A Framework for Life

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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: http://mythicdreams.org/ritual-as-organization-of-mythological-symbols/#sthash.6CXtRD3S.dpuf
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: http://mythicdreams.org/ritual-as-organization-of-mythological-symbols/#sthash.6CXtRD3S.dpuf
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: http://mythicdreams.org/ritual-as-organization-of-mythological-symbols/#sthash.6CXtRD3S.dpuf
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Polytheism in Archetypal Psychology

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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

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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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Alchemy: Nigredo

Only in a physically reduced worldview, a worldview reduced to and by physics, can black be called a non-color, an absence of color, a deprivation of light (Hillman 1553).

What is it in the human psyche that views the color black as somehow evil? We associate black with evil, with death, with the morbid and the macabre. Think of how many examples there are in our culture, our language, our phrases, and our art of black representing the negative, the corrupt, the hideous, and the malevolent. We contrast it with the purity and holiness of the color white since white represent the white light of God and all his holiness. The properties we ascribe to white are absent in black. Black ends up being the privation of white, as the Church Fathers believed evil to be the privation of good.

In his book, Alchemical Psychology, James Hillman says the distinction between the two colors arose in the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries, the so-called Age of Light, where Reason was also coupled with the color white (ibid.). Hillman makes a stunning statement concerning European and American racism that, I must admit, had never really registered with me before:

Northern European and American racism may have begun in the moralization of color terms. Long before any English-speaking adventurer touched the shores of West Africa, fifteenth-century meanings of “black” included: “deeply stained with dirt; soiled; foul; malignant, atrocious, horrible, wicked; disastrous, baneful, sinister … ” When the first English-speaking sailors spied natives on West African shores, they called these people “black” (ibid.).

Why else would this have occurred, if not for the moralization of a color that appears many times in Nature? But why would the disdain for the color black ever arise in the first place? Apparently, the first time the word, “white,” was used to describe an ethnic group was in 1604, according to Hillman (ibid.). By this time, sailors had already traveled to what they later called  the “dark continent” and had attached all the stigma that had been linked with black to the inhabitants they met there.

 But this phenomenon was not unique to Western culture.

Disdain for black is not only contemporary, Western, and English. The color black in the Greek world, and in African languages also, carried meanings contrasting with white and red, and included not only the fertility of the earth and the mystery of the underworld, but also disease, suffering, labor, sorcery, and bad luck (ibid.).

Colors have always had symbolic significance in human cultures, but when white became associated with Caucasian Christianity, then those that didn’t fit into this group became laden with assumptions of evil, dishonesty, and disgust.

This is the working of a a very ancient archetype. Undoubtedly, unconsciousness is associated with black and consciousness with white, at least for the civilization of the past six to eight thousand years. It is indelibly etched in the human psyche. It is deeply connected to Nature, to the rising and setting of the Sun, day and night. We wake, we sleep. And sometimes we sleep the blackest of sleep, death. Death is the ultimate unconsciousness. 

In alchemy, black (nigredo) is the first stage in the magnum opus. The nigredo state is accomplished by work; it is not the original state of the soul, the prima materia. It is something that one has come to, and is a signal that one is ready to begin the journey. Just as coal has been worked upon by Nature to produce its black state, so is the nigredo soul a metamorphosis in progress. To get to this black condition, the soul has been working. It is in this condition that the real process begins.

How does one get to the nigredo state? In the language of alchemy, it is brought on by putrefactio and mortificatio, putrefaction and mortification. The original alchemical substances are subjected to these two processes to produce a blackened mass lacking all cohesion. Putrefaction is falling apart, decomposing. Mortification is a grinding down into smaller and smaller particles, to overwhelmingly punish and destroy. These two processes speak to the total breakdown of anything that is solid in one’s life. This is the soul pathologizing. It is a necessary step, even initiatory, that will eventually bring the gleam of gold to the soul. Hillman writes,

We can begin to see – through a glass darkly – why the color black is condemned to be a “non-color.” It carries the meanings of the random and the formless. Like a black hole, it sucks into it and makes vanish the fundamental security structures of Western consciousness. By absenting color, black prevents phenomena from presenting their virtues. Black’s deconstruction of any positivity – experienced as doubt, negative thinking, suspicion, undoing, valuelessness – explains why the nigredo is necessary to every paradigm shift (Hillman 1626).

Moreover, the nigredo state corresponds to Nietzsche’s assertion that nihilism is a necessary state one must arrive at before transformation is possible. I wrote about this recently in Nihilism as a Precursor to Transformation. The breakdown of all meaning is without a doubt one of the best examples of the nigredo. The soul brings one to this place of brokenness for a very good reason. In the blackest depths of the earth are where diamonds are born.

 

Works Cited

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

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