The Tragedy of Orpheus

Orpheus and Eurydice on the Banks of the Styx, by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope, 1878

The story of Orpheus is very deep. As all archetypal symbols are, one can never exhaust their meanings. This tragic saga is one of the primary myths of depth psychology. According to Robert Romanyshyn, “Orpheus is…the poet of the gap, the poet of the border realms.” 1 Soul is the mediatrix between spirit and matter. This is the realm of the mundus imaginalis, Corbin’s world of the imaginal. Orpheus is its poet. This realm is also the territory where one is haunted by knowing and unknowing, where one discovers something only to realize that one has lost it again. I will deal more with this in my next article.

According to legend, Orpheus was born the son of Oeagrus, king of Thrace, and the Muse, Calliope. Other versions of the story say Apollo was his father. The Thracians were the most musical of all the Greeks, so it was natural that Orpheus would become a gifted musician. Not only this, but he became the most gifted of all musicians. It was said he had no rival, except for the Gods themselves. He was the “Lord of the seven-stringed lyre.” 2 His music brought a harmonious state of being to all things within earshot of his voice and lyre. Stones and trees would move themselves to be closer to the sounds emanating from him, and animals would lay silently and peacefully at his feet. It is said his music had the power to divert the course of rivers. Even the creatures in the Underworld were enraptured by his playing.

Because his fame as a musician had become widespread, the Greek hero, Jason, asked him to accompany him and his Argonauts on their quest for the Golden Fleece. Jason had made a wise decision. On the return journey they traveled past the islands of the Sirens, the same Sirens encountered by Odysseus in the Odyssey. The Sirens used their enticing voices to lure unsuspecting sailors to their deaths upon their rocky shores. As soon as Orpheus heard their bewitching voices, he began to strum his lyre with music so loud and so beautiful that he drowned out their enchantments so that the Argonauts could not hear them. It is said in another version of the story that Orpheus used his musical gifts to lull to sleep the dragon of Colchis, the guardian of the Golden Fleece, thus enabling Jason and his crew to escape with it.

Many came from near and far to hear the melodious sounds produced by Orpheus’ playing and singing. On many occasions, large crowds would gather. One such day, Orpheus caught sight of a lovely wood nymph named Eurydice. Immediately, he fell in love with her and she with him. The beautiful and shy Eurydice was said to be one of the daughters of Apollo, the god of music. These two became madly enraptured with one another, star-crossed from the start. They married soon afterwards.

After the wedding celebration, while on their way home, a shepherd named Aristaeus lay in wait to kill Orpheus and take Eurydice for himself. Orpheus was playing his lyre while Eurydice danced merrily through the fields. Suddenly, Aristaeus emerged from behind a bush and fell upon Orpheus. Orpheus managed to avoid him, and, grabbing Eurydice’s hand, the two began running swiftly through the meadow and into the nearby forest. Aristaeus followed close behind them. As the Fates would have it, Eurydice stepped accidentally upon a den of venomous serpents. She was bitten numerous times and fell, dead, upon the forest floor. Seeing this, Aristaeus gave up the chase, realizing its futility.

Orpheus was overcome with grief. The death of his beloved wife haunted him day and night. His mourning was overwhelming. His playing and singing were so sad that all of Nature wept for him. Orpheus implored Apollo to allow him passage to the Underworld where he could consult with Hades and beg for his wife’s return. Apollo consented, and the gates of Hades opened freely before the enchanting sounds of his lyre. Even Cerberus  was lulled to sleep by the music. Then, Orpheus made his way to the palace of Hades. His music and singing caused Hades and Persephone to weep profusely, as it did all of the denizens of the Underworld, to the point where Hades agreed to allow Eurydice to return with him to the upper regions. There was one condition, however, that Orpheus would have to meet. While Eurydice followed him back to the world of light, at no time could Orpheus turn and look upon her until she was, once again, in the upper world. Elated, Orpheus agreed, and he and his wife began the journey home, Eurydice following behind. As Orpheus stepped into the light of the Dayworld, he made the ultimate mistake. He turned and looked to see if Eurydice had yet emerged from the darkness, but she had not. He barely caught a glimpse of her before she was taken back into the deep places of the earth.

After this, Orpheus was broken and disheartened. There are differing stories concerning Orpheus’ death. One claims that Dionysus ordered the Maenads to kill Orpheus. Thus they did by dismembering him. His shade descended to Hades, where he was reunited with his beloved, Eurydice.

In my next article, I will discuss some of the symbolism in this tragic saga.



  1. Robert D. Romanyshyn, The Wounded Researcher, New Orleans, Spring, 2007, p. 11
  2. G.R.S. Mead, Orpheus, London, TRS, 1896, p. 14
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Animaterialism and the Unus Mundus

Burning of Darkness (1924), by Nicholas Roerich


Gerhard Dorn was a Belgian alchemist who lived in the sixteenth century. Detailed facts concerning his life have been lost. We know he lived in Mechelen, in the province of Antwerp, from about 1530 until the 1580’s. He began publishing books around 1565 when he wrote his Chymisticum artificium. He was instrumental in the recovery, translation into Latin, and publishing of Paracelsus’ writings.

Carl Jung was very interested in Dorn, not only for his alchemical theories, but also for his speculative philosophy. Actually, the two go hand-in-hand. Dorn believed that God, not humanity, was in need of redemption. The alchemical work was the means by which humans could assist God in bringing about His redemption. The opus was a work of love, the love of humans toward God.

When Jung traveled to India in 1928, he brought with him Dorn’s writings. During this time, he learned about Dorn’s idea of the Unus Mundus, the one substratum of all reality. In Latin, it means “one world.” This idea would become the foundation of Jung’s conception of synchronicity.

As in all axial periods of human achievement, there was another thinker, a contemporary of Dorn, who believed in the underlying interconnectedness of all things. Giordano Bruno, having been influenced by Hermetic teachings,  brought this idea to light in the late sixteenth century, around the time of the birth of the man who would cleave reality in two for centuries to come (Descartes). The Unus Mundus is actually a Hermetic teaching that is very old.

The alchemical work had, as its general goal, the creation of the lapis philosophorum, the Philosopher’s Stone. Theoretically, this completed the second stage of the opus. Dorn, however, believed there was yet a third stage to be worked. This third stage is the union of humans with the Unus Mundus. It is the conscious realization that human being is one with the world at large, and thus one with the Anima Mundi.

The One and Simple is what Dorn called the unus mundus. This “one world” was the res simplex. For him the third and highest degree of conjunction was the union of the whole man with the unus mundus. By this he meant…the potential world of the first day of creation, when nothing was yet “in actu,” i.e., divided into two and many, but was still one. The creation of unity by a magical procedure meant the possibility of effecting a union with the world-not with the world of multiplicity as we see it but with a potential world, the eternal Ground of all empirical being… (Jung 534).

This “potential world” is the world as I have imagined it, when I write of the animaterial world, animatter, etc. The animaterial world is synonymous with the Unus Mundus. Animaterialism is based on the idea that all souls are interconnected, and all souls are one with, not only the cosmos, but with the Anima Mundi.

The “unity of the soul” rests empirically on the basic psychic structure common to all souls, which, though not visible and tangible like the anatomical structure, is just as evi­dent as it (Jung 535).

The third stage of Dorn’s alchemical opus is the conjunction of  the “personal with the supra personal atman, and of the individual tao with the universal tao” (ibid.). Heaven has descended to earth, and the two have become one. The inner unity achieved in the second stage of the opus, the lapis, is only an intermediary step, and, even then is not permanent. The lapis, all the inner unity we have achieved, is subject to the storms of life, which sometimes destroy one’s soul house. When this occurs, we are back to square one; the soul must be reworked. In a revealing passage, Jung states that

Anyone who submits his sense of inner security to analogous psychic tests will have similar experiences. More than once everything he has built will fall to pieces under the impact of reality, and he must not let this discourage him from examining, again and again, where it is that his attitude is still defective, and what are the blind spots in his psychic field of vision. Just as a lapis Philosophorum, with its miraculous pow­ers, was never produced, so psychic wholeness will never be attained empirically, as consciousness is too narrow and too one­sided to comprehend the full inventory of the psyche (Jung 534).

The true goal is to move beyond the lapis to the Unus Mundus. This is where our salvation truly lies. In reality, the labor of the alchemist produces a “materialization of the spirit,” according to Jung, elevating “the body into proximity with the spirit while at the same time drawing the spirit down into matter. By sublimating matter he concretized spirit” (Jung 535). This melding of spirit and matter is brought about by a third element, which, in my mind, must be the human soul united with the World Soul. Jung claims this is the synthesis of conscious with unconscious, and is something totally non-rational.  The best we can do is speak in paradoxes of this reality.

Works Cited

Jung, C.G. Mysterium Coniunctionis: An Inquiry Into the Separation and Synthesis of Psychic Opposites in Alchemy. trans, R.F.C. Hull. The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 14. Princeton: Princeton, 1963.

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A Daimonic Revival

Chopping Wood, by Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz

The great quest of thinkers for over two thousand years has been to fulfill the maxim made popular by Plato through the words of Socrates, “Gnothi seauton,” or “Know Thyself.” It was inscribed in the portico at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. It has inspired many philosophers, seers, mystics, and various other thinkers ever since. But what does it really mean? Better yet, what does it mean for us in the twenty-first century? With his method of “active imagination,” I believe Carl Jung gave us an excellent and very practical way to follow the admonition of Socrates. If you are not familiar with active imagination, you may read my article entitled, Active Imagination: the Bridge to the Unconscious, for background information.

After his break with Freud, Jung began to experience a relentless deluge of psychic content, fantasies which led him to encounter real personages, figures of the unconscious that would lead him into the depths of his soul. In his autobiography, Jung describes the experience:

I stood helpless before an alien world; everything in it seemed difficult and incomprehensible. I was living in a constant state of tension; often I felt as if gigantic blocks of stone were tumbling down upon me. One thunderstorm followed another (Jung 177).

One of the keys to Jung’s surviving this volcanic eruption of unconscious contents was to translate his emotions into images:

Had I left those images hidden in the emotions, I might have been torn to pieces by them (ibid.).

This process of translation resulted in Jung treating the images as persons. Through interacting with them, he realized they were not something he produced in his own psyche, but that they were very real, not literally, but imaginally. The beings, known to the ancient Greeks as daimones, are inhabitants of the middle realm of existence, which Henry Corbin would call the mundus imaginalis, the world of the imaginal.

It is during this time that Jung encountered and conversed with Philemon, of whom he wrote much about in The Red Book. He describes Philemon in this passage:

Philemon was a pagan and brought with him an Egypto-Hellenistic atmosphere with a Gnostic coloration (Jung 182).

If Jung’s imaginal personages would have been strictly Biblical figures, I don’t think he would have been able to have made the revolutionary discoveries he did. The Biblical worldview considers the figures evil and demonic. Jung had to think like a pagan, and like a Gnostic to bring forth a theory of archetypes, and the idea of the collective unconscious. These ideas rely on the very polytheistic notion of the daimones, the inner personages we now call the Gods, or the archetypes. Of course, the Egypto-Hellenistic world was familiar with the daimones a long time before Jung. Through his encounter with these daimones, Jung would contribute to the practice of Know Thyself like no other twentieth century thinker.

James Hillman wrote,

Know Thyself in Jung’s manner means to become familiar with, to open oneself to and listen to, to know and discern, daimons. Entering one’s interior story takes a courage similar to starting a novel. We have to engage with persons whose autonomy may radically alter, even dominate, our thoughts and feelings, neither ordering these persons about nor yielding to them full sway. Fictional and factual, they and we, are drawn together like threads into a mythos, a plot, until death do us part. It is a rare courage that submits to this middle region of psychic reality where the supposed surety of fact and illusion of fiction exchange their clothes (Hillman 55).

Jung was a rebel, indeed, to his religious, and later scientific, upbringing. His move to the imaginal point of view had to be made if he was to remain true to his inner vision. In this, he was a revolutionary. His fate compelled him to proceed as he did in order to further our knowledge of the soul. I believe he was chosen to follow the course he followed. It was his calling to revive the knowledge of these things for the benefit of mankind.


Works Cited

Jung, C.G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. trans. Richard and Clara Winston. New York: Vintage, 1961.

Hillman, James. Healing Fiction. Dallas: Spring, 1983.

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Soul and the Scientific Method

The Black Pond, by Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz

The scientific method is worthless without something to quantify. Since soul is not a “something,” it is reasonable to conclude that soul is not quantifiable. Furthermore, soul, according to Heraclitus, is without limit, immeasurable. Therefore, the scientific method, as we know it, cannot fully comprehend soul.

This does not make soul supernatural. There is nothing supernatural about it. If we really understood matter, we would understand the ways of soul. Perhaps we are beginning to.

On the other hand, soul encompasses matter; they are not distinct, as in Cartesian dualism. As I have written elsewhere, what I call animatter is the “substance” (for want of a better word) that composes the universe.  One can, indeed, quantify animatter to a certain extent.

My desk is animatter; I can measure its width, length, weight, etc., but I cannot measure the soul within the desk. So, the scientific method cannot discover the nature of soul in my desk. The desk is cherry wood, made from an American Black (cherry) tree. These trees can grow up to one hundred feet high, with a trunk of up to two feet in diameter. The beauty and majesty of the tree are part of its soul, as well as the fruit it bears. All the words I have written while sitting at this cherry desk contribute to the soul of the desk. None of this can be measured.

The scientific method is certainly very useful to us and to our civilization, but its mode of presence, to borrow from Heidegger and Corbin, is not applicable to the immeasurable elements of soul. It must remain in its own realm of soul, i.e. those things which are quantifiable. It should not make negative claims concerning the realm of immeasurable soul, since it does not have the means of ascertaining it.

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Heraclitus and the Deep Soul

Chud Departed Beneath the Earth, by Nicholas Roerich

Heraclitus said, “One would never discover the limits of psyche, should one traverse every road–so deep a logos does it possess.”

In this passage, Heraclitus gives birth to a new idea of Soul as limitless depth. He also has some other things to say about Soul which are different than his predecessors. I may explore these in later essays. For now, I will deal with this idea of depth, which is, as far as I can tell, quite a new development in early Greek thought.

Prior to Heraclitus, the Greeks understood Soul as “the life-breath or animating ‘spirit’ which departs as a ghost” at the point of death (Kahn, 126). According to my sources, they didn’t really elaborate on this early idea. Heraclitus brings the 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 dig down. In my thinking, this statement is comparable to the idea that the ways of God are past finding out (Romans 11:33). Many religious people say they have an understanding of God, but they have not even scratched the surface. Similarly, 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. I once thought I knew a lot about God. At a point in my life some years ago, the suffering of illness brought me very low. I believe it was my destiny, for there, in my suffering, I discovered an aspect of myself that wanted to ask questions about my life and about reality. That is what led me to Philosophy, which has brought me both happiness and pain these past ten years. Being brought to a low place is the beginning for understanding Soul. Melancholy seems to be a natural prerequisite for experiencing Soul. Happiness and pain form one reality, which is something Heraclitus is also interested in.

My mind wants to say, “There is something within me that has such depth, I will never discover its limits.” The trouble is, however, 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 will 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 Hermetic idea of macrocosm/microcosm is intimately connected with this passage, I think. Looking within oneself, one finds a place so deep, so vast that it staggers the imagination. It leaves one feeling giddy, an experience which many mystics have repeatedly reported. This deep place can be compared to the physical universe, to outer space. In some mysterious way, objective space is an image, a metaphor for subjective space. I am no astronomer, but I have read that scientists believe the universe is constantly expanding at the speed of light. This is the best physical image we have of the unbounded. There are deep mysteries in this mode of thought. At best, all we can say is that Soul is just as limitless as our vast physical universe.

Heraclitus directs our attention to the logos of Soul. It is the logos that is deep. According to Charles H. Kahn, logos should here be translated as “measure.” Thus the passage reads, “So deep a measure does it possess” (Kahn, 129). 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 this: he said in another passage, “I have searched myself.” Obviously he 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.

It seems that Heraclitus was the first thinker we know of to examine and describe the deep nature of Soul. I suppose we could say he was the first depth-psychologist.


Works Cited

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

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Learning to Think Anew

Die Schnecke hat Gesicht – Raimund Joachim Höltich

If we are interested in redefining our world, we must change the manner in which we think. We must learn to think anew. In essence, we must unlearn thinking. Calculative thinking is fine, in the proper context, but it is not the only kind of thinking we humans need to utilize. When we read a poem for instance, we most certainly do not use calculative thinking. As Martin Heidegger said, “…we can learn thinking only if we radically unlearn what thinking has been traditionally” (What Calls For Thinking?).

Our thoughts and ideas come in the form of images. Is the brain the source of these? Yes, but there is more to it. I am of the opinion that every part of the body thinks. We are provided with thoughts and ideas through imaginally communing with the World Soul. Since soul permeates every atom of the animaterial body, thoughts and ideas can have their origin in any bodily element. It’s more likely that the body/soul is a Gestalt. Remember, when I mention “soul,” or “body,” I mean the intertwined soul-body. I call it the animaterial human. This is similar to what Heidegger called Dasein, but with an emphasis on the ensouled nature of Being. It is akin to what Jung called psychoid reality, or his idea of the unus mundus.

Thoughts are not just “in the head.” The animaterial human is a continuum for thought. The brain is obviously a processing center for the body, but that doesn’t mean that thinking is necessarily a product of the brain. In our age, we view the brain as a computer, a calculative thinking machine. Thinking is not necessarily calculative. Western culture has overemphasized many things, especially analytical thinking. We have limited our definition of thinking to one type. Yes, this has brought our civilization many wonderful advancements, but at what expense? We have also unleashed many evils on the world. Most of all, we have forgotten the more essential type of thinking, which I call metaphorics.

Metaphorics is the type of thinking that occurs in art, dreams, mysticism, poetry, and mythologizing. Knowledge, in the form of images, ascends from the Cosmic Mind, the World Soul. As we commune with the Cosmic Mind through meditation, rumination, active imagination, and dreams, certain images enter our conscious minds. These form metaphors, symbols that help us comprehend this knowledge. The aim of the World Soul is to impart gnosis to us through these metaphors and symbols. A good example of this is a dream that Carl Jung had not too long before the schism with Freud:

I was in a house I did not know, which had two stories. It was “my house.” I found myself in the upper story, where there was a kind of salon furnished with fine old pieces in rococo style. On the walls hung a number of precious old paintings. I wondered that this should be my house, and thought, “Not bad.” But then it occurred to me that I did not know what the lower floor looked like. Descending the stairs, I reached the ground floor. There everything was much older, and I realized that this part of the house must date from about the fifteenth or sixteenth century. The furnishings were medieval; the floors were of red brick. Everywhere it was rather dark. I went from one room to another, thinking, “Now I really must explore the whole house.” I came upon a heavy door, and opened it. Beyond it, I discovered a stone stairway that led down into the cellar. Descending again, I found myself in a beautifully vaulted room which looked exceedingly ancient. Examining the walls, I discovered layers of brick among the ordinary stone blocks, and chips of brick in the mortar. As soon as I saw this I knew that the walls dated from Roman times. My interest by now was intense. I looked more closely at the floor. It was of stone slabs, and in one of these I discovered a ring. When I pulled it, the stone slab lifted, and again I saw a stairway of narrow stone steps leading down into the depths. These, too, I descended, and entered a low cave cut into the rock. Thick dust lay on the floor, and in the dust were scattered bones and broken pottery, like remains of a primitive culture. I discovered two human skulls, obviously very old and half disintegrated. Then I awoke (Jung 158-159).

An amazing dream, indeed! These images ascended into Jung’s consciousness while he was sleeping, leading him to make some of his most important discoveries, including the theory of the collective unconscious. Obviously, Jung had been communing with the World Soul. He said, “Certain questions had been much on my mind during the days preceding the dream” (Jung 161). He had been seriously meditating on these questions, which is exactly what one would expect just prior to such a revelation. Jung said, “the dream became for me a guiding image” (ibid.).

Hermes, the World Daimon, plays a part in this exchange of knowledge too. Hermes, as Guide of Souls, charges our personal daimones to facilitate the gnostic experience, to carry the knowledge we need at a particular time, from the Cosmic Mind and whisper it to our conscious minds.


Works Cited

Jung, C.G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. trans. Richard and Clara Winston. New York: Vintage, 1961.

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Thoughts on a Gnoseology of Metaphorics

We have grown weary of the man that thinks.
He thinks and it is not true. The man below
Imagines and it is true, as if he thought
By imagining, anti-logician, quick,
With a logic of transforming certitudes.
-Wallace Stevens, Sombre Figuration

I have come to realize, after all my years of studying philosophy and psychology, that my own personal gnoseology must be one I am calling “metaphorics.” I name it this to accentuate the primary use of metaphorical thinking in the acquisition of knowledge, or, rather, gnosis. What is metaphorical thinking, or metaphorics? Metaphorics is the type of thinking that occurs in art, mysticism, poetry, and mythologizing. Unlike its cousin, logical analysis, metaphorics does not need to set up a dichotomy between subject and object. Even though this type of thinking has its usefulness, this is a reductionist practice that transforms beings into objects to be analyzed by a subject. This is why metaphorics is more primary to our experience. In a gnoseology of metaphorics, beings are accepted phenomenologically, as they are in reality, be they humans, animals, plants, stones, etc. In metaphorics, The need to split object from subject does not arise.

Why do I use the word, “gnoseology?” It denotes more the sense of an inward, revelatory knowledge than the usual term, “epistemology.” The ancient Greek language had several words for knowledge, two of which were gnosis, and episteme. In short, both mean a “theory of knowledge,” but gnosis has more of a sense of non-sensory, experiential, intuitive knowledge, while episteme leans more toward a scientific type of knowledge. Knowledge that emanates from the Cosmic Mind is more of a revealing, or unconcealing of truth. It arises sometimes spontaneously, perhaps in a “Eureka moment,” or through meditation or active imagination. A fine article by Rev. Fr. Troy W. Pierece called, Gnosis, Episteme, and Doxia, Oh My!, explains the differences between gnosis and episteme quite well.

 So, a gnoseology of metaphorics is a theory of how imaginal knowledge is acquired through communing with the Cosmic Mind. I have discussed this very briefly in my article, Bruno and the Cosmic Mind. I use the word “communing” here, but Bruno was more explicit. In his book, De Umbris Idearum, He used sexual imagery to convey his meaning:

Hence in order for you to acquire a consummate and absolute art, it behooves you to copulate with the soul of the world, and once you have copulated with it, to act, for it is teeming with rational forms, and it generates a world full of rational forms (qtd. in Mendoza 163).

Bruno’s highly imaginative reasoning follows thusly: the Soul of the World, the Cosmic Mind, has produced all material forms, including the human body.  According to Anaxagoras, everything is in everything, therefore humans contain elements of the Cosmic Mind, the Soul of the World, thus allowing us to enjoy intercourse with it. This is exactly how Michaelangelo created the amazing works he is famous for, as well as Einstein, Picasso, da Vinci, and many others who have tapped into this awesome power.

Mankind has ignored this type of knowledge for much too long. Certainly, logical, deductive, scientific knowledge has served a great purpose to further our civilization, but it is nearing its limit. We need gnosis. We need metaphorics. We need to tune into the Soul of the World, copulate with it,  in order to get humanity past this crucial period in our evolution.

More to come later……


Works Cited

Mendoza, Ramon G. The Acentric Labyrinth. Rockport: Element, 1995.

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Bifröst: Rainbow Bridge

The Magic Spring, by Jusben
The Magic Spring, by Jusben

If you’re familiar with Norse mythology at all, you’ve probably heard of the Rainbow Bridge. The Norse called it Bifröst. The etymology of the word is not fully known, but it translates roughly as, “the vibrating or trembling rainbow.” Another possibility is “shimmering rainbow.” This supposedly speaks to the fleeting and fragile nature of a rainbow.

Bifröst is the bridge that links Asgard, the home of the gods, with Midgard, the world of humans. The gods traverse Bifröst on horseback, moving between earth and heaven. The Rainbow Bridge stretches from this world to Himinbjörg, “heaven mountain,” home of Heimdallr, the watcher of the bridge. Heimdallr is a god who is equipped with a mighty horn to warn of Ragnarök, the death of the gods and the end of the world. The bridge will be  destroyed when the sons of Muspell, a race of giants, ride across and trigger the end of times for gods and men.

I’ve been thinking about these images today and have arrived at the conclusion that they have great meaning for one trying to fathom the truths of the soul. Since the soul is a kind of bridge between spirit and matter, being the metaxy in Platonic terms, it is analogous to Bifröst. Now, the gods, except for Thor, travel the Rainbow Bridge and descend every morning to Midgard, assembling at the Fountain of Urd to sit in judgment.  Thor was told he had to find another route to the fountain. Because of his great strength and power, it was feared the god of thunder would destroy Bifröst  if he set his feet or his chariot wheels upon it, the bridge being very fragile. The balance between heaven and earth, spirit and matter, is very delicate. The soul must be built and fortified over many years if it is to stand strong and mighty when the giants of adversity come storming across.

Even then, however, the bridge may collapse, just as we sometimes have “breakdowns.” But Bifröst, and bridges in general, symbolize a state of transition, moving from one mode of being to another. Cirlot says, “there are a great many cultures where the bridge symbolizes the link between what can be perceived and what is beyond perception” (A Dictionary of Symbols, p. 33).

Bifröst also points to something I wrote about in my article, The Brunian Revolution, Part 4: Epistemology, where I discussed Bruno’s idea of the copulation between human minds and the anima mundi, the cosmic mind. This is gnosis that flows freely between heaven and earth, macrocosm and microcosm, just as the gods descend and ascend across the Rainbow Bridge. Bifröst is fragile, though, so the metaxical bridge must be guarded closely, lest ragnarök is unleashed.

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The Brunian Revolution, Part 5: A New Ethics

Far, far away Soria Moria Palace shimmered like Gold, by Theodor Kittelsen (1899)

Bruno desired to place truth into the hands of the human race. He may not have completely seen the ramifications of an acentric universe, that this would lead humanity to question its own self-worth in the face of nihilism. Humanity believed it dwelt in the center of God’s universe. After Bruno, this delusion was banished. Humanity lived on a planet that was just another speck in a vast, infinite ocean of other specks. Eventually, this truth, among others, would lead many to discouragement, anxiety, and despair. But now that the lies had been dispelled, mankind could focus on its true nature, to become conscious of its affinity with the cosmic mind, to copulate with it, and to bring forth truth in abundance.

Bruno envisioned that we would gradually become more aware of our relationship with the cosmic mind, and that we would join together with it in the dynamic creation, evolution, and transformation of the universe.

Bruno’s revolutionary philosophical anthropology would thus lay the foundations for a viable universal religion, since it would offer a spiritual bond that had some chance of success in bringing humanity together, in leading it to peace and solidarity, and above all, in securing its survival (Mendoza 217).

Bruno’s goal was to completely overthrow the value system of the day, what Nietzsche would later call, a “transvaluation.” The Church’s total entrenchment in Ptolemaic cosmology gave Bruno the courage to believe he could overturn their religious and ethical system. When the masses discovered how primitive the Church’s beliefs had been, they would turn from it in droves. If the hierarchy could be proven wrong about such an important point, what would be the value of the remainder of their doctrine?

The body, and matter, in general, had been denigrated by the Church for almost the entirety of its existence. This was carried over from Plato, who believed the body is a tomb, a prison of the soul. When matter is viewed in this way, it leads to the neglect and abuse of all living things, and the entire planet. It is utterly crucial how we view matter. Without a true respect for matter, or, as I call it, “animatter,” there can be no true ethics. Bruno wrote,

Divinity reveals herself in all things . . . everything has Divinity latent within itself. For she enfolds and imparts herself even unto the smallest beings, and from the smallest beings, according to their capacity. Without her presence nothing would have being, because she is the essence of the existence of the first unto the last being. [Expulsion, p. 242]

If one believes the Divine is innate to matter, One will treat all material things with reverence and respect. Think of how this one point would totally transform our world, if acted upon! Think of the tremendous damage being done to this world by various corporations all in the name of profit and someone’s twisted idea of freedom! It is a crime against the soul of the world and all of us individual souls. The ethical ramifications of the fusion of matter and soul are mind-boggling!

The so-called Copernican revolution was really not very revolutionary, since all he did was replace the earth with the sun; he retained all the other nonsense from the Ptolemaic worldview. It was Bruno who truly revolutionized cosmology by asserting there was no center at all, which is how we view the universe today.

Bruno’s view of humanity was revolutionary. He sought to overturn age-old traditions concerning human nature and humanity’s place in the universe. Instead of worn-out anthropocentrisms, Bruno claimed that humans are linked by the same soul that permeates everything. The same soul that is in all our bodies is the same soul that creates worlds and beings in those worlds. Soul and matter are indissoluble.

If all of this is true, the manner in which we treat our fellow humans changes. No longer will we allow racism, sectarianism, chauvinism, or bigotry to exist in our societies. Jingoism will have no place in any nation. War would necessarily be a thing of the past, since we would not want to harm the Soul that is innate to all of us by harming anyone, since we are all interconnected by soul. Of course, this is a Utopian dream. I have stated before that I do not believe such a state of existence is possible. It is something, however, for which we must strive if our world is to continue.

The Universal Intellect coupled with soul, the cosmic mind, has the potential of providing humanity with an unlimited intellect. We have limitless potential because we all share the Mind of God. I think this is what Jesus was referring to when he quoted Psalm 82:6, which says, “You are gods; you are all children of the Most High.” Jesus was trying to teach humanity the truth of who we really are. Giordano Bruno was attempting to do the same.


Works Cited

Mendoza, Ramon G. The Acentric Labyrinth. Rockport: Element, 1995.

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The Brunian Revolution, Part 4: Epistemology


Bruno was one who fully utilized the imagination in his work. It took him a mere ten years of traversing the imaginal world to reach a more accurate picture of the universe than Galileo’s, who spent several decades calculating and experimenting. Even after those many years, when Galileo was ready to die, he still believed the Sun to be the center of the universe. Bruno accurately saw the universe to be without a center almost sixty years prior to this. Galileo had much better technology, some he invented himself. Bruno used, primarily, his imagination, along with astute observation, to reach these revolutionary conclusions. This brings to mind Albert Einstein’s success, using his “thought-experiments” to reach equally monumental developments.

Bruno had serious reservations concerning the sole use of mathematics to ascertain the nature of reality. He cites Ptolemy as one example of someone with amazing mathematical skills, who claimed the earth to be the center of the universe. This view was dominant in the West for over fifteen hundred years. Bruno felt that the use of mathematics, to the exclusion of observation, reason, and the imagination, was not a reliable road to knowledge. In this point, Bruno was anti-Pythagorean and anti-Platonic. But this does not mean Bruno totally rejected mathematics. He believed it is was very useful in his work to corroborate “the intuitions about the universe that he believed only philosophy could provide…” (Mendoza 158).

Eventually, Einstein helped to prove that mathematics was indispensable in cosmological theory. He didn’t accomplish this, however, exclusively through mathematics, but by using his amazing imagination to envision the geometric motions of heavenly bodies.

Bruno’s epistemology is firmly grounded in his idea of the Cosmic Mind, which you can read about in my article, here.

Bruno’s conviction that the human mind was ‘the eye of divine intelligence’ may have prompted him to ‘tune in’ with the cosmic mind. Man had first to set his mind free from all the prejudices that held it imprisoned in the dark dungeon of ignorance so as to render it capable of establishing contact with the cosmic mind. He simply had to let the ‘larger mind’ take over (Mendoza 162).

Bruno’s mature epistemology is dialectical, preceding Hegel by a little over two centuries. Borrowing from the coincidentia oppositorum of Nicholas of Cusa, and the dynamic Heraclitean principle of becoming, Bruno forged a theory of knowledge that was truly unique. In de umbris idearum, he writes:

…in order for you to acquire a consummate and absolute art, it behooves you to copulate with the soul of the world, and once you have copulated with it, to act, for it is teeming with rational forms, and it generates a world full of rational forms. And these forms (Plotinus would agree) shape and form in seed everything that exists, like tiny worlds. Hence since the soul is everywhere present, all of it in the whole and in every part of it as well, you may be able to behold, as the condition of matter will allow, in everything, no matter how small or cut off, the world, not to speak of the semblance of the world, so that we may without fear say with Anaxagoras that everything is in everything (qtd. in Mendoza 163).

Bruno is asserting the “tuning in” of the mind with the cosmic mind that involves “copulation” with the soul of the world. Powerful imagery, indeed! The same thought processes, archetypes, imagery of the cosmic mind can be experienced in the human mind. The universe is understandable because the subject and object of knowledge share the same type of configuration; the mind and the cosmic mind have basically the same structure.

So, using his dialectical methodology, Bruno saw mind and matter as complementary, as  interdependent “moments of reality” (Mendoza 164). The macrocosmic mind and the microcosmic mind both share the same divine and infinite Oneness.

Probably the thing that distinguished Bruno’s method most of all was his courage to question the authoritative assertions of the past. Because of his method of free thought and uncompromising intellectual honestly, he influenced all freethinkers after him to not rely on revelation or dogma for their discoveries, but on their own minds and imaginations.


Works Cited

Mendoza, Ramon G. The Acentric Labyrinth. Rockport: Element, 1995.

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The Brunian Revolution, Part 3: Atomic Theory of Matter

The Burning of Rome, by JMW Turner
The Burning of Rome, by JMW Turner

We hear much about Bruno’s contributions to cosmology, especially in the first episode of the new Cosmos series, starring host, Neil deGrasse Tyson. Indeed, his cosmological ideas were revolutionary and amazingly prescient, but his primary contributions to humanity were philosophical and ontological, as we will see. I believe his theory of matter is most important. It influences all his other accomplishments.

Bruno formulated the most impressive theory of matter of any post-medieval European philosopher, perhaps to this day. Using only his powers of speculation and imagination, Bruno devised an amazingly powerful ontological theory that rejected Platonic dualism in favor of a strict monistic view of the universe. Of course, as any good philosopher, Bruno stood on the shoulders of the giants who preceded him. He synthesized ideas from the Presocratics, Stoics, Nicholas of Cusa, and others to create an entirely novel idea concerning the stuff of the universe we call “matter.”

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. Prior to Plato, the Presocratics had held to a monistic view of things. The Stoics also, afterwards, were monists in their cosmology, as were the Neoplatonists.

Plato’s student, Aristotle, disagreed with his teacher concerning this radical dualism. He retained the idea of the necessity of the forms and matter, but he claimed they were inseparable, thus making him a metaphysical monist. He did, however, believe that the realm of planets and stars was without flaw or imperfection. Aristotle remained a physical dualist, since he distinguished between an imperfect world of matter (sublunar) and a perfect world of stars and planets (supralunar).

By the time of Bruno’s arrest, the Roman Catholic Church had adopted the Aristotelian form of hylomorphism. In this theory, substances are envisioned as composites of form and matter. Matter is seen as entirely passive and dependent on the corresponding form to give it dynamism and quality.

Aristotle’s position would come to dominate the thinking of the Roman Catholic Church for hundreds of years. The synthesis of Aristotelianism and Christian theology was accomplished in the twelfth century by St. Thomas Aquinas, who was of the opinion there was no conflict between secular philosophy and Christian theology. Of course, Thomas incorporated many ideas taught by Islamic scholar, Averroes, not the more mystical Avicenna. Averroes helped to open the door in the West to open materialism.

Giordano Bruno was revolutionary in that he realized that a proper view of atomism (which he adopted from Leucippus and his student Democritus) did not require matter to have an external cause, nor some separate internal principle in order for it to proliferate. Bruno’s philosophy of matter is rigidly monistic: intrinsically, matter possesses within itself the animating power of its own emergence. In this view, all matter is sacred and dynamic.

Bruno rejected the views of Aristotle, as well as Democritus, Epicurus, and Lucretius in regards to matter because they portrayed it as devoid of any qualitative or quantitative value. His idea is that form and matter are factual, but not distinct:

In strict monism, the Aristotelian notion of the indissoluble interconnectedness of matter and form is paramount; matter and form are not two different and separate entities as they were in Platonic dualism, but two aspects or modes of the same physical reality (Mendoza 114).

So, form and matter are two different “modes” of one physical reality. The idea of modes is vastly different than positing two distinct substances. Descartes would, later, take the notion of distinct substances to its extreme in his mechanistic dualism of mind of matter. According to Descartes, matter is dead and lifeless.

Bruno offered a theory of matter that vanquished the dualistic ideas of Plato and Aristotle. He called his idea mater-materia, or “matter-mattering.” Here, matter possesses intelligence; it is the origin of all Forms. This idea could be termed “materialistic,” but it would be accompanied by the qualifiers, “intelligent and animated materialism,” since matter intrinsically possesses intelligence and consciousness. Bruno’s idea, here, bears similarity with Anaximander’s Apeiron. Also, this means that God is intimately connected with His creation. Mind is not separate from matter; mind is within matter. The phrase “mater-materia” connotes the womb of the Mother. Matter exists as an agent of “mattering;” matter is the matrix of all material forms.

 We think of “materialism” as something negative because it is based on the Cartesian worldview where mind and matter are bifurcated. Bruno’s conception of materialism is based on a monistic view, where all of Nature is alive with a resplendence that illuminates our world.

His new model of matter came complete with a somewhat original atomic theory partly based on the ideas of Democritus, Epicurus, and Lucretius. This came even before Galileo and Gassendi formulated atomic theories of their own. Bruno imagined atoms to be homogenous, indivisible, three-dimensional particles, which have the innate ability of self-movement. He called this self-animating power “soul.” He believed that, since there were infinite bodies in the universe, there are also an infinite number of atoms, all capable of spontaneous self-motion. In Bruno’s universe, as in Heraclitus’, all is in continual soul-flux.

Perhaps Bruno’s most important contribution to ontology is the radical, monistic flavor of his atomism. Because of its intrinsic nature, matter has the ability to generate complex states of order. Matter and form are not distinct, as in Plato. They are tightly interconnected, being different only in modal description. Bruno’s idea of

…matter has…the intrinsic power to generate all possible forms, and the immanent intelligence to direct and govern all organized complex forms that issue from it” (Mendoza 115).

This point is what I base my own theory of animaterialism upon. The “intrinsic power” and “immanent intelligence” is soul. Every atom in the universe is brimming with dynamic soul. Every atom is divine and has purpose.

 Our world is finally coming to terms with the latent energy in Nature. Atomic energy is just a metaphor for what really is innate to every bit of matter in the universe. This is a mere representation of the power of soul, for it burns brighter than any atomic explosion. If we all saw ourselves as being permeated with this soul-energy, just think what we could do!


Works Cited

Mendoza, Ramon G. The Acentric Labyrinth. Rockport: Element, 1995.

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The Brunian Revolution, Part 2: Cosmology


Giordano Bruno had his eyes steadfastly fixed on the future of mankind. He desired more than anything that humanity be led out of the despotic morass of the Christian religion, with its chains of hierarchy, intolerance, dogmatism, and downright tyranny. Not only that, but he wanted to provide all peoples of all nations and religions an intellectual and spiritual infrastructure that they could wholeheartedly accept without reservation.

The overthrow of Ptolemaic geocentrism was paramount in order to seriously weaken the dogmatic edifice that had been constructed by the Church over the previous fifteen centuries. Copernicus, to his credit, began the assault, albeit timidly. In 1543, he published his life’s work, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. Copernicus proposed that the Sun, not the earth, was the center of the universe. Strangely, he died the same year. His heliocentric theory was, indeed, a revolutionary proposal, but it was in no way powerful enough to demolish the cosmic order of that era. The security of being at the center of an ordered universe was still, for the most part, intact. Perhaps the earth was not the exact center, but we were still near enough to it that it didn’t make much difference. It would take the new cosmology of Bruno to obliterate the entire structure.

The Nolan philosopher boldly proclaimed the universe had absolutely no center. This was one of the most revolutionary statements in Western history. We are still reeling from the ensuing waves this idea brought about, even after four hundred years. Bruno was the first post-medieval European to assert an acentric universe. With this, the old worldview was shattered. As Ernst Bloch said, “the roof of the heavens was pulled off , the world-onion with the seven skins exploded” (qtd. in Mendoza 73).

For some reason, humans like centers. We feel uncomfortable if we realize there are none. The philosophical and ethical ramifications of an acentric universe are far-reaching. Bruno’s proclamation was really the beginning of humanity’s encounter with nothingness and absurdity, preoccupations of the later Existentialist movement. Suddenly, those who grasped the significance of this insight, which Bruno received entirely through his imagination, realized how insignificant humans appeared to be. By bringing forth this basic truth, however, Bruno freed philosophical and scientific thinking from the old dogmatic viewpoints that had dragged them down for so long. Because of this, Professor Mendoza calls him, “the initiator of Modernity” (Mendoza 74).

It is not only the idea of acentricity that makes Bruno so important. He also asserted with equal fervor that the universe is infinite, homogenous, and isotropic. Furthermore, he believed the universe is filled with innumerable worlds. This is modern cosmology in a nutshell. All boundaries, hierarchies, and harmonies associated with the heavens are now obsolete. The universe is infinite; perhaps it always has been. It has no center. All matter is composed of the same elements throughout the cosmos. Can you imagine how mind-blowing all this must have been in the 1590’s?

One of the reasons why his cosmological ideas are so important to his plan of universal religion is because Bruno extended these ideas into the realm of his ontology, ethics, and, of course, his theology. I will delve into these areas in future installments.


Works Cited

Mendoza, Ramon G. The Acentric Labyrinth. Rockport: Element, 1995.

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The Brunian Revolution, Part 1: Religion

The scene of the excution of Giordano Bruno in Piazza Campo dè Fiori, Rome

Giordano Bruno was a rare revolutionary, whose intellectual powers only occasionally arise among humans.  The ideas he espoused during those days of religious oppression and intellectual suppression demonstrated a tremendous amount of courage. Even during the expanded intellectual and artistic freedom of the European Renaissance, the terrors of The Inquisition hung over his head like the sword of Damocles. But, unlike Damocles, he bore the tortures, suffering, and finally the flames. He left behind a legacy that is with us to this day.

Bruno’s supreme vision was to replace Christianity with a completely new religion, one that would encompass all religions. It would need to be a movement that would appeal to all of humanity. A lofty goal, indeed! This, he believed to be his primary calling in life. Let’s face it, humans are alienated from one another, to a large extent, by religion. This becomes radically so when religions become fundamentalist in nature. In our world of today, this is a monumental problem, but it was in Bruno’s day, as well. Nations have been fighting and killing each other over religion for millennia. Bruno hoped that his teachings could light a flame under the foundations of humanity that would burn brilliantly for eternity.

Bruno was inspired to change humanity’s plight by several of his Renaissance predecessors, especially Marsilio Ficino. Ficino’s patrons, Lorenzo de Medici, who was tutored by Ficino as a boy, and Lorenzo’s father, Cosimo de Medici, gave Marsilio the opportunity to cultivate and bring forth his talents, as they did for many artists and intellectuals of the day. One of his greatest accomplishments was the translation of the Corpus Hermeticum, the primary text of Hermetism as taught by Hermes Trismegistus. In fact, just before he began working on the Corpus Hermeticum, he had been translating into Latin the works of Plato for the de Medicis. But after they were presented with Byzantine copies of the Corpus, Lorenzo ordered Ficino to stop work at once on the Plato translations and begin translating the words of Hermes. The de Medicis believed the Corpus contained “the most solid and promising foundation for the much needed universal religion” (Mendoza 46). Their enthusiasm was due to the fact that they believed that Hermes was a contemporary of Moses, and that his teachings contained elements that would appeal to all religious minds. Ficino completed and released a collection of thirteen tractates in 1471. This was a watershed event in Western history that influenced and animated many Renaissance luminaries, particularly Giordano Bruno.

According to Professor Ramon G. Mendoza,

A new religion based on reason and a realistic vision of the world had to be founded if it was to have any hopes of being universally accepted. Bruno’s cosmological model and the new philosophy with which it was intimately interlocked finally provided the foundation indispensable for a universally acceptable new religion (Mendoza 47).

Bruno felt his only chance for his new philosophy to take root would be in Italy. Germany was out. They were too enthralled with Luther and the religious freedom they believed he had brought them. Bruno needed the support of the Italian nobility and the intellectual elite. He had great confidence in his rhetorical powers to convince them of the viability of the new religion, and he could speak to his fellow-countrymen in his native tongue. He would later regret the decision to accept an invitation to teach his ars memoria to a wealthy Venetian noble named Mocenigo. Upon moving into Mocenigo’s palace, he was delivered to the Inquisition by the Venetian five months later, just after Easter, 1592.

Many of Bruno’s ideas are still timely. In the next installments, I will attempt to present those I feel we should take seriously. I will also explain why I think these ideas should be included, if we ever attempt to bring about a universal religion.


Works Cited

Mendoza, Ramon G. The Acentric Labyrinth. Rockport: Element, 1995.


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Cauldron of Knowledge

Print by J.E.C. Williams in the book 'Y Mabinogion', trans. J.M. Edwards (Wrexham, 1901).
Print by J.E.C. Williams in the book ‘Y Mabinogion’, trans. J.M. Edwards (Wrexham, 1901).

There is a Celtic legend called the Cauldron of Changes that you can read on the website, Chalice Centre. I would like to discuss one aspect of this story that pertains to the knowledge of Soul and its transformative effects on human beings.

In the story, a peasant boy named Gwion is hired by Ceridwen to stir and keep watch over the cauldron, which she has prepared for her ugly and hapless son, Avagddu. Because of her great love for the boy, she desired to find a way to transform her son. After studying books of Druidic alchemists, Ceridwen has learned how to make a special brew that can illuminate one with the knowledge of all things, past, present, and future. She carefully gathered all the necessary ingredients into a large iron cauldron, which must simmer for a year and a day. She conscripts Gwion to keep watch over the steaming vessel.

According to the alchemists, tasting three drops of the magical liquid would bestow the aforementioned knowledge. For a year, Gwion stirred the cauldron with a large wooden spoon, and kept the flames burning by feeding it with twigs and leaves. On the last day, Gwion decided to stir the pot sunwise for luck. As he did so, three drops flew out of the pot and landed on his hand, burning him. Immediately, he thrust his hand into his mouth to cool the burn. An instant after swallowing the magical elixir, his mind was illuminated. Worlds upon worlds opened within him, spreading out endlessly into eternity. In an instant, he was made aware of all the interconnections of Nature. He could hear and understand the trees, the babbling brook, the crawling insect. He could hear and understand their music and their languages.

You can read the rest of the story in the above link. What I have described so far is quite intriguing for someone who is fascinated by the things of the Soul.

First of all, this myth reveals the powers contained within the cauldron, which I see as a metaphor for the unconscious psyche. In our stage of evolutionary development, a simple taste of these powers can transform our entire lives. Perhaps in the future, there will be a greater flow of knowledge between consciousness and unconsciousness. For most of us, however, these incidents do not occur all the time. Now, we experience occasional irruptions of the unconscious into our conscious minds. These are incidental, stupendous, and wonderful examples of the powers of the soul, but they are prototypical of what lies ahead for the human species.

After our culture has experienced several centuries of intense emphasis on reason, logic, rationality, and science, the powers of the soul have atrophied. This began to change in the twentieth century, with the increased interest in things of the soul. This is in large part a result of the work of C.G. Jung. We still, however, have a long way to go. The process of evolution takes much time. We know we are circumambulating to a point in history where the powers of the soul will be restored. We see it moving in that direction everyday, especially on the Internet.

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An Increase in Subtlety

The Flame (aka Goddess of Fire), by Odilon Redon

…it should be obvious that an increase in ‘subtlety’ is an inward evolution (Colin Wilson, The Occult: A History).

The human race is ready for an increase in subtlety. In the past, I have called it “the epoch of soul.” We yearn for a deeper descent into the depths of the unconscious in order to gain new meaning, new significance for our lives. I believe the next evolutionary leap will be one of consciousness. This will bring a tremendous increase in our ability to access the unconscious mind, thus opening doors to powers that have lain dormant for centuries, if not millennia.

The subtler powers of human being include things that science and reason have taught us to reject as nonsense and superstition. In many cases, these powers manifest, at times, even now. For instance, someone is preparing to board a plane, but they have a heavy feeling of uneasiness about the trip, a feeling of dread. They make the decision to make other arrangements, and the plane crashes, killing all those aboard. The person is saved by a premonition. This knowledge does not come from ratiocination, but from subtler sources in the unconscious.

The mind is not really bifurcated into conscious and unconscious. We simply discuss it this way for convenience. Furthermore, the mind is not just the brain. These are not synonymous. The mind functions throughout the human body. The brain is a facilitator. The ways and depths of the psyche are beyond our attempts to grasp them intellectually. After we reach the next stage in our evolution, we will undoubtedly gain new insight into the interaction between consciousness and unconsciousness.

Future humans will have senses beyond the five that we are aware of. What they will be like is unknown, but they will undoubtedly have greater awareness of their environment and of their own selves. The most poignant difference will be a freer flow of information between the conscious and unconscious minds.

Rudolf Steiner said,

I have often mentioned that a new stream of spirituality is now ready to pour into man’s earthly existence. The present forms a link in mankind’s evolution between an era of mainly intellectual development which began in the first third of the fifteenth century and has now practically run its course — and a future devoted to the spiritual. The most important task for mankind in the era of intellectuality was the development of reason through the investigation of external nature and the development of technology (The Elemental World and the Future of Mankind, lecture given in Dornach, May 28, 1922).

I take issue with the use of the word, “spirituality,” because I believe spirit is an archetype of the soul, but I understand and concur with what Steiner is saying. We are headed toward a new day in the evolutionary process, which, in my opinion, is entirely natural. There are sufficient powers in the universe to bring all this we have discussed to pass. The soul is a deep, deep well of living water.

The “era of intellectuality,” as Steiner calls it, has served its purpose. We have achieved amazing things using our intellects to develop science and technology, but these are powerless against solving mankind’s greatest problems. Most technological breakthroughs nowadays are made in the name of corporate profit. It is time for a deeper knowledge to come forth in the earth. I am referring to a deeper knowledge of the most precious jewel in the universe, Soul.

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A Framework for Life

Christian Rohlfs – Abstraction (the Blue Mountain)

One of the primary things missing from modern life is a framework upon which the fabric of one’s life can be hung. Our lives once hung upon the framework of Christianity, but, after the death of the monotheistic God, our lives were without a frame of reference. Many still are in this condition. It is like a body walking around without a skeleton to support it. I believe this lack of a schema is why we have biological imbalances that bring about the inevitable encounter with nihilism, and then black states of depression. The soul and body are so closely intertwined that our biological chemistry does, indeed, affect our mental well-being. This is just one example of living in a soulless age.

The recent passing of actor, Robin Williams, greatly saddened me. He follows a long line of geniuses who have battled the abyss of melancholy. The ideas of modern science have failed to provide an adequate framework that can protect and uphold our lives. All they offer is drug therapy, which is merely a palliative. By not providing an adequate framework for coping with life’s pathology, modern psychology has failed the masses of humanity who suffer from depression. Geniuses suffer most because their minds are more acutely aware of reality and its terrors.

Once, mankind’s suffering was mitigated by participation in the imaginal realm through myth, ritual, stories, music, and art. During and after the Enlightenment, the sacred nature of these was relegated to an inferior position in human affairs, thus desouling and desacralizing human consciousness. For instance, there was a very good reason for ritual in ancient times. Symbolic rituals have a way of moving the soul, building it and protecting it from harm.

Joseph Campbell wrote,

For it is the rite, the ritual and its imagery, that counts in religion, and where that is missing the words are mere carriers of concepts that may or may not make contemporary sense. A ritual is an organization of mythological symbols; and by participating in the drama of the rite one is brought directly in touch with these, not as verbal reports of historic events, either past, present, or to be, but as revelations, here and now, of what is always and forever. Where the synagogues and churches go wrong is by telling what their symbols “mean” (Myths to Live By).

To attempt to give meaning to the mystery of ritual symbols is to try and force the dark secrets of the Underworld up into the light of day where the ego can understand them. These things, however, work, many times, apart from the understanding. The archetypal Powers who work through the symbols cannot be rationalized. They are suprarational entities. As long as the scientific model remains closed to the experiences of the psyche, science will never accept the truth of the soul.

The framework we need to restore to mankind is the knowledge of soul. All the truth we have gleaned concerning soul: myth, symbols, ritual, art, the imaginal, music, and all other avenues that build soul (there are many), can be disseminated around the globe. I believe if we can restore this framework to our world, we will see another renaissance, not only of learning and the arts, but of physical and mental health. It will not be perfect because the way of soul is pathologization, but we will once again have a strong skeletal structure upon which to hang our lives. If we continue on the road we are on, the entire structure will collapse.


For it is the rite, the ritual and its imagery, that counts in religion, and where that is missing the words are mere carriers of concepts that may or may not make contemporary sense. A ritual is an organization of mythological symbols; and by participating in the drama of the rite one is brought directly in touch with these, not as verbal reports of historic events, either past, present, or to be, but as revelations, here and now, of what is always and forever. There the synagogues and churches go wrong is by telling that their symbols ‘mean.’ The value of an effective rite is that it leaves everyone to his own thoughts, which dogma and definitions only confuse.” – See more at:
For it is the rite, the ritual and its imagery, that counts in religion, and where that is missing the words are mere carriers of concepts that may or may not make contemporary sense. A ritual is an organization of mythological symbols; and by participating in the drama of the rite one is brought directly in touch with these, not as verbal reports of historic events, either past, present, or to be, but as revelations, here and now, of what is always and forever. There the synagogues and churches go wrong is by telling that their symbols ‘mean.’ The value of an effective rite is that it leaves everyone to his own thoughts, which dogma and definitions only confuse.” – See more at:
For it is the rite, the ritual and its imagery, that counts in religion, and where that is missing the words are mere carriers of concepts that may or may not make contemporary sense. A ritual is an organization of mythological symbols; and by participating in the drama of the rite one is brought directly in touch with these, not as verbal reports of historic events, either past, present, or to be, but as revelations, here and now, of what is always and forever. There the synagogues and churches go wrong is by telling that their symbols ‘mean.’ The value of an effective rite is that it leaves everyone to his own thoughts, which dogma and definitions only confuse.” – See more at:
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Worlds of Being and Meaning

 Nova Aurigae, Stanislaw Ignacy, Witkiewicz - 1918

Nova Aurigae,
Stanislaw Ignacy, Witkiewicz – 1918

This article is dedicated to my brother, Jeffrey, who died July 27, 2014, of complications resulting from congestive heart failure. Jeff was only 49. He was a life-long student of history, religion, and the esoteric. He bequeathed to me his library, which I will cherish as long as I am upon this earth.

…the Gods and Goddesses are worlds of being and meaning in which my personal life participates (Miller 61).

Our ego-centered culture has not yet grasped the fact that the archetypal structures of all reality are these worlds of being and meaning. We do not live in these worlds; these worlds live through us.  To the degree that we recognize the Powers who manifest through our lives, we can become that which we were meant to be.

These Powers are in conflict with each other. Throughout our lives, we undergo our very own Trojan War. Pathologization is the way of the soul. This conflict can be mediated by a “transcendent function,” which is the “transpersonal nature of the archetypal structures…it gives us an Archimedean point of leverage, a perspective on the world from the standpoint of the world whose name is that of a God or Goddess” (ibid.).

This viewpoint transcends both the subjectivity of psychology and the objectivity of science. In essence, there is no inner/outer dichotomy. All reality is founded upon these worlds of being and meaning, the pantheon of Gods and Goddesses, and how they manifest through, not only our lives, but through the entire universe: stars, worlds, galaxies, and all animateriality. One can trace all things back to a particular God or Goddess. These are the foundation stones upon which our reality is built.

The Powers have manifested throughout human history in many different forms, especially in the many religious views of the world. I have always wondered why there are so many different factions within Christianity, for instance, since this is where my roots are. There are even factions within the factions. There is a first church of this and a first church of that. It seems so insane, but it is the way of reality, the way of the Powers. They fight and war against each other continually. This is how the Fabric of Reality is constructed.

During the nineteenth century, Friedrich Nietzsche believed that the monotheistic God of Christianity had lost its potency. Each God or Goddess has potency and uniqueness. Because they are at war, a God or Goddess who loses its potency is supplanted by others. This is connected with the idea that a symbol or image can lose its power, and is then subsequently replaced by other symbols. In the case of the monotheistic God, the practice of using symbols and images was, for the most part, eliminated during the Reformation. Symbols possess power, so when the symbol goes, the God will eventually die out. Nietzsche also believed that the monotheistic nature of this God led to his death, and then mankind’s encounter with nihilism. But the encounter with nihilism is but a prelude to transformation. “The death of God gives rise to the rebirth of the Gods” (Miller 4).

Jung’s idea of the archetypes of the collective unconscious was an imaginative historical breakthrough, a watershed event for human psychology. As we hear the stories of the Gods and Goddesses, we are provided with a framework for imagining their worlds of being and meaning, how they live and breathe through us, and through all of reality throughout the universe.


Works Cited

Miller, David. L. The New Polytheism. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.



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The Mandala and the Maelstrom

Volpini Suite: Dramas of the Sea: A Descent into the Maelström, by Paul Gaugin

In an article I wrote called “The Involution of Consciousness,” I was led to a very important symbol that has greatly influenced my thinking, i.e. the Maelstrom. I wrote these words:

We are swirling within Soul’s Maelstrom. Round and round we go in this world, and ever downward. But, as we move deeper into the Vortex of Life, we move, simultaneously, inward and closer together. The lower we go into the Maelstrom, the quicker consciousness increases.  Let this image burn within your mind.

I have just realized, or maybe re-realized, that, if you look straight down into the whirling vortex, the Maelstrom is a mandala. So, the interpretation I wrote is yet another meaning for this ubiquitous symbol.

I quoted a poem by Edgar Allan Poe:

It may look like boasting — but what I tell you is truth — I began to reflect how magnificent a thing it was to die in such a manner, and how foolish it was in me to think of so paltry a consideration as my own individual life, in view of so wonderful a manifestation of God’s power. I do believe that I blushed with shame when this idea crossed my mind. After a little while I became possessed with the keenest curiosity about the whirl itself. I positively felt a wish to explore its depths, even at the sacrifice I was going to make; and my principal grief was that I should never be able to tell my old companions on shore about the mysteries I should see. These, no doubt, were singular fancies to occupy a man’s mind in such extremity — and I have often thought since, that the revolutions of the boat around the pool might have rendered me a little light-headed (A Descent Into the Malestrom, by Edgar Allan Poe).

Poe obviously believed that plunging into this mandala meant the sacrifice of death. What if the center of the mandala symbolizes death? Perhaps not necessarily physical death (although it could mean that too), but transformation? Could it be death of the old and birth of the new? He greatly desired to explore the depths of the maelstrom, and he realized it would mean great sacrifice. Isn’t that the way of the soul? We die many deaths during the process of soul-making. Old things die and new things take their place. We never step into the same river twice.

We fear death very much, probably because, since the days of St. Paul,  death has been thought of as an enemy to be extinguished, hence the quest for eternal life. But we fear exactly what we need. Death represents transformation, and we are terrified of change.

As we move within the swirling mandala, we move closer together. I think this could mean that we become more familiar with the many aspects of the soul, the autonomous archetypal personalities that dwell within us. It could also mean drawing closer in global consciousness because we know that the microcosm is a mirror of the macrocosm; as above, so below.

So, just more food for thought in my search for alternative meanings from the mandala symbol.


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In my last article, I brought up the example of the mandala as a strictly pictorial symbol, the kind the archetypal powers use to initiate one into imaginal thinking, and to train the imaginal ego. I said this was a first step into the imaginal world, but that one should eventually move on to deeper archetypal experiences.

There is no doubt that the mandala is a ubiquitous symbol. It appears in dreams and is quite prevalent in Nature. It can be found in all cultures, both ancient and modern. At least from the viewpoint of archetypal psychology, the attempt to integrate the soul’s many powers into one central Self profanes the soul’s multiplicity. If not wholeness, then what meaning does the mandala hold for us?

First, let us hear what Carl Jung has to say:

As I have said, mandala means ‘circle.’ There are innumerable variants of the motif shown here, but they are all based on the squaring of a circle. Their basic motif is the premonition of a centre of personality, a kind of central point within the psyche, to which everything is related, by which everything is arranged, and which is itself a source of energy. The energy of the cen­tral point is manifested in the almost irresistible compulsion and urge to become what one is, just as every organism is driven to assume the form that is characteristic of its nature, no matter what the circumstances. This centre is not felt or thought of as the ego but, if one may so express it, as the self. Although the centre is represented by an innermost point. it is surrounded by a periphery containing everything that belongs to the self-the paired opposites that make up the total personality. This total­ity comprises consciousness first of all, then the personal un­conscious, and finally an indefinitely large segment of the collective unconscious whose archetypes are common to all mankind. A certain number of these, however, are permanently or temporarily included within the scope of the personality and, through this contact, acquire an individual stamp as the shadow, anima, and animus, to mention only the best-known figures. The self, though on the one hand simple, is on the other hand an extremely composite thing, a “conglomerate soul,” to use the Indian expression (Jung 357).

Within Jung’s writings on the Self, there is the implication that something is wrong with the soul being multiplicitous, and that this must be corrected. This is brought about by bringing the various complexes into a state of wholeness. The mandala supposedly symbolizes this. Of course, individuating toward wholeness requires a strong ego.

This model seems to be based on the theology of Judeo-Christianity, the idea of having a single, central, supreme god. In this paradigm of analytical psychology, ego, or Self, is supreme. Hillman calls this “monotheistic psychology,”  saying we must shift away from the “ego as sole center of consciousness” (Hillman 264-265). He further says that it is this kind of psychology that “presents the ego in a direct line of confrontation and covenant with a single self, represented by images of unity (mandalas, crystals, balls, wise men, and other patterns of order)” (Hillman 265).

So, we know Jung’s opinion as to what the mandala represents. If the integration to wholeness is a faulty model, what else could the mandala symbolize? I like what Jung says about “the urge to become what one is.” In my thinking, everything has a purpose in our universe. I think my purpose is to write these words you are reading. I have always felt that my research and writing is my purpose, my acorn that can grow into an oak. Perhaps the mandala represents a journey of the soul, not necessarily toward a monotheistic idea of wholeness, or center of consciousness, but simply a circumambulatory experience of the various personalities within us. At times, we may experience what seems like a central power, but this is just another archetype operating in its own non-hierarchical mode of consciousness. We spin, as in a vortex. We experience many different powers within ourselves. This churning of the soul is its wheel of life.

Let us not limit the power of the imagination by claiming a symbol only represents one particular interpretation. Like the soul, all images are unfathomable.


Works Cited

Hillman, James. The Myth of Analysis. New York: Harper, 1972.

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A Deeper View of the Archetypes

Portrait of Marceli Staroniewicz Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz – 1927

While perusing James Hillman’s book, The Myth of Analysis, I came across an idea that had never really crossed my mind before:

…we have become…obsessed with symbolic images, confusing archetypal reality with visual imagery (Hillman 188).

This floored me! Had my love for visual symbolic imagery deceived me into ignoring deeper archetypal reality? Apparently, when there is no imaginal connection to the soul, the archetypes initially present themselves as “pictorial configurations,” symbolic images. This is fine, but one should not stop there and rest on their laurels. There are deeper ways in which the archetypes reveal themselves to us. Hillman says, “We overvalue the study of symbols believing that we will find archetypal reality there” (ibid.).  The archetypes manifest, many times, through the body: through the voice, the way a person carries herself or himself, symptoms of illness, or just their overall style and form. Thinking imaginatively about these things brings a deeper understanding of how the archetypes are influencing the person. This kind of thinking requires the imaginal ego, of which Hillman says “does not mean an ego filled with drug-caused images or one filled with the knowledge of images. It rather means behaving imaginatively” (Hillman 189).

The archetypes also manifest themselves throughout the universe and all its animaterial contents. Not only visually, as in the amazing spiral nebulae, stars, and planets, but in subtler ways too, such as planetary movement, dark matter, and black holes. All behavior can be viewed imaginally. This involves, first of all, not taking behavior literally, as we usually do because of our scientific bent. Thinking archetypally means thinking imaginally about all things.

Jung attempted to develop the imaginal ego in his patients by using “active imagination,” which Hillman describes as “a term describing the subtle balance between the three faculties: an active will, an interpretative understanding, and the independent movement of fantasies” (ibid.). The practice of active imagination allows the imaginal ego to come to the fore, thus facilitating the soul-making process.

In summary, if one has just become familiar with depth psychology through C.G. Jung’s work, it is very easy to become somewhat obsessed with the strictly pictorial symbols, such as mandalas. It is normal, though, since this is the initial kind of archetypal recognition. The point Hillman tries to make, however, is that there are deeper levels of archetypal phenomena than just the visual. The archetypal practitioner must “see through” all things. So, look for the gods in all things. Think imaginatively.

Works Cited

Hillman, James. The Myth of Analysis. New York: Harper, 1972.

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Treasure of the Unfathomable

Durin’s Bane, by Markus Röncke

Using the terms of today, we might translate this art as a method of presenting the organization of the collective unconscious too–according to archetypal dominants. The archetypes would correspond to divine imaginal forms used as Aristotelian or Kantian conceptual categories. Rather than logical or scientific laws, mythical figures would provide the a priori structures within the caverns and dens of the immeasurable imagination. All psychic events might be placed in meaningful coherence by means of these mythical structures. In fact, the categories of logic and numbers, of science and theology, could themselves be reduced (i.e., led back) to more basic metaphors of myth. No concepts, no matter how general and abstract, could embrace the range of these archetypal metaphors (The Myth Of Analysis, James Hillman, page 179).

Everything we empirically experience is myth and metaphor. All that we experience with the senses points to a parallel archetypal reality. As above, so below. The universe we experience everyday hints at the universe within. This is why, say in Zen Buddhism, for example, one can learn more about truth by pondering a flower than by taking all the psychology courses in the world. There is more truth in a tree than in all the science textbooks in all the universities in the world. But we must remember. The Ars Memoriae provides us with a methodology whereby we can do just that.

The psyche is a vast universe populated with innumerable images, just as the universe we gaze out upon everyday holds innumerable planets, stars, and galaxies. The ancients called this thesaurus inscrutabilis, or “treasure of the unfathomable.” What a perfect metaphor for soul! We remember well the words of Heraclitus,

The limits of the soul you would not find out though you traverse every way, so deep lies its principle (Fragment 71).

All truth lies within us. Because we are all connected unconsciously, and have been for untold eons, we have access to all truth. We know this unconsciously, but we have been washed in the river Lethe and have forgotten. Truth in Greek is Aletheia. Notice that Lethe is part of this word. Aletheia, however, it is a remembering or recollection. Thus, truth comes through reminiscence.

The Ars Memoria utilized a technique called the Memory Palace, or Memory Theater. You can read more about that here. I think the road to reminiscence may lie with this technique and the imagination. These “archetypal dominants,” mentioned above by Hillman, can be seen as overarching categories under which all knowledge can be subsumed. In ancient Greece, the pantheon of gods served this purpose. Today, we call them archetypes. But they are just as powerful today as they were then. The planets were also used, as were the zodiacal signs. There are many systems all over the world for imagining the archetypes. They are, however, many roads to the same realities, just as some see the various religions as many paths to the same god.

The collective unconscious conceptually represents what St. Augustine called memoria:

Great is this power of memory, exceedingly great, O my God–a large and boundless inner hall! Who has plumbed the depths of it? Yet it is a power of my mind, and it belongs to my nature. But I do not myself grasp all that I am. Thus the mind is far too narrow to contain itself. But where can that part of it be which it does not contain? Is it outside and not in itself? How can it be, then, that the mind cannot grasp itself? A great marvel rises in me; astonishment seizes me. Men go forth to marvel at the heights of mountains and the huge waves of the sea, the broad flow of the rivers, the vastness of the ocean, the orbits of the stars, and yet they neglect to marvel at themselves. Nor do they wonder how it is that, when I spoke of all these things, I was not looking at them with my eyes–and yet I could not have spoken about them had it not been that I was actually seeing within, in my memory, those mountains and waves and rivers and stars which I have seen, and that ocean which I believe in–and with the same vast spaces between them as when I saw them outside me. But when I saw them outside me, I did not take them into me by seeing them; and the things themselves are not inside me, but only their images. And yet I knew through which physical sense each experience had made an impression on me (Confessions, VIII, 15).

James Hillman comments on Augustine’s musings on memoria:

What we today call “the unconscious” and describe in spatial metaphors, though it is boundless and also timeless, which “contains” “contents” – images, personages, and affects, now called complexes – and which has a collective historical aspect as well as an ahistorical archetypal structure, at the unfound center of which, and around which, all else moves, the imago Dei: this unconscious appears hardly to differ from what was once called by Augustine memoria or memoria Dei or the thesaurus inscrutabilis (The Myth of Analysis, pg. 171).

This unfathomable chamber greatly reminds me of Tolkien’s dwarvish stronghold of Moria, which lay deep beneath the Misty Mountains. Its incredibly complex tunnels, chambers, halls, and mines provided, for many millennia, a home for the clan, the Longbeards. According to Tolkien, the word, “moria” is Sindarin for “Black Chasm,” or “Black Abyss,”which is a wonderful metaphor for the collective unconscious. The dwarves called it Khazad-dûm, or the “delving of the dwarves.” To “delve” means “to research or make painstaking inquiries into something.” This is what we are doing by exploring the caverns and grottoes of the soul. Deep within the labyrinth of Moria, the dwarves found vast amounts of treasure, gold, and mithril, just as we are continually discovering rich treasures of the soul. We know that danger lurks there, as well. In the depths of Moria lived a Balrog, whom the dwarves called Durin’s Bane. There are also similar beings within the collective unconscious that can wreak comparable havoc.

Augustine had grasped in the late fourth century the truth of the objective psyche, or, as Jung named it, the collective unconscious. He understood the paradoxical nature of the soul, that it is “a power of…mind,” yet he saw that “the mind is far too narrow to contain itself.” Hillman says, “the parallels to the unconscious of Jung are obvious” (The Myth of Analysis, pg. 172).

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Archetypal Psychology and Reversion

Portrait of Michal Choromanski, by Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz

Archetypal psychology holds that, when dealing with a psychological breakdown, one must “see through” the symptoms, and examine the mythological material that underlies the event. Assuming the “psychological sickness is an enactment of a pathologizing fantasy, archetypal psychology proceeds to search for the archai, the governing principles or root metaphors of the fantasy” (Hillman, Re-visioning 99). Hillman borrows, here, from Plotinus’ idea of epistrophe, or reversion.

Archetypal psychology would attempt to lead the pathologizing into meaning through resemblance with an archetypal background following the principle stated by Plotinus, “All knowing comes by likeness,”…the idea that all things desire to return to the archetypal originals from which they are copies and from which they proceed (ibid.).

Reversion “connects an event to its image, a psychic process to its myth, a suffering of the soul to the imaginal mystery expressed therein” (Hillman, Dream 4). This is a phenomenological process where one asks the image to reveal its archetypal foundations, to which god or goddess it belongs. One need not necessarily be an expert in Greek mythology. The archetypes arise in most world mythologies, as Joseph Campbell so aptly demonstrated. As a prerequisite, one should, however, be schooled in the manner in which the archetypes manifest themselves, be it in Greek mythology, Norse mythology, or any other foundational mythology. It just so happens that Greek mythology is very well suited to our Western mindset, since it is the substructural mythology of all Western culture.

This method was Hillman’s preference over Jung’s general idea of seeing psychological events through the eyes of opposites. Of that theory, Hillman says,

…it’s too mechanical. It presents all soul events within a compensatory system of pairs: mind and body, ego and world, spirit and instinct, conscious and unconscious, inner and outer, and so on interminably. But soul events are not part of a general balancing system or a polar energy system or a binary information system. Soul events are not parts of any system. They are not reactions and responses to other sorts of events at the opposite end of any fulcrum. They are independent of the tandems in which they are placed, inasmuch as there is an independent primacy of the imaginal that creates its fantasies autonomously, ceaselessly, spontaneously. Myth-making is not compensatory to anything else; nor is soul-making (Hillman, Re-Visioning 100).

Most of Hillman’s work was brought forth using the process of reversion. He tackled several notoriously difficult issues by deliteralizing and attempting to return the pathologized images back to their archetypal sources. I am thinking here of his book, Suicide and the Soul, where he mythologized the pathological image of wanting to die as a metaphor for the desire to put an end to one sort of existence, and the wish to begin another. In Dream and the Underworld, he dealt with the connection between dreams and death, plunging headlong into the source of dreams, the Underworld. Reversion was Hillman’s primary method for treating patients, for writing books, and most importantly, for soul-making.


Works Cited

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

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

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Polytheism in Archetypal Psychology

Creation of the World, by Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, Public Domain

Archetypal psychology is not interested in the integration of the multiple psychic persons to a unified Self, as in Jungian theory. The soul is polytheistic, according to this view. To allow each autonomous Being to have its own place, no attempt should be made to gather them into a central self. The Anima Mundi is diffused throughout Nature, where all animatter is specked with fiery sparks of divinity. As fiery, orange scintillae spark upward from a campfire into a night sky, so do the light-filled blazings of Soul permeate throughout the psyche, symbolized by the innumerable stars that dot the heavens. These are the Archetypal Powers worshiped by ancient civilizations. They do not desire to be centralized. It is contra naturam. Rather, it is better to discover which god is owed its due by dealing with the fragmented messages that arise from the unconscious, alerting us to their presence. These messages come in dreams, symptoms, complexes, illnesses, fantasies, etc.

James Hillman, founder of archetypal psychology, writes that archetypal psychology would

…accept the multiplicity of voices, the Babel of the anima and animus, without insisting upon unifying them into one figure, and accept too the dissolution process into diversity as equal in value to the coagulation process into unity. The pagan gods and goddesses would be restored to their psychological domain (Hillman 39).

Each god and goddess have their particular qualities and characteristics. Forcing them into an abstract unity diminishes their valuable idiosyncrasies. These Beings are Images. Images have a multiplicity of meanings, so shoving them into one personality called the Self devalues their place in the scheme of Nature. As an example, Hillman gives us a brief account of how a bout of depression would be dealt with:

Depression, say, may be led into meaning on the model of Christ and his suffering and resurrection; it may through Saturn gain the depth of melancholy and inspiration, or through Apollo server to release the blackbird of prophetic insight. From the perspective of Demeter depression may yield awareness of the mother-daughter mystery, or, through Dionysus, we may find depression a refuge from the excessive demands of the ruling will (Hillman 40).

You see how rich and valuable the insight is if this method is used. In this way, consciousness “circulate(s) among a field of powers. Each god has his due as each complex deserves its respect in its own right” (ibid.).

Our Western notion of upward progress through hierarchical phases, inspired by monotheistic theology, brought about the idea that there is a target to aim for, i.e. integration into a Self. The problem is, though, this is not the way Nature works.

Hillman might look at the thousands of divisions of Christianity, for example, and probably say it was therapeutic. He might say that the many complexes must be cared for, hence the many, many schisms. In order to care for the soul, the many must be recognized and nurtured.

In Jungian theory, to integrate the various complexes, one must withdraw the projections. But, even Jung himself admitted,

The individual ego is much too small, its brain much too feeble, to incorporate all the projections withdrawn from the world. Ego and brain burst asunder in the effort; the psychiatrist calls it schizophrenia (qtd. by Hillman 41).

When dealing with psychological breakdown, Jungians might say mandalas, as images of unity, could compensate the many complexes by bringing about order from chaos. Archetypal psychology would counter with its idea of reversion, which I will discuss in the next article.

Works Cited

Hillman, James. A Blue Fire. Ed. Thomas Moore. New York: Harper, 1989.


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Impediments to Soul-Making

El Abrazo de la Noche, by Daniel Valcarce

The soul’s tendency to pathologize, to fall apart, is absolutely crucial to soul-making. In our culture, with its positive thinking, extreme fitness advocates, diet fads, and pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstrap philosophy, you would think we were the healthiest and most blessed people in the world. But it’s just the opposite. We fall apart just like every other human being. Our culture views pathology as evil in some sense, to be shunned. Let’s be truthful, however. Pathologizing is as much a part of our lives as waking and sleeping. We see ourselves as failures if we fall into calamity of some sort, be it ill health, financial ruin, or a bout of depression. In reality, pathologizing occurs in all of our lives at one time or another.

In depth psychology, much wisdom is gained from the study of pathologizing. Psychologist Erik Erikson once wrote, “Pathography remains the traditional source of psychoanalytic insight” (Identity and the Life Cycle, p. 122).  James Hillman said, “The insights of depth psychology derive from souls in extremis, the sick, suffering, abnormal, and fantastic conditions of psyche” (Revisioning Psychology, p. 55). We all experience these extreme states; it is part of the human condition.

Hillman defines pathologizing as

…the psyche’s autonomous ability to create illness, morbidity, disorder, abnormality, and suffering in any aspect of its behavior and to experience and imagine life through this deformed and afflicted perspective ( ibid. p. 57).

Hillman’s idea is that we begin to “see through” our suffering to what it is trying to say about the soul through the pathological event, and what the soul itself is saying. This is a phenomenological approach, taking the image of the pathological event as it appears, and allowing it to bring forth what is behind the event. Archetypal psychology looks for a god behind the pathology, an autonomous being of the psyche that demands to be recognized.

Since the inception of modern psychology, there have been roadblocks thrown in the way of allowing pathological images to speak. These are impediments to the soul-making process. The following ideas, which I borrow from Hillman’s book, Revisioning Psychology, form impediments that stand in the way of the crucial necessity of the soul’s pathologizing nature.

The first such idea Hillman deals with is Nominalism, or as he calls it, “nominalistic denial” (p. 58). In the early days of modern psychology, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was stylish to attempt to classify psychological disorders in a rational and orderly manner. This is when many of the familiar psychological terms were coined, such as schizophrenia, alcoholism, claustrophobia, psychopathology, etc. In an attempt to classify illnesses in an objective, rational manner, the subjective person who suffered was ignored. Such an approach may work for the objects of scientific study, but the study of the soul is an entirely different thing. Hillman writes,

Labels like “psychopath” or “manic-depressive,” while bringing intellectual clarity also seal off in closed jars the content of what is named, and the person so named is relegated to a shelf marked “abnormal psychology” (ibid. p. 61).

The second “style of denial” Hillman deals with is that of nihilism. The point here is that, in the “language game called psychopathology,” diagnoses of abnormal psychology, since they now consist of empty, meaningless words, are simply thrown out. “There are no neuroses, only cases;  no cases, only persons in situations…” (ibid. p. 62). Hillman points the finger at existentialism, and, in particular, at philosopher, Karl Jaspers. Jaspers’ critique of psychopathology resulted in the rejection of it as a viable field by many of his followers because they didn’t take the time to “sort it through.”  Hillman names Michel Foucault and Ronald Laing as two thinkers who completely deny there is any value at all in psychopathology. They would even do away with psychiatry altogether.

The third impediment to soul-making is the idea of transcendence. Here, Hillman directs his critique at humanistic psychology. Humanistic psychology idealizes man, “sweeping his pathologies under the carpet” (ibid. p. 64).

Unlike the terms of professional psychopathology, these resonate with a positive glow: health, hope, courage, love, maturity, warmth, wholeness; it speaks of the upward-growing forces of human nature which appear in tenderness and openness and sharing and which yield creativity, joy, meaningful relationships, play, and peaks. We find the same one-sidedness in its goals, such as freedom, faith, fairness, responsibility, commitment. Besides the fact that its notion of growth is simplistic, of nature romantic, and love, innocent–for it presents growth without decay, nature without catastrophes or inert stupidity, and love without possession–besides all this, its idea of the psyche is naive if not delusional” (ibid. p. 65).

Hillman further criticizes humanistic psychology for being “shadowless, a psychology without depth, whose deep words remain shallow because transcendence is its aim” (ibid.). Hillman has the psychology of Abraham Maslow, et al. in mind here.

Attention is also turned to the transcendent teachings of the East, that have so pervaded our culture since the 1960’s. Eastern teachings, many times, view human pathologizing as “evidence of the lower, unactualized rungs of the ladder. Meditate, contemplate, exercise through them and away from them, but do not dwell there for insight” (ibid. p. 66). This attitude says that

Psychopathology in and for itself is not an authentic expression of the soul’s divinity. Divinity is up at the peaks, not in the swamps of our funk, not in the sludge of depression and anxiety…” (ibid.).

Hillman admits that his take on Eastern teachings derives from the manner in which they are taught by Westerners. In their native soil, they are “rooted in the thick yellow loam of richly pathologized imagery–demons, monsters, grotesque Goddesses, tortures, and obsenities” (ibid. p. 67). He says,

The archetypal content of Eastern doctrines as experienced through the archetypal structures of the Western psyche becomes a major and systematic denial of pathologizing (ibid.).

The soul’s pathologizing is a natural occurrence. To deny it, is to deny soul.

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Protean Soul


The myth of Proteus powerfully  displays the nature of Soul, exhibiting various archetypal faces. Drawn from the earliest Greek legends, Proteus appears as an old sea-god, Poseidon’s right-hand man, so to speak. He was said to be Poseidon’s shepherd of sea-beasts. According to Homer, he could see through all the depths of the sea. If one were to ensnare him, and, without releasing him, endure his shape-shifting tricks to the end, Proteus would reveal great knowledge of the present and future.

This is what happened to Menelaus. He had been told by Idothea, daughter of Proteus, about the Old Man of the Sea, that he could discover the information he sought by laying in wait and capturing Proteus when he arose from the waves, interestingly, at noon, when the sun is in mid-heaven. Noon is a liminal time, perfect for illumination from the unconscious. The gods seem to prefer appearing at the two liminal times of day, noon and midnight. Idothea taught Menelaus Proteus’ tricks so he would be well prepared when the time came to grab him. So, Idothea led him and three of his men to the place where Proteus would emerge from the sea. Idothea said to Menelaus,

First he will look over all his seals, and count them; then, when he has seen them and tallied them on his five fingers, he will go to sleep among them, as a shepherd among his sheep. The moment you see that he is asleep seize him; put forth all your strength and hold him fast, for he will do his very utmost to get away from you. He will turn himself into every kind of creature that goes upon the earth, and will become also both fire and water; but you must hold him fast and grip him tighter and tighter, till he begins to talk to you and comes back to what he was when you saw him go to sleep; then you may slacken your hold and let him go; and you can ask him which of the gods it is that is angry with you, and what you must do to reach your home over the seas (The Odyssey, Book IV, by Homer; translated by Samuel Butler).

Proteus represents the soul. During the Renaissance, the myth of Proteus was one of the most popular tales bespeaking the ambiguous nature and many visages of  the soul. The figure of Proteus is a container for all the various archetypes of the unconscious. James Hillman writes,

Man’s Protean nature derives from inherent polyvalence  of the psyche, which includes the grotesque, the vicious, and the pathological. Inasmuch as a mythical image is a containing presence, a means of giving form and sense to fantasy and behavior, the Protean idea could keep the soul’s many daimones in inherent relation (Hillman 203).

Jung believed the image of Proteus to be a “personification of the unconscious,” (Jung 216). He also says that Proteus “behaves…like a revolving image that cannot be grasped” (ibid.). This reminds me of my use of the image of the maelstrom to symbolize the nature of the soul.

As Homer’s story continues, Menelaus says,

We waited the whole morning and made the best of it, watching the seals come up in hundreds to bask upon the sea shore, till at noon the old man of the sea came up too, and when he had found his fat seals he went over them and counted them. We were among the first he counted, and he never suspected any guile, but laid himself down to sleep as soon as he had done counting. Then we rushed upon him with a shout and seized him; on which he began at once with his old tricks, and changed himself first into a lion with a great mane; then all of a sudden he became a dragon, a leopard, a wild boar; the next moment he was running water, and then again directly he was a tree, but we stuck to him and never lost hold… (The Odyssey, Book IV, by Homer; translated by Samuel Butler).

The soul is, at times, very elusive. We try and understand our lives, our dreams, our misfortunes, but the ultimate meaning behind these things is difficult, if not impossible, to grasp. We continue to strive, however, realizing that the soul is a deep mystery. The many Protean faces manifest themselves in our dreams, in our daily activities, in our infirmities, and in all aspects of our lives.

Menelaus was able to hold on to Proteus until his shape-shifting had ceased. Then, Proteus gave him the information he sought. The soul contains the knowledge of all things. If we hold fast to the image, we will discover great riches in the depths of the soul.

Works Cited

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

Jung, C.G. Aion. trans. R.F.C. Hull. Priceton: Bollingen, 1959.


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