Visions of Johanna – An Alchemical View

When I first started studying Alchemy in the writings of C.G. Jung and much later, James Hillman, I had difficulty finding its relevance in the life of us moderns. Already lacking enough time in the daily grind to leave room for a little reading, writing and relaxation, how does one find the time to devote to studying alchemy, enough to allow its relevance to bear fruit?

So in the past few months I have been looking for alchemical movement beyond what is written specifically about it, to how it can be seen in our modern culture through lyrics, movies and television. As presented by James Hillman, alchemy is the work of soul-making. Through the movement and expansion of our dayworld perspective we may begin to include the underworld perspective; its world of mystery and invisibles that unwittingly affect our lives. In the work, an Opus Contra Naturum (a work against nature), we move through the darkness of our human condition to the mystery of the goal, finding a way to navigate the darkness, authenticate our uniqueness, and in so doing, enter more fully and freely into life for life and death’s sake.

If you’re looking (or obsessed?), you can see alchemical movement everywhere, from song lyrics to television and most importantly in your own life. Perhaps by practicing seeing alchemy in the culture, we moderns can also see its relevance for our own lives.

Twice, in the past week, I heard Dylan’s haunting song, Visions of Johanna, an old favorite of mine playing on the radio. You can hear the song, at the two-minute mark, here. Looking at the lyric with alchemical glasses we immediately find ourselves in the dark, right in the first line:

“Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin’ to be so quiet ?
We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin our best to deny it

The song contrasts the writer’s dayworld experience of his lover, Louise, with the absence of another, Johanna. Although it’s tempting to see Johanna as only a past lover, perhaps more than that, Johanna is soul or the desire for soul itself, the lament of her absence pointing to a loss, leading to the dark feeling of the Nigredo stage of alchemy in which, when it is reached, leaves us there, in the dark, stranded.

File:Bob Dylan in Toronto1.jpg

“Louise, she’s all right, she’s just near
She’s delicate and seems like the mirror
But she just makes it all too concise and too clear
That Johanna’s not here
The ghost of ’lectricity howls in the bones of her face
Where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place”

The pangs of absence tells us we’re not ready yet for any mirrors, not able to reflect yet, it’s still too dark.

In the next verse there’s the admission of an attraction to danger and submitting to misery. As well, the misery starts to double in on itself as “the little boy lost” now complains about this awful state, bragging even and painfully aware of his own uselessness. Perhaps there can now be movement to the blue stage where the scintilla or spark so necessary for lighting the fire will be ignited.

“Now, little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously
He brags of his misery, he likes to live dangerously
And when bringing her name up
He speaks of a farewell kiss to me
He’s sure got a lotta gall to be so useless and all
Muttering small talk at the wall while I’m in the hall”

Sure enough, next we see the bluing of the darkness in his reflection on DaVinci’s Mona Lisa, for even she must of had the “highway blues.” So, there it is, the recognition that although alone, you are still in the company of other travelers.

“Inside the museums, Infinity goes up on trial
Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while
But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues
You can tell by the way she smiles”

According to Wiki, this song was written shortly after Dylan’s marriage to Sara Lownds in 1965. Perhaps the dayworld marriage to Sara sparks a conflict in the soul whose love and need for freedom is threatened after feeling the weight of commitment that marriage and children bring.

“The peddler now speaks to the countess who’s pretending to care for him
Saying, “Name me someone that’s not a parasite and I’ll go out and say a prayer for him”

There’s no resolution, but much conflict in the last verse of the song. But, “the empty cage” does suggest that something has fled. In thinking about this I wonder if the emptiness too is not a necessary part of the work. The fleeing itself suggests movement, and that the “empty cage now corrode(s)” may indicate that there is no longer a need for a cage. The soul, as the flow and movement of the life-giving (animating) force, must give up any containment that is life or soul-destroying.

File:Michael Maier Atalanta Fugiens Emblem 34.jpegA marriage is in order though, but one that we nurture and create providing for us a ground of being in which we can then navigate the course of our lives. In alchemy this marriage is imaged as heaven and earth; in which our dayworld perspective is continually fed by the mystery of the unknown, the underworld, the source of all creation so necessary for both our life and our death.

“And Madonna, she still has not showed
We see this empty cage now corrode
Where her cape of the stage once had flowed
The fiddler, he now steps to the road
He writes ev’rything’s been returned which was owed
On the back of the fish truck that loads
While my conscience explodes”

Lyrics copyright: Dwarf Music reprinted here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Text_of_Creative_Commons_Attribution-ShareAlike_3.0_Unported_License

Archetypal Psychology – a Brief Account, Part I

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

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

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

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

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

We begin with a definition of Archetypal Psychology:

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

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

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

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

jung1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Lady of the Well

Language is originally and essentially nothing but a system of signs or symbols, which denote real occurrences, or their echo in the human soul.” Carl Jung, Psychology of the Unconscious

In the midst of reading Jung’s Red Book, the idea of words and language and their relationship to the underlying wordless reality has begun to haunt me. I understand that trying to use language to discuss language presents the same problem as does seeing the eye with your own eye, but if that’s the case, where does that leave us? Can we trust language, can we not trust it?

What is the difference between the world we create through the understanding and choice of our words and the unspoken essence that cannot seem to be put into words? When we cannot articulate the pure essence of the ineffable, assuming that there is one, how can we know it when and if we do? I know the world goes on, but all the searches for truth seem to be suspect if we cannot locate the bridge between language and what it tries to convey. Even if this problem is only sensed, maybe it can partially account for why there is mistrust between people with differing opinions?

“Words are the physicians of the mind diseased.” Aeschylus (525 BC – 456 BC), Prometheus Bound

How close does language come to articulating all that the world is, or as some might say reality? Can language only approximate reality? How do we know? So much, it seems can be taken for granted in the natural ease of our speech and use of language.

But if there is, and I believe there is, a world apart from language, can we prove that? And if not with language than with what? I wouldn’t say math because it too is a language, a representation, yes?

 “Touches are better than words, but words are better than nothing.” Dick Summer

Who hasn’t sensed that there is an underlying-ness that language approximates by putting the ineffable into words? A metaphor that works for me in describing the ineffable is the image of a well, a very deep well and that when we have immediate, non-verbal experiences in which we sense that there’s something beyond, we’ve fallen in the well. Resurfacing allows us to live in both worlds by using a bucket to visit the depths by dipping down into the well. But as much as I like this metaphor and sense it pointing to a truth, maybe it doesn’t. Or does it?

Is it consensus then? If enough people sense and agree that a metaphor approximates reality, do we then know the truth?

“Language shapes the way we think, and determines what we can think about.” Benjamin Lee Whorf

We might think that animals don’t have language or certainly trees, plants, stones and the elements don’t have language, but maybe they do. Jung often noted that psyche and soma are inseparable, and if that’s the case, some form of language could be said to exist for every and anything. Then language ceases to be merely representational and has its own underlying ineffability.

When the starlings go quiet and suddenly fly away in formation is that language?

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God.” Is that what John 1:1 is trying to tell us ?

I’m sure better minds than mine have already figured this stuff out and that there is a way out of what seems like a strange loop, even if it means to accept that language and reality are one and our best bet is to work at using language. But then reality truly remains at least a partial fantasy of sorts, but even that is saying too much as it implies that we can make a distinction between the two.

“Here we stand and without speaking  Draw the water from the well  And stare beyond the plains  To where the mountains lie so still ” Jackson Browne

Lament of the Dead

The mystery of life begins in death, for if death did not exist, think of all of the things that we would not struggle with and all of the questions we would not have much reason to ask. Imagine too the security and peace we might know without sickness, murder, pain and suffering that comes from both disease and the knowledge of our own death. What would be the reason for curiosity, for love, for needing each other if life was so easy that we could not err or cause harm?

It may well be that an existence that excluded death would be better, more peaceful and ideal. But that is not the world we live in. Perhaps the reason for things to be as they are is because the dayworld of the living that we know is necessary to create something greater than can be seen here. Maybe our purpose here is to use the seemingly separate and mortal lives we each live to bridge a gap between the dayworld of mortality and a world of eternity that we also belong to. Admittedly this is all very speculative.

Anna R. SmithBut doesn’t death need to be wondered about? Isn’t it the primary and essential problem of life? Does not death cause us to err, to struggle and live in fear? Doesn’t it also serve as the weapon of power for those that can garner the most security through technology, political and religious structures, serving as an insulation for an elite group of people who no longer share our common fears? Do not some people use death to threaten weaker beings?

And if that is not convincing enough and you are still reading this, how do we reconcile the angst and guilt we share and witness in the killing necessary for life to sustain itself? But don’t we also sense that there is more to life than what we know and perhaps the mystery of our existence can somehow be reconciled, and so every culture has carried on the search for that reconciliation.

These are some of the thoughts I have about death, along with the question not only of is there life after, or beyond death, but what would the nature of that afterlife be like, how does it relate to this life? Does the reconciliation between birth and death come from knowing that the nature of life is eternal, but through birth we, as Greek, Hindu and other mythologies tell us, forget about the eternal world?

Although we moderns don’t seem to easily discuss the nature of death, I believe its inevitability shades our life – remaining a constant unseen companion we fear if we do not acknowledge that we walk on our own graves. Even though the dead may depart from our dayworld they continue to haunt us when their questions, their sufferings go unacknowledged as belonging to all of us throughout history, our shared past. We live in the shadow of their unanswered questions when they’re connection to us is forgotten.

Many cultures have had a practice of ancestor worship, a way to keep a thread of continuity from those who came before us to those who will carry on after us.

In Lament of the Dead, Psychology after Jung’s Red Book, James Hillman teams up with Sonu Shamdasani, editor of C.G. Jung’s Red Book, for a series of conversations about the book in which Jung chronicles a psychotic period of his life from 1913-17. During that time he experienced visions and a flood of images that became the foundation for most of the ideas he is known for; archetypes, active imagination, typology, theories of the unconscious, individuation and wholeness.

I have not read the Red Book yet, but from reading Hillman and Shamdasani’s dialogue now feel compelled to. The dialogue revolves around Jung’s experience of encountering figures through active imagination and grappling with their questions.

Sonu says:

“What Jung hits upon is a stream of images and he encounters collective memory and fantasy. It’s not personal memory. There is a mnemonic dimension there, but he finds that what is animated, what is critical there, is collective memory. He finds himself having to address debates such as that between the Christian and the pagan and to see then how that reframes his own life. It’s not that his life is subtracted out of it, but the realia, the personalia of his life, isn’t the fundament. It’s the images that frame him.”

Jung came to believe that the figures he engaged in active imagination were not just inside him, but part of the ongoing dialogue taking place in the history of humankind. Sonu suggests:

“A shift occurs immediately when you stop thinking of Jung’s work in terms of the imperative to come to terms with the collective unconscious. If you shift from that language to the confrontation with the dead, accepting the lament of the dead, one’s understanding changes dramatically in that one enters a world and the problems one takes up and is confronted with are not one’s own.

And the issue then is how one adapts oneself, how one situates oneself, to these challenges. One is not dealing simply with an abstraction, the collective unconscious. One is dealing quite specifically with the dead of human history.”

The conversation moves on to the need for cosmology in our lives. Hillman is speaking here:

“Psychology may give you modes of understanding and you think you’re understanding yourself and others. But if you want to understand the world, you have to have a cosmology, you have to have a sense that things fit, that they belong, that there’s a need, a place to be given to it, and that there’s more and more to grasp. It’s the cosmos, and the Greek cosmos was an ordered and aesthetic realm.”

Cosmology moves us beyond our personal lives, although it also includes them, and it also includes the ancestors, their cares and concerns acknowledging the work they did carrying forward our understanding of life and the world we share. It invites us all to share in the continuance and importance of that quest.

When we can find a satisfying way to reconcile the mystery of our living with our dying; a cosmology that gives us enough meaning and sense that perhaps gives us a willingness to endure suffering, by knowing the true nature of ourselves, we may find a way to live in peace with a feeling that we belong here.

I’ll leave you with one more quote from Hillman, who laments as I do, the problem we moderns have:

“We’re a very strange culture, our modern, secular Western culture, in which our conversation, yours and mine, is set. We don’t have any ancestor worship, we don’t have any true cult of the dead. Different pieces of the culture do pieces of things, but even the use of the phrase “the dead” is hounded with frightening things— it belongs on the other side. There’s a radical separation in our modern culture between the living and the dead. All the medical work is life against death, to hold off death and prolong life, and at the expense of death, I would say.

So when we talk about the lament of the dead, or anything to do with the dead, we have to realize where we are situated, with its deep, historical prejudices against what has been and what is buried, and what we have done to create a realm of the dead, because it’s not merely those who went before us and died. It’s all the depository of the accumulation of human psychic history, the history of the soul. Somehow, since Jung talks about a lament of the dead, they must feel or have felt abused or neglected or something. The first step would be listening to them, which he did in the Seven Sermons of 1916, this sort of inspired religious document. But what is their lament?”

Hillman, James; Shamdasani, Sonu (2013-08-26). Lament of the Dead: Psychology After Jung’s Red Book (Kindle Locations 2237-2238). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

Dreaming with animals

I really enjoyed reading The First Gates blog post “Dreaming with Animals,” an insightful look at some primary differences between the works of C.G. Jung and James Hillman.

The First Gate

“What is the single greatest predictor of a hero’s success in folktales around the world?”

A professor who had studied the subject at length once posed that question in a psychology class. The answer, he said, was finding an animal helper. More than any other human or supernatural guide, an animal ally can lead the hero or heroine through trials and dangers to the end of their quest.

The professor was a friend and colleague of James Hillman (1926-2011) who loved animals and began collecting animal dreams in 1956.  Toward the end of his life, Hillman helped compile and update five decades of essays and lecture transcripts for a ten volume collection of his work.  Five volumes have been published to date, including Animal Presences, 2012, which I am currently reading.

After serving in the US Navy, Hillman studied at the Sorbonne, at Trinity College, Dublin, and in Zurich…

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Alchemical Psychology, Part VIII – Caelum

It has been a wonderful adventure re-reading and sharing here James Hillman’s wonderful book Alchemical Psychology. Every time I read Hillman I am inspired to keep digging the well that continues to give me sustenance, joy and the feeling that life does make sense. The writing of this series is my attempt to pay tribute to Hillman by presenting a smattering of his writing to you, along with a few of my own thoughts. Hillman has had a profound and lasting influence on my life and my intent here is to be true enough to the gift he has given me – keeping alive his spirit by passing along a bit of his writing to you. Links to parts One through Seven of this series of posts can be found on the Index page of the blog.

Hillman begins the last chapter of Alchemical Psychology by referring to Jung’s final work, Mysterium Coniunctionis in which Jung refers to the idea of the Caelum as:

‘ “a Heavenly Spirit that makes its way into the essential forms of things” ;

the “anima mundi in matter,”

“the truth itself,”

“a universal medicine,”

“a window into eternity,”

radiating “a magic power,”

“the unus mundus”

“unio mystica with the potential world, or mundus archetypus”

and the final realization of the alchemical opus.  We are headed to the edge.’

The chapter begins with a reflection about transcendent experience from a poem by Lisel Mueller partly quoted here:

“I will not return to a universe of objects that don’t know each other, as if islands were not the lost children of one great continent. The world is flux, and light becomes what it touches, becomes water, lilies on water, above and below water, becomes lilac and mauve and yellow and white and cerulean lamps, small fists passing sunlight so quickly to one another that it would take long, streaming hair inside my brush to catch it.”

And a story about Gustav Fechner, a 19th century German Philosopher and Experimental Psychologist who lost his sight for a while becoming completely house-bound when upon regaining his sight experienced the things of the world anew, as if now radiating light from within:

“I stepped out for the first time from my darkened chamber and into the garden … It seemed to me like a glimpse beyond the boundary of human experience. Every flower beamed upon me with a peculiar clarity, as though into the outer light it was casting a light of its own.”

About Fechner’s return to the world Hillman says:

“The book on the soul that followed his return to life was subtitled “a walk through the visible world in order to find the invisible.” Fechner now wore blue glasses. To protect his eyes? Or to protect his vision from the materialist perspective that preceded his blindness and which he now called the “night world”, i.e., the nigredo from which he had emerged.”

We don’t need science to point out what the poets and many others have always known to be true.

This last stage is a return to blue, although not the blue of “the Blues,” that we find in an earlier stage of Alchemy discussed in chapter two of Hillman’s book.

This blue is that which connects heaven and earth and is indeed the marriage of spirit and matter.

In 1944 Carl Gustav Jung suffered a heart attack that brought him very close to death in which he experienced what might be called a Near Death experience. What he experienced was a lifting up from earth into the heavens in which he then sees the beautiful blue world below:

“I experienced dreams and visions which must have begun when I hung on the edge of death … I had reached the outermost limit … It seemed to me that I was high up in space. Far below I saw the globe of the earth, bathed in a gloriously blue light. I saw the deep blue sea and the continents … its global shape shone with a silvery gleam through the wonderful blue light. ”

Hillman sees the common thread  running through these blue visions as a move towards the edge, which bring a unifying sense of the matter and spirit in the cosmos.

“Again that theme: cosmos without horizon, without partitions, as if a deeper layer of existence, which is “the foundation of the world of objects,” and is initiated by the blue experience.”

Jung, deeply touched, describes his experience as a rebirth:

“The being which had been reborn in me … with a sudden shudder of happiness … is nourished only by the essences of things … A minute freed from the order of time has recreated in us, to feel it, the man freed from the order of time.” 

Jung would go on to write about this experience in his book, Alchemical Studies and discuss the experience with numerous friends. In a letter to Jung from Wolfgang Pauli, Pauli writes:

I have come to accept the existence of deeper spiritual layers that cannot be adequately defined by the conventional concept of time. The logical consequence of this is that death of the single individual in these layers does not have its usual meaning, for they always go beyond personal life. ”

This idea of going beyond the personal may perhaps need some clarification. Transcending the personal does not mean leaving it behind in favor of a greater and more glorious transcendent world. I do worry that some may read into this that a move beyond the personal is a goal in which we attempt to abandon the personal mundane aspects of our lives. I do not see transcendence as a state to be achieved in which we leave behind the material, personal nature of our lives, but one in which a bridge between the two is built. The physical form of our bodies, our earthly life including the material nature of things, with their height, weight, birth and death are as much intended and necessary as is the spiritual and psychic nature that enliven us.

It also worth keeping in mind that these states are not limited to a chosen few, but available to us all. Many of us not only sense that there is more to this life than our physical, visible world, but that being inclined to favor one over the other is just as unsatisfying as being stuck in the mud of physical existence pining for the freedom of a purely spiritual existence. It’s the marriage of the two worlds that brings joy and ignites the passion of the creative force that delivers the gifts that each of us is to give.

Hillman puts it this way:

“Embodiment: is that not what is meant by macrocosm and microcosm together, a unus mundus? If embodiment is presaged already in the “blues” that sing of sadness and pull the soul down into the body’s longings and mournings, then the caelum expands skyward (Jung’s vision in the hospital, Pauli’s cosmic clock), the senses awakened to the presence of the whole wide world, urged forward as Miles Davis felt, enlivened as Proust says, as Fechner perceiving the dazzling flowers. Blue initiates “the birth of the aesthetic sense.”  ‘

And more:

“As I contemplate the blue of the sky I am not set over against it as an acosmic subject; I do not possess it in thought, or spread out toward it some idea of blue … I abandon myself to it and plunge into this mystery, it ‘thinks itself within me,’ I am the sky itself [my italics] as it is drawn together and unified … my consciousness is saturated with this limitless blue.” 

The point again having more to do with the marriage; an aesthetic sense of our lives which we find in the stories, display, or “things as they are.” Hillman rightly worries that his former profession, Psychology, has dropped the Psyche in favor of the Ology, boxing the soul in with formulas for interpretations rather than letting our stories show us where we are and “which god we have followed home.”

Hillman frequently insists that by sticking to the image, we will see what is there to be seen and that moving away from the image risks replacing them with concepts and formulas that move us away from the phenomena of the world, rather than towards it, in which we can then welcome what is trying to be born.

“Alchemy caught me and taught me with its aesthetics – its colors and minerals, its paraphernalia, freaks, and enigmatic imagistic instructions. It is like a vast collective artwork built through centuries. It offers an aesthetic psychology: a myriad of aperçus, images, sayings, stories, formulae; and all the while engaged with the matters of nature. It tells us to throw away the book of conceptual systems; no need for male and female, typology, stages, opposites, transference, self. Conceptual systems may be useful as a scaffolding for better access to the massa confusa, which alchemy presents to a logocentric mind. Too soon, however, the conceptual scaffold replaces alchemy itself, reducing it to merely providing examples to support the conceptual scaffold. ¡Que lastima!”

There is much more to this book than I could possibly present here, but I will stop here with Hillman’s nod to astrology in which he so beautifully summarizes the Caelum:

“The caelum, then, is an aesthetic condition of mind, on which the entire opus depends. Envision it as a night sky filled with airy bodies of the gods, those astrological images that are at once beasts and geometry  and participate in all things of the world as their imaginal ground. The caelum does not take place in your head, in your mind, but your mind moves in the caelum, touches the constellations. The thick and hairy skull opens to let in more light, their light, making possible a grand new idea of order, a cosmological imagination whose thought speaks for the cosmos in the aesthetic forms of images.”

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

Links to all posts in this series:

Colour My World , Alchemical Psychology, Part I – Black http://wp.me/pZ0y1-T7

Alchemical Psychology, Part II – Blue http://wp.me/pZ0y1-TA

Alchemical Psychology, Part III – Silver http://wp.me/pZ0y1-Um

Alchemical Psychology, Part IV – White http://wp.me/pZ0y1-UT

Alchemical Psychology, Part V – Yellow http://wp.me/pZ0y1-WV

Alchemical Psychology, Part VI – Red http://wp.me/pZ0y1-XT

Alchemical Psychology, Part VII – Air http://wp.me/pZ0y1-11b

Alchemical Psychology, Part VIII – Caelum http://wp.me/Z0y1

In a Nutshell

A quick tour of C.G. Jung’s idea of the Self is featured in the video below. Jung’s notion of the Self is a more modern term for describing an experience of what has had in the past many names and which Alan Watts called At-One-Ness. Humans from various times and places, have acknowledged a place in their culture for transpersonal experience – understood and assimilated through stories, myth, symbols, language, initiation. Support was given for assimilating these profound experiences that were understood to benefit the whole community. A whole that people knew themselves to be a part of and could not exist apart from.

Not to idealize the past, for all ages have had their share of miseries and hardship, and we carry the past with us and hopefully carry it forward into the future remembering and honoring what we’re here for.

For many in our day, an experience of deep unity, relatedness or what Jung  called the Self is not easily reconciled with our day to day living and can be ridiculed and considered suspect, unreal, or if you’re really hip – something your brain is doing to you. Yes, that’s how separate some of us feel today, not only the separation from God or the Garden, the gods or each other, but from the very body that we are! Amazing!

What caught my attention while listening to the video was the mention of the idea of assimilation, living with one foot in the conventional world, one foot in that other place, which has been called by many names – The Tao, the Underworld, Anima Mundi, Hades, The Light, Heaven, Cosmos, Nirvana. Many of us have glimpsed these places now and then. But like a dream that we wake up from, suddenly realizing we’re not dreaming,  little is left but the fluttering as that other world quickly fades away. Not without a trace however, or thankfully without leaving its mark.

Once you’ve been there, touched by it, you cannot unknow it. No one, no matter their expertise, lack of belief, teasing, logic or ability to talk you back into life’s conventional stream of activity, can take away – not only your memory of where you’ve been, but the knowing that enveloped you while there, building the bridge you are now learning to traverse.

The intuition, the non-verbal radar that connects you to the bigger picture where everything is related  – you now know it is not in you, but that you are in it, or are it and always have been, as is everyone else. And if you look for the relatedness between seemingly separated beings, things, ideas, you’ll see the necessity of each and every thing, place and time.

Photo credit: http://margopayne.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/worldviews-in-a-nutshell-two/