Tuesday, April 27, 2010

In the footsteps of James Hillman 33





What's in a Name?

Hillman puts an interesting post-script or coda at the end of his book.  This is a short chapter where he defends his use of the term "acorn theory" for his new suggested archetypal theory of calling or vocation in anyone's life.  I suppose one could also say that this acorn myth is a meaning-giving theory proposed by our psychologist.  Does this theory, Hillman asks, fall prey to that which it opposes, namely the organicization of the nature of character?  Our learned and original psychologist asks a further question of himself:  Should he not have named his theory something like "the essence theory," "the image theory," or simply "the genius theory" or more boldly "the theory of angelic psychology"?  (See The Soul's Code, 275)  He answers well:
I hold to "acorn" because it demonstrates how to read organic images without falling prey to arganicism.  If we are able to use a natural image in a unnatural way, then we will have shown, by means of the term "acorn," the very kernel of our archetypal point of view; which aims to turn the organic, time-bound developmental view of human life backward on itelf, to reread life against the stream of time.  If we want to revise the developmental model of human nature, we may as well take oin of its seed images to begin with.  (Ibid., p. 275)
As an archetype, the acorn can be imagined mythologically, morphologically and etymologically.  In this imagining we are amplifying the meanings of the notion of the acorn.  Mythologically we can explore the symbolism of the oak and the acorn.   The oak was a magical ancestor tree for the Celts.  As an Irish Celt and one who has taught Irish Gaelic for twenty two years I am well aware of how the Gaelic druids held the oak grove as sacred and as a specialk place of inspiration and for communing with thhe gods.  In Greek mythology some oaks even gave birth to humans.  Oaks, in short are magical trees, or soul trees - haunts oif bees, and consequently honey - the very nectar of the gods, or if you like, "soul food."  As I'm writing I'm thinking of the great talking and walking trees of the The Lord of the Rings trilogy and then of the centrality of the tree image in the film Avatar.  Cameron is well-read in his mythology.  Another interesting fact Hillman informs us of is that the both Greek "seers" and Gallic Druids (and I infer Gaelic and Scottish Druids also) chewed acorns to induce prophetic trances.

Also there is evidence that in many myths - not only Greek, but in African ones also, that trees could speak.  In fact the ancient Greeks held that the world was full of spermatikoi logoi - word seeds or germinal ideas.  These germinal ideas are present a priori to give form to each thing.  These are "spermy" (my term) or spermatic" (Hillman's term) words that makes it possible for easch thing to tell of its own nature.

Also Hillman points out a very interesting fact, one of which I was wholly unaware, namely that the two words "tree" and "truth" are actually cognates.  So the acorn is a bearer of the truth in nuce.   Now mythological language expresses itself in images, not in words as such.  That's what we must be aware of when we attend a film such as Avatar by James Cameron - that we are dealing with mythological thinking, not scientific thinking.  Nor is it correct to insist that one form of thinking is more valid than another - they are just two different ways of thinking.  Mythology is all about expanding our ways of thinking and imagining.  It's not a "higher" or even a "lower" truth.  It's just a different version of the truth, a different perspective on the world.

Morphologically, or shapewise, Hillman informs us that the acorn was seen as being in the shape of the glans of the human penis, and that it was called juglans, or glans penis of Jupiter.  Therefore, unlike many other trees, the oak was always seen to be male and was commonly called a Great-Father-God-Tree.

Then, our great archetype psychologist offers us the etymological insight into the word acorn and tells us that it is related to such words as "acre," "act," and "agent."  In these senses of the word the acorn is seen not merely as a seed but as an alredy fulfilled fruition.  Also such words like "agenda" and "agony" are cognates of acorn when its Sanskrit roots via Greek are examined.

Then, finally, Hillman suggests that the acorn theory of biography seems to have sprung from and to speak the language of the "puer eternus" which I discussed before in these pages, especially when I wrote of the death of Michael Jackson.  See this link here - Michael Jackson.  The puer eternus is "the archetype of eternal youth who embodies a timeless, everlasting, yet fragile connection with the invisible otherworld." (Ibid., p. 281)


The End (of my account opf reading Hillman's little classic, "The Soul's Code."


Above a picture of that stately tree, the venerable Great-Father-God-Tree-The-Mighty-Oak.

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