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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Petrarch’s Epiphany

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Petrarch and Laura, by Nicaise De Keyzer (1842)

The man who most likely was responsible for initiating the European Renaissance, Francesco Petrarca (20 July 1304 – 19 July 1374), better known as Petrarch, fell in love with Soul on April 6, 1327, when his eyes fell upon a beautiful young girl named Laura:

It was on that day when the sun’s ray
was darkened in pity for its Maker,
that I was captured, and did not defend myself,
because your lovely eyes had bound me, Lady (The Canzoniere)

Petrarch never had a relationship with this young woman, but he carried her in his heart the remainder of his days. In her, he realized the beauty and truth of Soul. This is, of course, what Jung called the anima archetype, that unconscious feminine Person that men possess within them.

Just prior to the period we know as the Renaissance, it is reasonable to assume there was a tremendous perturbation of unconscious forces stirring. The Church had focused for so long on Aristotelian philosophy and theology, and had increased their control on culture to the point where Soul had been quiesced. Effectively, culture had been de-souled and de-imaginalized.

In 1333, Petrarch found and copied a manuscript of Cicero’s Pro Archia that gave impetus to the coming Renaissance re-souling of culture. The manuscript contained a passage that was a defense of poetry and letters:

Haec studia adolescentiam alunt, senectutem oblectant, secundas res ornant, adversis perfugium ac solacium praebent, delectant domi, non impediunt foris, pernoctant nobiscum, peregrinantur, rusticantur. (Translation: “These studies sustain youth and entertain old age, they enhance prosperity, and offer a refuge and solace in adversity; they delight us when we are at home without hindering us in the wider world, and are with us at night, when we travel and when we visit the countryside” (Pro Archia, para. 16).

Cicero is referring to the study of books: literature, poetry, philosophy, the humanities. Petrarch adopted Cicero’s idea of studia humanitatis as one worthy for his day and age. Humanitas is nowadays associated with the term, humanism, but this was not the meaning it held during the Renaissance. What Petrarch and those who followed him meant by it was simply the study of classical Greek and Roman literature. These studies moved their souls to deep wells of creativity. James Hillman claims that “from the very beginning in Petrarch the inner content of the materials was the mythical persons and ideas from pre-Christian polytheistic world (Hillman 194).  Furthermore, he says,

This humanitas was in fact an exercise of imagination, an exploration and discipline of the imaginal, whether through science, magic, study, love, art, or voyages.  It sought the development of the imaginative mind and its power of imaginative understanding, in contradistinction to both the theological mind of Church philosophy and the feeling heart of mendicant and monastic Church orders (Hillman 195).

The Renaissance, in essence a tremendous effluence of imagination from the wellspring of the unconscious, was brought to the surface by the rediscovery of classical literature. In large part, this consisted of the study of pagan myths; the stories of the Gods and Goddesses of classical Greece and Rome. These beings arose, once again, in the conscious minds of many, and much beauty was brought forth.

Hillman believes the Renaissance study of the ancient scholars was believed to be “care of the soul,” or, effectively, psychotherapy (ibid.).  Apparently, Petrarch made the classical era an imaginal space to which, in his studies, he was transported. There, he experienced the many figures of classical literature, and thus enriched his soul and the soul of his time.

Petrarch is said to be the first modern man. Hillman says this means he was the first psychological man. His famous ascent up Mount Ventoux in April, 1336 is considered by many to be the beginning of the Renaissance, but his descent was actually the starting point. By descending back down into the valley, he symbolically descends into his own soul, for he admits, “Nothing is admirable but the Soul.”

Addendum: In our day, the study of the humanities is ridiculed as a waste of time. Many colleges and universities are closing their humanities departments so there will be more resources to teach mathematics, science, and engineering. This is a horrible mistake, for this always results in the degradation of culture. We choose this path at our own peril.


Works Cited

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

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Thoughts on Jungian Individuation


Since it has been many years now since I have delved into Jung’s idea of individuation, I thought it might be nice to spend an evening allowing Jung’s words to refresh my memory. In the early nineties, Jung’s ideas became the seeds within me that would burgeon into what I now consider to be an ever-spiraling soul-house.

The concept of individuation plays a large role in our psychology. In general, it is the process by which individual beings are formed and differentiated; in par­ticular, it is the development of the psychological individual (q.v.) as a being distinct from the general, collective psy­chology. Individuation, therefore, is a process of differentiation (q.v.), having for its goal the development of the individual personality (Jung, Types 448).

Jung’s theory of individuation is a very Western approach to psychology. Individualism is a mainstay of Western culture because, according to the general Western consensus, the individual alone has the ability to reason, and the ability to choose freely. Of course, these days we are accustomed to discussing a collective consciousness, which could, I suppose, point to a kind of collective reasoning. But Jung claims that individuation is a process that distinguishes a person from the collective. He also claims it is a process that has a telos, or a goal. This makes me uncomfortable.

I am vexed by stereotypical Western notions like linearity. I have written before about John Climacus’ notion of the scala paradisi, which I am not fond of.  I wonder how much this image had to do with the West’s obsession with linearity? I’m sure the idea was around much earlier than Climacus,but he seemed to popularize it to a certain extent.

Jung stresses that individuation must not be understood as a linear development, but as a “circumambulation of the self” (Jung, Memories 196), that is, the movement is toward the center, which Jung says is the Self. One of the symbols in alchemy which represents this process is the Ouroboros, the serpent which devours its own tail. This means that the process is circular and self-contained, according to Jung. Still, though, the idea of a telos, an end-point for the psyche, this mystical center, bothers me considerably.

In Jung’s thinking, the path to individuation is characterized by the constant conflict of opposites, which, of course, produces psychic energy. One must bring the opposites into complete union in order to succeed in individuation. This means that the conscious and unconscious become integrated and assimilate the ego, after which the Self emerges. In alchemy, this union is known as the coniunctio. The coniunctio is symbolized in various ways in alchemy. One such symbol shows a king and queen in a hermaphroditic union. In Jung’s mind, this represents the union of opposites, and, more specifically, the union of anima and animus, the male and female aspects of the unconscious. Jung claims that these must be integrated in order to achieve individuation.

One problem I have with Jung’s theory today is this: back in my early days of reading Jung, I still believed that a person developed gradually, linearly, until, at some point in one’s life, the process would be complete and integration would be achieved. All projections would be withdrawn and life would be rosy. I was fragmented and I yearned for wholeness. I think I was more of a humanist back then. I believed strongly in the possibility of perfecting one’s life and human potentiality. I know that Jung never meant the process to be thought of as linear, but I was stuck in the mud of my culture.

So, Jung believes the goal of individuation is to pull all the fragmented aspects of the psyche together into one complete whole. But what if fragmentation is itself a product of individuation? That would certainly throw a monkey-wrench into the works.

The complexes that will not be integrated force recognition of their autonomous power. Their archetypal cores will not serve the single goal of monotheistic wholeness (Hillman, Fire 40-41).

The idea of the Self seems to be Jung’s inclination to monotheism. I must agree with Hillman concerning Jung’s theory of individuation. “We are compelled to step away from an ideal norm of man and a statistical norm of man” (Hillman, Revisioning 88-89). There are many personalities within us. Our dreams reveal many sides, many beings. That’s just naturally the way we are wired. There is no integrated human who is perfectly whole. This is a fantasy of the heroic Western ego.


Works Cited

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

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

Jung, C.G. Psychological Types. trans. H.G. Baynes. Princeton: Bollingen, 1971.

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

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Search for the Gods

From Thoughts of Alchemy, by Boris Margo

Science tells us that, at least in quantum mechanics, the observer must take into account the observed. This is evident in the double-slit experiment, where matter and light exhibit characteristics of both waves and particles. This tells us that observer and observed are in no way independent of each other. Or, as Werner Heisenberg said, “separation of the observer from the phenomenon to be observed is no longer possible” (Heisenberg 231).

The old alchemists used various ores in their work. They considered “metals as seeds” (Hillman 2522), lead being a seed of Saturn, copper a seed of Venus, silver a seed of the Moon, etc. These ores were not understood as objects separate from the imaginative minds of the observers. Just like seeds, they visualized them as possessing “encoded intentionality” (Hillman 2527), the innate tendency to fulfill their destinies, metamorphosing into what they were intended to become. These metals were viewed as ensouled entities, or what I would refer to as animaterial entities.

The root meaning of the word, metal, comes from the Greek word, metallao, which means, “to search.” The alchemists were searching, albeit sometimes unconsciously, for the gods in the metals they used in their operations. Hillman says, the “metals act as seeds forcing the mind to bestir itself with inquiry” (Hillman 2538-2539). Just as there is a god for every planet, there is also a god for each metal used in alchemy.

So, the gods, having been banished from our minds millennia ago, exist in our lives, nevertheless. They took various forms, one being subterranean substances that mankind considered valuable, such as gold and silver. Most assuredly, the gods are powerful forces in the collective unconscious of humanity. When they were repressed, they were driven into the nether regions, and because of projections, down into the depths of the earth. The alchemists sought them in the various metals they worked their processes upon. They saw each “seed” as being the perfection of the thing. For example, the seed of an oak tree contains its perfect state, a fully mature oak. Just so, the seed of Saturn within lead contains its perfection: coldness and heaviness. The seed of the Moon within silver contains whiteness, swiftness, and lunification. But, furthermore, according to the ancient teachings, all things contain the seeds of all other things, so lead also contains the seed of gold, which it can become if worked upon and nourished properly. All metals, according to the alchemists, are in a constant state of evolution, ever progressing toward becoming gold.

The gods are in our midst, if we seek them, but they remain in the depths of earthly affairs if we don’t. The seeds of the gods are within us. If we have understanding of these things and hearken to them, we will evolve and transform into golden vessels of the gods. Their seeds are our perfection.

Works Cited

Heisenberg, Werner. The Representation of Nature in Contemporary Physics’, Symbolism in Religion and Literature (1960), 231. Cited in John J. Stuhr, Philosophy and the Reconstruction of Culture (1993), 139

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

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The Blue Soul



Transformations of the soul, according to alchemy, pass through several different colors. Originally, there were four colors that were described by alchemists as indicating the four primary phases of the process that result in the lapis philosophorum.These are nigredo (black), albedo (white), citrinitas (yellow), and rubedo (red). Other transitional colors were also mentioned, with various meanings.

In this article, I’d like to discuss the color blue. I’ve just read James Hillman’s essay entitled, Alchemical Blue and the Unio Mentalis, and I was amazed. Hillman put into words what I’ve felt about the color blue for years, but could not verbalize it. Blue has always been my favorite color. As a boy, I wore a blue baseball cap. I wear blue clothing more than any other color. I’ve listened to the blues all my life, and have always loved the genre above all others. I even play blues guitar.  The front door of my house is a deep, dark blue that looks almost purple. Unconsciously, I suppose, I’ve always chosen blue over all others.

Hillman writes,

The blue transit between black and white is like that sadness that emerges from despair as it proceeds towards reflection. Reflection here comes from or takes one into a blue distance, less a concentrated act that we do than something insinuating itself upon us as a quiet removal. This vertical withdrawal is also like an emptying out, the creation of a negative capability, a profound listening – already an intimation of silver (Hillman 1836-1838).

Even though blue means the dissolution of the nigredo,  there is still an element of darkness contained therein. Yes, blue brings sadness, but there are deeper elements, as well. Think of the darkness associated with the phrases, “blue murder,” or the black-and-blueness of David Lynch’s film, Blue Velvet. Hillman also mentions “cursing a blue streak,” and the “blue ruin of gin.” Bluebeard is a French folktale where he kills several of his wives. There is more to blue than just sadness. It can be quite dark in its own right. But, even though blue still contains darkness, it is a mellower darkness than the nigredo.

Jungian analyst, Stanton Marlan relates a dream told to him by psychologist, Robert Romanyshyn:

V. and I awaken in a hotel room. It is dark outside, and I am surprised because it feels as if it should be morning. It feels that we have slept and the night has passed. I call the hotel desk to ask the time and someone tells me it is 9 A.M. Then the person says, “Haven’t you heard? Scientists are saying there’s something wrong with the sun.”

In a half waking state, a kind of reverie, the dream seems to continue: I have a sense that the world will be lit by a dark light. I also have the sense that these scientists have determined that there is much less hydrogen (fuel) and/or much less mass to the sun that they had previously expected. The world is going to become increasingly dark and cold.

But then the dark, nearly black light becomes blue/violet/purple. A blue sun, a beautiful aura of blue color bathes the world. I think of the color of the tail of the Peacock in alchemy (qtd. in Marlan 202-203).

The blackest black depression, if endured, transforms into a melancholy blue, signalling the decay of the nigredo, and heralding the appearance of the cauda pavonis, the  Peacock’s Tail, with its many eyes of Argus Panoptes.  Argus was an all-seeing giant who had multiple eyes, some of which stayed awake, and some of which slept. After being slain by Hermes, Hera preserved the eyes of Argus in the peacock’s tail. The colors in the peacock’s tail are many shades of blue. The peacock’s tail suggests reflection upon the world and existence. It also suggests the hypnagogic dreaminess of reality.

Blue as a state of soul is a sigh of despair when one becomes aware of the deep sadness of the world. This bluing signals the subordination of the Ego to other archetypal forces that allow one to see through many eyes.

Works Cited

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

Marlan, Stanton. The Black Sun. Texas A&M University Press. College Station, 2005.

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