Wednesday, March 17, 2010

In the footsteps of James Hillman 3



James Hillman is a most unique psychologist whom the American journalism Scott London in an interview, reproduced in his blog, describes thus:

James Hillman has been described variously as a maverick psychologist, a visionary, a crank, an old wizard, and a latter-day philosopher king. Poet Robert Bly once called him "the most lively and original psychologist we've had in America since William James." (See Scott London's blog)
He is also the founder of the school of psychology called archetypal psychology which takes its prevenance from the Analytical Psychology of Jung, of whom James Hillman is an important follower and interpreter.  Archetypal psychology is a polytheistic psychology, in that it attempts to recognize the myriad fantasies and myths (gods, goddesses, demigods, mortals and animals) that shape and are shaped by our psychological lives.  While Hillman's psychology is part of the Jungian tradition and related to Jung's original Analytical Psychology, it also makes a radical departure from it in some respects, a major one being the fact that Hillman has little time for the concept of the ego.

However, at this stage I must say some words about mythology and its role with which Freudian as well as Jungian approaches to therapy are replete.  The same is the case for the Hillmanian approach.  There are many theories as to why myths grew up in ancient societies, and, indeed, why they insist on persisting in modern society.  Myths, no matter to what society or culture they belong, serve as meaning-makers.  They give meaning to the lives of human animals at certain stages in their growth as civilizations.  As meaning-makers and meaning-bearers, I believe that myths carry great social and psychological importance.  Carried in myths, we find the whole gamut of human emotions from love and loyalty through envy, jealousy, betrayal all the way across to hatred.  Hence, they are bearers of our very identities, of our struggles as a community or culture or society to grow in self-knowledge and self-awareness.  Jung, following along from the work of Sigmund Freud, saw that dreams truly were "the royal road to the unconscious," and that furthermore our dreams carried within them common symbols or important archetypes which were common to all cultures and societies.

Needless to say, our man Hillman is a "dedicated follower" of myth and of its social and psychological truths.  These posts were inspired by his uniquely important book The Soul's Code: In Search of Character and Calling, Bantam, 1997.  In that book he expounded his very own mythic understanding of the Soul.  This is what he calls his "acorn myth,"  going back to Platonic roots which suggests that we come into the world with a destiny, although Plato uses the word paradigma, or paradigm, instead of destiny. The acorn theory says that there is an individual image that belongs to your soul.

Plato and the Greeks called this image the "daimon".  The Romans called it "genius," the Christian churches "Guardian Angel" while today we use more abstract terms like "heart," "spirit" and "soul."  This reality, call it what you will, is central to James Hillman's theory or myth of the acorn.  This myth proposes that each life is formed by a particular image, an image that is the very essence of that life and calls it to a destiny, just as the mighty oak's destiny is written in the tiny acorn.




Above, another photo I took nei Musei Vaticani.  Egyptian again!







No comments: