The Revelatory Power of the World Soul
In his amazing essay, Anima Mundi: The Return of the Soul to the World, James Hillman reminds us that the World Soul is “that particular soul-spark, that seminal image, which offers itself through each thing in its visible form” (Thought 101). Because of our tendency toward anthropomorphism, we think of the World Soul as some sort of super-entity “above the world encircling it as a divine and remote emanation of spirit, a world of powers, archetypes, and principles transcendent to things” (ibid.), but this is not the case at all. The World Soul presents herself through every animaterial entity as “animated possibility,” her “sensuous presentation as a face bespeaking its interior image” (ibid.). In this manner, the World Soul presents herself to the imagination, her “presence as psychic reality” (ibid.). Everything we experience empirically is filled with soul. “Not only animals and plants ensouled as in the Romantic vision, but soul is given with each thing, God-given things of nature and man-made things of the street” (ibid.).
This is phenomenology on a grand scale, a cosmic “display of self-presenting forms” (Thought 102). But this is beyond phenomenology. This is what Hillman calls “archetypal psychologizing” (Re-visioning 138).
All things show faces, the world not only a coded signature to be read for meaning, but a physiognomy to be faced. As expressive forms, things speak; they show the shape they are in. They announce themselves, bear witness to their presence: “Look, here we are.” They regard us beyond what we may regard them, our perspectives, what we intend with them, and how we dispose of them. This imaginative claim on attention bespeaks a world ensouled. More–our imaginative recognition, the childlike act of imagining the world, animates the world and returns it to soul (Thought 102).
This method of inquiry, archetypal psychologizing, concentrates on the question of “what”, while philosophy would ask “why.” Of course, the scientific method would focus on the question of “how.” Even though the “what” has been asked by thinkers from Aristotle to Husserl, archetypal psychologizing is different in that it goes much further, plumbing the depths of the thing. Hillman says “phenomenology stops short in its examination of consciousness, failing to realize that the essence of consciousness is fantasy images” (Re-Visioning 138). Archetypal psychologizing transposes “the entire operation of phenomenology,” changing it “into the irrational, personified, and psychopathological domain,” taking the question “from the logical to the imaginal” (Re-Visioning 138-139).
In my essay, Images are Prior to Experience, I make the case that “our consciousness is totally dependent upon this vast storehouse of images we call Soul.” Instead of beginning with sensory experience, we should start our search for the elusive “what,” the quiddity of a thing, by allowing the imaginal element of the thing to manifest its chosen image via the World Soul. Initially, there is nothing conceptual about this. Seeing into things is quite different than dissecting them logically. The Anima Mundi, if allowed, will animate the thing with an imaginal presence that can be examined archetypally, eventually resulting in, according to Hillman, the question of “who” (Re-Visioning 139).
By dissolving what into who, we follow one of the main styles of questioning used with the oracles at Delphi and Dodona…Once we know at whose altar the question belongs, then we know better the manner of proceeding (Re-Visioning 139).
This is what Hillman calls “archetypal reversion.” Reversion “connects an event to its image, a psychic process to its myth, a suffering of the soul to the imaginal mystery expressed therein” (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 (see my article, Archetypal Psychology and Reversion).
Hillman, James. Dream and the Underworld. New York: Harper, 1979.
—. Re-Visioning Psychology. New York: Harper Collins, 1975.
—. The Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World. Putnam: Spring, 1992.