Introduction to Animaterialism

Khan Altai, by Grigory Gurkin

These are a set of revised statements that have appeared in previous articles. They reflect my evolving views. -MD

We are…left dangling in the paradox of corpsed matter and incorporeal mind – the first dead, insentient and without the possibility of meaning or creativity, the second a ghost, a mere figment or phantasm “squirted out” by chance arrangements of the first. Yet it was precisely this subjective “fiction” that had somehow managed to construct the objective world picture in the first place (de Quincey 37).

The source of all dualistic concepts is our Western tendency to project onto Nature two distinct substances from what I call animateria (ensouled matter). In reality, animateria means that all things of the universe are soulful, undivided and holistic. The concept of “inanimate objects” is an oxymoron. The word, “inanimate,” should be banished from our language in the epoch of soul. Any religion or philosophy that continues to accept the dualistic mindset is anathema to me. Why am I so adamant? Because dualism has done such great damage to our planet, human nature, and the universe. We should no longer accept the assertion that we dwell in a schizophrenic world, where matter and mind are split off from each other, where an unbridgeable chasm exists between them. We should rail against a worldview that believes it has dominion over this planet to the point of raping and pillaging it for profit. It is unnatural.

Physicist David Bohm said,

Man’s general way of thinking of the totality, i.e. his general world view, is crucial for overall order of the human mind itself. If he thinks of the totality as constituted of independent fragments, then that is how his mind will tend to operate, but if he can include everything coherently and harmoniously in an overall whole that is undivided, unbroken and without border (for every border is a division or break) then his mind will tend to move in a similar way, and from this will flow an orderly action within the whole (Bohm ix).

One’s view of matter directly influences one’s ethics. If you believe you are not connected to the earth, that you are its master instead of on equal footing with it, then you will have no qualms about blowing off the tops of mountains for coal, or incinerating thousands of acres of rain forest, or dumping millions of gallons of crude oil into our oceans, or for that matter, allowing your fellow humans to starve to death just because you want wealth and success. When dualism is banished from the earth, only then will we begin to live as we were meant to live.

Bohm’s contention is that a fragmented view of the totality of reality will lead to a disorderly way of thinking. The earth has experienced the result of such thought for hundreds of years. It is because mankind has eliminated soul from human Being. But now, we are beginning to see the truth. Because of mass communication via the Internet, millions and millions are coming to the realization that reality is one, that all things are closely interconnected. The naysayers will eventually fade away. Our world is currently undergoing a tremendous transformation toward wholeness. We have great hope for the future.

The philosophy of mind  known as “eliminative materialism” asserts that realities like soul, imagination, belief, or just a common sense view of the mind (folk psychology) are false and will eventually be explained as products of biology. Since matter is dead, so they claim, without meaning or value, proponents of this philosophy assume that such “metaphysical” realities are just misunderstandings on the part of uneducated, unsophisticated people.

I am quite surprised that such educated paladins of reason would make such a glaring mistake in their argument. The very reality they utilize to form their theory is what they deny existence to! Think about this for a moment. Use the reality that does not exist, that we “folk psychologists” call a mind, to muse on the absurdity of their position. If you are anywhere near the folk psychologist you should be, it won’t take long for you to understand the paper tiger they have unleashed upon us.

This type of nonsensical thinking is the direct result of Descartes’ mind-body dualism, except that eliminative materialism goes further, denying even the mind of Descartes, which he simply took for granted. How can a belief in dead, insentient matter lead anywhere but to this kind of absurdity? We certainly are minds, souls, spirits, have beliefs, visions, dreams, etc. We are not inanimate, as some would have us believe.Granted, this is extreme materialism, but I provide this as being illustrative of the ways of scientism. I personally don’t understand why there seems to be a need to rid the world of all mythopoeic beauty and nature. What these scientists don’t seem to realize is that their theories are just as mythical as what we folk psychologists claim.

In my quest to promote an ensouled world, matter that is teeming with soul and spirit, I’ve decided to call my philosophy Animaterialism. This word, of course, combines soul (anima) with matter (materia). My viewpoint begins with a view of matter that is opposed to spirit and is mediated by soul. Soul is the metaxy, the middle ground between spirit and matter. In his use of the Greek word, metaxy, in several important dialogues, Plato gave to psychology and philosophy the notion that there is an in-between state that is neither mortal nor divine, neither matter nor spirit, neither light nor darkness. This is what we refer to as soul. In Plato’s Symposium, Socrates argues that Eros is a daimon who is in-between gods and mortals. Indeed, according to Socrates, the whole of the daimonic is between [metaxy] god and mortal” (202d11-e1). This view of matter influences how we treat our planet and each other. Our view of matter directly affects our ethics. Furthermore, our view of matter affects our entire ontology and epistemology. Indeed, it touches every aspect of our lives.

Once again, quoting David Bohm:

It is proposed that the widespread and pervasive distinctions between people (race, nation, family, profession, etc., etc.) which are now preventing mankind from working together for the common good, and indeed, even for survival, have one of the key factors of their origin in a kind of thought that treats things as inherently divided, disconnected, and “broken up” into yet smaller constituent parts. Each part is considered to be essentially independent and self-existent. (Bohm xi)

We citizens of planet Earth should be daily striving to bridge the chasms that separate us. The way we begin is to bridge the chasm between mind and matter. The so-called mind-body problem is so ingrained in our culture that it will be difficult to overcome. Do not doubt that it will come to pass. Do not lose hope. Truth inevitably rules the day. It may not seem so now, in this current era of corrupt politics, war, and greed. But there will come a day when mind and matter will, again, be seen as one reality and this will change the course of humanity forever. The bridge across this divide is soul.

Works Cited

Christian de Quincey. Radical Nature. Montpelier: Invisible Cities, 2002.

Bohm, David. Wholeness and the Implicate Order. New York: Routledge, 1980.

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Alchemy: The Vessel

Without a proper vessel, none of the processes of of alchemy can be accomplished. There must be a container in order to differentiate the various substances from the massa confusa, of which Thomas Moore writes, “It takes a special frame of mind, a particular archetypal viewpoint…to enter the alchemical massa confusa…” The unconscious is this chaos, the prima materia of the Great Work. The need for a vessel begins the alchemical stage called separatio.

The alchemical vessel is a space that performs the function of transformation. It is both an imaginal space and a physical space. What is in the earth composes the animaterial vessel, whether it be glass, metal, stone, or body. As there can be no light without darkness, so there can be no conjunction without separation. The separated substance has form, even though it may be the same substance. 
According to alchemist, Adam McLean, all alchemical vessels can be reduced to three basic archetypal forms: the crucible, the retort, and the still (McLean). A crucible is some sort of an open container, such as a cauldron or mortar. A substance is usually heated in the crucible to draw off any impurities. For example, an ore may be heated to purify it, thus revealing the pure metal therein. This is an act of purification and revelation. It is revelation because it reveals that which was hidden. It is not always heat that is used in the process. Sometimes various acids can be used to dissipate unwanted gases. Sometimes, the goal may be the crystallization or precipitation of solids from liquids. Primarily, this is an open process, where air plays a major role. McLean comments on the inner aspects of this type of vessel:

When we internalize the crucible in our souls we picture a vessel within our being which is open, allowing impurities or unwanted facets of the work to pass out or to dissipate away, as well as substances and forces to enter in from the universal spiritual. In this sense the crucible in our souls is a chalice, the lower part of which contains and holds a substance or constellation of forces while its upper part is open to universal spiritual influences. Unwanted energies can be allowed to safely flow out of our crucible and dissolve in the universal flow, and in the other direction energies can be gathered from the spiritual and allowed to descend to the bottom of our interior vessel (McLean).

Keep in mind as we progress that to the alchemist, the Four Elements, air, water, earth, and fire, are vastly important. In this case, air contributes to the Great Work as spirit. As the Emerald Tablet says, “the wind nourished it [Truth] in her belly” (From the translation by Jabir ibn Hayyan, brackets mine).

One should not assume that the alchemical processes on a symbolic level pertain only to the interiority of a person. This “belly” can be the interiority of many things. The interiority of a garden, for example, most definitely exhibits alchemical processes that bring forth the fruit of the earth. Another good example is how the beauty of mountains are formed over millions of years of underground tectonic shifts. This is alchemy, as well, on a macroscopic scale. As above, so below.

The second type of vessel that McLean discusses is the retort. The retort is a sealed container, such as a glass flask. Glass is made from earth and fire. It must be made thick and strong to prevent the inner processes from shattering it. It is transparent so that the alchemist can view the opus. James Hillman calls glass “the material of distancing” (Hillman 592) because it separates the observed from the observer.

McLean likens the retort to “a womb or matrix in which the process of gestation or new birth arising out of primal components, can safely take place in us.” The retort is said to be “hermetically sealed,” an homage to Hermes, the guide of souls to the Underworld and patron and teacher of alchemy. The energies are sealed away so as to provide a state of isolation from outside influences. This place of isolation within the retort is an imaginal space where the naturals laws of the universe can be carried out unimpeded.  The qualities of the glass retort can be compared to the psyche:

The psyche too is invisible; we grasp it only in reflection or we identify it with its contents – this dream, that feeling or memory. Psyche appears to be only what it contains. Glass, like psyche, is the medium by which we see into, see through. Glass: the physical embodiment of insight. The illusion of glass makes content and container seem to be the same, and because we see the content before we recognize that it is held by glass, we do not at first see its shape, its density, its flaws since our focus is fixed on the contents. Glass as subtle body requires a subtlety of noticing. The sophistication of the material needs sophistication of insight (Hillman 608).

Finally, the third type of alchemical vessel is the still. We are most familiar with the still through its use in the distilling of alcoholic beverages, such as gin and whiskey. The use of stills can be traced back to Greek alchemists of the first century C.E. in Alexandria. Basically, the distillation process consists of separating mixtures by boiling. For instance, in the distilling of water, impurities are removed so that the final product can be used for medical uses, or where pure water is a necessity. It is not a chemical reaction, but a physical process of separation. This is yet another method used in the separatio. There are qualities within us and within the earth that must be wrested free from impurities in order to bring forth the hidden creative potential in us. I leave you with this passage from Dr. Nanci Shandera:

Distillation brings the creative out of us. It encourages all that we are to manifest in balanced and serenely powerful ways. It heralds the entry of the influence of the higher forces and the balancing of those forces with the lower ones, which provide our “groundedness,” so crucial to wholeness.

Works Cited

Hillman, James. Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman.Volume 5: Alchemical Psychology, Kindle edition. Dallas: Spring, 2013.

McLean, Adam. The Alchemical Vessel as Symbol of the Soul. ,>.

Moore, Thomas. The Garbage of our Lives. 10 Jan. 2013.

Shandera, Nanci. The Alchemy in Spiritual Progress: Part 7 Distillation. Alchemy Journal, Vol. 3, No. 1. Jan./Feb. 2002. .

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Alchemy: The Soul of Metals

…perhaps the metals take pleasure in their alterations and enjoy the discipline imposed upon them by extracting their ore-bodies and the smelting (Hillman 491).

The soul spelunker is always searching for treasure beneath the surfaces of things. In the alchemical inquiry, one is richly rewarded in this endeavor. The metals of alchemy, because they are animaterial substances, correspond to the gods, just as their associated planets do. In fact, all things can be imagined back to a specific god. In the previous article, I touched upon the planetary associations of the seven noble metals:

Moon    Mercury   Venus    Sun    Mars    Jupiter    Saturn

silver      mercury    copper  gold   iron      tin           lead
As far as we know, these correspondences have been in use since circa 2000 B.C.E. Needless to say, they are deeply rooted in the human soul. Ancient mankind formed these associations because they keenly intuited the interconnectedness of all things. So, for example, it was perfectly natural to link the Moon with the shiny metal, silver. It reminded the ancient mind of the silvery moon. Gold, as well, glistens like the Sun. It would be very surprising if the ancients had not constructed these correspondences.

Others are not so obvious. For instance, why did the ancients associate lead with Saturn? Saturn is known as the Greater Malefic, meaning that it can cause a great deal of damage to the soul. But, yet, as Ficino believed, “within Saturn’s heaviness lay the treasures of deep religious contemplation and artistic genius” (Moore 165). To the ancients, it was the farthest planet away from the earth, thus it took the longest time to make its journey through the zodiac, about 30 years. Part of Saturn’s malevolence lies in its association with melancholy. Lead is a very poisonous metal. It it heavy and dense. It has been used in the making of bullets and caskets. These are a few reasons why it has been associated with Saturn. The souls of Saturn and lead are connected at a very deep level. As with all things of the soul, however, even malefic gods have their positive aspects. If one can successfully bear the saturnine weight of melancholy, gloom, and dread through to the other side, there are great rewards to be had.

Metals have souls, thus they possess an entelechy. Soul is the entelechy of all animaterial things. It is the telos, an innate urge in animatter to become what it truly is meant to become. The telos of an entelechy is not to be understood as a static endpoint. The notion here is that the entelechy is a “continuous being-at-work.” An animaterial entity does not suddenly arrive at full completion and then remains static. The process is endless. This applies to the alchemical metals, as well as all things. Hillman writes,

The inherent perfectibility of the substances urges all things away from the literal, undifferentiated, and only natural as given or found. The “only natural” may be necessary, but it is insufficient, since the metals themselves ask to be sophisticated. The given soul asks to be worked. In its natural found state the soul is innocent, ignorant, and therefore dangerous. That the material itself asks to be refined, the raw wanting to be cooked, suggests an archetypal basis for the ideas of perfectibility, progress, and as well, evolution (Hillman 503).

The alchemist knows there is inherent value in the lead or the iron. Her opus is to uncover the essential nature of the metal that has been concealed by its mundane material state.  Whether it be slag or seemingly worthless ore, the soul of the metal is sought by the adept who sees the treasure beneath the surface.

The practitioner seeks not only to free the metal from its dross but to free the meanings of the metal, their linkages with the intelligibility of the cosmos (ibid.).

Assisting the metals, or any other animaterial substance, in becoming what they are meant to be by nature means the alchemist is furthering the making of the Anima Mundi. This is soul-making on a cosmic scale. As each thing is revealed for what it truly is, the world, little by little, becomes more intelligible and understandable. The vision of the alchemist is not to produce gold and silver for personal gain, but to bring the world into a sort of golden age. Nature has always worked toward an epoch of soul. The labor is commonly referred to as the opus contra naturam, a work against nature, but it is actually “a following of nature, guided by nature” (Hillman 516). The gods in all things are ever laboring to bring it about.

Works Cited

Hillman, James. Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman
Volume 5: Alchemical Psychology, Kindle edition. Dallas: Spring, 2013.

Moore, Thomas. The Planets Within. Hudson: Lindisfarne, 1990.

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Alchemy: Spirits in the Earth



Things on earth, especially the metals in the earth, are in touch with the gods; they bear mythical messages. There is a spirit in the iron, in the lead, a spiritus rector, a guiding principle that teaches the artisan (Hillman 477).

It is not the artist alone who creates the masterpiece. Materials, brought forth from the earth, also contribute to the work. As with alchemy, art is never an objective work of artist upon the materials. The materials are close to the gods and have a voice in how they are transmuted. I am reminded of Michaelangelo and the manner in which he chose a block of marble. He saw the finished sculpture in the marble and then sought to free it from the confines of the stone. The marble, in touch with the gods, called to Michaelangelo, bidding him to enter into a participation mystique so that a great masterpiece might be revealed to the world. It was a cooperative undertaking, as is all art. Paint and canvas, also in tune with the gods, communicate their potentialities to the artist in the painter’s magnum opus. Musical artists experience this too. I have written several articles about Jimi Hendrix, how he and his guitar cooperated together in the creation of that revolutionary, alchemical sound. As Thales said, “all things are full of gods.”

The knowledgeable alchemist knew these things and endeavored to participate with the various metals and solutions in the bringing forth of the Philosopher’s Stone. In each type of material, there is a god and a message for the alchemist. Notice that Hillman says, “they bear mythical messages.” These assertions are not to be taken literally. We are in the realm of the imaginal here, the mythopoeic.

Hillman says the “subtle body” of the metal, not the literal mineral, is what the alchemist focused his attention on. The subtle body possessed qualities that the alchemist attempted to release so they could be contributed to the creation of the Stone. For instance, Hillman says that iron is “strong, penetrating, purposeful” (Hillman 477). These are characteristics that are desirable and needed for the Great Work. On the other hand, one must not become possessed by the spirit of the iron, for that would bring out its shadow qualities: rigidity, mental strain, hostility, and a tendency to rust.

The alchemical process can be compared to that of the refiner “releasing essence from dross” (ibid.), transmuting the metals into a more improved state. This is desired by the metals, for they have a “slumbering wish to transmute to a nobler state” (ibid.). The refining process aims for a purer constitution of the metal, such as “sterling” silver, or 24-carat gold. The metals have aspirations of returning “to the higher condition from which they have fallen” (ibid.). Indeed, the metals’ origin is with the gods.

In keeping with that sacred principle of Hermeticism, as above, so below, the earth’s major metals, lead, tin, iron, gold, copper, mercury, and silver each correspond to one of the seven primary planets:

Moon > Silver

Mercury > Mercury

Venus > Copper

Sun > Gold

Mars > Iron

Jupiter > Tin

Saturn > Lead

Belief in a linkage of these seven metals with the ‘seven planets’ reaches back into prehistory: there was no age in which silver was not associated with the Moon, nor gold with the Sun. These links defined the identities of the metals. Iron, used always for instruments of war, was associated with Mars, the soft, pliable metal copper was linked with Venus, and the chameleon metal mercury had the same name as its planet (Kollerstrom).

How did the various metals come to be identified with particular planets? Why does Jupiter correspond with tin, or Saturn with lead? In the next installment, I will explore these questions.

Works Cited

Hillman, James. Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman
Volume 5: Alchemical Psychology, Kindle edition. Dallas: Spring, 2013.

Kollerstrom, Nick. The Metal-Planet Affinities – The Sevenfold Pattern. The Alchemy Web Site .

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Alchemy: In the Service of Nature



The Promethean archetype, the desire to steal that which was meant to serve Nature and use it exclusively for human purposes, should not be the blueprint for the practitioner of alchemy. Even individual soul-making, if focused solely on the human, does not assist the Anima Mundi in her transmutation. The primary task of the alchemist, his passion, is to further the improvement of the World Soul. The alchemical practice is not to carry out the Promethean aim of what is best for humanity. Rather, it is more akin to a religious devotion to Nature.

Certainly, this is a dichotomizing of humanity and Nature. In reality, they are one and the same. Humanity is certainly a natural phenomenon. It is just as natural as any natural thing can be. The problem arises when the Promethean attitude is venerated to the exclusion of the cherishing and nourishing of Nature. A good example would be a large oil company assuming they are improving the world for mankind by drilling oil anywhere they can find it. What they’re doing has more to do with profit than it does with a supposedly altruistic aim. Of course, this is not serving Nature, but only selfish human ends. This is the Promethean archetype in a nutshell. It has nothing to do with the true practice of alchemy. If you want to understand Prometheus, read Ayn Rand. Her lead characters are almost always Promethean in nature.

Jung recognized what is, in essence, the Promethean spirit in Christianity, and how it differs from the Magnum Opus:

Here we come to a parting of the ways. The Christian receives the fruits of the Mass for himself personally and for the circumstances of his own life in the widest sense. The alchemist, on the other hand, receives the fructis arboris immortalis [the fruit of the tree of immortality] not merely for himself but first and foremost for the King or the King’s Son, for the perfecting of the coveted substance. He may play a part in the perfectio, which brings him health, riches, illumination, and salvation; but since he is the redeemer of God and not the one to be redeemed, he is more concerned to perfect the substance than himself (Jung 352, brackets mine).

So, alchemy has to do with the redemption of God rather than with the redemption of humanity. Humanity certainly benefits from the transformation and transmutation of Nature simply for being part of Nature. (No, this is not an avowal of pantheism on my part, although I do believe in a form of panentheism). The alchemical vocation can certainly bring one “health, riches, illumination, and salvation”, but these are not the primary goals. Where Christianity misses it is in placing man at the center of the universe, and thinking that if man is redeemed, then Nature would be also. This, however, is backwards. The Work is for the sake of the Work, not for the sake of personal enrichment. The Work is to transmute the Anima Mundi.

So, how can alchemy assist in the transmutation and transformation of the World Soul? James Hillman offers these suggestions:

By treating the materials as ensouled, by invoking the spirits of the metals and speaking of their emotional qualities, alchemy found gods in nature, and soul, or animation, in the physical world (Hillman 409).

J.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of my favorite stories. I discovered Tolkien as a teenager, after I heard Robert Plant say once he was reading Tolkien’s books. Straightaway, I went out and bought them. My favorite thing about the story is that it is an animistic tale, for all things are ensouled and all of Nature is reverenced. There are many, many examples of this throughout the story. For instance, the manner in which the hobbits smoke their pipes is fascinating. It’s as if the tobacco has soul, having the ability to take various shapes. And, remember how the swords and daggers had names, and sort of possessed their own personalities? This is ensoulment of natural materials. Nature is not a cold, lifeless place. It is filled with soul, with life.

James Hillman claims that “alchemy is animism” (Hillman 408). This is because the materials of alchemy are reverenced as possessing spirits, motives, emotions, even the ability to cooperate with the alchemist in his various endeavors; not literally, but mythologically. Our modern world has lost this precious attitude in this day of reductionist materialism. There is a dire need to recover this worldview before it is too late.

Works Cited

Hillman, James. Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman Volume 5: Alchemical Psychology, Kindle edition. Dallas: Spring, 2013.

Jung, C.G. Psychology and Alchemy. The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 12. Princeton: Princeton, 1953.

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The Fire of Alchemy

Photo by Malene Thyssen

Most of us who delve into the work of Carl Jung have encountered at least something he said about alchemy, that ancient art which Jung single-handedly restored to serious study in our modern age. Many of us know that, in it, he saw parallels with his theory of individuation, lead being transformed into gold, the integration of the Self. Yet, how much do we realize the immense importance of the truths he uncovered with this discovery? Of a surety, the alchemical process is probably the single best description, in metaphorical form, of not only what occurs in the human psyche, but what occurs in Nature in general as the process of soul-making unfolds. The images of alchemy are amazingly robust and accurate in their descriptions of the various stages and psychological modes and processes of the Magnum Opus.

Herein, I will begin several articles in which I will attempt to explore alchemy, as a spelunker would navigate a maze of caverns. The Great Work is an art form that has survived for thousands of years, undoubtedly due to its accurate representation of the processes of the psyche. Its importance in matters of soul must not be underestimated. I plan on beginning with the basics and then delve deeper into alchemy as never before. I will initiate this article with a discussion of one of mankind’s closest companions throughout its history. I refer to fire.

Over two millennia ago, Heraclitus concluded that fire is the element that best describes the operations of Nature. He believed that fire, which he seems to identify with God, or the world process, is the source of all becoming. “It throws apart and then brings together again; it advances and retires. Everything flows and nothing abides; everything gives way and nothing stays fixed” (qtd. in Wheelwright 70-71). To Heraclitus, fire is the perfect symbol to describe reality.

Following Heraclitus, James Hillman writes that “fire is the first principle, the root metaphor” (Hillman 769). Fire is constantly being transformed, but mysteriously remains the same. Fire descends to us from the heavens in the form of lightning and sunlight, and ascends to us from the core of the earth in volcanic eruptions. Its heat can be of many varying degrees, as well as its intensity. All living things possess heat, thus possessing the fire within. We speak of a “spark” of divinity, of reason, of light within ourselves. But this spark is in all things. From cow dung to an atomic weapon, fire permeates reality. Imaginally, it is a perfect symbol for the ultimate truth of the universe. Gaston Bachelard writes,

Fire and heat provide modes of explanation in the most varied domains, because they have been for us the occasion for unforgettable memories, for simple and decisive personal experiences. Fire is thus a privileged phenomenon which can explain anything. If all that changes slowly may be explained by life, all that changes quickly is explained by fire. Fire is the ultra-living element. It is intimate and it is universal. It lives in our heart. It lives in the sky. It rises from the depths of the substance and offers itself with the warmth of love. Or it can go back down into the substance and hide there, latent and pent-up, like hate and vengeance. Among all phenomena, it is really the only one to which there can be so definitely attributed the opposing values of good and evil. It shines in Paradise. It burns in Hell (Bachelard 7).

Fire is the root of alchemy. Without fire, there can be no alchemy, and hence no lapis philosophorum. Fire is to alchemy as blood is to life. Indeed, without the fire within, there can be no life. The alchemist is a Master of Fire, wielding it as the agent of transmutation. Like soul, fire is a mediator between forms. It is found at the level of animal passion, as well as in the heights of spiritual power. It dwells in the heart of Sol, as well as in that of Terra. The alchemist uses her accumulated knowledge of fire in all its modes to transform the strictly human soul into a temple of the gods. During this journey, we will require the light of fire to brighten our path as we explore the dark ways of alchemy.

Hephaestus is the god of alchemy and alchemists are his children. He is the blacksmith of the gods, forging all their weapons and all their finely-wrought works of metal. He forged the winged helmet of Hermes, the magical girdle of Aphrodite, and the chariot of Heilos. Like the alchemists, Hephaestus is a Master of Fire. It was from his forge that Prometheus stole fire and gave it to mankind. The alchemist, however, must avoid Prometheus’ transgression. As Hillman says,

Prometheus does not belong in the alchemical devotio, and the work must always be on guard against the “promethean sin,” stealing the fire for human use (Hillman 379).

The alchemist labors for the love of the Great Work alone. The Promethean spirit labors for ideology, as in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, and in ideological capitalism, in general. The Masters of Fire did not seek gold for their coffers. Rather, they were performing the work of Nature, for the alchemical process is not carried out to bring about personal transformation, but the transformation and transmutation of Nature. Christianity bought into the Promethean ideology, as well, believing that personal redemption was paramount. Hillman offers this warning:

Any student of alchemy, any borrower of its tropes for one’s own art or practice, doing the work for one’s own nature, remains Promethean, a secular humanist, a gold digger (Hillman 402).

Alchemists dreamed of the perfecting and redeeming of Nature (matter). Fire was their method of implementation. It is up to us to continue the Great Work and become Masters of Fire. In this way, we can further the creation of the Anima Mundi.

Works Cited

Bachelard, Gaston. The Psychoanalysis of Fire. Trans. Alan C.M. Ross. London: Routledge, 1964.

Hillman, James. Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman
Volume 5: Alchemical Psychology, Kindle edition. Dallas: Spring, 2013.

Wheelwright, Philip. The Presocratics. Indianapolis: ITT, 1966. 

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Neykia: Descent to the Underworld

Illustration of Dante’s Inferno, Canto 22, by Stradanus, 1587


In many accounts of the lives of individuals of genius, there are mental and/or physical breakdowns, where the person is hurled into a torturous abyss for a time. Their souls become a whirling vortex of suffering, confusion, and disintegration. Usually, this experience precludes normal activities and is many times accompanied by some physical malady. The person becomes withdrawn as if buried alive under the weight of suffering. Usually, their souls split into fragments and war against each other. Jung used the Greek word, nekyia to describe the “perilous adventure of the night sea journey” (Jung Alchemy 329), which he describes as a “descent into the dark world of the unconscious” (ibid.).

In my last article, we learned about Gustav Fechner and his breakdown, which eventually culminated in deep melancholia and total blindness. Fechner penned the following words after returning to the land of the living, after his journey through Hades:

My inner self split up as it were into two parts, my self and my thoughts. Both fought with each other; my thoughts sought to conquer my self and go an independent way, destroying my self ’s freedom and well being, and my self used all the power at its will trying to command my thoughts, and as soon as a thought attempted to settle and develop, my self tried to exile it and drag in another remote thought. Thus I was mentally occupied, not with thinking, but with banishing and bridling thoughts. I sometimes felt like a rider on a wild horse that has taken off with him, trying to tame it, or like a prince who has lost the support of his people and who tries slowly to gather strength and aid in order to regain his kingdom (qtd. in Heidelberger 48).

Since Western man has lost all sense of initiation that ancient man once knew, the soul, at times, necessitates this experience, “whose end and aim  is the restoration of life, resurrection, and the triumph over death” (Jung Alchemy 329). Know this of a surety, there is much danger in the Underworld. Joseph Campbell wrote,

The unconscious sends all sorts of vapors, odd beings, terrors, and deluding images up into the mind-whether in dreams, broad daylight, or insanity; for the human kingdom, beneath the floor of the comparatively neat dwelling that we call our consciousness, goes down into unsuspected Aladdin caves (Campbell 8).

Jung said once, “the gods have become diseases” (Jung Secret 37), hence the state of psychopathology that eventually brings about a healthy state of peace and normality. We have lost the practice of initiation that once existed in, for instance, the Eleusinian mysteries, where the powers of the unconscious were given recognition. Now, we push all shadow material down into ourselves where it festers and erupts suddenly at times in violence or sickness. The unconscious is not a garbage dump where we are to dispose those things we feel are contrary to our egoistic natures. If we treat it as such, it will eventually destroy us. If we explore the “Aladdin caves” of the soul, and pass through the dangers therein, it will absolutely transform us.

Carl Jung, writing about the descent into the Underworld, writes that

The Nekyia is no aimless and purely destructive fall into the abyss, but a meaningful kata­basis eis antron, a descent into the cave of initiation and secret knowledge. The journey through the psychic history of man­kind has as its object the restoration of the whole man, by awak­ening the memories in the blood. The descent to the Mothers enabled Faust to raise up the sinfully whole human being-Paris united with Helen-that homo totus who was forgotten when contemporary man lost himself in one-sidedness. It is he who at all times of upheaval has caused the tremor of the upper world, and always will. This man stands opposed to the man of the present, because he is the one who ever is as he was, whereas the other is what he is only for the moment. With my patients, ac­cordingly, the katabasis and katalysis are followed by a recogni­tion of the bipolarity of human nature and of the necessity of conflicting pairs of opposites. After the symbols of madness experienced during the period of disintegration there follow images which represent the coming together of the opposites: light/dark, above/below, white/black, male/female, etc. (Jung 139-140).

Jung himself experienced this, and now we have the account of his journey in The Red Book. Similarly, Fechner confronted his monsters, those that attempted to imprison him in a strictly materialistic prison of scientism. The nekyia experience totally transformed his life.

Most of us who seek self-knowledge have undergone a dark night of the soul, as St. John of the Cross called it. I, myself, had a particularly harrowing journey through the dark lands, of which I will not speak of here. I can say, however, I emerged from the black of night a changed man.

Works Cited

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton: Princeton, 1949.

Heidelberger, Michael. Nature From Within. Trans. Cynthia Klohr. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh, 2004.

Jung, C.G. Psychology and Alchemy. The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 12. Princeton: Princeton, 1953.

Jung, C.G.(1929). Commentary On The Secret Of The Golden Flower. In Alchemical Studies. In The Collected Works of C.G. Jung. Vol. 13. Princeton: Princeton.  

Jung, C.G. The Spirit in Man, Art, and Literature. The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 15. Princeton: Princeton, 1966.

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The Doctors of Soul: Gustav Fechner

Gustav Fechner

I thought I had ended my Doctors of Soul series, but I keep coming across remarkable individuals like Gustav Fechner who have contributed so much to modern depth psychology. Therefore, from time to time, I’ll post another installment in the series. I have other subjects in mind for future articles. For instance, one must say something about Henry Corbin. As James Hillman said there are “even more branches which have yet to be traced” (Hillman xvii) in the ancestry of psychology.

Gustav Theodor Fechner was born in 1801 in Groß Särchen, a village in western Poland, Fechner rose to prominence in the nineteenth century as a brilliant philosopher, physicist, and experimental psychologist. He was the founder of psychophysics, the quantitative investigation of “the relationship between physical stimuli and the sensations and perceptions they affect” (Wikipedia). He was not born to wealth, but his father was a respected pastor who raised him to be religious. He was educated at Sorau in western Poland, Medizinisch-Chirurgische Akademie in Dresden, where he studied medicine, and at the University of Leipzig. In 1834, he was made professor of physics at the University of Leipzig. He remained in the city of Leipzig until his death in 1887.

Becoming disillusioned with his medical studies, in 1820 Fechner discovered the thinking of Lorenz Oken, and then later, Friedrich Schelling. These thinkers were focusing their energies on Naturphilosophie, the philosophy of nature. Prior to this, Fechner’s studies in medicine had convinced him the world was merely “a set of mechanical workings” (qtd. in Heidelberger 22), thus bringing him to an atheistic worldview. The revelation of the philosophy of nature revolutionized his thinking at that time. Michael Heidelberger, in his book on Fechner, comments,

It is important to keep in mind that…Fechner interpreted his conversion to philosophy of nature indirectly as alienation from inanimate mechanism and materialism and returning to religious notions, perhaps even as recapturing the religion of his youth on a higher level (Heidelberger 22).

The kind of maverick thinking that brought about a religious-like conversion in Fechner is voiced by Schelling in these famous words:

Nature is to be visible mind (Geist), mind invisible nature. Here, therefore, in the absolute identity of the mind in us and the nature outside us, the problem of how a nature outside ourselves is possible must dissolve (qtd. in Bowie 39).

Also, there are these thoughts from Oken, which were in tune with Fechner’s fecund mind:

The philosophy of nature is the science of God’s own eternal transformation within the world. It must show the stages of development of the world from its beginning in primeval nothingness; it must show how the heavenly bodies and elements originated, how these rose to a higher level and eventually became organic and developed into reason in mankind (qtd. in  Heidelberger 23).

In 1823, Fechner earned his master’s degree, which was much like today’s doctoral degree. He was granted the right to teach. He planned to give lectures on Oken’s and Schelling’s ideas. Fechner was convinced that Naturphilosophie was the correct intellectual path to trod, but it was short-lived. Before too long, Fechner grew weary of the philosophy of nature. In his zeal to find answers, the quest metamorphosed into

a struggle I had always contained within myself that denied me satisfaction in my endeavors. I believed myself to be headed in the right direction, but never reached a sure goal. I racked my brain from dawn to dusk and sometimes on into the night searching for solid ground, but I was never happy with what I accomplished (qtd. in Heidelberger 26).

Eventually, Fechner abandoned working in Naturphilosophie. Partly out of financial necessity, he turned to writing and translating to secure a decent income. He wrote on logic and physiology, and translated French science books. Because of his excellent work in translating French scientific texts into German, Fechner brought new scientific methodologies to the German-speaking world, thereby reforming physics. He was granted the chair of physics at the University of Leipzig in 1834.

In the role of professor of physics, Fechner carried out important work on electricity, electrical chemistry, and electrical magnetism. He also conducted work on subjective optical phenomena. By this time, Fechner had returned fully to the fold of materialism and scientism.

In 1835, Fechner published a curious book entitled, The Little Book on Life After Death, under a pseudonym he used often, Dr. Mises. Apparently, during the days of late German Idealism, the immortality of the soul was a hot topic of debate, so this little book was Fechner’s contribution. Even though he was a scientist with strong leanings toward materialism, he attempted to fuse his interests in philosophy, religion, art, and literature, as well as science into a coherent whole. In the book, Fechner lays out his theory of three stages of human life: a prenatal stage, a stage of life on earth, and then life after death.

Man lives upon the earth not once, but three times. His first stage of life is a continuous sleep; the second is an alternation between sleeping and waking; the third is an eternal wakening.

In the first stage man lives alone in darkness; in the second he lives with companions, near and among others, but detached and in a light which pictures for him the exterior; in the third his life is merged with that of other souls into the higher life of the Supreme Spirit, and he discerns the reality of ultimate things. […] The passing from the first to the second stage is called birth; the transition from the second to the third is called death. (Fechner 1-2).

So, here we have Fechner, an avowed materialist and scientist, writing about birth and death as if he were authoring a mystical treatise! This man is more complicated than just your run-of-the-mill materialist. His dabbling in Schelling’s and Oken’s Naturphilosophie has left an indelible mark upon his inner life. Apparently, as Jung did, Fechner possessed two personalities, one of which follows the “light” of reason, the other the “darkness” of mysticism. In the first stage of life humans, in the prenatal state, are engulfed in unconsciousness; in the second stage, our lives upon this earth, we alternate between consciousness and unconsciousness; and in the third stage, death, we become engulfed in pure consciousness, “an eternal wakening.”

Now, Fechner’s ideas, here, are totally in conformity with his idea of a materialistic worldview. He is not referring to a purely conscious state after death that takes places in some far off, transcendental realm of spirit. This state of consciousness in the “hereafter,” which includes more than simply just the particular individual’s consciousness, still has its locality as that of this earth.

This reflects the immense justice of creation, namely, that each person himself creates the conditions for his future being. One’s actions are not requited by reward or punishment; there is neither heaven nor hell in the normal Christian, Jewish, and Heathen sense of the word, where a soul goes after death; the soul neither ascends nor descends, nor does it remain idle; it neither bursts nor does it flow into the universal; instead, after surviving the transitional illness called death, it continues to grow calmly according to the permanent logical consistency of nature on earth that erects each phase on the foundation of an earlier phase, and leads to a higher form of being (qtd. in Heidelberger 46).

I don’t know about you, but I find this prospect extremely exciting!

Fechner also had some very intriguing ideas about the dream state that influenced Freud to believe the unconscious has a distinct psychic locality. Fechner wrote,

If the scene of action of psychophysical activity were the same in sleeping and waking, dreams could, in my view, only be a prolongation at a lower degree of intensity of waking ideational life, and, moreover, would necessarily be of the same material and form. But the facts are quite otherwise (qtd. in Hillman Dream 16).

Of this passage, Freud said, “What is presented to us in these words is the idea of psychical locality” (Freud 969). This is a very important turn of events in the history of psychology, a watershed event. Fechner is basically saying that there is a topography of dream life and a topography of waking life. Henry Corbin would later call this topography of the dream state the mundus imaginalis.

As with many other Doctors of the Soul, Fechner experienced a breakdown in his health, which brought about his own nekyia, or descent into the Underworld. When he was thirty-nine years of age, Fechner suffered a state of blindess that was said to be because of his intense experimentation with color perception. James Hillman writes about this event:

He fell into a melancholic isolation, lost control over his thoughts, hallucinated tortures, and his alimentary tract broke down. Fechner remained in this tormented nighworld state for three years. Twice he was miraculously healed: once when a woman friend dreamed of preparing him a meal of Bauernschinken, heavily spiced raw ham cured in lemon juice and Rhine wine. This she did, took it to him, and he, against his better judgment, ate it, which restored his appetite and digestion. The second and final time came suddenly one morning at dawn when he found he was able to bear the light and even hungered for it, and then he began recuperating. He lived another forty-four years, until age eighty-six.

With his recovery Fechner was a converted man. He exchanged his university chair in physics for one in philosophy. Dayworld and nightworld took on a meaning different from his romantic forbears. Dayworld was the realm of light, spirit, God, and beauty; nightworld, of matter, pessimism, godless secularism. The idea of the unconscious he put into the nightworld. Despite shifting the valences, the archetypal fantasy of the two regimes remained fundamental to him, as it still remains fundamental in all depth psychologies (Hillman Dream 15).

So, Fechner, after navigating through the Underworld and returning, earned a place in the annals of depth psychology. Because of his great contributions to the furtherance of psychology, I consider him a true Doctor of the Soul.

Works Cited

Bowie, Andrew. Schelling and Modern European Philosophy. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Fechner, Gustav. The Little Book of Life After Death. Boston: Weiser, 2005

Freud, Sigmund. Complete Works. Ed. Ivan Smith. 2000. ,>

Heidelberger, Michael. Nature From Within. Trans. Cynthia Klohr. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh, 2004. 

Hillman, James. The Dream and the Underworld. New York: Harper, 1979.

Hillman, James. Re-Visioning Psychology. New York: Harper Collins, 1975.

Schelling, Friedrich. Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature. Trans. Errol E. Harris and Peter Heath. Cambridge: Cambridge, 1988.

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Going Deeper Into Hades

Elisium, by Leon Bakst

Everything would become deeper, moving from the visible connections to the invisible ones, dying out of life (Hillman 30).

The realm of Hades is the source of the soul’s limitless depth. There is no time there, thus there is no movement, no change at all. Needless to say, Hades is not a literal place, but a psychological domain. It is a land within the mundus imaginalis. Hillman writes that “all psychic events have a Hades aspect” (ibid.). All experiences of the psyche are like leaves floating on the surface of the Acheron, drifting ever gently toward the abode of the dead. One deepens one’s experience by following it into Hades, by paying the ferryman his due, by allowing the experience to speak in the context of one’s own death. If one attends to the soul, psychic experience deepens as it moves toward the telos of one’s life. As Hillman says, we move from the visible to the invisible.

A person who engages in soul-making, instead of dwelling on the literalisms of life, will eventually die to them. The literal perspective will die out and a symbolic, metaphorical perspective will take its place. But, more importantly, one’s fate, one’s purpose will become more apparent as the literal perspective dies. The idea of purpose, fate, is inherent in the idea of soul. It reveals itself more and more as we continually move towards Hades. What is our soul saying to us in our dreams, our physical and emotional symptoms, or our many difficulties? How do these help us understand the purpose of our lives, as we journey toward the Underworld? These questions, if asked continually, can only deepen the soul.

We who were raised in Christianity have problems thinking this way. From childhood, we are told that Hell is a literal place that is to be avoided at all cost. Since most Christians equate Hell with Hades, the latter must be the realm of Satan where sinners are punished eternally in fire and brimstone. But the Christian Hell is more akin to the Greek Tartaros, a deep abyss in the bowels of Hades where the wicked are tormented. This dungeon of suffering is where the Titans are imprisoned. This is where Tantalus and Sisyphus are tortured in constant misery and anguish. Hades has much more to offer than just torment and suffering.

Nightly, we board Charon’s ferry and make the journey across the Acheron and into the Underworld. Guarding the gates, we encounter Cerberus, the three-headed hound of Hecate. He guards the portal to Hades so that, upon entering, none may return. But, somehow we do every morning. We move through the land of the dead as shadows.

The Underworld is the realm of the Dead because Death is the ultimate unconsciousness. Those who die do not cease to be; we in the Dayworld simply become unconscious of them. They will always exist. We may not be aware of them, but this doesn’t preclude their existence. What is most crucial is that the underworld is the realm of the soul. The more we become familiar with it, the more soul we accumulate. Soul and Death are intertwined like the serpents on the caduceus. Nightly, we travel downward, where we play out stories that are as old as the human species. Instead of trying to grab the shadowy figures we meet and drag them back up into the light of the Dayworld (by trying to interpret our dreams so they make some kind of sense), it is in our best interest to remain there with them for a time and learn what they have to say. As we learn to recognize the archetypal motifs in our dreams, we come to know that life and death, Dayworld and Underworld, are two sides of the same coin. This is Underworld epistemology. The source of this knowledge is deep. Soul will take us deeper.

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The Doctors of Soul: Sigmund Freud

Freud, circa 1900

What can we say about the great Sigmund Freud that hasn’t already been said? Even though I disagree with him on many points, there is no doubt the man was one of history’s great minds. Without his paving the way for those who followed him, especially C.G. Jung, would we even be discussing depth psychology as we do today?

Instead of rehashing Freud’s biography, I will merely quote two pertinent paragraphs from the Wikipedia article about him:

Freud was born to Jewish Galician parents in the Moravian town of Příbor (German: Freiberg in Mähren), part of the Czech Republic, the first of their eight children. His father, Jacob Freud (1815–1896), a wool merchant, had two sons, Emanuel (1833–1914) and Philipp (1836–1911), from his first marriage. Jacob’s family were Hasidic Jews, and though Jacob himself had moved away from the tradition, he came to be known for his Torah study. He and Freud’s mother, Amalia (née Nathansohn), 20 years her husband’s junior and his third wife, were married by Rabbi Isaac Noah Mannheimer on 29 July 1855. They were struggling financially and living in a rented room, in a locksmith’s house at Schlossergasse 117 when their son Sigmund was born. He was born with a caul, which his mother saw as a positive omen for the boy’s future.

Freud entered the University of Vienna at age 17. He had planned to study law, but joined the medical faculty at the university, where his studies included philosophy under Franz Brentano, physiology under Ernst Brücke, and zoology under Darwinist professor Carl Claus. In 1876 Freud spent four weeks at Claus’s zoological research station in Trieste, dissecting hundreds of eels in an inconclusive search for their male reproductive organs. He graduated with an MD in 1881. 

I don’t wish to waste time going over what we already know Freud accomplished. I am most interested in learning how he influenced people like Jung, Hillman, and many others on the subjects of dreams and the unconscious. We know that Freud wrote a very famous book called Die Traumdeutung, The Interpretation of Dreams (1899). It was this book that revolutionized psychological thinking. In it, Freud introduced his theory of the activities of the unconscious mind. Freud said that dream interpretation is the via regia, or “royal road” to the unconscious. Up until that time, there were three predominant dream theories being bandied about Europe: somaticist, romantic, and rationalist. In formulating his theory, Freud borrowed from all three. From the somaticist theory, he believed that dreams are indicative of physiological processes; Freud himself would concentrate almost exclusively on sexuality. From the Romantics, he borrowed the idea that dreams originate in a place separate from our everyday world, i.e. the nightworld, a mythological world. From the rationalist viewpoint, Freud took the idea that the dreamworld is to be equated with temporary psychosis, “a turning away from the real external world” (qtd. in Hillman 8). He believed the dayworld is a sane place, but not the nightworld. He also accepted the idea of the rationalists that events from the previous day initiate the dream. In essence, the dream is caused by external phenomena and not anything within the dreamer herself. Freud referred to these as Tagesreste, residues of the day. So, empirical experiences of the dayworld are the material causes of the dream. He does leave the door open for mythology, somewhat, even though it is in service to the physiological process of sleep, by saying “the formal, efficient, and final causes are the wishes of Eros working upon the psyche in the night to keep it sleeping” (qtd. in Hillman 10).

Freud’s “translation [of the dream] into the language of waking life” (ibid.), attempts to pull the dream from its home in the nightworld up into the light of reason and rationality.Yet, Freud can still assert that the final cause  “has nothing to do with the dayworld…it would be misleading to say that dreams are concerned with the tasks of life before us or seek to find a solution for the problems of our daily work” (ibid.). Freud believes the dream is the watchman over sleep. He views the nightworld as stricly psychopathological.

Freud has led himself into quite an imbroglio. He wants to say that the dream is at home with sleep, watching over it as a guardian. Conversely, he wants to interpret the dream and drag it screaming up into the daylight, to rescue it from the crazy, lunatic underworld. I always thought the via regia led one down to the unconscious so that one could become better acquainted with it. But I suppose I had it backwards. For Freud, “the aim of the therapeutic interpretation has been to take the via regia out of the nightworld” (Hillman 11). This methodology leads to all kinds of insane interpretations, kind of like the thousands of different interpretations of the Bible since the Reformation. One can really get in a pickle doing this. Freud did by searching for sexual reasons in his patients’ disturbances.  

One thing that Freud definitely accomplished, however. He got us talking about the unconscious. That is what revolutionized the twentieth century. Think of the way Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, used his uncle’s theories to brainwash American consumers into buying all sort of junk they didn’t need. They’re still doing it! But the fact that we now vaguely know general things about how the unconscious works can be attributed to Freud. For that, we must thank him.

Hillman’s take on dream interpretation is noteworthy, in light of Freud’s insistence that dreams be translated into ego-language. In examining dreams, “we must go over the bridge and let it fall behind us, and if it will not fall, then let it burn” (Hillman 13).

When researching Die Traumdeutung, Freud takes a cue from Gustav Fechner, who himself should be included in the annals of the Doctors of Souls. Even though Freud wants to claim the dream as being caused by dayworld experiences, he still believes that its home is in the nightworld. The following statement from Fechner brings him to the realization that the unconscious is topograhical:

If the scene of action of psychophysical activity were the same in sleeping and waking, dreams could, in my view, only be a prolongation at a lower degree of intensity of waking ideational life, and, moreover, would necessarily be of the same material and form. But the facts are quite otherwise (qtd. in Hillman 16).

This statement inspires Freud to say, “What is presented to us in these words is the idea of psychical locality” (Freud 969). This is a very important turn in the history of psychology, a watershed event. Freud begins his nekyia, his descent into the Underworld. Hillman writes,

This bold, this heroic move of Freud into unknown lands was made without cognizance of its consequences for psychology. While it opened new ground for psychological thinking, giving it the new dimension of depth, this depth was fixed into a fantasy of structural levels (Hillman 16).

Concerning these structural levels, Hillman is referring to how Freud subdivided the unconscious into Id, Ego, and Superego, providing it with a topography. He writes about it as a mythological land, influenced here by the Romantics.

In his own life, while working on Die Traumdeutung, Freud underwent a breakdown, which began his descent to the lower regions. As in all great accomplishments, especially those that change history, one is accompanied by pathologization. This is the way of the soul. C’est la vie. Freud gleaned truths from his own personal suffering. His insights came from phenomenologically examining his own dreams. This is akin to Jung’s breakdown, the account of which we now have in The Red Book. As Freud later, wrote, “Insight such as this falls to one’s lot but once in a lifetime” (qtd. in Hillman 21).

Works Cited

Freud, Sigmund. Complete Works. Ed. Ivan Smith. 2000. ,>

Hillman, James. The Dream and the Underworld. New York: Harper, 1979.

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The Doctors of Soul: Wilhelm Dilthey

Wilhelm Dilthey, circa 1855
Wilhelm Dilthey has earned a place among the Doctors of Soul, primarily, for his work in hermeneutics, and the humanities. Dilthey was a German philosopher, historian, and psychologist. In 1833, two years after the death of Hegel, Dilthey was born in Biebrich, Hesse, which is a borough of Weisbaden. His father was a Reformed Church theologian, his mother the daughter of an orchestral conductor. Dilthey studied theology in Heidelberg and Berlin, but then transferred his attention to philosophy, taking his doctorate from Berlin in 1864. He taught at Basel, Kiel, and Breslau from 1866-1882. With the passing of R.H. Lotze In 1882, he would be elevated to the Chair of Philosophy at Berlin, once held by Hegel. Dilthey would hold it until his death in 1911.

Dilthey’s entire career was based on a belief that self-knowledge is paramount in human endeavor. His interests encompassed all facets of human learning and experience. He sought to facilitate the discipline of self-knowledge so that humanity could derive the maximum benefit from it. Dilthey’s concentration was in the fields of philosophy, psychology, sociology, and history, especially the history of ideas. Dilthey’s work influenced most of the important thinkers of the twentieth century, such as Freud, Jung, Heidegger, Habermas, and many others. Still, Dilthey is relatively unknown and underestimated in America.

Spanish philosopher, Ortega y Gasset, called Dilthey “the most important thinker of the second half of the nineteenth century” (qtd. in Rickman 1). Gasset must have had a very good reason to say this, what with the level of thinkers to emerge from that fertile period. What we are looking into, however, is what Dilthey contributed to the resurrection of the idea of soul in Western thinking, and to how he influenced the soon-to-come depth psychology of Freud, Jung, and Hillman.

According to James Hillman, Wilhelm Dilthey was the first to “importantly” draw a distinction between the attempt to know via understanding and to know via explanation, as the scientific tradition is wont to do (Hillman 15). He saw our culture as losing the ability of imagination that leads to true understanding. In Dilthey’s day, imagination was being replaced with scientific objectivity. Instead of attempting to really understand the world, including its inhabitants, the scientific method wanted only to offer explanations. It is a testament to the power of soul that this attitude has not fully encompassed us today. We are still talking about soul. An example of the lack of imagination today would be the attempt to explain depression (I prefer the word, “melancholia”) by pointing to certain chemical reactions in the brain. Instead of trying to really understand why a person is depressed, science offers only chemical explanations (and chemical “remedies”).

Achetypal thought stresses personifying. The idea of personifying is one of the foundational stones of archetypal psychology because it utilizes imagination in an attempt to really understand the patient. James Hillman writes,

is not a lesser, primitive mode of apprehending but a finer one. It
presents in psychological theory the attempt to integrate heart into
method and to return abstract thoughts and dead matter to their human
shapes (Hillman 15).

Dilthey was attempting to do the same. He used personifying to try and understand human psyches. The secret of the ‘person’, he wrote, attracts for its own sake ever newer and deeper efforts to understand” (qtd. in Hillman 16). Hillman says,

…Dilthey was a precursor of archetypal psychology.  He was moving in the direction of the mythopoeic, recognizing its role for psychological understanding, his basic concern. But first he had to struggle with psychology in its positivistic definition. This struggle led him to recognize that psychology, upon which he wanted to base all human studies that employ the method of understanding, stands closer to art, to poetry, biography, and narrative than it does to experimental science” (Hillman 234n).

Another area where Dilthey made significant contributions is hermeneutics. This may be his most important work. When Dilthey was  a student at the University of Berlin, he was taught by two professors who had been students of  Friedrich Schleiermacher.  He edited the letters of Schleiermacher and wrote a biography of him. Schleiermacher is famous, partly, for his work in hermeneutics. Dilthey was greatly inspired by Schleiermacher’s work. Being very influenced by German Romanticism, Dilthey placed more importance on human emotion and imagination than the explanations of reductionist scientific systems. He applied his theory of hermeneutics to human studies, or humanities. According to Wikipedia

The school of Romantic hermeneutics stressed that historically embedded interpreters — a “living” rather than a Cartesian dualism or “theoretical” subject — use ‘understanding’ and ‘interpretation’ (verstehen),
which combine individual-psychological and social-historical
description and analysis, to gain a greater knowledge of texts and
authors in their contexts.

Dilthey saw that the method of hermeneutics used by Schleiermacher and others was perfect for human studies, or Geisteswissenschaften.

Henry Corbin credits both Dilthey and  Schleiermacher with being instrumental in inspiring Martin Heidegger’s hermeneutic work. From Heidegger, Corbin gained much inspiration for his melding of Western mysticism and Islamic theology. Tom Cheetham writes,

The significance of Heidegger’s monumental Being and Time for Corbin is not so much that it caused a revolution in his outlook, but rather that it provided a crystallization of themes and issues which were already gathering in his thinking through his study of both Western philosophy and Islamic thought. Like Corbin, Heidegger had been deeply engaged in the study of medieval philosophy and theology and wrote his first major academic treatise on Duns Scotus. As Corbin points out, this provides a significant link between Heidegger’s intellectual background and his own, in particular since the Medieval concept of grammatica speculativa which is fundamental to Luther’s thought had a profound impact on Corbin…But without question Heidegger’s work was, in Corbin’s own words, of “decisive” importance (Cheetham 2).

So, we see that Wilhelm Dilthey was very important in his contributions to depth psychology, particularly Hillman’s archetypal psychology, and Corbin’s unique spirituality and philosophy. 

Works Cited

Cheetham, Tom. The World Turned Inside Out. Woodstock: Spring, 2003.

Hillman, James. Re-Visioning Psychology. New York: Harper, 1975

Rickman, H.P. Wilhelm Dilthey: Pioneer of the Human Studies. Los Angeles: University of California, 1979.

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The Doctors of Soul: Samuel Taylor Coleridge

In his own words, Coleridge only ever ‘seem’d’ a poet (PW I 2 1145); what he was was a sort of Sandman, a weaver of elusive ‘Day-Dreams’, ‘Sorts of  Dreams’, ‘Reveries’, ‘Visions in Dream’, and ‘Fragments from the life of Dreams’ (Toor 1).

Samuel Taylor Coleridge is considered one of the greatest of the English Romantic poets. He was born in 1772 in Devonshire, England to his father, the Vicar of Ottery, the Reverend John Coleridge, and his mother, Anne Bowden Coleridge. We know him best for his epic poems, Kubla Khan, and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

He attended Jesus College, Cambridge, where he had a most tumultuous time. It ended in his leaving College in 1795 and taking up public lecturing in Bristol with his friend, Robert Southey. Undoubtedly, his daimon deemed it necessary for him to have different experiences at that point in his life. These would usher forth the beauties that lay within him. Even though his stint at Cambridge was over, the fecundity of his imagination would grace mankind with beauty beyond belief.

Coleridge was not simply a poet. His interests were diverse. He was a pamphleteer and public lecturer during the early days of the French Revolution. His message promoted a communistic, anti-violent form of society that he and Southey wished to create in America. Coleridge was also a philosopher, folklorist, psychologist, playwright, travel writer, and amateur naturalist. He also was quite the literary critic, penning excellent works on Shakespeare.

As a psychologist, Coleridge was very interested in the imagination and dreams. His ideas on the imagination are alchemical and magical. The imaginative poet is one who

brings the whole soul of man into activity, with the subordination of its faculties to each other according to their relative worth and dignity. He diffuses a tone and spirit of unity, that blends, and (as it were) fuses, each into each, by that synthetic and magical power, to which I would exclusively appropriate the name of Imagination. This power, first put in action by the will and understanding, and retained under their irremissive, though gentle and unnoticed, control, laxis effertur habenis, reveals “itself in the balance or reconcilement of opposite or discordant” qualities: of sameness, with difference; of the general with the concrete; the idea with the image; the individual with the representative; the sense of novelty and freshness with old and familiar objects; a more than usual state of emotion with more than usual order; judgment ever awake and steady self-possession with enthusiasm and feeling profound or vehement; and while it blends and harmonizes the natural and the artificial, still subordinates art to nature; the manner to the matter; and our admiration of the poet to our sympathy with the poetry (BL II 16).

The imagination is a transformative power within humans that possesses the potential to change anything and everything. Coleridge uses alchemical language to describe the power of the imagination. The reconciliation of opposites is a basic alchemical principle in which the fusion and union of the disparate elements result in the lapis philosophorum, the philosopher’s stone (in this case, the completed poem). Coleridge even goes so far as to cite the Ouroboros as symbolizing this process:

The common end of all narrative, nay, of all Poems is to convert a series into a Whole: to make those events, which in real or imagined History move on in a strait Line, assume to our Understandings, a circular motion—the snake with its Tail in its Mouth (CL IV 545).

As with C.G. Jung, this process for Coleridge is the fusing of conscious and unconscious contents within the psyche. Upon reading about Coleridge’s theory of poetry, I was astounded that he had used the same term for the process of integration that Jung had used, except that Coleridge equated the very essence of life itself with individuation.

I define life as the principle of individuation, or the power which unites a given all into a whole that is presupposed by all its parts (BL II 62).

Another aspect of Coleridge’s work that makes him important to modern depth psychology is his dream experiences and subsequent encounters with the archetypes. For example, while working on his poem, Christabel, Coleridge meets with a “deep, unutterable Disgust,” a very dark and terrible disposition that hinders him from completing the poem (CL I 643). This is an example of an encounter with the Shadow. Coleridge notices there are two personalities within, just as Jung had done so years later. Coleridge calls his day-ego, ego-diurnus, while the nighttime-ego is ego nocturnus (CN III 4409). These are the polar powers of the psyche. Coleridge called a poem a “rationalized dream,” where unconscious contents merge with consciousness in giving birth to the poem. To me, this sounds as if the poem is the soul in the process, since it is to be found in the middle region between conscious and unconsciousness.

Finally, in an amazing statement concerning alchemy, Coleridge peers down the pathways of Time and seems to see what Jung saw less than one hundred years later:

I am persuaded that the chymical technology, as far as it was borrowed from Life & Intelligence, half-metaphorically, half mystically, may be brought back again… to the use of psychology in many instances—&  above all, in the philosophy of Language—which ought to be experimentative & analytic of the elements of meaning, their single, double, triple & quadruple combinations,—of simple aggregation, or of  composition by balance of opposition. Thus innocence is distinguished from Virtue & vice versa—In both  there is a positive, but in each opposite. A Decomposition must take place in the first instance, & then a new Composition, in order for Innocence to become Virtue. It loses a positive—& then the base attracts another different positive, by the higher affinity of the [same] Base under a different Temperature for the Latter  (CN III 3312, qtd. in Toor 89-90).

Here, Coleridge is referring to applying alchemical processes to psychology and literature, which is exactly what we’ve been doing since Jung rediscovered the effectiveness of alchemy in his psychoanalytic work.

From Coleridge, today we enjoy the valuable gifts of soul that he has bequeathed upon us. Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan are, of course, the most popular. I see these as powerful examples of soul, the soul of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and products of the Anima Mundi, since they emerged autochthonously from nature. Coleridge was a Master of Imagination, and an illustrious Doctor of Soul.

Works Cited

Coleridge references use standard abbreviations. See The Oxford Handbook of Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Toor, Kiran. Dream Weaver: Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the prefiguring of Jungian Dream Theory.

The Coleridge Bulletin, New Series 24 (NS) Winter 2004.
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The Doctors of Soul: Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling

Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling was born in 1775 to Joseph Friedrich Schelling, a chaplain and professor of Oriental languages, and Gottliebin Marie, in the town of Leonberg in Württemberg (now Baden-Württemberg). He was good friends with Hegel and the poet, Holderlin. The three were roommates for awhile at Tübinger Stift, a seminary of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Württemberg. Here, Schelling studied the Church Fathers and the ancient Greeks.

We are now getting very close in our series to the beginning of modern depth psychology. By the time Schelling publishes his first philosophical work in 1795, we will be a mere one hundred years or so away from Freudian psychoanalysis. We will see that Schelling has contributions to make to the already constellating forces that will bring forth the idea of the unconscious from the whirling maelstrom of European thought, and then sweep the knowledge of depth psychology around the globe, making Sigmund Freud one of the most famous men in the world.

When I was a philosophy undergraduate in the mid-nineties, my professors totally ignored Schelling. I suppose it was because his teachings did not tow the Hegelian party line. Hegelianism was very powerful in Schelling’s day. It was the philosophical orthodoxy at that period in European history. Besides this, there was the rampant Cartesianism, which had led to a scientism that refused to accept a Schellingian philosophy of mythology or philosophy of nature. Bertrand Russell, the famous British philosopher that one of my old professors fondly referred to as “Bertie Russell,” dismissed Schelling’s importance in three lines:

Schelling was more amiable [than Fichte] but not less subjective. He was closely associated with the German romantics; philosophically, though famous in his day, he is not important (Russell 575).

Schelling was part of a movement that was extremely popular in Germany in the nineteenth century called Idealism. German Idealism reacted against Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, where he had asserted a distinction between phenomenon and noumenon, the external thing and the thing-in-itself. Kant had said that we could have absolutely no knowledge of the noumena. Johann Fichte contended that there was no distinction between phenomenon and noumenon, and that the ego was the source of all external things. Fichte’s philosophy was similar to Kant’s, except that the knowing subject, the ego, was at the center of everything.

Schelling, influenced by Fichte, attempted to develop this further by claiming that Fichte’s “I” requires the “Not-I” in the experiencing of the external world. The subjective requires the objective in order for experience to occur. In fact, in Schelling, the subjective and objective are one and the the same.

Schelling made very important contributions to the emergence of the idea of the unconscious in the nineteenth century. Borrowing somewhat from Jacob Boehme’s idea of Ungrund, Schelling first used the term, unconscious (das Unbewusste), in the year 1800, “in the context of his analysis of the unconscious conditions of self-consciousness and the sources of art” (Ffytche 13). In arriving at the idea of the unconscious, Schelling ran into the difficult problem of developing “certainty through a metaphysics of the Absolute; the desire to outline a history of nature; and the concern to articulate a principle of individuality and of individual freedom” (Ffytche 102). Schelling found himself in the unenviable position of trying to integrate three ideas: the individual and the Absolute; the emergent nature of life itself; and necessity and freedom. He needed to forge these together into one unitive ontology. It was at this juncture that he employed the idea of the unconscious as a jumping-off point.

In order to resolve these ontological contradictions between individuality and the absolute (whether this latter is conceived as reason, God, nature or the I) Schelling will come to rely on a third, mediating space — beyond the cogito and the framing powers of reason, but within the ontological space of the individual. A psyche that emerges besides the ‘I’, as an alternative, more radical site of connection between the self and its metaphysical foundations, is not just the sign of a counter-Enlightenment return to the structures of religion — the transcendent language of soul — but an attempt to naturalise within the framework of psychology a site for thinking self-identity, for positing an identity with oneself (Ffytche 105).

The psyche is this mediative point of departure for Schelling. In the
psyche, one finds a mediatrix between one’s individual self and the

Like Giordano Bruno before him, Schelling borrowed from Aristotle’s doctrine of form and matter. After applying this to his project, two ideas emerged. First, matter somehow identifies with the Absolute because it is “pure possibility in relation to the actual” (Ffytche 109). Secondly, matter is identified with the source, the origin. Schelling said,

rough matter strives, as it were blindly, after regular shape, and unconsciously assumes pure stereometric forms (Plastic Arts 7).

The fact that we are required to “strive after regular shape” assumes there is a lack of consciousness. In fact, Schelling once said, “In the concept of every beginning lies the concept of a lack” (qtd. in Ffytche 111). In this lack, this nothingness, lies unconsciousness. The connection of nothingness and non-being with individuality makes Schelling a direct predecessor to existentialist philosophers like Sartre, who make nothingness central to their thinking. More importantly, for our study, Schelling’s idea of unconsciousness initiates a discussion in psychology that will eventually lead to Freud’s use of the idea, and then Jung and modern depth psychology.

Schelling also contributed to psychology in his ideas of mythology and the imagination. Now, that I am slightly more familiar with him, I will delve further into those topics for future articles.

One other thing, notice, in the image above, if you will, Schelling’s eyes. His eyes are very distinctive, very deep, and very indicative of a man consumed with the soul. The eyes always give it away.

Works Cited

Ffytche, Matt. The Foundation of the Unconscious. Cambridge: Cambridge, 2012.

Russell, Bertrand. History of Western Philosophy. London: Routledge, 2009.

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The Doctors of Soul: Giambattista Vico

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Marie-Lan Nguyen

Giambattista Vico was born in Naples, Italy in 1668 to a poor book seller and a carriage maker’s daughter. Due to much illness, he was mostly self-educated. He was considered a fine political philosopher, Italian jurist, rhetorician, and historian. He was vehemently anti-Cartesian and anti-reductionist. According to Wikipedia,

Vico is a precursor of systemic and complexity thinking, as opposed to Cartesian analysis and other kinds of reductionism. He is also well known for noting that verum esse ipsum factum (“true itself is fact” or “the true itself is made”), a proposition that has been read as an early instance of constructivist epistemology.

He is credited with originating the philosophy of history. His major work was the Scienza Nuova, The New Science. He died in Naples in 1744.

Vico was one of the great scholars who owed much to Ficino’s translations of Plato and Plotinus. Vico had originally studied the Scholastics, but around 1690, he abandoned that project and began to focus on Plato, Virgil, Dante, and Petrarch. This was the turning point for him, one that made him an illustrious Doctor of the Soul.

Vico’s contribution to depth psychology and the study of soul is considerable. Apparently, he learned the ways of soul from reading the ancient writers, such as Plato and Plotinus, as well as Renaissance scholars like Ficino and Petrarch. Vico put imagination at the center of all that he taught. According to Hillman,

He deserves the attention of those concerned with Jung mainly because of his elaboration of metaphorical thinking. For him, such thinking was primary, just as with Jung fantasy-thinking is primary (Hillman 158).

Vico was very close to Jungian thought with his notion that various cultural ideas and myths are autochthonous, i.e., they arise from a single source. In The New Science, he writes, “Uniform ideas originating among entire peoples unknown to each other must have a common ground of truth” (Vico 144). This common ground that connected all peoples he called “imaginative universals.” These are very much like Jung’s archetypes.

There must in the nature of human things be a mental language common to all nations, which uniformly grasps the substance of things feasible in human social life, and expresses it with as many diverse modifications as these same things may have diverse aspects. A proof of this is afforded by proverbs or maxims of vulgar wisdom, in which substantially the same meanings find as many diverse expressions as there are nations ancient and modern (Vico 60).

Vico is most assuredly “an ancestor of the Jungian approach” (Hillman 157). Vico’s imaginative universals sound strikingly similar to Jung’s idea of the archetypes of the collective unconscious. Through his teaching of what he called “poetic characters,” Vico further developed the Ficinian insistence on the importance of fantasy.

The [poetic] characters of which we speak are found to have been certain imaginative genera (images for the most part of animate beings, of gods or heroes,
formed by their imagination) to which they reduced all the species or all the
particulars appertaining to each genus; exactly as the fables of human times,
such as those of late comedy, are intelligible genera reasoned out by moral
philosophy, from which the comic poets form imaginative genera (for the
perfected ideas of the various human types are nothing but that) which are the
persons of the comedies. Hence such divine or heroic characters are found to
have been true fables or stories, and their allegories are discovered to contain
meanings not analogical but univocal, not philosophical but historical, of the
peoples of Greece of those times. Furthermore, since these genera (for that is
what the fables in essence are) were formed by most vigorous imaginations,
as in men of the feeblest reasoning powers, we discover in them true poetic
sentences, which must be sentiments clothed in the greatest passions and therefore full of sublimity and arousing wonder (Vico 19).

Not only does Vico’s teaching resemble Jung’s, it also resembles Hillman’s archetypal psychology, with its insistence on a multiplicity of the “poetic characters,” or gods. There is also a kind of inkling of an archetypal therapy in Vico’s writings. The poetic characater, such as Pan, for example,

becomes the psychic structure by mean of which we place events and see how well they conform with their universal types, or archetypes, of the mundus imaginalis. The poetic character would be what we call the archetypal image with which events in your or my case history can be compared, the lacunae discovered, and a rectification takes places (Hillman 159).

Like Hillman, Vico defends the Neoplatonic principle of epistrophe, or ricorsi, as Vico calls it. This is very similar to Hillman’s method of “reversion,” described above, where fantasies are traced back to their archetypal origins in the Gods. Of this, Hillman elaborates that

Archetypal therapy of this sort proceeds by means of “likeness.” In Neoplatonic thought, especially as worked out by Proclus, events can be recognized for what they truly and essentially are, and thus “redeemed” through this recognition, by “reverting” them to their true cause in the divine ideas. These divine ideas become in Vico the universali fantastici, or poetic characters, and in Jung the archetypes (ibid.).

Vico’s ricorsi is a multifaceted idea that has been pored over and debated since Vico was rediscovered in the nineteenth century. But, according to Notre Dame philosophy professor, A. Robert Caponigri,

‘Ricorsi’ appears in Vico, in the first instance, as a methodological notion. It designates a methodological device for making effective his discovery of the primacy of poetry and, with this, of the genuine time-structure and movement of history. It consists in the employment of the categories of poetic wisdom for the interpretation of the cultural and social structures of post-poetic times. By this employment there is determined abstract contemporaneity between time-form structures (Caponigri 131).

Ricorsi, most commonly interpreted, is the recurrence theory of history, but that is not what Prof. Caponigri really thinks it is in Vico’s schema. He gives several lengthy explanations that are not in the scope of this article. For more detail, I refer you to his book, Time and Idea. Hillman claims ricorsi includes the meaning that “archetypal persons transcend historical limitations even as they manifest themselves in historical time.” Vico’s “poetic figures are the ultimate categories for understanding human existence” (ibid.). 

The mirror of the soul, peered into during the process of reversion, leads us to understand more about ourselves and our world. We examine our actions and behaviors and ask the question, What god do these behaviors conform to? What archetypal mythemes does my behavior reflect? In this way, we give place to the gods, and, thus, they do not arise within in us as diseases. Remember the words of Jung,

The gods have become diseases; Zeus no longer rules Olympus, but the
solar plexus, and produces curious specimens for the doctor’s
consulting room (Jung, 37).

This is what occurs when a society disposes of the gods, as our Western obsession with Cartesianism has done.

Thus, Vico has lent much to depth psychology. Now, we see why he is considered a Doctor of Soul.


Caponigri, A. Robert. Time and Idea. Chicago: Regnery, 1953.

Hillman, James. Loose Ends. Irving: Spring, 1978.

Jung, C.G.(1929). Commentary On The Secret Of The Golden Flower. In
Alchemical Studies. In The Collected Works of C.G. Jung. Vol. 13.
Princeton: Bollingen. 

Vico, Giambattista. The New Science. Trans. by Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harold Fisch. Ithaca: Cornell, 1948.

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The Doctors of Soul: Marsilio Ficino

Marsilio Ficino was born October 19, 1433 and died October 1, 1499. It was reported that when Ficino’s father, a physician to the Medicis, brought the young boy along with him one day to court, Cosimo de’ Medici, his father’s patron, prophetically exclaimed that Ficino’s destiny in life would be to heal men’s souls. Due in large part to the patronship of Cosimo, and the fortuitous gift of a prodigious intellect, Ficino became a crucial figure in the success of the early Italian Renaissance. Cosimo commissioned to him tasks that were integral to the revival of Greek classicism and Hermeticism in the Italy of that day. Unlike the wealthy plutocrats of our day, Cosimo used his fortune to influence astounding works of culture and the arts that changed Europe and the world forever. In the realm of philosophy and education, Marsilio Ficino was Cosimo’s right-hand man.

One of the major contributions Ficino made, not only to depth psychology, but to the entire intellectual world, was the translation of the complete works of Plato into Latin. No one in the history of the world had ever achieved such a monumental task. Prior to this, however, he translated the Corpus Hermeticum into Latin, which gave the world the teachings of the legendary Hermes Trismegistus. Cosimo interrupted Ficino’s work on the Platonic translations to make the Corpus Hermeticum his priority. Cosimo believed it contained a great spiritual message. Ficino’s translation of an incomplete manuscript (14 of 15 treatises) brought Hermeticism to Europe and influenced many Renaissance luminaries. Ficino would go on to make many translations of various Hellenistic Greek documents, including The Enneads, written by Plotinus, and works by Porphyry, Iamblichus, and other Neoplatonist writers. These accomplishments were very important in fueling the Western European Renaissance, especially the revival of Platonism and Neoplatonism.

Like our other Doctors, Ficino made soul the hallmark of his life and work. He writes

This (the soul) is the greatest of all miracles in nature. All other things beneath God are always one single being, but the soul is all things together…Therefore it may be rightly called the center of nature, the middle term of all things, the series of the world, the face of all, the bond and juncture of the universe (qtd. in Hillman 155).

In his Commentary On Plato’s Symposium, Ficino makes a
statement that is totally antithetical to the teachings of modern

“Man is the soul itself. . .” (Ficino 74). 

For the most part, psychology today refuses to accept any
idea of soul. Man is a material entity, according to current science. There
is no metaphysical element, such as soul, mind, or consciousness (there are those who deny even consciousness!). Man
has only a brain, which responds to external stimuli. What a far cry
from Ficino! How can there even be such a field as psychology (the
study of Soul or psyche) without admitting the soul’s existence?

For Ficino, the world is alive because of soul, for soul
is all things. Even though he seems to be attempting a definition of soul, he’s really not. He is fully aware of Heraclitus’ statement
concerning the unfathomable depths of Soul. In a roundabout sort of
way, I think Ficino is proposing that neither man nor the soul can be
precisely defined.

In the context of Ficino’s statement, I do not possess soul as I would a
coat or tie, I am soul. I cannot experience the world apart from soul.
Behaviorism cannot tell me why my breath is taken away by Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique;
or when I read Poe, Keats, or Goethe; or when I walk in the forest and
relish the green earth. They might try and tell me these are merely
chemical reactions in my brain, but anyone who has experienced these
things will know of a certainty how ridiculous this is. The depth of the
experience tells the story. All that I do and feel is because I am soul.

One of my favorite quotes from Ficino is the following:

Whoever . . . scrutinizes his mind . . . will find his own natural
work, and will find likewise his own star and daemon, and following
their beginnings he will thrive and live happily. Otherwise, he will
find fortune to be adverse, and he will feel that heaven hates him
(Ficino 169).

Ficino, obviously influenced by Greek tales of the daimones, makes some very precise statements concerning the consequences of following or ignoring one’s daimon.
The search for one’s place in the world is often overshadowed by many
things, such as the quest for affluence, worrying about what others
think, or being pushed into a certain vocation by one’s family. Ficino
gives a seemingly simple plan for ensuring a fulfilling life. But if it
is so simple, why do we see so many miserable people in the world?
Surely it isn’t because most people have never heard of Marsilio Ficino.
The truth he brings seems self-evident. Some find their niche
naturally by simply following their heart, even if they have never read
Plato or Ficino or any of the other thinkers who have advised us of
this truth. For these, it is instinctual.

On the subject of melancholia, Ficino writes,

We are all like Tantalus. We are all thirsty for the true goods, but we
all drink dreams. While we absorb the deadly waves of the river of
Lethe through our open throats, we scarcely lick with our lips a
shadowlike bit of nectar and ambrosia. Therefore, a troublesome thirst
continually burns us, oh we poor Tantali (qtd. in Kristeller, 210).

This wonderful quote, which I found in Paul Kristeller’s work on
Marsilio Ficino, is in the context of Ficino’s musings on melancholia,
especially the melancholy of scholars.

Ficino uses the Greek myth of Tantalus to illustrate how we come so
very close to truth at times, only to have it snatched away from us.
Banished to Hades by the gods for serving up his son at a banquet, he
was caused to stand chin-deep in the water with fruit dangling above
him. When he would try to eat or drink, the water would recede or the
fruit would be lifted away, just out of his reach. A horrible
punishment, indeed!

This phrase strikes a deep chord within me: “we all drink dreams.” We
thirst for truth, but instead, we drink dreams. One way I look at this
is to think about my own experiences with dreams. Most of the time, I
cannot remember my dreams. It is utterly frustrating. I know that what I
just dreamed is important, possibly some clue to help me understand
myself better, but the image just slips away. Sometimes I can close my
eyes and think about it a little and a bit of it will return. If I wait
until I am fully awake, it is useless. I have to be in a hypnagogic
state to even come close to remembering. Usually, no effort on my part
will retrieve it. This may be part of what Ficino is talking about. We
desire to drink freely and fully from the waters of life, but instead
we drink only bits and pieces of elusive images.

Ficino says we “absorb the deadly waves of the river of Lethe.” In some
Greek myths, if a newly dead soul drank from the Lethe, he/she would
forget what had happened to them in their previous life. To Ficino,
forgetfulness seems to be a deadly state. Possibly, he is thinking of
Socrates’ doctrine of recollection. Perhaps he feels that forgetfulness
leads us away from truth because we do not remember truth discovered
in previous existences. When we forget truth, we grab at shadows of the
true. We mistake the shadows for the real. In this state, we are
deceived. It is similar to the Hindu concept of maya.

Ficino contributed so much to Western psychology and culture that it would take volumes to tell it all. Because he made soul the most important element of his philosophy, he is to be honored as a Doctor of Soul.


Ficino, Marsilio. The Book of Life. Irving: Spring, 1980.

Ficino, Marsilio. Commentary On Plato’s Symposium On Love. Dallas: Spring: 1985.

Hillman, James. Loose Ends. Irving: Spring, 1978.

Kristeller, Paul Oskar. The Philosophy of Marsilio Ficino. New York: Columbia UP,

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The Doctors of Soul: Plotinus

Plotinus, from The School of Athens, by Raphael

Plotinus was the greatest of Neoplatonists. He never called his philosophy Neoplatonism. The name was created in the 19th century by stuffy European historians who enjoyed splitting history into periods. He lived circa 205-270 C.E. Plotinus considered himself a Platonist, even though he developed his own brilliant philosophy. His magnum opus was The Enneads, which were written in Rome. In the ways of soul, he was a master.

On the surface, Plotinus did not seem to be very influential to Jung’s thought. According to James Hillman, “Jung’s references to Plotinus and Neoplatonism are few. Plotinus appears not to have been one of Jung’s direct or favorite sources, and at least two standard works on Plotinus in Jung’s library stand there still with pages uncut” (Hillman 149). However, the two shared a common concern: “what is the nature of psychic reality” (Hillman 150).

In his essay, Plotino, Ficino, and Vico as Precursors of Archetypal Psychology, Hillman presents several points in Plotinus’ thought that are common to depth psychology, and, specifically, to archetypal psychology. First, humans can act unconsciously. Plotinus believed the soul possesses memories which are unconscious. These can exist concurrently with consciousness. Plotinus has even been called “the discoverer of the unconscious,” by H.R. Schwyzer, in his work, Consciousness and Unconsciousness in Plotinus (379, 390). Also, Plotinus believed in one universal soul, which can be compared to what we know as the Anima Mundi.

Hillman’s next point concerning Plotinus’ teaching is that “consciousness is mobile and multiple.” By this he means that consciousness does not necessarily need to be tied to just one aspect of the psyche, such as the ego. Plotinus believed in the multiplicity of consciousness, just as archetypal psychology does. Plotinus says in (Plotinus I, 1, 9), “man is many,” meaning man possesses many sides, both good and bad. Jung, says Hillman, presents a similar multiplicity of consciousness in his idea of the dissociability of the psyche into many complexes each with its light of nature, its spark or scintilla” (ibid.).

Plotinus was probably the first thinker to distinguish between a strictly ego-consciousness, our daily, quotidian mode of consciousness, and the total human psyche, which includes symbolic modes of consciousness. He also believed that each soul is commensurate with the universal soul, as well. Referring to this notion, Hillman comments that “we become precisely the activity we enact, the memory we remember; man is many, Proteus, flowing everywhere as the universal soul and potentially all things” (Hillman 151). The idea of the protean human harkens back to the ever-changing fiery flux of Heraclitus’ world, and his idea of the unlimited depths of soul.

Plotinus believed the imagination is primary to the soul. In fact, conscious experience would not occur if not for imagination. It is similar to a mirror in that, “by means of it the reflection of consciousness takes place” (ibid.). Not only that, but “imagination is an active power of the soul alone, independent of organs, and thus a purely psychic activity” (ibid.). Jung was also of the mind that “every psychic process is an image and an ‘imagining,’ otherwise no consciousness could exist” (qtd. in Hillman, 152). So, it is not far from these assertions to say that Plotinus was very close to the notion of archetypes in the unconscious psyche.

Next, Plotinus believed in the identification of personal soul and world soul, which both Jung and Hillman assert. It is a paradoxical union, where there is, in fact, a slight distinction between personal and collective, but there really isn’t. The lines between collective myth and personal imaginings blur in metaxical, paradoxical beauty.

Finally, for depth psychologists like Jung and Hillman, as well as the ancient Doctor of Soul, Plotinus, the soul is foundational. It is the bedrock for all other learning, teaching, and philosophizing. Hillman says,

Plotinus and Jung share a root vision based on the primary metaphor of soul, so that everything said is both a statement of the soul and by the soul as well as a statement on and about the soul. Soul is both subject and object of their concern” (Hillman 153).

Of the Doctors of Soul covered so far, Plotinus is the one I know the least about. Doing the research for this article has opened up new avenues of thought and imaginings that I hope will bear much creative fruit. 


Hillman, James. Loose Ends. Irving: Spring, 1978.

Plotinus. The Six Enneads. Trans. by Stephen Mackenna and B. S. Page.

Schwyzer, H.R. Bewusst und unbewusst bei Plotin. in Les sources de Plotin. ed. E. R. Dodds, W. Theiler. (Geneva: 1957.  

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The Doctors of Soul: Plato

Woodcut from the Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493

Plato made an enormous contribution to depth psychology, as he did to philosophy.

Jung’s theory of the archetypes is similar to Plato’s theory of Forms. Plato would say that for everything there is a Form, which is the original blueprint of a particular thing. Just so, the archetypes of the collective unconscious are patterns of inner workings which supply a certain “inborn manner of comprehension” (Bennet 69). But, instead of placing the Forms in a world totally separate from ours, as Plato did, Jung’s archetypes are based in the primal layer of the human psyche. In other words, the soul is interwoven into the body. Not just the brain, mind you, but the entire human body.

In his use of the Greek word, metaxy, in several important dialogues, Plato gave to depth psychology the notion that there is an in-between state that is neither mortal nor divine, neither matter nor spirit, neither light nor darkness. This is what we refer to as soul. In Plato’s Symposium, Socrates argues that Eros is a daimon who is in-between (metaxy) gods and mortals. Indeed, according to Socrates,

the whole of the daimonic is between [metaxy] god and mortal” (202d11-e1).

As Rod Serling would say, referring to his famous television series,

There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition. And, it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.

Soul is this metaxy. Soul is “as vast as space and as timeless as infinity.” Soul is limitless. It is the most important idea ever to arise in the human imagination. In this fifth dimension, time and space are totally meaningless. They are mere creations of the human mind that facilitate the framing of our experience of the three dimensions. In other words, time and space mitigate the vastness and infinite nature of soul in order that we might live day-to-day lives and interact with this world. In this way, we see our lives as having some semblance of “normality.”

This is not the meaning given by Plato, but his usage of the word in a particular way has inspired thinkers down through the centuries to arrive at these valuable applications of his thought.

Plato wrote about the Anima Mundi, the Soul of the World:

Therefore, we may consequently state that: this world is indeed a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence … a single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related (Plato, Timaeus, 29/30).

The world is a living being and is connected to the natural world as the human soul is connected to the body. As above, so below. This idea flourished in Neoplatonism and, later, Renaissance Hermeticism. Plotinus honed Plato’s idea into a powerful cosmological and metaphysical teaching.

By the time of the Renaissance, the idea of the Anima Mundi became a prominent teaching among many thinkers who leaned toward the esoteric. The Roman Church seemed to have problems with this view. In the late 1590’s, the Inquisition accused Giordano Bruno of pantheism simply because he espoused the teaching of the Anima Mundi. Earlier so-called heresies, such as the various Gnostic sects, adhered to this view, as well. The alchemists had adopted it too. 

In archetypal psychology, the Ars Memoria plays an important role. Plato wrote some very relevant things concerning memory and the soul. Plato believed that memory is

that power by which the soul is enabled to profer in some future period, some former energy: and the energy of this power is reminiscence. Now the very essence of intellect is energy, and all its perceptions are nothing more than visions of itself: but all the energies of soul are derived from intellectual illumination. Hence we may compare intellect to light, the soul to an eye, and Memory to that power by which the soul is converted to the light, and actually perceives. But the visions of the soul participate of greater or less reality, in proportion as she is more or less intimately converted to the divine light of intellect. In the multitude of mankind, indeed, the eye of the soul perceives with but a glimmering light, being accustomed to look constantly abroad into the dark and fluctuating regions of sense, and to contemplate solely the shadowy forms of imagination; in consequence of which, their memory is solely employed on objects obscure, external, and low. But in the few who have purified that organ of the soul, by which truth can alone be perceived, and which, as Plato says, is better worth saving than ten thousand eyes of sense; who have disengaged this eye from that barbaric clay with which it was buried, and have by this means turned it as from some benighted day, to bright and real vision: in these, Souls, Memory and Reminiscense, are entirely conversant with those divine ideal forms, so familiar to the soul before her immersion in body (From a footnote to The Hymns of Orpheus, translated by Thomas Taylor, 1792)

Plato taught that the world of Ideas is the true reality, and that appearances and particulars are relatively unreal. The purpose of human life, in his estimation, is for souls to participate in this realm of Ideas. Basically, the soul becomes more intelligible by focusing on imperceptibles (the Forms) instead of constantly concentrating on the world of perceptibles (this world, matter, literal reality).

I would add that the realm of Ideas includes metaphor, images, dreams, myths, etc. In my thinking, these have more durable substance than perceptibles. So, I suppose I am saying that the soul is fashioned as one learns to pay attention to Imperceptibles.

Memory is the means by which Soul can join itself to matter and become more intelligible, thus having the ability to walk unfettered in the world of Ideas. Remember, this is all metaphorical. Soul is not a literal substance that sits in the pineal gland, as Descartes claimed.

Although the idea of the soul is quite important in Plato’s thinking, he views it as separate from the body, immortal, and bound for the world of the Forms after death. Plato’s dualistic position of two separate worlds, one of the Forms (mental world), and one of physical matter has its roots in Pythagoras’ discovery that our world is connected to numbers. Pythagoras probably did not conceive of these two realities as being separate. Plato, however, made them distinct by recognizing there are no perfect examples of mathematical forms, such as the triangle, anywhere in our material world. Because of this, he believed that all material objects are flawed. This drove a wedge between mind and matter that is still with us to this day. Nevertheless, his original ideas concerning the soul make him one of our Doctors of Soul.


Bennet, E.A. What Jung Really Said. New York: Schocken, 1966.

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The Doctors of Soul: Heraclitus

Heraclitus, by Johannes Moreelse (after 1602–1634) 

The philosophy of Heraclitus is one of the most fascinating examples of thinking in the ancient world. It is possible that he was influenced by Eastern philosophies seeping into the Mediterranean region. He was certainly inspired by the Pythagorean and Milesian thinkers. He was rumored to be a pupil of Xenophanes. He lived circa 540-480 B.C.E. He is our first Doctor of Soul.

Heraclitus understood the world to be a place where nothing remains fixed; everything is in flux and is constantly being transformed. To Heraclitus, there is no difference between up and down. This is totally antithetical to the Western mindset. In our culture, we think of the way up as success and the way down as failure. This motif can be traced back hundreds, if not thousands of years. Where did we get the idea that down is evil and up is good? For example, up is heaven, down is hell; “human development” is good, degradation is bad; maturation is positive, infantile behavior is negative; etc. I think it has much to do with viewing Being in a linear fashion, whereas, at least in my view, it is really cyclical in nature.

One of the main aspects of his teaching is that “opposition brings concord,” and “out of discord comes the fairest harmony” (qtd. in Wheelwright 77). What he means by this apparent contradiction is that both positive and negative realities are required in order for harmony to exist. Justice is exhibited by the striving of one thing against another, for in this striving there is agreement or harmonia. He points to the bow and the lyre to illustrate his point. The strings of a bow and lyre require tension in order to operate harmoniously. If the bowstring were not tightened, an arrow could not be gracefully flung toward its target. Similarly, if the lyre strings were not tightened there would be no beautiful music. There is harmony in the shooting of an arrow with a bow, and in the music of a lyre, just as there is a certain harmony in the world. The discord which we experience is merely the process whereby unanimity arises. Heraclitus teaches that the consensus is not obvious, but concealed, for “hidden harmony is better than the obvious” (qtd. in Wheelwright 79).

Heraclitus believed that fire, which he seems to identify with God, or the world process, is the source of all becoming. “It throws apart and then brings together again; it advances and retires. Everything flows and nothing abides; everything gives way and nothing stays fixed” (qtd. in Wheelwright 70-71). To him, fire was the perfect symbol to describe reality.

Regarding the soul, or psyche, Heraclitus believed it is impossible to ascertain its limits, in the sense of our understanding the depths of the soul. He said, “You could not discover the limits of the soul, even if you traveled by every path in order to do so; such is the depth of its meaning” (qtd. in Wheelwright 72). Here, we have a connection from the ancient world with what we in the modern world call depth psychology, of which Jung’s Analytical Psychology and James Hillman’s Archetypal Psychology are obvious examples. Depth psychology is based on the theory of the unconscious mind, i.e., that there are things in the mind which we are not consciously aware of. Sometimes our conscious minds will thrust something which is too painful to bear into the unconscious. These things can then fester in the unconscious, affecting our conscious attitudes. For example, certain emotions can be repressed and can influence behavior, many times causing mental distress. The main point here is that Heraclitus recognized the boundless depth of the human psyche some twenty-five hundred years before Freud and Jung brought these truths to light in the modern world. He was the first to associate depth with soul.

As in the Heraclitean doctrine, Jungian psychology stresses the existence of a conflict of opposites, or enantiodromia. This is a term which Heraclitus used to describe the endless to and fro process of the eternal flux. The opposites are at war with each other, but in this conflict there is harmony, for both positive and negative need one another. Jung based his theory of compensation on this principle, claiming that the conscious attitude, at times, must be balanced by gaining awareness of certain unconscious processes. According to Jung, “Just as all energy proceeds from opposition, so the psyche too possesses its inner polarity, this being the indispensable prerequisite for its aliveness, as Heraclitus realized long ago” (Jung 346). A good example of what Jung means lies in an explanation of his doctrine of the anima and animus.

For Jung, all human beings have both male and female characteristics. For instance, all men have a female element abiding in their unconscious minds. Similarly, all women have an unconscious male element. One’s conscious attitude is usually dominated by those characteristics belonging to whatever sex one happens to be. The opposing characteristics, if not recognized by the conscious mind, can bring about many problems in the conscious attitude. For instance, a man who is not aware of the anima may experience irrational moods, peevishness, and bad temper. (Bennet 122). A woman who represses the male characteristics may, for example, not respect the feelings of others because she is overly rational (Bennet 130). For men, Jung called the female image anima. For women, the male image is the animus. These are Latin words which both mean “soul.” Anima is feminine; animus is masculine. If one set of characteristics is dominant, the opposite will manifest itself in dreams, hinting at how the conscious attitude should be adjusted so that balance can be restored to the psyche (this accords with Jungian psychology, not Archetypal psychology).

Another area where Jung was influenced by Heraclitus is in his personality typology. Again, he utilizes the Heraclitean principle of enantiodromia to explain why people have different personalities. He begins with the distinction between what he terms introverts and extroverts. Basically, the introvert is characterized by a flow of energy inward; the concentration is on the subject. The extrovert’s energy flows outward, into the world; the concentration is on objects and other people. Every person has both characteristics within them, just as in the anima/animus doctrine. One of the two, however, will dominate the conscious attitude.

Each of these basic attitude types consists of four functions: thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition. As in the introvert/extrovert distinction, one of the opposites will be dominant. For instance, someone may be an extrovert who is thinking-oriented instead of feeling-oriented. This person might also be guided more by his intuition than his senses. Another may be an introvert who is feeling oriented, and who relates more to sensation. Using this procedure, Jung was able to study human beings in a more precise manner. The Myers-Briggs Personality Test, used by psychologists today, is based on Jung’s typology.

Heraclitus gives us the idea that soul comes into existence out of water. I don’t take this literally. I don’t think his worldview includes a finite moment of creation for soul, or anything else in nature. This view may have been influenced by Thales’ assertion that all things originate with water. But Heraclitus gives us something else to think about: “water comes into existence out of earth.” This would make absolutely no sense if we take it in a literal fashion. What if we say, “Water comes into existence out of Soul” and “Soul comes into existence out of water?” If we take dry earth as a metaphor for soul, this seems to be a valid statement. Here again is a cyclical mode of thought. It is in line with Heraclitus’ cosmology. Soul is in constant, cyclical motion, exchanging dry for wet, wet for dry, hot for cold, cold for hot, etc. Soul is at the foundation of human existence; our lives are energized by the endless unrest.

Heraclitus brings this strikingly new and unusual thought of the logos of soul as being so immeasurably deep we will never find its bounds, no matter how far we travel. We do not understand our own cavernous inner recesses. Our rationality can no more understand soul than we can understand God. Language breaks down when one attempts to think and write about such things.

It is amazing to think there is “something” within me that has such depth, I will never discover its limits. I know the thing I am thinking of is not an objective thing at all. Heraclitus is utilizing the Greek idea of psyche to shed light on his experience of unbounded connectedness to the world. He feels it within himself. In some way, soul has a sense of numinosity which is so perplexing and paradoxical to our rational minds, we may never fully understand it. But I don’t think Heraclitus is concerned with rational understanding. That will come later in Greek philosophy. What he is talking about is an experience within himself of the very foundation principle (arche) upon which reality is structured.

The logos of soul and the logos of the cosmos are discussed separately, but I don’t think they are actually to be understood separately. What I think may have happened with Heraclitus is that, as he said in another fragment, “I have searched myself.” Obviously, again we are dealing with someone who was deeply introspective. What seems to occur after one gazes inward for some time is that the deep logos of soul is recognized as being identical with the cosmic logos, which, according to Heraclitus, orders everything in our universe. And herein is the error of the people “who live as though their thinking were a private possession” (Fragment 3 in Kahn). Actually, the account, the logos, is shared among all humanity. Just as the deep logos of soul is common among us all, so is the cosmic logos.


Bennet, E.A. What Jung Really Said. New York: Schocken, 1966.

Jung, C.G. Memories, Dreams, and Reflections. New York: Vintage, 1965.

Kahn, Charles H. The Art and Thought of Heraclitus. New York: Cambridge, 1979.

Wheelwright, Philip. The Presocratics. Indianapolis: ITT, 1966.

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The Doctors of Soul

Many of you who have read James Hillman’s Re-Visioning Psychology know that his psychology begins with C.G. Jung, who Hillman considers “the immediate ancestor in a long line that stretches back through Freud, Dilthey, Coleridge, Schelling, Vico, Ficino, Plotinus, and Plato to Heraclitus-and with even more branches which have yet to be traced” (Hillman xvii). I will be starting a series of articles on these illustrious Doctors of Soul. I plan on discussing the most significant accomplishments and contributions of each to the cultivation and furtherance of soul-making in Western civilization.

It is not to be assumed that I am an expert on the lives of these thinkers.
This is as much for my personal study and edification as I hope it will
be for my readers.  

Before I begin, however, I would like to share a few brief remarks concerning why James Hillman’s ideas have inaugurated a new era in the study of soul, why they are just as revolutionary as Jung’s (perhaps more so), and why he should be included in this group of intellectual luminaries known as the Doctors of Soul.

The mantle of Jung may have fallen on James Hillman at Jung’s passing, but Hillman is not a “Jungian.” Whereas the Gnostics and alchemists were Jung’s primary Muses, Hillman looks to the ancient Greeks, Renaissance teachers, the Romantics, and phenomenologists for the main tenets of his “archetypal psychology.” Jung borrowed from Heraclitus and Plato, as does Hillman, but Hillman also seeks the Gods themselves as personalities, not simply “projections of the psyche,” as Jung would assert. Moreover, Jung’s focus on the integration of all disparate aspects of the psyche into a central Self is not the path trodden by Hillman. The latter would insist in keeping all those personalities separate, since reality is polytheistic in nature.

The many-sidedness of human nature, the variety of viewpoints even within a single individual, requires the broadest possible spectrum of basic structures (Hillman xx).  

Jung believed that if one were to withdraw all projections, the Self would be unified and whole. This process he called individuation.

Jung believed that dreams were part of a compensatory process that furthered the psyche along its path of individuation. Hillman does not buy into this idea. Rather, he looks at dreams phenomenologically and hermeneutically, not analytically. Hillman argued against dream interpretation, as well, claiming that this was the work of the Ego, who always tries to be top dog, so to speak.

James Hillman has greatly influenced my life and my thought. I began
reading him in college, nearly twenty years ago. I have continued over
the years, excavating  much from the rich ore of his mind. This blog is
replete with Hillman-inspired articles. Having steeped myself in things
Jungian for several years, I came across Dr. Hillman while perusing the
university library one day. I was immediately drawn to his thought,
probably because he was a Jungian rebel. I read Re-visioning Psychology first and it blew my mind. I read it several times; I still read it, and it still is an incredible piece of work.

He, more than anyone, helped me to understand depression, suffering, and why life
is as it is. He showed me why soul pathologizes; why monotheism is the
root of much neurosis; why dreams prepare us for death; why everyone is
born to do a certain thing in life; why everything is soul and soul is
everything. Certainly, Hillman could not have showed me these things
without the work of men like Freud, Jung, Adler, and many others. He,
however, brought a bit more lucidity to depth psychology than his

So, on to the series. My first installment will deal with the man who may have been the original depth psychologist, for he was the first in Western history to identify depth with soul, Heraclitus.

 Hillman, James. Re-Visioning Psychology. New York: Harper Collins, 1975.

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Window Or Mirror?


In his intriguing essay, The Despotic Eye: An Illustration of Metabletic Phenomenology and Its Implications, Robert Romanyshyn, offers a very well-presented, easy-to-grasp introduction to Van den Berg’s Metabletic Phenomenology. He then proceeds to illustrate why reality is a mirrored reflection of human life. Romanyshyn uses the poignant example of linear perspective, its origin, and how it differs from the way artists previously viewed the world.

According to Romanyshyn, before the advent of linear perspective, artists portrayed the relation of humanity to the world from the point of view of the entire body (not just the eye), since the body is how we relate to the world. The following painting from 1359 presents a view one would experience while walking through the streets of fourteenth century Florence. According to S.Y. Edgerton, an expert on the history of linear perspective, the painter “believed that he could render what he saw before his eyes convincingly by representing what it felt like to walk about, experiencing structures, almost tactilely…” Romanyshyn comments:

The artist’s eyes which saw 14th century Florence and portrayed on that canvas what was seen, also portrayed a way of seeing. The artist portrayed a see-er whose eyes are embodied, that is, whose eyes are as much a matter of active muscle as they are of receptive nerve, eyes which take hold of the world by moving through it as much as they may behold it from a point fixed in space. That anonymous artist and his canvas depict eyes whose sensing of the world is a sensuous contact with it, eyes which in looking at what they see caress and are caressed by what they see, eyes in the midst of the world, surrounded by it as it were, rather than an eye removed from the world in order to confront it head on, as it were, along the straight lines sketched out by the geometry of linear perspective (Romanyshyn 512).

This painting is really a look back in time at the way the artist experienced his world. Romanyshyn believes that

What reality is is, in other words, inseparable from how humanity imagines or envisions it. In this respect humanity’s psychological life is visible as the specific and concrete historical manifestations of an age. The way in which an age paints its paintings and builds its buildings, for example, mirrors the way in which that age dreams its dreams and understands its reasons. (ibid. 506).

The second image discussed by Romanyshyn is a painting from circa 1480. The artist is anonymous, but he/she has obviously fully embraced the principles of linear perspective developed by Filippo Brunelleschi several years prior to this.

Linear perspective takes as preconceived assumptions that space is infinite and homogeneous. The primary foundational stone of linear perspective is that of the vanishing point, what the Italians called the punta di fuga, the point of light. Through this new way of seeing that which is seen, a new relationship between humanity and the world is born. This new relationship would lead to the notion of an objective observer, one removed from what one is seeing. The new science that was just on the horizon would embrace this view of a dichotomy between humanity and the world, which would lead to Descartes’ schism between the mind and the world. Again, I defer to Romanyshyn:
The relation between humanity and the world which the fifteenth century artist newly imagines and makes visible before the scientist, will turn that relation into a method, and the philosopher will transform it into an epistemological principle; that relation, which the technique of linear perspective originates, makes the body, as vehicle of knowledge and as humanity’s ground in the world, dispensable. It installs in place of the body a detached eye, a disincarnated eye, as the vehicle of relation. It originates an eclipse of the body in favor of an eye that is fixed, an eye of singular vision, an eye which has withdrawn itself from the world (ibid. 507-509).

Our previous relation to the world was like gazing into a mirror. Soul and the world were mirror images. Now, we have been conditioned for over five centuries to believe we are objective observers to a world that we see through an idealistic window, while we are safe and warm inside. As an illustration of this point, notice the painter in the lower right-hand corner of the second image, above. He is not participating in the city below, as the artist of the first image was. He is perched on a hill and appears to have separated himself from the reality and being of the city below. I would suggest this idea is one of spirit and not soul, for soul would be wandering the streets and alleyways of Florence, not transcending the world by perching oneself above it!

I believe we experience the world with our entire body, not just the eye. This is contrary to the scientific method, which deals only with quantifiable and observable (via the detached eye) “facts.” As it is, science only offers us a partial view of reality. There is so much more. 

I highly recommend Romanyshyn’s article. It is a fascinating read.

Romanyshyn, Robert D. The Despotic Eye: An Illustration of Metabletic Phenomenology and Its Implications. Janus Head 10.2(2008): 505-527.
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Love Is Not All There Is


There is a curious tradition in ancient Greek art which shows Eros, the God of love and Pan, the God of nature and sexuality, engaged in a wrestling match. What possible reason would the Greeks have for portraying these two gods battling against each other in this manner? One reason could be that the rise of Christianity, a religion of love, wanted to permanently stamp out Pan, the passionately sexual god of nature. James Hillman comments:

The contrast between the clean stripling Eros and the hirsute awkwardness of rustic paunchy Pan, with victory to Eros, was moralized to show the betterment of love to sex, renement to rape, feeling to passion. Moreover, the victory of Eros over Pan could be philosophically allegorized to mean Love conquers All (Hillman lv).

What other characteristics does Pan possess? He brings panic. So, we see love and fear in opposition. Christianity loves to moralize about most everything, but this is not, according to Hillman, simply “love overcoming fear.” Whomever is victorious in this match does not matter in the least. The Greeks were not attempting to show the superiority of love over sex (and everything that Pan represents). This is not a match of morals, but a myth concerning how Eros and Pan are in contention.

Pan’s wild and raunchy ways are not a display of love. Love is not present in his raping and chasing nymphs. Love is not present when he brings panic to all creatures, as his deafening shout is reverberating through the countryside. Referring to the characteristics of Pan, Hillman says, “When judged from love’s perspective, they become pathological” (Hillman lv). This is why Christianity has such a problem with sex. It cannot reconcile it with love.

In the view of archetypal psychology, love is only one god among many. It is not, as John Lennon sang, “all there is.” There are many gods that make up the soul. There are many instinctual factors within us that Eros does not cover. Eros certainly does not rule over those natural instincts that fall under the rubric of Pan. Again, Hillman comments:

To go on judging our Pan-behavior in the light of love continues a suppression of instinctual qualities and an enmity toward nature that cannot but have psychopathological results. The struggle between Eros and Pan, and Eros’ victory, continue to put Pan down each time we say that rape is lower than relatedness, masturbation inferior to intercourse, love better than fear, the goat uglier than the hare (Hillman lv).

Now, remember, we are thinking and speaking imaginally here. We are in the Land of Soul. Literalism plays no part.

Hillman goes on to argue very convincingly that, since Pan and the nymphs are really of one nature, this corrects the erroneous Christian view that Pan is strictly about “unbridled pagan sexuality.” He claims, “if the nymphs and Pan are one, no prohibition is necessary. An inhibition is already present in the compulsion itself. Thus, sexual passion is both holy and one aspect of reflection” (Hillman lvi).

Works Cited

Hillman, James. An Essay On Pan. Pan and the Nightmare. By Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher. Trans. A.V. O’Brien, M.D.  New York: Spring, 1972. i-lix.

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Pan and Philemon

In his essay, Alchemy and the Subtle Body of Metaphor, psychologist, Robert D. Romanyshyn, makes the argument that soul is neither mental nor physical, but is “another country, as different from mind as it is from matter” (Romanyshyn 24). It is from this country that Philemon, one of Jung’s imaginal guides, originates. One of the questions Romanyshyn asks is whether Philemon is a projection of Jung’s psyche? The answer is no because Philemon “is neither a factual object in the world (like those stones or those birds can be), nor a subjective idea in Jung’s mind” ( 29). This is the nature of the region of the middle third between spirit and matter. He concludes that “Philemon…is the subtle body of metaphor” (Romanyshyn 29). He is not himself a metaphor, but

that kind of presence which a metaphor brings, a figural presence whose texture is neither that of fact nor idea, and a presence which requires of us that delight in and attunement to the play of language and experience (Romanyshyn 30).

Philemon is an autochthonous being, meaning that he originated from the landscape in which he was found to be, i.e. the province of the soul. He is an indigenous inhabitant of what Henry Corbin called, the mundus imaginalis.  It is also the origin of all synchronistic events. Romanyshyn goes on to say,

Philemon and his kin rise up out of that void between matter and mind, and in ghostly form, like a mist, announce their presence (Romanyshyn 30).

The consciousness created by embracing the “void between matter and mind” is one that is tuned to the synchronistic field, and it is experienced on a regular basis. It was Jung’s genius, after spending long hours studying alchemy, that restored the principle of synchronicity to the world, after it had been relegated to the scrapyard of history for so long (von Franz 210-211).

Now, we return to Pan. Remember, in the previous article, I attempted to show Hillman’s idea of a connection between Pan and synchronicity. Philemon, like Pan, is an indigenous inhabitant of the world of the middle third, the mundus imaginalis, except that Pan is a god of a higher order. Perhaps Philemon is an agent of Pan. Philemon helped Jung connect his ‘in-here’ with his ‘out-there,’ which is exactly what synchronicity does. Pan is the god of nature, both ‘in-here’ and ‘out-there.’ Hillman says, “it is as if Pan is the answer to the Apollonic question about self-knowledge.” He continues:

What is this awareness and how is it achieved? We have seen all along that Pan is God of both nature ‘in here’ and nature ‘out there‘. As such Pan is the bridging configuration who keeps these reflections from falling into disconnected halves where they become the dilemma of a nature without soul and a soul without nature, objective matter out there and subjective mental processes in here. Pan, and the nymphs, keep nature and psyche together” (Hillman lx).

Now, Pan is not the only archetype, but he is a very important one because he is the god of raw sexuality. We know how much importance Freud attached to sexuality in his theories. It may not be the only issue, but the ubiquitous presence of Pan implies that it is crucial to come to terms with it in the pursuit of self-knowledge.

Pay particular attention to any synchronicities that are of a sexual nature. Pan, like Philemon, may be wanting to bestow upon you greater self-knowledge.

Works Cited

Hillman, James. An Essay On Pan. Pan and the Nightmare. By Wilhelm
Heinrich Roscher. Trans. A.V. O’Brien, M.D. New York: Spring, 1972.

Romanyshyn, Robert. Alchemy and the Subtle Body of Metaphor. Pathways into the Jungian World
          Phenomenology and Analytical Psychology. Ed. Roger Brooke. New York: Routledge, 2000.

Von Franz, Marie-Louise. Psyche and Matter. Boston: Shambhala, 1992. 

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Pan and Synchronicity

Satyr Frolicking with Nymphs, painted by Claude Lorrain (public domain
Satyr Frolicking with Nymphs, painted by Claude Lorrain (public domain
In the mythology of Pan, high noon seems to the very best time of day. It was usually at noon that Pan suddenly appeared, causing great panic and terror among whoever was present at the time. Midday, when the sun was at its zenith, a fearful panic would ensue. Noon is one of two liminal times of the day, the other being midnight. These times are almost paradoxical moments, noon being both the height of the sun’s ascent and the beginning of its descent. As Jung writes,

The sun falls into contradiction with itself. It is as though it should draw in its rays instead of emitting them. Light and warmth decline and are at last extinguished” (Modern Man 109).

It is also interesting that at noon, no shadows are possible, since the sun is directly overhead. For just a moment, time seems to stand still. It is at this very special moment when the veil of normalcy is torn asunder and Pan manifests himself, in all his mischievous splendor. Hillman writes,

This is the unrelatedness of Pan, and of the spontaneous aspect of nature. It simply is as it is, at where it is at; not the result of events, not with an eye to their outcome; headlong, heedless, brutal and direct, whether in terror or desire. This is what is meant by the spontaneity of instinct – all life at the moment of propagation or all death in the panic of the herd (Hillman lvi-lvii).

The archetype of Pan may be the governing principle behind spontaneous occurrences. Hillman says that by connecting Pan to spontaneity, we may “understand more psychologically the tradition of difficulty in comprehending and conceiving such events” (ibid.). Furthermore, these seemingly incomprehensible events may also be connected to the idea of synchronicity. Jung believed that synchronicity was equal to space, time, and causality, and “he found that synchronistic events happen mainly when instinctual (emotional, archetypal, symbolic) levels of the psyche are engaged” (ibid.). Pan encompasses very powerful natural instincts, as has been shown in previous articles. Hillman goes on to say that the Pan archetype cannot illuminate all synchronistic events, but does shed light on those of a sexual nature, when a fearful panic is present, or those that occur at noontime, Pan’s favorite moment of the day for causing mischief. These are the archetypal motifs of Pan.

The main point Hillman is driving at with connecting the goat-god with synchronicity is that Pan “connects nature ‘in here’ with nature ‘out there” (ibid.). This is also what synchronicity accomplishes. According to Jung,

Synchronicity therefore means the simultaneous occurrence of a certain psychic state with one or more external events which appear as meaningful parallels to the momentary sub­jective state-and, in certain cases, vice versa” (Synchronicity 25).

So, synchronicity originates in the region of the middle third, the imaginal realm, the metaxy, the place of soul. We have seen in prior articles that the Pan archetype, with its twin nuclei of Pan and Nymphs, is raw sexuality/fleeing fear and meekness, very important human instincts that, when transformed, bring about a state of reflection. Synchronistic events also bring about reflection. Hillman is definitely on to something important here.

My next article will connect these themes to some comments made by Robert Romanyshyn, in the essay I quoted yesterday, Alchemy and the Subtle Body of Metaphor. There are some very interesting parallels therein.

Works Cited

Jung, C.G. Modern Man In Search of a Soul. Trans. Cary F. Baynes and W.S. Dell. New York:
          Harcourt, 1933.

Jung, C.G. Synchronicity. Trans. R.F.C. Hull. New York: Princeton, 1960.    

Hillman, James. An Essay On Pan. Pan and the Nightmare. By Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher. Trans. A.V. O’Brien, M.D. New York: Spring, 1972. i-lix.

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Animaterialism Modified

I would like to modify, somewhat, what I have written concerning animaterialism. After reading a passage from Jung, and examining the situation alchemically, I began to rethink my position on the subject. Here is what Jungs says:

it always remains an obscure point whether the ultimate transformations in the alchemical process ought to be sought more in the material or more in the spiritual realm. Actually, however, the question is wrongly put: there was no “either-or” for that age, but there did exist an intermediate realm between mind and matter, i.e., a psychic realm of subtle bodies whose characteristic it is to manifest themselves in mental as well as material form. This is the only view that makes sense of alchemical ways of thought, which must otherwise appear nonsensical (Jung 278-279).

I think he is correct in this regard. The name I gave to reality, animaterialism, leans too much to the side of soul and matter, when soul is actually a third between spirit and matter. The conjunction of spirit and matter is soul. If soul is removed, one ends up with the world as viewed by Descartes, a mind-matter duality. Soul is an “imperceptible smoke,” (ibid.: 278n ) that is neither matter nor spirit. According to Robert Romanyshyn, the Cartesian split created an

eclipse of the imaginal as a third between matter and mind, with a de-animation of the flesh which transforms the vital, gestural body into a mechanism, and with a broken connection between the ensouled sensuous body and the sense-able world (Romanyshyn 35).

I like the term animaterialism, but I wonder if it is still feasible, seeing there is no idea of spirit in the mix? Have I been caught in a dualistic trap by overemphasizing soul and matter at the expense of spirit? I was trying to unify my views in one monistic reality. My vision was to view reality as essentially one “substance,” i.e. animatter. After checking the etymology of the word, anima, I believe there is an element of spirit included therein. The root of the word includes the idea of air, wind, and breath, which definitely corresponds to the idea of spirit. So, the word may be appropriate after all, just not in the sense I was using it before.

Romanyshyn states that the “central issue for alchemy” is “the tension of spirit and matter” (Romanyshyn 33).

Alchemy…is a kind of consciousness which holds this tension and in holding it the subtle body of the third, the soul, the realm of the imaginal, which is neither that of spirit, consciousness, mind, nor matter, nature, body is born (ibid.).

So, I may use the term, animaterialism, at times, but it will be in this sense: that for it to be meaningful and true, my thesis must include the tension between mind and matter, that, in turn, gives birth to the “middle third,” soul. This is an alchemically true definition of the word.

Jung, C.G. Psychology and Alchemy. Trans. by R.F.C. Hull. London: Routledge, 1953.

Romanyshyn, Robert. Alchemy and the Subtle Body of Metaphor. Pathways into the Jungian World
          Phenomenology and Analytical Psychology. Ed. Roger Brooke. New York: Routledge, 2000.

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Pan and the Nymphs Unite

Pan and Selene, by Hans von Aachen (1552–1615)

There is no access to the mind of nature without connection to to the natural mind of the nymph (Hillman lii).

In Greek mythology, the Nymphs are beautiful and nubile female nature deities who rule over a variety of natural phenomena. They are “personifications of the wisps and clouds of mist clinging to valleys, mountain-sides and water-sources, veiling the waters and dancing over them” (Hillman xlvi).

Pan spends much of his time frolicking and cavorting with the meek Nymphs. Sometimes, they fly into a panic while being chased by the randy god.

One of the most fascinating ideas in Hillman’s essay is that the twin nuclei of sexuality and panic, desire and anxiety, both abide in the Pan archetype. One can say that Pan and the Nymphs are images of these nuclei. Pan is unbridled sexuality, but is also the anxious fear and panic experienced by the Nymphs when being pursued. Pan and the Nymphs are twin images of the same archetypal god. Hillman says,

Both anxiety and sexuality are words covering an immensely sophisticated range of experiences. Furthermore, these words cover experiences that are neither only actions or reactions, but are also metaphors for situations of consciousness governed by archetypal fantasies. In fact, the actions and reactions are themselves part of a metaphorical pattern and are meaningful within that pattern, expressing something always more sensuously qualified than what is covered by the definitions of anxiety and sexuality. One of these metaphorical patterns is provided by Pan. By placing anxiety, fear or panic against that background, we may not solve the dubious, if not nonsensical, ‘what is fear? ’, but we may gain insight into kinds of experience for which we use that word and thus make more precise the intentionality of fear (Hillman xxx).

This is why an attempt should not be made to eradicate fear from human consciousness. It is natural. We can gain awareness by experiencing it and allowing it to transform itself into reflection. According to Jung, there is a process that certain natural instincts undergo that actually transforms them into what he calls the “reflective instinct:”

Reflexio means ‘bending back’ and, used psycho­logically, would denote the fact that the reflex which carries the stimulus over into its instinctive discharge is interfered with by psychization. Owing to this interference, the psychic processes exert an attraction on the impulse to act excited by the stimulus. Therefore, before having discharged itself into the external world, the impulse is deflected into an endopsychic activity. Reflexio is a turning inwards, with the result that, instead of an instinctive action, there ensues a succession of derivative contents or states which may be termed reflection or delibera­tion. Thus in place of the compulsive act there appears a certain degree of freedom, and in place of predictability a relative un­predictability as to the effect of the impulse.

The richness of the human psyche and its essential character are probably determined by this reflective instinct. Reflection re-enacts the process of excitation and carries the stimulus over into a series of images which, if the impetus is strong enough, are reproduced in some form of expression. This may take place directly, for instance in speech, or may appear in the form of abstract thought, dramatic representation, or ethical conduct; or again, in a scientific achievement or a work of art (Jung 117).

Thus, Pan, following his natural instinct for raw sexual fulfillment, strikes terror into the hearts of the Nymphs, and they flee. Hillman says that “flight is essential to nymphic behavior” (Hillman liii). But, the flight instinct bends back upon itself and is transformed, paradoxically, into a reflective instinct. 

Where the Nymphs are present, Pan is there. Where Pan is present, the Nymphs are there. They go hand-in-hand. According to Hillman, “We cannot be touched by Pan without at the same to time fleeing from him and reflecting upon him” (Hillman lii). The fear and panic brought by Pan is actually the root of reflection. This may be the primary reason why Pan is said to be God of all. The archetype brings about all human reflection, which results in all human culture, art, and creativity in general.

Hillman delves into alchemy in an attempt to explain Pan’s full intention. In order to seduce the beautiful Selene, Goddess of the Moon, he hides his black and hairy parts with white fleece, which symbolizes a

movement into the albedo of lunar consciousness. What is resistant to light, obscure and driven, suffering nature in ignorance, turns white and reflective, able to see what is going on in the night. The white fleece does not halt Pan in the course of his conquest. The whitening is not an askesis of the goat. It is not that Pan now knows and so does not act out, but the action, by becoming white, turns reflective and thus the connection with Selene ( selas = light like that of a torch shining in the night) has been made possible. Like cures like: Pan, by becoming like Selene is already connected with her (Hillman xlviii).

Pan seeks self-awareness, so he desires to become like Selene, i.e. reflective. The archetype of Pan is complete. The raunchy sexuality of the goat-god, along with the meekness of the Nymphs, alchemically creates a very powerful reflective instinct and desire for self-consciousness.

Works Cited

Hillman, James. An Essay On Pan. Pan and the Nightmare. By Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher. Trans. A.V. O’Brien, M.D.  New York: Spring, 1972. i-lix.

Jung, C.G. The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche. Trans. by R.F.C. Hull. London: Routledge, 1960.

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