Syzygy

Next, in James Hillman’s book, Anima, the Anatomy of a Personified Notion, he considers whether or not ego, understood here as the most dominant part of our conscious experience and the agent of our identity, is a syzygy of anima and animus. Fascinating idea that can best be considered within the context of western cultural consciousness. While equally fascinating, there isn’t time here to fully consider the conscious experience of other cultures, or the possibility of an emerging global consciousness. Let’s begin with some quotes from the book (I can never do this book justice in these brief posts, and so do highly recommend Hillman’s book to anyone interested in the subject). First, from Jung, who remains the springboard for Hillman’s ideas:

Together they [anima and animus] form a divine pair … the divine syzygy … (CW   9.2: 41; cf. 25– 42)

… the syzygy motif … expresses the fact that a masculine element is always paired with a feminine one. (CW   9.1: 134)

Hillman uses these quotes to emphasize that pairings, often understood and expressed as opposites in our culture, are also a syzygy; tandem, interpenetrated couplings, which constellate together, often without our awareness of their interrelatedness. Within a syzygy of anima and animus Hillman notes the difficulty of seeing the pair together while one or the other always filters the lens of our perception:

For if anima has been the subject of investigation, animus has been the investigator. Or does it work the other way around – if animus has been the logos plan and the activity of making words serve critical discrimination, anima has been feathering those words and guiding their direction with her fantasies.

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Australian Pelicans (Pelecanus conspicillatus), Claremont, Tasmania, Australia.

Anima and animus, as do all archetypes, show up in an inseparable tandem. Even more accurate, archetypal influence always comes to us in personified, but less than pure forms. It is the particular nature of the animus, or egoic, seemingly objective perception, that seeks to separate archetypal influence into pure forms. We see these personified notions in mythological beings with their specificity expressed in story by the roles they play in relationships to other personified forms. We also see and live it in our day-to-day lives. Jung concurs:

From this fact we may reasonably conclude that man’s imagination is bound by this [syzygy] motif, so that he was largely compelled to project it again and again, at all times and in all places” (CW   9.1: 120).

Imagination, remember, is not that thing we are told to develop for creative endeavors, but, for better or worse, it is the means by which we perceive and function psychologically. Hillman reminds us that the word psychology itself is a syzygy, and that neither he, nor his essay (or mine for that matter), is free from archetypal influence, and yet, psychology, at its best is the awareness and acceptance of the bounds of archetypal syzygies:

This essay is a mythical activity of anima coming on as a critical activity of animus. Yet, just this is psychology, the interpenetration of psyche and logos, within the bounds of the syzygy who sets the limits to our psychological field so that we cannot imagine beyond it.

Our western culture in particular seems to struggle with the acceptance of any limits of objectivity, while curiously ever reminding ourselves and others of the subjectivity that colors all opinion. Syzygy in action? Hillman suggests that a way to deepen our reflections beyond oppositional thinking and pairing, would be to shift the emphasis in our perception from the standpoint of animus, or the objective mode, to that of anima, by reimagining pairs, not as opposites, but through a variety of forms of relationship:

To imagine in pairs and couples is to think mythologically. Mythical thinking connects pairs into tandems rather than separating them into opposites which is anyway a mode of philosophy. Opposites lend themselves to very few kinds of description: contradictories, contraries, complementaries, negations – formal and logical. Tandems, however, like brothers or enemies or traders or lovers show endless varieties of styles. Tandems favor intercourse – innumerable positions. Opposition is merely one of the many modes of being in a tandem.

I so love his thinking here. How often do I find myself ready to do battle, whether interiorly, or exteriorly, as ideas and relationships often present as opposites, and opposites in turn often present themselves as being in conflict. I continually need to remind myself that life, and the ten thousand moments that make up a day, are not battles to be won, opinions to own or disown, but call for more and deeper reflection of the many other possible ways of perceiving all that presents itself at each moment.

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Habsburg Peacock“ with the coats of arms of the Habsburg lands, Augsburg 1555

Along the same lines of thinking, it’s helpful to see that pairings do have a purpose. Because of their contrasting characteristics, we readily see them. That which eludes our consciousness is often too smeary and unclear to apprehend. Ironically, the more multiple the personified mythological, archetypal forms present themselves to us, the more unified they may seem. This is similar to seeing the forest from a distance in which the tree is no longer distinct enough to see. Alchemically speaking, this unity/multiplicity mode is often imaged as the feathers of the peacock.

Perhaps too, the tendency towards perceiving pairings and oppositional thinking arises psychologically so readily because it does so physically through the human experience of gender.

Nonetheless, essential to thinking in syzygies is thinking in genders. Unfortunately, the next step in analytical psychology has been identifying these genders with actual men and women, coupling kinds of syzygies between man-and-anima, woman-and-animus, man-and-woman, and fourth, anima-and-animus, even with diagrams, for example, the lengthy discussion of the Gnostic symbol of the Self.

Hillman reminds us, as do the alchemists, among others, who said, “as above, so below,” that whatever is going on externally has an internal correlation.

Projections occur between parts of the psyche, not only outside into the world. They occur between internal persons and not only onto external people.

A Hebe wants a Hercules and Hercules does it for Hebe – and not just on the college campus between cheerleader and linebacker but “in here.” My hebephrenic soul, young and silly and tied by social conventions, the bride and her shower, produces an ego that comes home like a hero showing off and bearing trophies. Or, within the smiling, innocent girl is ruthless ambition in a lion’s skin, forever wrestling Old Age and able to harrow Hell itself.

As in alchemy, images of the goal are often hermaphroditic, which curiously seem to be much more externally present in our western culture. Perhaps these images, literalized or not, express a cultural pregnancy awaiting a birth of a more psychological nature. I’d like to think so, even while remaining cautiously optimistic, and without an expectation or an understanding of what, or to where, that birthing might take us. A good quote to end with:

The objective spirit, that goal of our Western intellectual endeavor, is an attempt of the soul to free itself by means of the animus from the valley of its attachments. And the figure in dreams who judges is the one who both frees us from anima imprisonments and sentences us with his opinions. To consider every position in terms of the syzygy reflects a “hermaphroditic” consciousness in which the One and the Other are co-present, a priori, at all times, a hermetic duplicity and Aphroditic coupling going on in every event.

All quotes, except as noted, Hillman, James; Jung, C.G. (2015-08-14). Anima: Anatomy of a Personified Notion. Spring Publications. Inc.. Kindle Edition.

The Green Man

Having just returned from attending a four day Dream Retreat, I want to share a little about the experience I had there. Out of respect for the tribe that gathered, and the impossibility of ever fully articulating the essence of what transpired between us, I’ll share an experience that relates to what I have been writing and sharing here with you, my WP tribe.

We were given the image of the Green Man, a figure who I have recently become quite fascinated with, for one of the active imagination sessions. I suspect he might have had a voice in a recent post of mine, Wild Child. The Green Man is an archetypal expression calling attention to our relationship to the natural habitat of the woods as a necessary source of life and creativity.

Osiris, ruler of the underworld and of rebirth and regeneration, was typically shown with a green face. (Tomb of Nefertari), 1295-1253 BC

The Green Man has made appearances in stories around the globe through both pagan and Abrahamic religious imagination, leaving behind a trail of art and symbolism in Europe and the Near-East.

I first heard (and have even written) about him a few months ago through Tom Cheetham’s book, GREEN MAN, EARTH ANGEL, The Prophetic Tradition and the Battle for the Soul of the World, in which Tom writes about Khidr, the Verdant One, how he is known in Sufism.

In Sufism, Khidr, a contemporary of Moses, is known as the righteous servant of God.

al-Khidr

“Who is Khidr? There is a hint of the answer in his name: Khidr is the “Verdant One.” He is the Green Man. He is the Angel of the Face and the Angel of the Earth as hermeneut: the Verus Propheta revealed to each soul in the form in which each is able to receive it. It is to this hermeneutics that we now turn.”

Cheetham sees the Green Man as mediator between the world of matter and spirit with a power to heal the schism between the two worlds.

“Matter need no longer be confused with the demonic. Indeed, everything becomes material. What had been conceived as spiritual reality becomes the realm of subtle bodies, and there is a continuum from the dense to the subtle that corresponds to an intensification of being. It is possible for any of the beings belonging to the world of Light to become more real, more themselves, more individual and intense in their very being.”

Along with spiritual hunger, the idea of matter as demonic, can be seen in our civilization that’s seemingly going mad. We speak of being too materialistic, outwardly focused, shallow in our relationships, wasteful and destructive in our use of precious resources. But at the same time, a heightened sense of the material world seems to be calling us “back to nature.” The call of the wild, the desire for closeness to nature, greater awareness of diet and the environment are all perhaps expressions of a need to redeem matter and reflect on our distinctions between matter and spirit.

“Like can only be known by like: this means that thought and being are inseparable, that ethics and perception are complementary. The form of the soul is the form of your world. This fundamental unity of the faculties of human cognition and the world to which they give access is that eternal pagan substrate of all religion.”

Cheetham sees here a need to reconsider these distinctions between matter and spirit, doing a sort of flip-flop around our ideas of them.

“It is a stance toward reality that gives weight to the display of the image, denying the schism between the inner and the outer, the subjective and the objective.”

Giving weight to both images and our subjective world, and in turn, imaging the weightiness, or to all that is real and objective may soften the boundaries between spirit and matter and perhaps see that, arising together, they are mutually inclusive.

Green man over a church window in Fountains Abbey

So, what about the Green Man and my experience with him during active imagination? Before I describe what I saw and heard, I must add that although I have practiced active imagination quite a few times, this was the first time that I felt truly engaged with, as Jung would have called it, an autonomous figure. Perhaps, I was misunderstanding how to approach this activity, making it more complicated than it actually is. 🙂

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mask by lauren raine

I close my eyes and immediately see a bright-green, leaf-covered figure of a man running in the woods away from me. I follow after him, trying to keep up. He stops at a large tree and enters into a hollow at the tree’s base disappearing from view. I enter into the hollow and begin to move downward.

At first I see around me many tree roots. The world down there seems alive with bugs, worms and slimy things. The smell becomes prominent and not too pleasant. I also see small bone chips scattered everywhere, presumably human and animal in origin. I also feel a heavy psychic presence.

We go down deeper and it becomes very dark. I can no longer see, but only smell, touch and hear. The Green Man begins speaking to me saying:

“This is the life, the abundance that feeds you. All life will come to be part of this place. You only see the fruit, the sweetness and suffer from neglecting us. We want to be recognized, seen; our sufferings, all the things left unsaid, for they both frighten and sustain you in your life. One day you too will feed the world from this place.

You’re a part of us, we feed and nourish you. Stop acting like you don’t know. Remember us and what’s gone before.

You suffer from forgetting our suffering. You’re fear of us has you running away.

(and in a much louder voice he says:)

My retreat is your retreat.”

That’s it. Perhaps the most startling line, besides the emphatic last line, was when he said to stop acting like I don’t know. I am still puzzling over that and am not sure what he is referring to, but have a few ideas. Perhaps there’s more I need to ask him and also hear your thoughts too. One clear take away from the dream retreat for me was how much our dreams and imaginings carry shared meaning. In hearing other’s dreams, and sharing my own, there was quite often a profound and obvious synchronicity of theme and image shedding light on some aspect of my life and the lives of the other participants.

The retreat was a full-bodied feeling of experiencing others inside and through myself. A most amazing time I will not soon forget. Highly recommended to anyone interested who happens upon an opportunity to participate. There are no strangers, your tribe awaits!

Except as noted, all quotes from Tom Cheetham. Green Man, Earth Angel: The Prophetic Tradition and the Battle for the Soul of the World (S U N Y Series in Western Esoteric Traditions). Kindle Edition.

Class Notes – Session 9

Class nine of the Jung Platform’s course on James Hillman’s book Alchemical Psychology, presented by Robert Bosnak and Patricia Berry, technically ends this first season of classes, which took us through the first chapter, Rudiments. Class Ten, notes to follow soon, begins the next chapter, The Suffering of Salt.

Robbie likens the work of alchemy to a downward spiral, deepening the material by slowing down the work, and by the embodiment of the images. Having recently read Robbie’s book, Embodiment: Creative Imagination in Medicine, Art and Travel, I have much appreciation for his emphasis on embodiment, a work that grounds images and ideas into lived and felt subjective experiences.

The Alchemist, by Carl Spitzweg

Psychological Faith

Robbie and Pat start the session briefly discussing Hillman’s idea of psychological faith:

“The Pelican: vessel of psychological faith, a phrase used by a keen student of alchemy, Robert Grinnell, for an attitude or a devotion that calls for nothing less than giving in, giving over to the opus all personal demands one has upon it, for its sake, come what may.”

Using the example of his work at the Healing Sanctuary in Santa Barbara, Robbie argues that we do bring our expectations to the work, thereby challenging the notion that we “give over to the opus all personal demands.” I’d say, that in many ways, we do need to abandon an expectation of outcomes, or goals, or at least our ideas about how to get there and what the goals look like.

“General terms, simplistic diagnostics – abandonment, need, identity crisis, low self-esteem, depressive mood, dependency, masochistic helplessness – cannot adequately describe, let alone understand, the force of the void.

Because our collective Western natures abhor a vacuum, we reach out to fill the emptiness with anything, everything from junk food to junk self-help, from drink and shopping and the novelty of games and gadgets to the commiseration of soul-mates, or simply endless tears. Alchemy, however, suggests these feelings of emptiness are indications of a vessel forming (emphasis added). The void is building a shape, a particular shape. Perhaps several vessels. Modes of containing. Modes of measuring. Modes of differentiating. The reality of the psyche is forcing its way into life and reshaping one’s life by means of the feelings of emptiness.”

Pat reminds us too, that the void can be bigger than, and also exterior to us, specifically referring to the void in the earth described in Genesis. The void in this sense is necessary for creating, containing and birthing. Pat sees the void as a natural part of our experience, and our refusal of it leads to frenzied actions to fill the void. The emptiness often manifests as anxiety, and may not be recognized as a pregnant pause coming over us while something is being formed. Robbie quotes Hillman, who referred to it as, “lying fallow.”

The particularity and nature of the void, or emptiness, shapes what becomes manifest:

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Still-Life with a Basket of Flowers

“The master painters in Holland and in nineteenth-century France showed the poppies and irises and roses, the pears and apples and grapes emerging from the hollowness of their containers, the void as source of beauty. If you examine the vases holding the flowers, the baskets and plates on which the fruit lies, these vessels are each manifestations of particularized shapes, colors and textures, and they are inherent to what they display. “If God had not given us a vessel / His other gifts would have been of no avail.” “

Ovens and Stoves
The Jewish alchemists believe the origen of alchemy comes from the angel’s desire and passion for women:
“Angels were taken by passion for women. They descended to earth and taught them all operations of nature … They were the ones who composed chemical works … Their book is called Khema and it is from them that chemistry [kumia] received its name. ”
Desire, Hillman says, is akin to fiery heat, as if from the stars, but to be useful requires containment:
“The essence of fire is out of our control. It comes from the celestial region, from angels, from the gods and the earth’s burning bowels. Hence the shamanistic aspect of the smith as fire master, and the crime of Prometheus’s humanism.”
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Un laboratorio alquímico

The furnace then, is responsible for shaping and forming the material. The construct of a stove is intentional, a conceptual system designed for a specific function or operation.

“Furnus: a logic of strong, well-built, carefully joined, enduring system. Ground rules, bricks and mortar of the trade, iron-clad discipline of the church or school or society which keeps the living spirit in focus, concentrated, and able to withstand the blaze of inspiration, the flashes and sparks of passion that would ignite grass fires and scatter the intensity.”

Here is where we find purpose, intention and attention necessary for the work. Discipline and knowledge of the materials is needed for specific operations, or kinds of cooking. Hillman refers to the stove itself as the discipline of multiplicity. Cooking requires an ability to know the qualities of materials and processes. Different processes yield different results: evaporation for condensing, distillation for clarity, sublimation for raising the material out of the sediment, coagulation and cooling to solidify a substance into a definite shape.

Robbie says the work of imagination requires the discipline to slow down any work on a dream image. Only then can it be embodied by the dreamer. Sticking to the image helps our waking self to subjectively experience dream images, so they can then speak to us, and through us, rather than be subjects of our interpreting or imposing a system on them.

As the saying goes though, “we’re playing with fire,” and we’re warned against letting the fire go unattended, therefore raging out of control. The furnace, Robbie reminds us, is focus (latin for hearth), intensifying the heat while containing it, by “holding the focus,” or “sticking to the image.” In alchemical psychology, the furnace is built through the work, by the practice in which we focus more and more intently on particular qualities of images and feeling. Psychologically this means moving away from generalizations of feelings, seeing precise images for the experience of our feelings. Here is where the rawness of the material is then cooked and consumed, allowing the digestion of events that previously could not be incorporated.

The Spirit of the Fire

Understanding and respecting fire’s spirit is essential to alchemical work. Hillman breaks this down to five ideas of fire:

Brian W. Schaller – Own work

“Any worker in fire can easily perceive fire’s primary characteristics. It rises. Its heat overpowers and changes materials. It gives off light. It cannot be touched directly. It cannot be satiated. Ascension, transmutation, enlightenment, intangibility, insatiability: these five ideas empirically witnessed in the laboratory affect the formulations of alchemical texts and later commentators on these texts. In brief, fire gives alchemy its spiritual readings.”

Ascension: fire and heat have a rising nature, from low to high. The images are that of perfecting, progressing, purification.

Transmutation: fire has the power to transform all that it touches, from soft liquids to the hardest metals, such as iron.

Enlightenment: fire lights up our world while darkening that which is not in its reach. The more light, the more darkness, a source of opposition.

Intangibility: fire is untouchable, intangible, grasped only indirectly through symbol, allegory, paradox and hints.

Insatiability: fire wants “only to grow and its appetite is insatiable,” but like a baby requires constant feeding and nursing.

And finally, with these qualities of fire, Hillman, as did the alchemists, warned against a runaway spirituality which knows no limits, ever-seeking more, devouring all for the sake of itself, rather than sticking to the work of the material at hand. The fire of alchemy better serves soul through images, which for Hillman are the rudiments of the work:

“Since soul recognizes itself in its images and since the making of images (poeisis) is soul’s primary natural activity,  “the definite principle” that governs the “increase of fire” are images. They are the essential rudiments of the entire work. They are what the alchemist sees and smells and touches with his hands – and what he imagines. Focus on them limits the infinite metaphysical speculation (“the increase of fire”) to just what is just now.

Alchemy: a study of presentations as these appearances portray, define, and affect the soul. Consequently, alchemy’s insatiable spiritual drive, its “fire,” requires psychological limitations, an alchemy of soul such as this rudimentary chapter and the book as a whole intend.”

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

 

Soul-making

Souls can be, among other things, lost, saved, non-existent, or hearty, but do we make soul? If so, what does that mean? What then, is soul?

Perhaps as it should be, I have puzzled for years at James Hillman’s use of the term “soul-making.” Now days, ideas about soul are sometimes dismissed as archaic. So if we are to understand a term like soul-making, shall we not first consider what the word soul itself might mean?

Wiki describes soul as the incorporeal or immortal essence of one’s being. In animism, soul not only belongs to biological forms of life, but to inanimate (according to some western minds anyway) things of nature; rocks, rivers, mountains, trees, etc.

In English, the word soul may have roots meaning to bind, referring back to a time when the binding of the dead was done in order that their ghost would not return to haunt the living. It is also related to words like anima and psyche, both which refer to the life force, breath, or consciousness that enliven and nourish, much as the umbilical cord nourishes the unborn in the womb of its mother.

So, if soul is already a given, as an essence or a part of us, what are we making? Can soul have qualities of growth, depth or expansion? Does soul change, and if so, in what ways?

File:Soffito dei semidei 46 angelo che pesa le anime.JPGFor Hillman, through the study of world myths, esoteric traditions and the ideas of different cultures, he sees soul distinct from spirit with both being related to vertical movement. Here verticality refers to the motion between up and down; rising and falling, ascending and descending. We tend to associate ascension with all that is positive and desirable. We hear it in statements like: “at the top,” “climbing that mountain,” “rise above it,” “moving up,” “growing up,” or “upward mobility.” But is up the only direction that corresponds to the nature of our existence? Is it our only source of nourishment and how does ascension relate to soul? Do phrases like “going down,” “falling,” “hitting bottom,” “nose-diving,” reveal a preference for ascending over descending movement ? Hillman refers to this preference as the ascensionist fantasy.

Souls CodeIn his book, The Souls Code, Hillman uses the image of an acorn growing into an oak tree to return us to a verticality that values both the motion of descending and ascending. Forever ascending,  where we are only going up and growing up, keeps us above it all, as if our embodied life on earth, with all the dirt, decay and stuff of life is no more than an obstacle on the path to spirit and the heavens above. Do not the roots and ground also provide necessary nourishment for body, soul and spirit? Does not gravity serve a purpose too?

Hillman uses the expression “growing down” to return us to the need for depth, both physically through the ground that provides food for us, and psychologically for the soul’s need of depth. In growing down, we land on our feet, where our eyes and bodies attach themselves to the things of this world, where finding our purpose can be found through physical embodiment, both our own and that of all creatures. Attachment, an idea that has come to mean, “an inability to let go, possessiveness” here means “feeling attracted to, caring for, loving, or in relation to.”

Hillman sees soul itself as a perspective, the means by which we become aware of not only that which is above but that which lies beneath us, unseen, the invisible roots that provide stability as well as nourishment.

I like to imagine the ground and all that it holds – our past – for all that has gone before lies beneath us, and becomes food for the future. Remembering too, that we will someday join the long line of ancestors by becoming part of the soil for feeding future generations. Soul-making then is that which binds us to all things; the past, present and future, giving equal footing to both the physical nature of living beings and the faculties we have for thinking, feeling, loving and creating. In this sense, every thought, emotion, deed, birth and death matters through our participation in soul-making and the physical ground of our being; the earth and sky around us.

Trees and plants in particular are great images for rootedness. As they move deeper down into the ground, they provide stability and nourishment as well as contribute to the creation of the ground of being. If this is true for trees, how much more so for us?

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The Tree of Life

Tending towards a love of flight, freedom of motion and lofty ideas myself, I can begin to see why it is challenging for me, not only to get a sense of what soul-making is, but to incorporate it into a day-to-day embodiment. Our awareness can abstract itself away from the physical, and often seem disembodied, an amazing thing about being human, I think. But, I have found for myself anyway that living in a way that disregards any relationship, whether an interior or exterior one, usually leads me towards neglect and a loss of potential for love, beauty and the profound mystery that life is.