“I” is an Aggregate

Terminology, concepts, definitions; these subtle attributes of our understanding seem somewhat neglected and confused in our culture. One of the joys for me of studying both Jung’s Analytical Psychology and Hillman’s notion of Archetypal Psychology, is to participate in an ongoing conversation of the fundaments of human nature.

In this next installment of examining James Hillman’s book, Anima, and Anatomy of a Personified Notion, we look at the notion of Ego, and especially its relation to Jung’s idea of the Conscious, as he understood these terms. Ego, as an idea, concept or definition, has been with us for a very long time and has a complex history of both usage and meaning. Perhaps this is fitting for a word that takes on the impossible task of serving as a single referent for the total sum of who we are.

For Jung, ego was sometimes used to refer to the conscious self, but not always, and especially not in his discussion of the soul’s movement toward Individuation, or Wholeness. Hillman says:

The ego as base of consciousness has always been an anachronistic part of analytical psychology. It is a historical truth that our Western tradition has identified ego with consciousness… But this part of Jung’s thought does not sit well with either his notion of psychic reality or his therapeutic goals of psychic consciousness. What brings cure is archetypal consciousness (mediated by the anima as we know from other passages), and his notion of consciousness is definitely not based upon ego.

Here he quotes Jung:

It is as though, at the climax of the illness, the destructive powers were converted into healing forces. This is brought about by the archetypes awaking to independent life and taking over the guidance of the psychic personality, thus supplanting the ego with its fertile willing and striving… the psyche has awakened to spontaneous activity….something that is not his ego and is therefore beyond the reach of his personal will. He has regained access to the sources of psychic life, and this marks the beginning of the cure. (CW 11, 534)

Hillman continues examining the notions of ego, consciousness and their relationship to anima and animus. He notes definitions by Bachelard and Onians that see anima as the reflective navigator of consciousness, and animus as the possessive owner of it. He then brings us back to Jung’s idea of the relativization of the ego to consciousness, a very important idea for what Hillman calls archetypal consciousness.

The ‘relativization of the ego,” that work and that goal of the fantasy of individuation, is made possible, however, from the beginning if we shift our conception of the base of consciousness from ego to anima archetype, from I to soul. Then one realizes from the very beginning (a priori and by definition) that the ego and all its developmental fantasies were never, even at the start, the fundament of consciousness, because consciousness refers to a process more to do with images than will, with reflection rather than control, with reflective insight into, rather than manipulation of, ‘objective reality.’

Poem of the Soul - The flight of the soul. Courtesy of Musée des beaux-arts de Lyon - Public Domain

Poem of the Soul – The flight of the soul. Courtesy of Musée des beaux-arts de Lyon – Public Domain

This, I believe, expresses the heart of Hillman’s insights into Jung’s brilliant work. Perhaps if the images that consciousness continually streams are too quickly interpreted by that historical aggregate we call ‘I’; dismissed, ignored, or entirely off the radar of our awareness, we are left with whatever the aggregate, habit of self has the capacity for, leaving no possibilty for the awareness that anything lies beneath the stream of consciousness, or that there even is a stream, and especially not one of our own making.

An unrelativized ego becomes both the possessor and the possessed, habitually literalizing one’s stream of consciousness into objects that one understands, controls, and that in turn, control the entire state of being of a person’s waking, conscious, experience.

By contrast, an animated, soulful experience of waking states challenges all tempts to possess one’s conscious experience, becoming more aware through time and practice that all ideas and moods are subject to archetypal influence. Just as we cannot lay claim to that which beats our heart, we cannot lay sole claim to the source of our thoughts, ideas or feelings that stream into awareness as pure, raw images.

Anima, Soul, Psyche

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

Ba_ombre_sortie_tombe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About this he says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I-Me-Mine

Is it the fear of what is other, the initial recognition of duality, that tempt us further into categorizations of duality? Is individuality, that necessary movement for freedom of action, what fosters a battle stance, a duality initiating all future duels?

Perhaps fear of the other must finally, as Jung suggested, reduce the gods to diseases, eliminating their autonomy, along with the autonomy of ideas, that now further reduces all human perception to the material causes of brain chemistry, neurons, or delusional thinking. Could we have moved from a world where once all was personified, to one where we’re not even sure of our own personhood?

“…the experience of the gods, of heroes, nymphs, demons, angels and powers, of sacred animals, places, and things, as persons indeed precedes the concept of personification. It is not that we personify, but that the epiphanies come as persons.”

Pan, Mikhail Vrubel 1900

“Epiphanies come as persons,” for us rarely, but to understand the truth of this we can look to dreams or art.

If you can possess your experience, all threats of “other” are “managed.” Filtering experience, we make sense of the world as fits our emotional state, religious viewpoint, cultural conventions, language skills, or whatever else fits the habits of our awareness. Barriers between us and the world are forged categorically: self and other, self and self (resistance even to unwanted thoughts and fantasies that have their way when all is quiet), self and world (especially the uncivilized worlds of forest, jungle, deep-sea and inner city). Sometimes, it is only through a dream or nightmare that we may be reached, and then, rather than hear a message, we might rather insist it was something we ate. 🙂

“When Pan is dead, then nature can be controlled by the will of the new god, man, modeled in the image of Prometheus or Hercules, creating from it and polluting in it without a troubled conscience.”

In their book, Pan and the Nightmare, Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher and James Hillman remind us of a historical account of Herodotus’ in which Pheidippides receives a message from the god Pan that saves Athenian democracy:

“Herodotus says Pan burst in on Pheidippides, cried out his name, and gave him a crucial message that saved Athens. The leaders of Athens believed Pheidippides, won the battle, and set up the Cult of Pan in Athens. Were the cunning and intelligent Greeks so deluded? Did all this come about because of the exhausted state of mind of a certain messenger who had a sudden bright idea and conjured up “Pan” to bless it with authority?”

Here Hillman mocks the modern prejudice which insists the phenomena of receiving messages from the gods is some form of delusion or power grab. I agree with Hillman that it is to the essence of the experience; that of being receptive to receiving messages, that remains relevant to us. What has modernity done for us by refusing to even entertain any such direct experience of the divine? Are we any wiser, safer, secure in our destiny, more civil in our interactions, more caring for home, city and planet for it?

I love the hints, suggestions, ideas and messages that come through experiencing the world as personal; alive, layered, varied, imprecise, whose purpose serves more than functionality. When fear provokes me into summarily dismissing a foreign way of looking at something, or a new way to hear an old idea, it leaves an unsettled feeling in my heart. That unsettledness, when attended to, eventually brings a gift of insight, understanding, compassion, beauty and love.

When ideas themselves can be seen as other, coming to us personified, as dream images do – without the threat of seeming like a foreign invasion, the desire to possess them and boss them around lessens. Their gravitas remain, but without weighing us down as their owners. If there is one gift I have received from spending time with Hillman’s ideas, it is this loosening and respect of fear, and an increase of interest in ideas for their own sake.

“Could we step back from our times, step out of the pretensions of the fearing ego who would bring every atom of nature under its control? Then we might realize again that we are not the source of personified gods. We do not make them up, anymore than we invent the sounds we hear in the woods, the hoof prints in the sand, the nightmare pressure weighing on our chests.”

As well, it is freeing when I recognize that others are also not the author of ideas. We may all be possessed by them, but who knows where their source lies?

Perhaps our need to possess ideas, shifting them away from an experience of the divine, comes from the absorption of polytheism by monotheism, and monotheism by scientistic materialism that takes monotheism one step further. If monotheism reduced the gods to one, separating divinity from the material world, materialism finished the job by removing altogether any notion of the divine, reducing the world to mostly dead bits and pieces bossed around by chemistry, math and physics.

But the shifting of states of awareness through the ages may be necessary, and the Greek imagination helps us to see Dionysus at work here. It may be Dionysus, the only god to have one mortal parent, that best represents the psychological style of modern consciousness, for he was both a god of the grapes, given to transcendent ecstasy, but also ripped apart by the Titans to avenge his father Zeus’ love of Semele, his mortal mother.

Can this myth tell us something about the modern tendency to reduce the world into bits and parts, along with a love of transcendent states, whether through drugs, alcohol, technology, apocalyptic visions or meditative states? Can we see the possessiveness in reducing the world to bits and pieces, and deadening it for the sake of control?

In slicing and dicing as we have throughout the last millenia, perhaps the resulting technology will come to serve another twist of fate. Through the transcendent impulse, we may see seeing, taking on a birds-eye view of not only our planet, but of the vastness beyond our understanding, which may foster in yet another Dionysian trait; a rebirth into another style of consciousness, one that expects variety, and without fear, experiences the divine everywhere.

All quotes, Hillman, James; Roscher, Wilhelm Heinrich (2014-10-09). Pan and the Nightmare. Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.