Under the Influence

Culture

In the not too distant past, people everywhere were still insulated from much awareness of the world beyond one’s local family and tribe. We might now take for granted how much technology has expanded our reach beyond the immediate time and place we find ourselves in. Mobility through technology allows very different peoples and cultures to mingle and merge, as it also expands our reach.

We moderns seek an explanation for everything, and now we can find it ‘online.’ We look to, reference and then quote the experts – or share a meme that claims a truth through an emotionally appealing story – for winning our ideological and psychological battles that the subjective, private self feels obliged to acknowledge in order to be validated and heard. The risk is to hand over our personal agency to collective forces, becoming enslaved by ideologues or by anyone who has our ear. Even if it lies unacknowledged, in the shadow of every ideology there lies an end game.

Every generation fights a new bogey man: whatever public institution, once deemed and revered as expert, eventually falls from grace. This is how it must be. All will eventually fall, as long as the categories themselves of ‘public and private’ remain in a dynamic tension in which one negates the other, rather than serving as that which shows us a third way which places agency back into one’s experience where we can then turn to – that place where all struggles ultimately find their residence.

Hurry Up!

After thousands of years of toil and disease, in which millions of human lives lived were fraught with pain and suffering, technology began to serve us well. But somewhere we have moved beyond a level of relative comfort to a place we’ve never been before. Unlike the self-reliant nature of walking, the speed of a car, while increasing our freedom to move, at the same time increases our expectation of ever greater speeds. Our desires seem insatiable with the idea that technology will increasingly bring more freedom, comfort and one day perhaps the Promised Land itself.

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La Fileuse (Maryo File la Laine). – The Spinner. Zincograph with hand-coloring Indianapolis Museum of Art. PublicDomain

With desires and expectations far removed from human nature we’re twice as vulnerable in an era when technology and social media become the primary source of opinions, stories, images and ideas that are ‘shared,’ ‘liked’ and distributed in their most base form. Memes, quickly consumed as simple explanations, offer platitudes and solutions in an increasingly complex and shared world. We fill our need for ever deeper, more personal reflection with collective opinions distributed just as other goods are bought, sold, and often time, borrowed on credit. Faster food, faster cars, faster weapons, faster information foster unreflected opinions that define reality and tempt us into drawing conclusions about what is broken and how things should be. How to fix what technology driven by a desire for ever-increasing speed breaks? Speed kills, but more than that, while giving an illusion of connecting long distances, cheats us out of deeper bonds to each other and the world that the slowness of essential daily tasks once provided.

Our desperation to make the world better shares this hurried frenzy. We risk the loss of skills for mediating between a multitude of competing ideas, where a deeper understanding of the nature of social and individual problems might counter the overbearing collective influence.

Perhaps our hurry serves to move us past the unbearable pain of increased awareness of the plight of others whom we are often powerless to help, and into the pleasure of believing in a solution that fits our cultural frame of reference. With the solution in mind, rather than the problem, all that’s left is to blame those that don’t share our vision, who we then scapegoat as either unenlightened, brainwashed, or simply “haters.” (Perhaps our exasperation is an important clue that our understanding is not yet complete and still wants something from us.)

Technology in the Driver’s Seat

Although technology extends our awareness, it can breed emotions for things and events far beyond our reach, and still carry with it an expectation that our influence and responsibility might increase too, giving the impression that together, we can solve the world’s problems. Alone with one’s computer, the bigger-than-ever world is now at my fingertips. Perhaps this is why frustration, depression and pathology more readily find us offline, as we never quite find our unique voice that can skillfully mediate and express ideas that we’re attracted to. We remain dispossessed; both afraid and unaware of the reach and limits of our own agency. With all of the speed of technology, the experts we seek for validation still own us.

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Influence

The increased reach of our psyche is far out of proportion to our individual influence on the world’s troubles. The more power, influence and responsibility I think I’m suppose to have, the more I suffer when things beyond my control break my heart. I feel this deeply.

Power and influence, and the question of who has it and who doesn’t, are breeding a new pathology. Never before have we had a spotlight big enough to expose so much to so many. The power of one small cellphone to globally broadcast any event to anyone anywhere is unprecedented. The changes brought to our psyche and to every culture are perhaps unstoppable and seemingly chaotic, contributing as much to the solutions of our problems as to the pathological states that bring harm to so many of us.

No matter one’s beliefs or culture, common archetypal themes grip and haunt us all. In a world saturated by apocalyptic visions and imagery, it is to our teleological views that we might now turn to, not to believe in them more, but to see through them and the power that belief infuses into crumbling cultures. Regardless of their veracity, it is our very belief in them that divides us into opposing forces of believers and heretics, penetrating our awareness and identity with a desire to convert the unfaithful over and above anything else. Falling into belief (defined here as a mistaking of the desire for something ultimately unknowable to be true) is itself pathological, ever in need of validation, reassurance and defense that is beyond the human condition to obtain.

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F-15 and F-16 flying over a burning oil field in Kuwait in 1991. US Air Force. Public Domain

While it once seemed that the old institutions of church, social mores, government and superstition were to blame for our oppression and lack of freedom, as these structures begin to crumble, we might increasingly recognize a kind of personal free agency, unincorporated, to the extent that we don’t, out of fear and desperation, seek out ideologies and authorities to replace those fallen idols.

The desire to win an outcome stemming from any collective ideology, empowers the experts, who in the cultural free fall, solicit our dependence – increasing their influence over us while limiting the pool of ideas of what is possible. Corruption can be more readily justified through strength of belief. The antidote to belief is to stop worshiping at its altar, not the altar of any one specific belief, but the altar of belief itself. Ultimately, at root, what any of us always has – and which remains the very ground of our existence, is experience.

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

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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.

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.

Class Notes – Session Twelve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Materials

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

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

Hillman says of the alchemists work with metals:

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

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

Saturn = Lead

Jupiter = Tin

Mars = Iron

Sun = Gold

Mercury = Quicksilver (Mercury)

Venus = Copper

Moon = Silver

Operations

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

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

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

Stages

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

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

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

Dream Tribes

Could it be possible that dreams contain a level of knowledge not available to our conscious awareness? Who then, is the dreamer, and what is the dream? How can we enter into the dream’s perspective with the demands of our busy, techno-crazed day world where our sense of self as a separate body, by necessity, dominates, taking precedence over the seemingly distant and elusive night-time experience of who we are?

Before Hillman, Jung, and Freud, there were the beginnings of what we might recognize today as modern dream researchers, but their ideas have been over-shadowed or ignored because they didn’t produce a school of followers, a program of therapy, or get much recognition from those who came after them.

Frederic William Henry Myers, born February 6, 1843 in England, was a classicist, philologist, and founder of the Society for Psychic Research. Much of his psychic research is questionable, but his essays on dreams and states of consciousness as quoted by Sonu Shamdasani below interests me. Perhaps the quote below is disturbing or ridiculous enough to some to not warrant much thought. Call me crazy, but this resonates deeply with me:

“One may even say that with the first touch of sleep the superficial unity of consciousness disappears, and that the dream world gives us a truer representation than the waking world of the real fractionation or multiplicity existing beneath that delusive simplicity which the glare of waking consciousness imposes upon the mental field of view.”

Sonu goes on to say that Myers believed that dreaming went on all the time, but our day world awareness, acting as a filter, narrows our sense of self to an illusory, unified whole that aligns more properly with the individual nature of our body. Could it be that the psyche is so fluid as to adapt to the circumstances of the life forms it inhabits? If so, this may help us to understand the group behavior of other species, such as ants, bees and birds, who clearly know at a distance their roles within the context of the needs of the group. Are we just different from them, or, have we lost the ability to dream, think and share a common, or public mind, as perhaps our ancestors once experienced.

In a very unusual statement to modern ears, Meyers gave credence to the possibility that he was more than his waking self, as dreams and other transpersonal states suggest:

“Our habitual or empirical consciousness may consist of a mere selection of thoughts and sensations, of which some at least are equally conscious with those we empirically know. I accord no primacy to my ordinary waking self, except that among my potential selves this one has shown itself the fittest to meet the needs of common life.”

He goes on to say:

“I hold that it has established no further claim, and that it is perfectly possible that other thoughts, feelings, and memories, either isolated or in continuous connection, may now be actively conscious, as we say, `within me’, – in some kind of coordination with my organism, and forming some part of my total individuality.”

Perhaps – or perhaps too, these vagaries suggest that there is communication going on between us and members of our group, or as Jungian Analyst Tess Castleman, in her book, Threads, Knots and Tapestries, How Tribal Connection is Revealed Through Dreams and Synchronicities, prefers to call it, our tribe. By tribe she means a group of people, known to each other or not, but part of a web of relationship which experiences an entanglement on a level below awareness, in her words, “the part of the human psyche where intersection lies within relationship.”

She believes, as did some preliterate cultures, that dreams not only carry personal meaning, but are given to an individual for the sake of the group, or tribe that one belongs to. The message of a dream is not only for you, but in response to your relationship within a group. As a modern though she does acknowledge that this public aspect of the dream does not suggest that we should run out into the street and tell the world our dream. As she so wonderfully puts it:

“Telling a dream is like undressing.”

Indeed.

Freedom of mobility and technology make bonding within a group difficult as people once did. She suggests that dream groups and other purposeful gatherings of people may become places where the telling of our dreams can once again find both shared meaning and a transformative process for each of the participants.

I recently heard about Tess’ work from a co-worker and look forward to participating in one of her dream groups in early December. Her book is quite good and puts a slightly different slant on the subject of dreams for me. I often feel that I am connecting with people through my dreams, whether they be people I know, deceased friends, relatives, or strangers, their otherness is compelling for its stark difference to my day world sensibilities.

Her book describes her experience with both analysands and dream groups. The many complexities of blending and sorting the smeary, or as she says, gooey aspects of interactions between the participants, often includes a bonding where synchronous and meaningful events become commonplace.

For skeptics, at the very least, it may be important to remember that if the dream world seems so foreign as to lack any meaning, or too ridiculous to warrant thinking about them, it is that very strangeness that may be inviting us to consider the mystery that lies within them.

“The questions dreams bring to consciousness, the curiosities and the imagination needed to receive them, opens a territory within oneself that enlivens and restores the modern soul.”

For me, the beauty of dreams is that they continue to open up my deficient day world perspective, night after night, faithfully presenting to me new images, places, people and events in strange settings beyond the limits of my waking self’s choosing.

As noted, quotes by:

Castleman, Tess (2004-08-01). Threads, Knots, Tapestries. Kindle Edition.

Sonu Shamdasani. Jung and the Making of Modern Psychology: The Dream of a Science. Kindle Edition.

…and in the end

“The love you take is equal to the love you make.” Lennon/McCartney

These thoughts touch upon my belief about beliefs; the nature of belief, and aim at peering into what, rather than how, or why, we have and hold them, near and dear to our hearts, as endings are sometimes necessary ideas along the way.

Along with the plot, characters and theme, stories too are snapshots; they begin, and at some point end. Endings invite reflections; of mortality, the nature of limits imposed upon us by time and other constraints, and also to openings through the movement of the story. We may ask, what happened, what did the story mean, did I like the story, who wrote it, did it end well?

But we might also ask, who am I in the story, and who am I not?

Stories tell us something and we in turn, tell them back, to each other and to ourselves. In many ways we live storied lives, in which we may sense an overarching theme, a calling, purpose or meta-pattern of our life.

We can also find the underpinnings, the ground of our life, as it presents itself in the minutia and detail of each day, each moment. We hear it in the question, “what happened?” We answer in story form, no matter how far or close our answer is to the truth. Truth, always slightly out of reach, no matter how much we desire, eludes us in spite of the hints of its existence we glimpse along the way. We experience A-ha moments, symbols, intuition, beauty, love, hate – and we may say, as I often do, “Oh truth, I know you’re out there. How I long for you, reveal to me your mysteries.”

Por los caminos de Málaga – Flickr: Endrino

But perhaps it’s the mixing of the particulars of what we do know, with a desire for a more unifying view of all that is, that begets our fall into a mythology of Endings, both of our personal existence and the story of the world. The plot of our life story drives us to our beliefs, our cosmology and affinity for the myths we live by. Perhaps we fall into belief too by design and the intentionality of the gods great scheming, which like gravity, maintain their hold on us, insisting that we too, have a part in the play.

Embedded in our telling though, is more than truth in the sense of some all-encompassing knowing. Embedded in our telling is revelation of the particular way we have of making sense of the world. By that I am suggesting that we each carry with us a certain intentionality that we are more or less aware of. The lovely Hawthorn tree in my front yard, from its seedling birth, to now, intends to be a Hawthorn, not an Oak, Maple, or Prairie Fire. We are, like them, limited by nature, historical and geographical circumstances, and yet contain a certain intentionality, ever sculpting and refining as we move toward our unique character and fate. Caught in the middle of absolutes we call predestination and free will, we float between these two absolutes, perhaps tempted to take sides.

The end of a story told then, might move us deeper into our own story. The unique and particular story living through each of us, with its own plots, characters, place and time, where we can sense intentionality wanting something from us. This wanting is, as James Hillman reflects in Healing Fiction, the play between desire, love, and soul. Soul as mediatrix,* an enlivening of events into experience for soulmaking, as Hillman sees in the dynamic of the story of Eros and Psyche.

“Does not this want of the soul reflect the essential nature of Eros whose mother was Penia (poverty, neediness, want)? And is it not this want which is present each time we are in love, whether in the transference of therapy or in the love that develops while engaged with a piece of imaginative work, a poem or novel?”

The endless desires of Eros is for Psyche, or soul. Eros leads to Psyche.

Hillman is speaking here of a patient in therapeutic engagement:

“Our example shows that he did not first love soul and then move his love to the world as a moral  duty: to do unto others. Nor was it that soul first loved him so that he could return this love to the world. The love itself changed its nature, as in the myth of Eros and Psyche. Now it was no longer his loving the soul or caring for it in Sorge, as an Ich vis-a-vis a Du. Now Psyche and Eros had come together indistinguishably: when he was with psyche, there was love that included him as one of its images and expanded “out” of its own accord into fellow feeling. Through feeling the importance of his psychic persons, he felt loved by them. There was no longer some one, a subject, loving some one else, an object.”

Hillman later quotes a dialogue of a patient using active imagination:

“It is not a question of giving space to others, or feeling their space, your patients, but of perceiving the exact place where they each are at, where they move within, what part of the house is theirs, accurately and small. Place qualifies space. The canvas is made of small soft brush strokes, the sculpture of chipping, the symphony of tiny notes. Molecules, each at an exact place. Each image is a placing. You can’t move small enough.”

As E.F. Schumacher says, “small is beautiful.” We live both in and out of the particulars of our circumstances, feet on the ground, and with every step a movement into an engagement with the images and particulars, the details that make up each moment. Love them and you may come to love others and the things in the world and see with soul, a mediation that brings love and engagement to all we encounter.

Orazio Gentileschi exposed the erotic vulnerability of the male figure in his Cupid and Psyche (1628–30)

“The soul wants many things – to be loved, to be heard, to be named and seen, to be taught, to be let out, out in the street, out of the prisons of psychological systems, out of the fiction of interiority which forces it to project itself to gain outer recognition. We know too it has a vital interest in the life and behavior of its keeper on whom it depends; but this interest is not in the life and behavior as such, to help it or cure it. Rather it seems to be an interest in life for soul’s sake. It seems to ask that our sense of first importance shift from life to soul, that life be given value in terms of soul and in preference to a soul valued in terms of life. Thus, it does not brook neglect in life – this above all; and so it is like the ancient gods who considered impiety to consist in one great sin, neglect.”

He is suggesting, and I would agree, that one way in which the world as a whole, and we as individuals, suffer, is through neglect of the small, the minutia of each moment. To live in want with an acceptance of what he refers to as the soul’s inferiority, may help us to recognize the spiritual drive away from soul towards perfection, insisting rather, that we either fix an idealized vision of the world into perfection, or have no world at all. That is very much a current running through our cultural mythology: apocalyptic, dire, either-or, nuclear-powered, climate-changing destruction which is hard not to believe in. It fuels both hope and hopelessness, moving our sights away from soul, replaced by a vision of the future shaped by our idealized beliefs.

“No psychological act can fully satisfy, no interpretation truly click like a key in a lock, no relationship of souls complete the lack and failure that reflects the essence of psyche. Imperfection is in its essence, and we are complete only by being in want. There will always be a mistake which is precisely what gives value to psychotherapeutic courage.”

Yes, the courage to live in the mess of our lives, the wounds that never quite heal, the others we can’t always help, the horrors taking place daily on the world stage, and to live with the intentionality of our unique character and calling.

All quotes from Hillman, James (2012-02-14). Healing Fiction. Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

*My term, not Hillman’s, used here specifically for its feminine, but not necessarily religious connotation.