Tuesday, March 16, 2010

In the footsteps of James Hillman 2

Hillman was born on April 12, 1926, in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  He identifies himself as Jewish and European in ancestry. Some personally interesting facts for this writer is New Jersey where many of my relatives live, and the fact that he graduated from Trinity College Dublin, the oldest university in Ireland, in 1950. He also had some army service, which is always enriching for anyone as war experience does tend to focus one's mind on the essentials. In this respect, he served in the US Navy Hospital Corps from 1944–1946.  As well as studying in TCD, Dublin he also studied at the Sorbonne, Paris.  Then, to round off this international education he received his PhD from the University of Zurich in 1959, as well as his analyst's diploma from the C.G. Jung Institute in the same year.  Some time later he was appointed as Director of Studies at the institute, a position he held until 1969. Throughout all this time, and right up until the present, the subject of his study has essentially been Archetypal Psychology.  However, he is also well known for publishing books on mythology, philosophy and art.

Most of my remarks in these pages will be focussed on his 1997 book, The Soul's Code: In Search of Character and Calling, which was on the The New York Times Best Seller List that year. I see by my inscription on this book that I first read it back in February 1998. His works and ideas about philosophy and psychology have also been popularized by other authors such as Thomas Moore.


This is a term that is often too easily used, and abused indeed.  It is used so often  and across such a wide range of denotations and connotations that, like such kindred terms as "heart" and "love," its meaning has become very elusive indeed.  People use it in everyday language, while theologians and religions of various hues use it in a far more particular and precise way, while psychologists and followers of the various New Age movements and therapies use it in a more flexible and fuzzy way.

First, let me look at how the term is used in common parlance.  We often use the sentence "such and such is soul-destroying work" quite frequently to indicate any work that is dispiriting, that deflates our enthusiasm, that leaves us flat and bored, and, in the extreme case, leaves us depressed and despairing.  Or again we hear such a saying such as "X is the life and soul of the party."  We know immediately what kind of person X is - he or she is lively, fun to be with, enlivening and uplifting to all the company about them.  So soul is something greater, something overarching as it were, something which shares in the "sense of more-ness" to which I referred in the immediately previous post.

In Roman mythology, Psyche was a mortal being renowned for her utter beauty, so much so that Venus (known to the Greeks as Aphrodite, the goddess of love) sent her son Cupid (known to the Greeks as Eros) to shoot one of his golden arrows into her before she would awake so that she would fall in love with an ugly suitor  which Venus would have purposely placed nearby.   However, things go awry and Cupid ends up falling in love with this woman of infinite beauty.  To cut a rather long and tortuous story short, Cupid eventually flies to Mount Olympus and begs Jupiter (Zeus) to help them. Jupiter calls a full and formal council of the gods and declares that it is his will that Cupid marry Psyche. Jupiter then has Psyche fetched to Mount Olympus, and gives her a drink made from ambrosia, granting her immortality. Begrudgingly, Venus and Psyche forgive each other. Psyche and Cupid have a daughter, called Voluptas or Delight, the goddess of "sensual pleasures", whose Latin name means "pleasure" or "bliss".

Interestingly, Greek mythology saw Psyche as the deification of the human soul. She was portrayed in ancient mosaics as a goddess with butterfly wings.   Indeed, there is a butterfly in India named after her.  The Greek word psyche literally means "spirit, breath, life or animating force".  It is no wonder, then, that when we desribe the soul in common parlance we mean such an animating force as I have described above.

In like manner, the Greek myth, on which the Roman was based, is very much similar to its Italian counterpart.  It offers the additional detail that Psyche was originally the youngest daughter of the king and queen of Sicily, and the most beautiful person on the island.

It is also interesting to note that the story of Cupid and Psyche is part of The Golden Ass or Metamorphoses, a Latin novel, which is the only extant Roman novel we have also, by Apuleius (second century A.D.). It is both a charming fairytale and an allegory of the search of the Soul for happiness and fulfillment.

In psychoanalysis and other forms of depth psychology, the psyche refers to the forces in an individual that influence his/her thought, behavior and personality.  The word is borrowed from ancient Greek, and refers to the concept of the self, encompassing the modern ideas of soul, self, and mind. The Greeks believed that the soul or "psyche" was responsible for behaviour and it was represented almost always by the butterfly.  I remember once reading some theological article which referred to the butterfly as being a symbol of immortality and resurrection - no wonder, after all theology owes a lot to Greek philosophy.

However, Carl Gustave Jung does differentiate between psyche and soul where the former word psyche refers to the totality of all psychic forces totality or processes, conscious as well as unconscious.  Soul, on the other hand, as used in the technical terminology of analytical psychology, is more restricted in meaning and refers to a "function complex" or partial personality and never to the whole psyche. It is often applied specifically to "anima" and "animus," e.g., in this connection, it is used in the composite word "soul-image."

Also, it is important to note the following disambiguation from the meaning of the term soul in Christian theology. This conception of the soul as outlined in the above paragraph is more primitive than the Christian one with which the reader of this blog is more likely to be more familiar. In its Christian context soul refers to "the transcendental energy in man" and "the spiritual part of man considered in its moral aspect or in relation to God."  (Jung, 1968: note 2 par. 9)

To be continued.

Above a picture of Leptosia Nina, more commonly known as the Psyche butterfly.

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