Secret Agent Man



The conceptual framing of one’s experience into spatial designations of ‘inner and outer,’ ‘self and other,’ ‘me and not me,’ ‘real and imaginary,’ shape, categorize, which through the force of habit and time coagulates into an assumed identity referred to as ‘me.’ Inversely, out of all that remains, the discarded elements of raw experience become what is not me; the dispossessed, unseen, invisible, incomprehensible “other.” Possession is the coagulator of the psyche’s primary boundaries that form an identity.


Hugo Simberg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Extending outward from one’s identity, the habit of ownership eventually include one’s experience, as it is put to memory, and the reflections absorbed into the private realms of awareness. As we come into contact with others who inhabit public or shared places a consensus, or shared reality then affirms and negates their accuracy and value. Our subjective states categorize the world, both private and public, into, among other things, truths and falsehoods predicated upon our buy-in to the consensus experienced within a cultural context, invisibly absorbed, contained and supported. One’s internal, private divisions tend to reflect and reciprocate public, external divisions. Private and public are then, two aspects of a dynamic pole defining both our individuality and the culture that often reflects the loudest and most resonant ideas and beliefs – devaluing or rejecting what lies on the perimeter and beyond; invisible, discarded, unacceptable or unbelievable according to the consensus as one experiences, absorbs and understands it.

Ideas about ourselves and others, rather than remaining fluid, tend to congeal into static objects by the force and habit of our mental states, thereby cementing for each of us a personal ‘self’ that negotiates definitions of “others.” Beyond, a privation or abstraction of a larger boundless reality remains hidden from awareness and sometimes denied any existence at all to the degree that consensus belief, opinions and buy-in influence the permission given for consideration and valuation of the private states we all experience.

The inability to incorporate and validate the existence of private experience constitutes a loss of dimension and depth, and risks reducing what is by nature fluid into static events and figures of ‘me’ and ‘you.’ What I am then becomes defined by what I censor and can articulate from experience – through the skills, body image, gender and generation that contextualize my experience. What I am not remains dispossessed, unknown and can only be seen by what is rejected – including how others are perceived to be, or to have, that are not mine. The eyes become I’s, the nose no longer knows, and the ear cannot hear.

Consciousness then, abstracts experience into concepts of what is real and imaginary, mine or not mine, friend or foe, true or false. Because our modern myth deems it culturally unacceptable not to accept, believe or buy into the existence of a one true objective reality, imagination is rarely understood as that primary aspect of each person’s experience which apprehends; filtering according to the habits of one’s culture, time and place, but rather is believed to be a special instance of ‘creativity:’ a gift that we either have or have not.



The more one’s agency looks to the consensus for validation rather than to one’s experience, which may not be consensual but rather deeply private and subjectively interior, the less agency one might avail towards the more interior realms of experience. Without a sense of one’s own agency, and its direct access to a reality less censored by either one’s own habits of filtering, or influence from the consensus, we in turn risk denying the existence of agency to other beings. Agency here is understood as the source and ability to apprehend and that which enables us to experience at all – to reflect, evaluate, reveal, hide and express. The less we can distinguish between our private direct experience and consensual filtering, the less agency available to us.

It’s no wonder that both the invisibles; God, or the gods, or even the visible living have become dead to us. Rather than experiencing any direct communion with the invisibles, it’s replaced with belief in ideas or opinions shared among visible beings and approved through a consensus of public agreements, however we come to define them.

Without acknowledging direct, private experience we submit our agency; our ability for true communion, to the human level of the so-called experts of our time, place and public opinion. As we seek for knowledge and power outside the agency of direct experience, the experts proliferate as god-like voices that provide a shared containment for an agreed upon objective reality that serves to validate our deprived and seemingly hopelessly subjective self.



The less we avail ourselves to direct experiences of private states in which we encounter all that visibly or invisibly influences us, and in turn give full agency and permission to have these direct encounters, the more we fall prey to influence as it appears to us in any form; invisible, human, or consensus opinion. The power of unseen influence is then replaced by consensual sources within the visible, human world – making heroes, villains, saviors and saints out of those affirmed and believed to literally have power. Through consensual experience we reject any notion that power might come from unseen, invisible sources. We then look to humanity for power, placing our devotions at the feet of individual public figures, crowned as leaders, professionals or experts, rather than understanding the human condition through an ongoing personal practice of expanding one’s apprehension and senses born of subjective experience. The idealism, perfection, purity once belonging to the gods, is now a choir of fallen angels echoing god-like voices in the human world, placing an impossible burden and expectation on people just like us; limited, frail and faulty.


Beware of pretty faces that you find
A pretty face can hide an evil mind
Oh, be careful what you say
Or you’ll give yourself away
Odds are you won’t live to see tomorrow

Johnny Rivers

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:


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.

Born at the Right Time

“By means of personifications my sense of person becomes more vivid for I carry with me at all times the protection of my daimones: the images of dead people who mattered to me, of ancestral figures of my stock, cultural and historical persons of renown and people of fable who provide exemplary images–a wealth of guardians. They guard my fate, guide it, probably are it. “Perhaps–who knows,” writes Jung, “these eternal images are what men mean by fate.” We need this help, for who can carry his fate alone?” – James Hillman

With gratitude I remember James Hillman and the many ways he influenced my life. It could take a lifetime for me to articulate with precision in what ways his ideas unstuck my thinking and understanding of life, language and human experience.
Twice, I was able to participate in his “work shops,” one up in Seattle in 1996, and again in San Francisco in 1997. These were intense, sometimes bordering on frightening engagements of conversation, poetry and music between Hillman, Robert Bly, and Michael Meade and all of us who attended as we came together to reflect on the shared experience of our place in time and the disintegration of our culture.
In the late 1980’s, shortly before moving out west, I came across one of Hillman’s books, while in the course of reading the works of C.G Jung. His writing immediately gripped me. He had a way of penetrating, seeing through, in his reflections on any and everything that he wrote  about. Here was someone who was not afraid of traveling in the dark, going deeper and deeper to be with the more unwelcome aspects of our human experience and particularly our sufferings.
In the mire of my own psychic confusion, I was attracted to Hillman’s insistence that we need to be in the dark, and stay with what presents itself to us in our suffering and ask what it wants from us, rather than the more common insistence that we make the pain go away, that we fix it, whether with drugs, or by refusing our emotions and the seeming helplessness of our situation.
The insistence that we shouldn’t be broken in our very broken world should in and of itself be an idea for us to challenge.
Hillman was both masterful and poetic with language and understood that we live by the metaphors that have us in their grip and that it is our language, habits, lack of reflection and a false dichotomy between reality and imagination that keep us stuck and cursed by the literalizing and concretizing of our ideas and notions of both ourselves and the world we inhabit.
His 1997 book, The Soul’s Code, In Search of Character and Calling, would become his biggest seller, and even landed him an interview on Oprah’s show. By far his easiest read, written for a wider audience while still capturing the essence of his ideas and reflections on where we go wrong with how we understand ourselves and our culture.
My life’s journey has moved me some distance from a crazier time in my life when it seemed I had to unravel a bit before a gradual reassembling. I still greatly admire Hillman even when I find myself in disagreement with some of what he says. I’ll leave those disagreements for another post, another day.
Here is a link to a more recent and rare interview between Hillman and Scott London:

The sins of the father…

“Anyone who wants to know the human psyche will learn next to nothing from experimental psychology.  He would be better advised to abandon exact science, put away his scholar’s gown, bid farewell to his study, and wander with human heart throughout the world.  There in the horrors of prisons, lunatic asylums and hospitals, in drab suburban pubs, in brothels and gambling-hells, in the salons of the elegant, the Stock Exchanges, socialist meetings, churches, revivalist gatherings and ecstatic sects, through love and hate, through the experience of passion in every form in his own body, he would reap richer stores of knowledge than text-books a foot thick could give him, and he will know how to doctor the sick with a real knowledge of the human soul.” — Carl Jung

 Reading Jung left me with the sense that my intuition and experience of the world as a messy place was not an unreasonable conclusion to come to. I spent a lot of time in the following years reading and psychically attending to the darker and more shadowy side of the world. No longer an innocent, I wanted to know and perhaps try to understand all that humans had been through and how it was that we got to our time in history. Why did humans seem to perpetuate so much evil? Was it the lack of security from easy access to basic necessities such as food and shelter along with powerlessness in the face of disease and each other? What made us seemingly so different from the animals?

Animals also live with the same scarcity of security and live and die not unlike we do, but they don’t seem bothered in quite the same ways as we do. They kill for food, fight for dominance, but rarely to the death of rivals within their own kind. But humans have filled history with an interspecial rivalry that continually leads to conquest at the great cost to each other and to ourselves.

But, it wasn’t for the horror of history that my interest remained fixated on our collective past. I wanted to understand psychically what it is that humans are doing. All of this was part of my ever-expanding search for a sense of myself, an identity. My life felt unstarted, directionless, as if I had been dumped into an alien world a total stranger. This might have been a common situation experienced by many, but if so, I was not aware of it. Partly, because I had just enough fear keeping me from finding out from others, and partly because most people I approached with conversations about cosmological concerns did not seem to share either my sense of alienation, lack or misplacement of identity or a strong and incessant drive to understand who and what we are.

In the historical search lies a sense or a pull to “get to the bottom of the problem.”  Who or what then is to blame for our condition? There have been many answers to this question, and I think that how we answer this question plays a part in what direction we steer our boat in the cosmological ocean. It never occured to me then just how much the personal state of my life was driving this quest for understanding and that perhaps this was why other people did not pose the same questions to themselsves.

I noticed that after absorbing the history of a millenia or two worth of mankinds failings that a feeling of dispair and cynicism seemed like the most appropriate response. It was tempting to resign myself to the view that perhaps mankind was a blight upon the universe and my small and trivial life was just one more wink in the sleep of the cosmic nightmare. But the coming to such a negative conclusion did nothing to quench my thirst for understanding. Sigh…

Inspite of our seemingly trivial and pointless lives there remained for me the quest of knowing who I am and to finally bring the quest directly to my own doorstep. If my thirst for understanding was not sated by the knowledge of our collective human history, what then? What did my psychic appetite want?

What drives each of us to be who we are and especially our own peculiar pathologies? Is it the sins of the fathers, genetics, astrology, culture, personal or collective guilt?

In my late twenties, my sense of being lost and without direction, ironically, or coincidentally, put me on a path that eventually found me living alone, 3,000 miles away from family and familiar friends. At last I reached a place of wilderness in an unknown territory, both psychically and geographically. In 1991 I had moved from my native Long Island NY home of 33 years to Portland, Oregon. Although I moved out there with a male companion, by 1993 we had gone our separate ways. In hindsight, I am surprised that I stayed out west. I was terribly lonely, and felt like I was forever circling around the Great Abyss. 

Faster than I could run away from it, the aloneness that surrounded me created a space that gave a new shape to my life. Once that space had been created, there was no longer any way to deny that I was the problem and any real answers to my personal pathology would be found only through learning to live in the dark unchartered depths of being alone with enough courage, space and time to live in the day to day of the mess of my own being. There was something for me to do now and knowing that meant no turning back.

I cannot say whether the sins of the fathers brought me to this place, but I think I felt like they did. Everything in my life seemed entangled with everything else, from human history to family history, I could not tell the difference between me, my life and anything or anyone else. I could not tell how I was getting from one place to another let alone why. I felt pulled from one experience to the next as if I were riding in a car with no driver. Before I could ever hope to be in relationship to others I had to have some way to be able to have a sense of who I was and what I wanted and where I wanted to be. I needed and sorely lacked a vision.

The next two or so years would be the most tumultuous, tortured and crazy years of my life. But it’s true that what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.

“The broken part heals even stronger than the rest,”
they say. But that takes awhile.
And, “Hurry up,” the whole world says.
They tap their feet. And it still hurts on rainy
afternoons when the same absent sun
gives no sign it will ever come back.
“What difference in a hundred years?”
The barn where Agnes hanged her child
will fall by then, and the scrawled words
erase themselves on the floor where rats’ feet
run. Boards curl up. Whole new trees
drink what the rivers bring. Things die.
“No good thing is easy.” They told us that,
while we dug our fingers into the stones
and looked beseechingly into their eyes.
They say the hurt is good for you. It makes
what comes later a gift all the more
precious in your bleeding hands.

~William Stafford

“Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth.

Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them: I am the Lord thy God, mighty, jealous, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me: And shewing mercy unto thousands to them that love me, and keep my commandments.” Exodus 20, Douay-Rheims translation