the woven body of “I” into the cosmos, feeding and nurturing new life, hidden, fallow, unseen. Then perhaps what begins with desire, is fulfilled through the love of the unseen I, forever creating, destroying and renewing.

Class Notes – Session Ten

The final class of the 2014 Winter semester of the Jung Platform’s course, hosted by Patricia Berry and Robert Bosnak, takes us into the third chapter of James Hillman’s book Alchemical Psychology, titled, The Suffering of Salt, and begins with the topic, “Toward a Substantial Psychology.” Salt, although understood by Hillman as metaphorical, to the alchemists was indeed a substance and a common one both sacred and desirable.

Glass salt cellar 1720 Public Domain Photo by Nick Michael – Private collection

To the ancients, salt was sacred perhaps because of its use as a preservative, or salve, back in a time when food storage and medicines were extremely important for survival.

Robbie and Pat open the session discussing the weightiness of metaphors and ideas that become substantial to us. Substance comes through interiority and for Hillman it is the common element of metaphorical salt that adds weight to our experiences. The weight that balances us for living “as above, so below,” where as microcosm, we reciprocally reflect the macrocosm.

“The microcosm/macrocosm model requires a micro/macro-awareness. It asks that we feel into the world of matter with sensitivity for qualitative differences. It asks that we find in our objective experiences analogies with and metaphors of physical processes and substances. The micro/macro model works in two directions.”

The awareness that we are not in nature, but are nature herself, cannot be attended to enough in our culture. How interesting that we humans do not necessarily feel that we are part of this world. Perhaps our lives have become too insulated, or a glimpse of eternity through intuiting that consciousness is not only embedded within us, but may be the source of all being, or deep unresolved suffering finds us longing for the beyond. Whatever the reason, we may be a bit resistant to being embodied. Many myths and religious practices indeed emphasize our spiritual essence seeing physical life as a test, a punishment (karma), or a contest in which the prize is eternal life (meaning either disembodied, or no longer a suffering body).

For some, a fear of being only a body, an evolutionary accident, may drive the spirit to feel disdain for this body of death, widening the sense of separation between mind and body. Through the saltiness of our lives, Hillman sees a way to belong in this embodied state. Troubling as it may be, embodied life offers each of us a uniquely condensed perspective through heightened sensitivity and positions us as refiners of the Anima Mundi, or world soul, through the personal touch of our lives, and the love and compassion we make through the saltiness of our experience.

“While endowing the world with soul, it (the microcosm/macrocosm model) also indicates that human nature goes through natural processes of an objectively mineral and metallic sort. Our inner life is part of the natural world order, and this perspective saves us from taking ourselves so personally and identifying what goes on in the soul with the subjective ego.”

To this Robbie and Pat remind us that unless we let go of the sense that we are special, a common sense may be difficult to access. It is the physical and sensed nature of our lives that we do share, and that sense is the root of what we know as common. Hillman associates the common psychological salt with:

“The word sal in alchemical texts, especially since Paracelsus, often indicates the stable basis of life, its earth, ground, body. However, the term also more particularly refers to alums, alkalis, crystallizations, bases, ashes, sal ammoniac, potash, as well as to the sense qualities equivalent to these materials: bitterness, astringency, pungency, mordancy, desiccation, and crustiness, dry stings and smarts, sharpness and pointedness.

Indeed, bitter and mordant qualities are not only as common and basic as salt, but they are as essential to the embodiment of our psychic nature as is salt in our physical bodies. Our stinging, astringent, dried-out moments are not contingent and accidental; they are of our substance and essence.”

Robbie points out that, especially in our modern world, bitterness can often be measured against sweetness, rather than seeing each quality for its own contribution to life and soul. When we cover life’s bitter moments with too much sweetness, Robbie says, “reality bites” us as a way to bring us back into the salty moment, as the salt of the earth. Or, maybe we need to add salt on the wound in order to heal.

To the alchemists, sulfur was sweetness and worked in tandem with salt. In our psychic work:

“When body is equated with sulfur what is meant is the excitable, palpable urgency, the body of generative passions and will. When body is called salt what is meant is the fixed, consistent, stable body that encloses any existent as its outer shell.”

Here we see how sulfur and salt appear together and in psychological work, it is not always apparent that their different moods are connected. Using the example of a woman who experienced mood swings, Hillman describes the work:

“An alchemical therapeutic approach would not temper one with the other, but would touch both with mercury, that is, free them from their alternating concretism by means of psychological insight. The first step is to see how impersonally autonomous the swings are and how they constellate each other, as do sulfur and salt.”

This insight leads to a discussion on the mining of psychological salt.

Hexagonal Shaped Salt Crust at Badwater, Death Valley National Park

“In fact, because salt is “the natural balsam of the living body” (Paracelsus, 1: 259) we descend into the experiential component of this body – its blood, sweat, tears, and urine – to find our salt. Jung (CW 14: 330) considers alchemical salt to refer to feelings and to Eros; I would specify his notion further by saying that salt is the mineral, impersonal, objective ground of personal experience making experience possible.”

Here, Hillman emphasizes the need to experience subjectively first before the work of alchemy can carry soul between micro and macrocosm. Salt is the ground of deeply lived subjectivity.

“The fact that we return to these deep hurts, in remorse and regret, in resentment and revenge, indicates a psychic need beyond a mere mechanical repetition compulsion. Instead, the soul has a drive to remember; it is like an animal that returns to its salt licks; the soul licks at its own wounds to derive sustenance therefrom. We make salt in our suffering and, by keeping faith with our sufferings, we gain salt, healing the soul of its salt-deficiency.”

Salt then is ironic, as it pains an existing wound out of necessity, when our feeling sense has not been incorporated into our lives. WIthout incorporation we may fixate on our wounds and run the risk, as did Lot’s wife, of solidifying our identity to the woundedness, from too much salt that comes from an accumulative numbness.

“The danger here is always fixation, whether in recollection, earlier trauma, or in a literalized and personalized notion of experience itself: “I am what I have experienced.” “

So, to reconcile the seeming contradiction between full acceptance of subjective pain and woundedness, with the necessity of gaining insight and context that keeps the work moving, we look to the particularities of the salting, and not the person, for solutions to arise.

“Alchemical psychology corrects this sort of literalizing by presenting the personal factor that so dominates in psychologies of salt to be impersonal and commonly general. Then, when we work at our self-correction, betterment, purification, we realize that it is not the self that is the focus of our good work; it is the salt. We are simply working on the salt. In this way, the salt in alchemical psychology helps keep the work from flaming up in the egoistic inflation of personal guilt. I am alone responsible; it’s all my fault.”

Alchemical psychology is truly an art of shifting perspectives, of differentiating between substances and knowing how to work with them by discerning their specific qualities. Therefore, any work on ourselves shifts our focus into the matter and materials of embodied, everyday life, where we can see, touch and respond with the senses, salting our lives to our own taste.

“The very same salt that is honest wisdom, sincere truth, common sense, ironic wit and subjective feeling is also salt the destroyer. Dosage  is the art of the salt; a touch of the virgin, not too much. This dosage only our individual taste and common sense can prescribe. Only our salt can taste its own requirements.”

All quotes from Hillman, James (2011-10-10). Alchemical Psychology (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman) Kindle Edition.

 

Class Notes – Session 9

Class nine of the Jung Platform’s course on James Hillman’s book Alchemical Psychology, presented by Robert Bosnak and Patricia Berry, technically ends this first season of classes, which took us through the first chapter, Rudiments. Class Ten, notes to follow soon, begins the next chapter, The Suffering of Salt.

Robbie likens the work of alchemy to a downward spiral, deepening the material by slowing down the work, and by the embodiment of the images. Having recently read Robbie’s book, Embodiment: Creative Imagination in Medicine, Art and Travel, I have much appreciation for his emphasis on embodiment, a work that grounds images and ideas into lived and felt subjective experiences.

The Alchemist, by Carl Spitzweg

Psychological Faith

Robbie and Pat start the session briefly discussing Hillman’s idea of psychological faith:

“The Pelican: vessel of psychological faith, a phrase used by a keen student of alchemy, Robert Grinnell, for an attitude or a devotion that calls for nothing less than giving in, giving over to the opus all personal demands one has upon it, for its sake, come what may.”

Using the example of his work at the Healing Sanctuary in Santa Barbara, Robbie argues that we do bring our expectations to the work, thereby challenging the notion that we “give over to the opus all personal demands.” I’d say, that in many ways, we do need to abandon an expectation of outcomes, or goals, or at least our ideas about how to get there and what the goals look like.

“General terms, simplistic diagnostics – abandonment, need, identity crisis, low self-esteem, depressive mood, dependency, masochistic helplessness – cannot adequately describe, let alone understand, the force of the void.

Because our collective Western natures abhor a vacuum, we reach out to fill the emptiness with anything, everything from junk food to junk self-help, from drink and shopping and the novelty of games and gadgets to the commiseration of soul-mates, or simply endless tears. Alchemy, however, suggests these feelings of emptiness are indications of a vessel forming (emphasis added). The void is building a shape, a particular shape. Perhaps several vessels. Modes of containing. Modes of measuring. Modes of differentiating. The reality of the psyche is forcing its way into life and reshaping one’s life by means of the feelings of emptiness.”

Pat reminds us too, that the void can be bigger than, and also exterior to us, specifically referring to the void in the earth described in Genesis. The void in this sense is necessary for creating, containing and birthing. Pat sees the void as a natural part of our experience, and our refusal of it leads to frenzied actions to fill the void. The emptiness often manifests as anxiety, and may not be recognized as a pregnant pause coming over us while something is being formed. Robbie quotes Hillman, who referred to it as, “lying fallow.”

The particularity and nature of the void, or emptiness, shapes what becomes manifest:

File:Antoine Berjon - Still-Life with a Basket of Flowers - WGA01953.jpg

Still-Life with a Basket of Flowers

“The master painters in Holland and in nineteenth-century France showed the poppies and irises and roses, the pears and apples and grapes emerging from the hollowness of their containers, the void as source of beauty. If you examine the vases holding the flowers, the baskets and plates on which the fruit lies, these vessels are each manifestations of particularized shapes, colors and textures, and they are inherent to what they display. “If God had not given us a vessel / His other gifts would have been of no avail.” “

Ovens and Stoves
The Jewish alchemists believe the origen of alchemy comes from the angel’s desire and passion for women:
“Angels were taken by passion for women. They descended to earth and taught them all operations of nature … They were the ones who composed chemical works … Their book is called Khema and it is from them that chemistry [kumia] received its name. ”
Desire, Hillman says, is akin to fiery heat, as if from the stars, but to be useful requires containment:
“The essence of fire is out of our control. It comes from the celestial region, from angels, from the gods and the earth’s burning bowels. Hence the shamanistic aspect of the smith as fire master, and the crime of Prometheus’s humanism.”
File:Alchemical Laboratory - Project Gutenberg eText 14218.jpg

Un laboratorio alquímico

The furnace then, is responsible for shaping and forming the material. The construct of a stove is intentional, a conceptual system designed for a specific function or operation.

“Furnus: a logic of strong, well-built, carefully joined, enduring system. Ground rules, bricks and mortar of the trade, iron-clad discipline of the church or school or society which keeps the living spirit in focus, concentrated, and able to withstand the blaze of inspiration, the flashes and sparks of passion that would ignite grass fires and scatter the intensity.”

Here is where we find purpose, intention and attention necessary for the work. Discipline and knowledge of the materials is needed for specific operations, or kinds of cooking. Hillman refers to the stove itself as the discipline of multiplicity. Cooking requires an ability to know the qualities of materials and processes. Different processes yield different results: evaporation for condensing, distillation for clarity, sublimation for raising the material out of the sediment, coagulation and cooling to solidify a substance into a definite shape.

Robbie says the work of imagination requires the discipline to slow down any work on a dream image. Only then can it be embodied by the dreamer. Sticking to the image helps our waking self to subjectively experience dream images, so they can then speak to us, and through us, rather than be subjects of our interpreting or imposing a system on them.

As the saying goes though, “we’re playing with fire,” and we’re warned against letting the fire go unattended, therefore raging out of control. The furnace, Robbie reminds us, is focus (latin for hearth), intensifying the heat while containing it, by “holding the focus,” or “sticking to the image.” In alchemical psychology, the furnace is built through the work, by the practice in which we focus more and more intently on particular qualities of images and feeling. Psychologically this means moving away from generalizations of feelings, seeing precise images for the experience of our feelings. Here is where the rawness of the material is then cooked and consumed, allowing the digestion of events that previously could not be incorporated.

The Spirit of the Fire

Understanding and respecting fire’s spirit is essential to alchemical work. Hillman breaks this down to five ideas of fire:

Brian W. Schaller – Own work

“Any worker in fire can easily perceive fire’s primary characteristics. It rises. Its heat overpowers and changes materials. It gives off light. It cannot be touched directly. It cannot be satiated. Ascension, transmutation, enlightenment, intangibility, insatiability: these five ideas empirically witnessed in the laboratory affect the formulations of alchemical texts and later commentators on these texts. In brief, fire gives alchemy its spiritual readings.”

Ascension: fire and heat have a rising nature, from low to high. The images are that of perfecting, progressing, purification.

Transmutation: fire has the power to transform all that it touches, from soft liquids to the hardest metals, such as iron.

Enlightenment: fire lights up our world while darkening that which is not in its reach. The more light, the more darkness, a source of opposition.

Intangibility: fire is untouchable, intangible, grasped only indirectly through symbol, allegory, paradox and hints.

Insatiability: fire wants “only to grow and its appetite is insatiable,” but like a baby requires constant feeding and nursing.

And finally, with these qualities of fire, Hillman, as did the alchemists, warned against a runaway spirituality which knows no limits, ever-seeking more, devouring all for the sake of itself, rather than sticking to the work of the material at hand. The fire of alchemy better serves soul through images, which for Hillman are the rudiments of the work:

“Since soul recognizes itself in its images and since the making of images (poeisis) is soul’s primary natural activity,  “the definite principle” that governs the “increase of fire” are images. They are the essential rudiments of the entire work. They are what the alchemist sees and smells and touches with his hands – and what he imagines. Focus on them limits the infinite metaphysical speculation (“the increase of fire”) to just what is just now.

Alchemy: a study of presentations as these appearances portray, define, and affect the soul. Consequently, alchemy’s insatiable spiritual drive, its “fire,” requires psychological limitations, an alchemy of soul such as this rudimentary chapter and the book as a whole intend.”

All quotes, except as noted, from: Hillman, James (2011-10-10). Alchemical Psychology (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman) Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.