Syzygy

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.

1024px-Pelecanus_conspicillatus_pair_swimming

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.

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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.

Anima Rising

“I’ve got a head full of quandary
And a mighty, mighty thirst” Joni Mitchell

“We think we can congratulate ourselves on having already reached such a pinnacle of clarity, imagining that we have left all these phantasmal gods far behind. But what we have left behind are only verbal spectres, not the psychic facts that were responsible for the birth of the gods. We are still as much possessed by autonomous psychic contents as if they were Olympians. Today they are called phobias, obsessions, and so forth; in a word, neurotic symptoms. The gods have become diseases…” C.G. Jung CW 13 54

“The confusion of anima with feeling, and the attempt to humanize by feeling, is thus not psychotherapy at all. Rather it is part of contemporary secularism’s sickness of soul, or psychopathology. We have yet to discover which archetypal person has captured consciousness through the sentimental appeal of humanism and feeling. At least we know it is not Eros, who prefers the dark and silence to ‘relatedness,’ ‘communicating,’ and ‘sharing.’ Yet some archetypal power does influence therapy by interpreting the psychic movement of our images and their animal-daimonic forms into social relations and personal connections and by raising such guilt over ‘unrelatedness.’ ” James Hillman Anima An Anatomy of a Personified Notion

Partly in response to a claim by some that James Hillman was out to repudiate the work of C.G. Jung, I will write briefly here about his effort to correct an outdated idea of Jung’s. In response to Jung’s idea of anima, Hillman gives us a welcomed and necessary corrective written from the vantage point of living in a very different time and place. Rather than destroy Jung’s ideas, I see Hillman as amplifying their themes, taking us further down the road that Jung first introduced us to.

A primary corrective needed in Jung’s thought is his notion of the anima archetype.

In Hillman’s book, Anima, An Anatomy of a Personified Notion, he responds to Jung’s writings by exploring an array of ideas surrounding the anima as an archetypal presence and the part it plays in therapy. While Jung held that the anima was the unconscious feeling function in men, which, if not developed, leads to a lack of relatedness, Hillman sees the goal of relatedness itself as a misunderstanding of the broader nature and influence of archetypal forces in our lives. These forces are far from human, and we would do well to respect their impersonal nature when under their spell, which for Hillman, is nearly all the time.

Jung associated the anima with the unconscious feminine in the psyche of men. We might understand why the formula of assigning an unconscious anima feeling function to men, and an unconscious thinking animus function to women might have made sense nearly 100 years ago. The confusion for Jung, which likely stems from the culture of his time and place, strictly correlates one’s biology to the whole of psyche.

Jung suggests that a man must develop his relatedness by integrating the anima figure, for it is the anima as archetype which causes his feelings to be projected onto women, and, or feminine nature itself. Until a man becomes ‘related’ enough to see these projected qualities as part of himself, a man remains unconscious of his feelings, and therefore “unrelated.” While I agree that unconsciousness leads to outward projections of that which we fail to recognize in ourselves, this dynamic has more to do with an identity in which we believe ourself to be master and commander; never susceptible to any, especially, archetypal influences.

Hillman furthers the discussion with a refutation of the notion that only men have an experience with archetypal anima images, and for women, only that of an archetypal animus. He reminds us that at the archetypal level, these influences are not fully accessible to us except as they manifest through symbols, language, dreams, literature and other cultural artifacts, and even there, can never be fully exhausted or directly known.

Jung associates many feminine figures from diverse cultures with the anima, and the anima with the soul of biological man.

“The deceptive Shakti, must return to the watery realm if the work is to reach its goal. She should no longer dance before the adept with alluring gestures, but must become what she was from the beginning: a part of his wholeness. (The anima is thereby forced into the inner world…)” CW 13, 223 (and n15)

“He will learn to know his soul, that is, his anima and Shakti who conjures up a delusory world for him.” CW 15, 673

“What then, is this projection-making factor? The East calls it the “Spinning Woman” – Maya, who creates illusion by her dancing. (I have defined the anima as a personification of the unconscious) CW 9, ii, 20 (and n1)

One obviously troubling factor in Jung’s view is to nearly dismiss women as even having a soul! He doesn’t quite go that far to my knowledge, but gives to women the contrary function to feeling; thinking, as their inferior mode of relating.

Hillman’s response:

“At this level we can hardly attribute anima to the male sex only. The “feminine” and “life” as well as the Chinese, Indian, and Gnostic analogies to anima are relevant to men and women equally. We are now at an archetypal level of anima, the “feminine archetypal image” (CW 9,ii, 41n5), and an archetype as such cannot be attributed to, or located within, the psyche of either sex. We can take this one step further, for we cannot be sure that the archetypes are only psychic, belonging only to the realm of psyche, unless we extend psyche first beyond sexual differences, then beyond the human person and psychodynamics (compensation), and beyond psychology too.”

Michelangelo’s fresco Creation of Eve on Sistine Chapel ceiling

For some Jungians, Hillman’s ideas are heretical. No one shall dare to question even what seems an obvious bias of Jung’s – that the soul of woman is, only as it is defined by a man. Thankfully, things have changed enough in our culture that the idea that a woman can only be defined as a man sees her, is generally understood as archaic. But for some Jungian’s there is still a devotion to his ideas which refuses to see them rooted in a culture and time where women were rarely given legitimacy and a voice of their own. Hillman:

“We call these women anima types and we connect them with the ancient figure of hetaera; yet because of theory (no anima in women), we assume that the anima archetype can affect a woman’s life only through men and their fatuous projections.

Let us look at this more closely. The roles which Jung assigns to the anima – relation with the mysteries , with the archaic past, enactment of the good fairy, witch, whore, saint and animal associations with bird, tiger, and serpent (to mention only those he mentions there) – all appear frequently and validly in the psychology of women…Women have little girls in their dreams, and whores; they too are lured by mysterious and unknown women…they too sense soul and suffer its mystery and confusion.”

For Hillman to tackle Jung’s concept of the anima archetype head on is necessary if Depth Psychology is to allow for equal footing for its women and grant them a soul in their own right. It may be that Jung never fully gained enough awareness of women and that their mystery was necessary to him in some way. That is speculation of course. But, for Hillman, who based all of his work on the soul, or anima, as mediator between the body and spirit, this corrective to Jung was both primary and necessary to continue on with his own work.

“Don’t interrupt the sorrow
Darn right
In flames our prophet witches
Be polite
A room full of glasses
He says “Your notches, liberation doll”
And he chains me with that serpent
To that Ethiopian wall” Joni Mitchell

Imaginal Love

[Although I never planned to take this long of a break from WordPress, I have been finding it difficult to make time for writing and reading here. I can’t, not that you are asking, offer any good reason for my prolonged absence. If I don’t find time to make the rounds, please know that you are all in my thoughts. I hope spring beauty finds you well!]

“Everything is what it is because of where it is ‒ its boundaries, its place between the clearing and the darkness. As we are always a clearing of consciousness on the edges of unconsciousness. We are always surrounded by darkness all around. This is what keeps us from freezing up. If we forget this, we die. We become idolators of ourselves.” Tom Cheetham

It’s as if we are the sand at the shore continually mingling with the dark waters. But we are also the dark waters crashing the shore, quickly absorbed through the cracks between the sand. In that place where the broken sand further dissolves through the repetition of ebb and surge of tidal waters, we are most alive.

Readers of Tom Cheetham’s previous works will delight in his latest book, Imaginal Love The Meanings of Imagination in Henry Corbin and James Hillman, where he offers us a more personal glimpse of his journey of understanding, entertaining, reconciling and incorporating the disparity of ideas found in the writings of Henry Corbin and James Hillman. I admire his approach and sympathize with the need to enjoy the fruits of these great writers through what is revealed, not only through their similarities, but also where they differ.

There is a necessary tension between Corbin and Hillman that if allowed to work on us, reveals deeper and more nuanced layers of understanding. Over time, when seen as part of the work we are tending, this tension transforms into a source of resonance in much the same way that string tension on an instrument makes music.

Corbin in particular, focused on the necessity of there needing to be an other; an angel, or spiritual twin, which, in an ongoing relationship fostered through a practice, reveals to us the unknown, or unconscious, so necessary for keeping the soul alive and in motion. By an “other,” I take him to mean any sense of otherness in our lives, of either day world or dream world, which by their difference from us cause a triangulation that reveals another option, or a third dimension. Love often does this. It opens us up to each other in ways that reveal something new. But for Corbin, the angel is not human, but encountered in a contemplative state he referred to as active imagination.

“As an essential correlate of imaginal loving, this Angel also individuates. Meeting one’s angel corresponds to what Jung called individuation. But as Corbin tells us, and Hillman has repeatedly reaffirmed, it is not my individuation that is at stake but the individuation of the Angel.”

This slight revision of Jung’s idea of individuation places emphasis on the process as necessarily a relational one. It takes our care and love for the angel as “other,” something wholly different from ourselves, to open us up, thereby encountering and revealing what we can’t readily see through the singularity of our being. Here is where we can experience Ta’wil, or the lost speech. Cheetham, like Corbin, emphasizes the need for an anamnesis; Plato’s re-membering of what has been forgotten by, or lost to, the world. Through personification of an other the “not me” is revealed. The particular distinctions between oneself and an other serve as a medium of exchange, so necessary for encountering the new and the unknown. It is an essential antidote to counter the cynicism and apathy of one’s personal journey which is often loaded with the perceptual habits of whatever culture one belongs to.

Modern culture places great emphasis on finding love through the similarities between us. Here, Cheetham suggests that in denying the distinctions and differences their place in an ongoing engagement which allows them to work on us, love and feeling become abstracted into generalities which are liable to literalizations and static ideas of ourselves and others. The particularity of the distinctions between us, when revealed, rather than abstracting, ground our experience into storied places, events and persons. The difficulty lies in losing the static sense of oneself and others and in seeking and expecting the new and unknown to appear. The unknown, is after all, inexhaustible.

“The so-called inner world is continuous with the outer. Ideas are not in the head ‒ they are in the world. They change the thinker and they change the world. Emotions are not private ‒ they spill out all around us and manifest in our behavior and our relations with other people.”

We use descriptives like “inner” and “outer” perhaps because we see and experience boundaries between things, places and people. To a large extent our language creates boundaries; a digital paving on an analog world. But, also, so do our individual bodies and the mortality of our finite life span contribute to the sense of boundaries.

Using the poetry of Rilke, Whitman and others, Cheetham emphasizes the need to see through these artificial and conventional boundaries. When we do, the world’s aliveness opens up to us, as does our sense of identity.  A necessary, but false construct called “me” and “you” are seen through. Our sense of ourselves and others can then expand and extend beyond ordinary boundaries to where one can sense and feel that we are the cosmos; an expression of the totality of the universe and whatever lies beyond.

Moving Forward

The deep parts of my life pour onward,

as if the river shores were opening out.

It seems that things are more like me now,

that I can see farther into paintings.

I feel closer to what language can’t reach.

With my senses, as with birds,

I climb into the windy heaven, out of the oak,

and in the ponds broken off from the sky

my feeling sinks, as if standing on fishes.

From Rilke’s Book of Images, in Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. Robert Bly (New York: Harper & Row, 1981)

Cheetham goes on to examine his own personal experience with the ideas of Corbin and Hillman, and how he discovers a symmetry between them. Their ideas, when juxtaposed, can give us a well-rounded view of ourselves, others and the world by giving imagination, myth, soul and spirituality a central place in our day-to-day lives. In summary he says:

“What they share however is profoundly important: a passionate belief in the utterly central place of imagination in the fabric of reality and a commitment to the importance of the freedom of the individual human soul.”

Cheetham, Tom (2015-03-24). Imaginal Love: The Meanings of Imagination in Henry Corbin and James Hillman. Spring Publications. Kindle Edition.

Character

“A man’s character is his fate.” Heraclitus (540 BC – 480 BC), On the Universe

“If the final purpose of aging is character, then character finishes life, polishes it into a more lasting image.” James Hillman

Anna Rebecca Smith

If I have felt compelled towards living life closer to the margins, seeking out what is obscure, liminal, or for understanding more deeply the nature of life, I might trace these loose threads back to childhood and the memory of my dear Great, Great Aunt Bunny. The family myth taking root early in my life often compared my oddness to hers. Maybe another child would not have taken the myth to heart and some may say a child should be left without a myth or vision handed down by an ancestor, but I remain grateful.

Although long since passed on, her presence fosters in me a love of life’s oddness. Through the legacy of family stories that tell of her adventurous nature, and a sustained presence through reading her letters, postcards and books, I find solace and appreciation for the courage and daring this passionate woman had. She lived a non-ordinary life, and if in some ways her image remains idealized, it has also been a healing fiction.

Aunt Bunny’s distinguishable traits are what James Hillman calls character. Her styling, from the occasional wearing of men’s clothes, living with a female companion, to her exotic collections, stands out with bold acuity in my memories. When I felt misunderstood and misfitted, it was this ancestral connection to Bunny’s oddity that kept me going, encouraging in me a lifelong curiosity to my troubled, youthful attraction to oddness.

So, what is character? How do we account for that which gives us our unique character?

medium[1]James Hillman, in his book titled, The Force of Character and the Lasting Life, suggests that character is a shaping form that is part of our being, not just the psyche but the whole of who we are. Of the word character he says:

“The very word derives from kharassein, Greek for “engrave,”“sketch,” or “inscribe”; kharakter, which is both one who makes sharp incisive marks and the marks made, such as letters in a writing system.”

Hillman refers back to a time when character was understood less as desirable traits and more as the force that forms, shapes and marks us throughout life, which become more striking as we age, evidenced in the lines of our face and in our personality. As we age we are actualising a unique image we’re born with, marked as much by the cosmology of the world at the time of our birth, as it is by inherited traits and afflictions of family and culture.

We can understand then how it is that astrologers envision the influence of the cosmos upon us. Our birth itself is an event compelled by all the prior events of the cosmos. Each birth an expression of the circumstances of both family and tribe and the far-reaching motion of the planets and stars. Modern science, psychology and theology narrows the understanding of birth influence to that of genetics, childhood or original sin, but those explanations can’t account for the full range of the person and our unique drive and expression.

Robert Fludd’s An Astrologer Casting a Horoscope 1617

Character is qualitative and keeps us a little off, never quite normal, or just a type or statistic. Just as the earth wobbles, imperfectly round, eccentrically circling the sun in a not quite 360 degree revolution, the force of character compels each of us, as perfectly imperfect.

Character’s inescapable force guarantees no particular moral outcome and is both a blessing and a curse. Hillman stresses the importance of seeing aesthetics before morality, not because morality does not matter, but because it’s not enough. To look only at morality catches us in a duality assigning values of right and wrong, tempting us to summarily dismiss what might more accurately be called ungraspable or misunderstood. An ethical evaluation of character leaves out the important truth that all of us have faulty, frail, vulnerable, flawed, shadowy aspects to our character. The compassion that leads to love comes to us primarily through our own inescapable vulnerabilities.

“Character forces me to encounter each event in my peculiar style. It forces me to differ. I walk through life oddly. No one else walks as I do, and this is my courage, my dignity, my integrity, my morality, and my ruin.”

Failings, sufferings, afflictions can then be seen as breakdowns that lead to loosening the armour of idealism and perfectionist tendencies we accumulate in youth. It is through aging that character begins to gather in us a lasting expression of our place and time. What lasts and finally moves us into the realm of ancestors is an accumulative complex image, layered with a lifetime of becoming that places us too in the realm of myth for all who would know us and for those who come after.

“The plots that entangle our souls and draw forth our characters are the great myths. That is why we need a sense of myth and knowledge of different myths to gain insight into our epic struggles , our misalliances, and our tragedies. Myths show the imaginative structures inside our messes, and our human characters can locate themselves against the background of the characters of myth.”

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” Helen Keller

All quotes except where noted, Hillman, James (2012-11-07). The Force of Character: And the Lasting Life. Random House Publishing Group. 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.
 

 

Class Notes – Session Eight

Session Eight of the Jung Platform’s online class on James Hillman’s book, “Alchemical Psychology,” moves the work from forge to stove, in which the use of glass vessels for heating the material make alchemy both possible and psychological.

“Glass also separates observer from observed. It is the material of distancing, separating events from life by means of fragile transparency, enclosing them each in its own “house” as the glass vessels were sometimes called.” James Hillman

10173760_10201083286964761_5569906944981627530_nGlass, like psyche, Hillman notes, is the medium by which we see into or through. In the furnace, Robbie points out that we can only see outcomes. Through the use of alchemical stoves we can see through or into the process as it happens, “without obstruction as if the glass is not even there.”

Through its properties glass shapes, forms and colors the perception of the materials. Pat and Robbie liken language to glass, which I find very satisfying. When the medium of language loses its transparency, words can be mistaken for the thing they refer to. Glass allows us to be present to the material, “an inside view,” as Robbie calls it. But glass also contains – according to its own structure, presenting bite-sized, specific, particularizations of the material. Containing the material allows us to work on the particulars rather than generalizations.

Vulnerable to a build-up of sediment from the materials within, glass may lose its clarity, just as our habits, theories or preconceived ideas create a film through which we see the material. Part of the work, Robbie reminds us, is to keep the glass vessel clean, especially as we move from one aspect of the work to another.

I wonder if we are not distancing ourselves from the subtle qualities of things through mass production – from the food that we eat to the instruments used for everyday tasks; do we now risk losing the ability to notice the subtlety of substance – glossing over properties, only to increase our focus on defect of functionality? I’ll be the first to complain about poorer quality of tools and many mass-produced things we’ve come to rely on. Through their use we lose not only the skill in making them, but a familiarity and respect for the material world that can come only from working directly with the substances.

“Glass as subtle body requires a subtlety of noticing. The sophistication of the material needs sophistication of insight. The alchemical mind was occupied with noticing properties. Which qualities, which attributes, are the “virtues,” in Paracelsus’s terms, of a substance? Natural things could be grouped, even classified, by their adjectives: hard, cold, bitter, wintry, could bring together phenomena from all three kingdoms – animal, vegetable, mineral. Because the world is inherently intelligible we can discover where each phenomena belongs by means of the study of properties, care with adjectives.” James Hillman

Sophistication, Robbie notes, is refinement; returning again and again to the same material to see deeper into its properties. The difficulties that the material presents to us, which Robbie likens to any work that we do: dancing, painting, writing, speaking, or day-to-day problems, require going back over the material to refine and discipline the work. The refinement can also move literal meaning into poetic metaphor, lifting a more subtle sense of meaning out of the mundane.

The Bain Marie

Essentially a double boiler, the Bain Marie, a vessel thought to be of Egyptian origin, heats the materials with hot steamy air, warmed by water, heated on a stove. The Bain Marie allows fire and water, two notorious enemies, to cooperate. Slow and gradual heating allows for the material never to over heat as long as an ample supply of water is provided.

“The warmth permeating the glass vessel from the bath is another way of imaging sympathetic attention, gentle encouragement, all-embracing tolerance. Knots, boundaries, strictures give way.” James Hillman

File:Mary's Bath 1528 detail AQ9 (1).tif

The Bain Marie

A slow, gradual increase of temperature changes solids to liquids, breaking down the materials, and in adding to them, re-thickens, as in the making of sauces. Blending, rearranging the materials can put substances into new relationships with each other thereby creating something new.

“Perform no operation until all has become water: rational analysis must wait for emotion to flow, reveries to float, collect in pools, stir, sink, find outlets. Discriminations blur. This and that melt into each other; right and wrong and their guilts grow soft and mushy; they hardly matter, no hard facts, no sturdy sureties to cling to. All yields to the warming water. We become gentler with ourselves. We lose intention for arrival, no hurry. A bath is not a shower. We are the substance, our body and our mind enter the vessel of the soul, Mary’s bath. We are the cook and the cooked, unable to feel the difference.” James Hillman

The Pelican

The pelican, a glass vessel tightly enclosing the material, recirculates from bottom to top, performing an alchemical operation called iteration or repetition.

“The Pelican, too, is a tail-eater: the lower end is consumed by the upper end, the head, but the process does not stop there with mental reflection. The head sends its product down again into the body, repeatedly. A continuing circulation ensues. What arises to the head does not escape. As the substance melts, steams, sending vapors upward, cloudy ideas form, pressures increase, lighter, uplifting feelings swirl. But these inspirations and hot ideas are re-processed down as too unripe, too soft-boiled, too unreal. Rather, they are fed back into the vessel as further nourishment. It is the opus that must be fed, continued at all costs.” James Hillman

The PelicanThe work inside the pelican is vital to alchemical psychology. Here is where both body and head are fed by shared images through containment and repetition. Feeding the body what is going on in psyche makes ideas matter. Feeding the head what the body feels psychologizes the body into metaphor.

Robbie suggests that the pelican, its shape and form, is itself refined much as our body is by the work happening within the pelican. The temptation here might be to release the refined insights from the top, or head, to enjoy a brief exhilaration at the expense of the iteration necessary for the work.

Hillman refers to the material worked in the pelican as sacrificial, much like the bird:

“Hence the term “Pelican,” since that bird, according to lore, drove its bill into its own breast to draw the blood that fed its young. Christ was this pelican, nurturing his faithful with his own life-blood. The pelican is thus a wounding, a repetitive ritual, a sacrifice, and a humiliation all at once. And, a necessary instrument for feeding the opus from within itself.

What arises during the work belongs to the work, not to the world. Before the vessel may be opened, its contents must be thoroughly psychologized, refined, sophisticated; its concretizations vaporized.” James Hillman

Here we see the importance of containment and repetition in the work, a need for privacy, to stew in our own juices before a creative work can be brought to fruition – something that can only be done when we admit to ourselves the necessity of the work, letting go of any desire for approval or progress. As Pat says, the realization that we are in a system, in process, is what makes the work alchemical.

The work is for its own sake, whether it be the work in therapy, art, dance, music, writing, or cooking, the focus within the work is the work. It does not aim at any static state, remove desires or bring peace, although we may experience a range of states in or from the work. Alchemical practice requires “the sacrifice of non-arrival.”

Thank you for enduring the extra length in these class notes. I’ll stop here with one last quote on the pelican:

“The Pelican offers an image for the wounding that the work causes. We feel the cost in blood. “Things must be cooked in their own blood,” is an oft-repeated admonition. We feel the draining in the body for what might come later but is now entirely unknown, the Pelican’s offspring, children of the imagination, for “Imagination bodies forth / The form of things unknown.”  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.” james Hillman

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

Class Notes – Session Six*

In Class Six of the Jung Platform’s online series, Alchemical Psychology, presenters Robbie (Robert Bosnak) and Pat (Patricia Berry) begin with a discussion on deriving meaning from matter, or the materials. This is a continuation of the discussion on fueling the fire in alchemy which needs heat to purify and transform the metals, or materials. Knowing the nature of the fire also involves an understanding of the nature of the fuel used to sustain the desired temperatures in the work.

Robbie reminds us of Hillman’s urging not to be in a hurry to derive meaning from the materials but to stay with the image. The image, whether in a dream, a memory, or a substance – is that which already has its own qualities, layers and depths. The more we can stay with the image the more we begin to discern its nature. Pat uses the analogy of being a servant to the material; ‘…”a waiting on” that is invisible and had no desires of its own.’ She sees serving as something lost to our culture because of its modern, and mostly negative, connotations. Serving can be seen though, as a respected art, an art of leaving one’s personality behind, becoming invisible to give oneself over much as an actor or a writer does.

The idea of absence, or a lack of presence being seen as a desirable trait in alchemical work is very appealing to me and I really enjoyed Pat’s speaking to an idea that doesn’t get voiced very often today.

As Pat noted in Japanese Kabuki dance-drama, the karoko are entirely dressed in black and are the most valued members of the performance as they are responsible for changing props and scenery without being noticed. From Wiki:

“Scenery changes are sometimes made mid-scene, while the actors remain on stage and the curtain stays open. This is sometimes accomplished by using a Hiki Dōgu, or small wagon stage. This technique originated at the beginning of the 18th century, where scenery or actors move on or off stage on a wheeled platform. Also common are stagehands rushing onto the stage adding and removing props, backdrops and other scenery; these kuroko (黒子) are always dressed entirely in black and are traditionally considered invisible.”

The nature of invisibility returns the discussion back to charcoal, a porous substance already purified by fire, and so desirable as fuel. As Hillman says of charcoal:

“It has been through the fire, a twice-born fuel, first as natural wood, then as the essence of that wood. Charcoal: an opus contra naturam. Also, charcoal signals in its lifetime the colors of the alchemical opus: black lumps, white ash, yellow flame, red coals. Most mysterious: even the origin of the English word is unknown.”

As Robbie says, charcoal is a fuel that, because of its nature, does not interfere. As Hillman puts it:

“Neither reagent nor catalyst, charcoal is the fuel that does not interfere, a giver of energy asking nothing for itself in return. This is the quality of energy that fuels the opus.”

Air, a necessary fuel for the work is also invisible, and as Robbie notes “it is the inspiration not of the material but of the fire.” In alchemy there was often pictured a servant, called the Puffer, who worked a bellow to control the airflow into the fire to maintain the desired temperature for heating the elements. Air has always been known to us as a primary animating element, necessary for creation and for light. Air is the vital essence of soul or spirit, the very breath itself, called prana, ruach, chi or pneuma which still survives in words like pneumatic and pneumonia. It is also one of the four foundational astrological elements that make up the cosmos; air, fire, earth and water. And as spirit is air, it inspires or expires, as the breathing in and out a life force we are continually nourished by.

File:Old bellow.jpgFor the fire, air both increases the heat and cools it down depending on the application, and for us both gives and deprives us of life. From Hillman:

“Fire actually burns air, the flicker of the flame is the same oxygen that we combust. As we live, we are burning, consuming the wind, thereby generating the calor inclusus that sustains our days. Our death is expiration, the windbag emptied, the fire out. The act of breathing is our first participation in the cosmos, circulating in our intimate interiority.”

And because this passage is Hillman at his best…

“Fire lives on mind, and the sustaining heat of our warm-bloodedness depends on inspiration, on fantastic invention, breezy wit and windy rhetoric, on brain-storming, rarefied theories and cool ideas. The mind, a blast-furnace…The alchemist with his puffer and bellows sucks into his project inspiration from the nous of the world, the archetypal mind that moves like the wind around the whole earth.”

Here Hillman makes reference to those whose work has come before ours – texts, works and art that we inhale to inspire us, as one book opens another.

Also inherent in air is the quality of detachment, coolness and space. The fire, and our work, both need some breathing room, the right amount of detachment or cooling to keep it from getting too hot to work with or from going out.

We move next to the nature of the metals, which contain within them a correspondence as in astrology to the seven planets. They are then in Hillman’s words, “in touch with the gods; they bear mythical messages.” Each metal then carries within a spirit, a guiding principle that “teaches the artisan.” This spirit or subtle body becomes the focus of alchemy and is referred to as “the sophistication of the metals.” The idea is to realize a desired quality in the metal that will be desired in the goal, or the stone.

Each metal imposes its own discipline on us and has an astrological correspondence, iron/Mars: rage or passion, copper/Venus: beauty, surfaces, shine, lead/Saturn: weightiness, time, structure. The alchemist is then seen to be hastening nature, aiding the elements toward a desired perfection, an Opus Contra Naturum that still follows and is guided by nature, but not without resistance.

“Nature does enjoy its natural state and resists change, yet it also struggles against its predeliction for stasis, subduing itself and making change possible. Nature sophisticates itself, dividing its ambivalence into two aspects – the unchanging and the changing.

The natural body of the metal may become a liquid, a powder, a vapor; it can combine, shift colors, submit to the effects of other substances. The subtle body, however, persists in its own self-same unalterability.”

In conclusion Hillman insightfully gives us a more psychological way of seeing alchemy:

“It takes heat to subdue the innate resistance of a substance, a heat gentle enough to melt the stubborn and fierce enough to prevent regression to the original state. Only when the regression to the original “found” condition – the substance in its symptomatic presentation – is no longer possible, only when it has been thoroughly cooked and has truly separated itself from its historical and habitual mode of being can an alteration be said to have been accomplished. Then the substance, which psychology might call a complex, becomes less autonomous and more malleable and fusible, having lost its independence as an intractable object that objects and resists.”

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

*Because I missed class 5, I’m going to skip to 6 for now. If time allows, I may listen to the audio of the session and write something in the future.