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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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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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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Why is Hermes Important?

Return of Persephone, by Frederic Leighton

Hermes, as the World Daimon, plays a crucial role in the lives of all human beings. It is he who is responsible for guiding us through our lives via our individual daimons at his command. Don’t forget, we are not speaking literally here; we are creating mythology. Since there is a correlation between the individual and the collective, microsom and macrocosm,  as above, so below, we can compare the roles of the World Daimon and the various invidual daimons. Their whispers in our ears come to us from Hermes, since he is responsible for guiding our souls  to their ultimate destinies. In fact, he is the guide of the collective soul, the Anima Mundi. In his role as collective psychopompos, he guides the decision-making process of the World Soul. We must have hope that humanity, as a collective, will heed his wisdom.

Hermes is Lord of the Metaxical, the in-between places where we so often travel in life; the neither-here-nor-theres that we so often encounter. It is Hermes that will guide us through these most difficult of places, if we listen to the still, small voice. It is usually just a hint of a whisper. We get so tangled in the affairs of everyday living that we forget many times to listen to those ever-so-slight nudges from inside ourselves. As Richard Stromer writes,

For myself, I think this last aspect of Hermes’ role as guide of souls—his role as the guide into and out of  those passages in our lives which are inherently liminal in nature—is the most powerful one. As someone  who has been dealing for the past several years with the particularly momentous life passage called  “midlife,” I have had considerable opportunity to experience this aspect of Hermes’ energy. As Stein  observes, “at midlife there is a crossing-over from one psychological identity to another” As a consequence, he writes (and I concur), “in our reflecting on the midlife transition and the experience of  liminality within it, the world of Hermes therefore immediately suggests itself as a mythic, archetypal  backdrop” (Hermes as God of Liminality and Guide of Soul, by Richard S. Stromer).

Just as Hermes leads souls to the place of the dead, to Hades, we, too, are sometimes led to the recognition of dead characteristics within ourselves that must be mourned for a time, and then buried forever.


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The World Daimon

It makes sense that the World Daimon is the god, Hermes. The World Daimon, as I proposed in my last article, is a god of many faces, ever changing, mercurial. Hermes has traditionally been called a god of many faces. He is guide of souls and messenger of the gods. Hermes is closely linked to the Anima Mundi, as we are closely linked to our daimones. The relationship between soul and daimon is really that of mirror image.

According to Henry Corbin, the human soul is individuated not through the union with a physical body (as in Aristotle) but by becoming a perfectly polished mirror of its angel in a strictly one-to-one relationship. We realize our virtual angelicity through a progressive illumination attained on earth; we are called, by right of our origin and if we consent, to an angelomorphosis (Robert Avens, The Subtle Realm: Corbin, Sufism, Swedenborg).

Now, think of this mirror relationship on a macrocosmic scale, the World Soul and Hermes are mirror images of one another. The World Soul is individuating Hermes in her role as mediator between spirit and matter. And in our case, on a microcosmic level, our exclusive umbilicus to Being, our daimon, who is guided by Hermes, is our true face. It is that which we are individuating in this animaterial world. I believe the Anima Mundi is Aphrodite. I say this because, from the union of Hermes and Aphrodite emerged Hermaphrodite, the mythical androgyne who holds such an important place in ancient mythology, religion, and alchemy. It symbolizes the culmination of the magnum opus in alchemy, the creation of the lapis philosophorum. Jung claimed the crowned hermaphrodite symbolized the Self that has transcended ego-consciousness. It is the perfect symbol for the relationship of the Anima Mundi and the Daemon Mundi.

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The Changing Face of the Daimon

Guardian Spirit of the Waters, 1878, by
Odilon Redon

For this article,  I am assuming James Hillman’s thesis to be true, that everyone has a personal daimon that accompanies one throughout one’s life. Hillman’s book, Soul’s Code concerns this issue. I also take the words of Marsilio Ficino to be true when he said,

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

For background information on this, read Hillman’s Soul’s Code, if you haven’t already.

Hillman also wrote of the so-called “acorn theory,” where a person’s potentiality, their entelechy, is contained in the soul.  Like the potentiality of an acorn to become an oak, so we possess potentiality in the soul, which can grow into what we are destined to become. One’s daimon, a kind of inner mentor, attempts to guide us to our destiny. In my opinion, the daimon is not a supernatural being, as in Christianity’s belief in a so-called “guardian angel.” The daimon is the same principle that guides a seed, say, a mustard seed, (since Jesus discussed this metaphor) to grow into a tree, wherein the birds of the air seek lodging. It is the entelechy of the entity, the pattern that entities already possess when they come into being. Entelechy was discussed by Aristotle, and I have written about it in an article entitled, The Entelechy of Animatter. On Aristotle’s use of the word, translator Joe Sachs says this:

Entelecheia, as can be seen by its derivation, is a kind of completeness, whereas “the end and completion of any genuine being is its being-at-work” (energeia). The entelecheia is a continuous being-at-work (energeia) when something is doing its complete “work”. For this reason, the meanings of the two words converge, and they both depend upon the idea that every thing’s “thinghood” is a kind of work, or in other words a specific way of being in motion. All things which exist now, and not just potentially, are beings-at-work, and all of them have a tendency towards being-at-work in a particular way which would be their proper and “complete” way (Sachs, Joe (1995), Aristotle’s physics: a guided study).

What I’d like discuss in this article is how the inner mentors, the daimones, change through history, and how this relates to the World Soul and her daimon. Since I follow the Hermetic principle, As above, So below, I take it that the World Soul also has a daimon that guides and cajoles her to her destiny, whatever that may be.

The World Soul is a being-at-work, just as all entities are, and will continue to be a being-at-work until there is a state of completion of earth’s destiny. This earthly telos may be viewed in many different ways. None of us know what the future holds for our world. There is one thing we may be sure of, however. The World Daimon has a changing face.

I have felt the influence of many modes or faces of my daimon. Inspirations, ideas, imaginings, illnesses, problems, all the things that compose my personality. Just as one’s personal daimon, if heeded, guides an individual’s destiny, so the World Daimon (henceforth capitalized) guides the destiny of the Anima Mundi. The World Soul, in turn, metamorphoses to heed the call of her Guide, just as we metamorphose in heeding the call of our daimon. This has been occurring since the moment of the Big Bang, when all animatter exploded into existence. Of course, we have no way of knowing what occurred prior to that moment. We can only speculate.

I see reality as being eternal. We are involved in eternity right now. Eternity doesn’t begin when we die. The Big Bang was probably just one of an infinite number of revitalizations that have occurred throughout eternity. Prior to each Big Bang, there is probably a Big Crunch, where the last universe collapses into itself, and then the cycle begins again. This is the nature of Soul. It is not linear, with a firm beginning and an end. It is cyclical, as is the universe. That is why we see the spiral shape  everywhere in Nature. The spiral is painted across the heavens, as if the universe were an infinite gallery of spiral art.

Let’s look at a few examples of how the World Daimon has changed faces during the course of history. We have good reasons to believe that the Big Bang was the starting point for this present universe. This amazing manifestation of energy was the first face of the World Daimon, or at least the one we are related to in our universe. It is the face of creation, or rather re-creation. Henceforward, the making of the Anima Mundi begins in painful birth-pangs, as this world, according to Keats, is the vale of soul-making. The early earth was a hot, violent place. It was almost all molten due to extreme volcanism and violent collisions with other bodies. After vast amounts of time, the earth eventually became a matrix of life, producing the natural beauty we experience today. Even with worlds, world-souls are led through states of adversity and suffering before achieving greater states of consciousness. The earth has been undergoing profound metamorphosis for billions of years. The Daimon changes faces every time further change is needed, as when the earth had cooled sufficiently to allow water to form, and when the first forms of life appeared around 3.5 billion years ago. Each time a new life form evolved, the Daimon was there, all along, nudging the Anima Mundi toward her destiny.

This is a mythical method of discussing very real and powerful forces in our universe. They are not transcendent; they are very much a part of this cosmos. The Anima Mundi and her Daimon are archetypal powers that our world desperately needs to recognize. In my next article, I will offer what I think is the name of the World Daimon.

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Danger Lurks Below


The supreme danger which threatens individuals as well as whole nations is a psychic danger (Jung 590 ).

We usually think of the unconscious mind as being the source of creativity and blessing for our lives. We have been taught that if we could only become more conscious of what lies in the depths below, we would become more balanced and whole. This is true to a certain extent, but there is a ferociousness in the dark abyss of the unconscious that can rip us to shreds. And this is not the case for individuals only. Human societies are also subject to the volcanic, eruptive fury of the unconscious. We have seen this time and time again throughout history. There is no better example than Hitler and the Holocaust in the 20th century. The once glorious hope of The Enlightenment that Reason would triumph over the irrationality of mankind and bring us to a new age of peace and prosperity has been trampled under by the awful implements of war and atrocity. And for the individual seeking individuation, the notion of a life filled only with goodness and well-being has been shown to be unattainable and naive.

According to Carl Jung,

Reason has proved itself completely powerless, precisely because its arguments have an effect only on the conscious mind and not on the unconscious. The great­est danger of all comes from the masses, in whom the effects of the unconscious pile up cumulatively and the reasonableness of the conscious mind is stifled. Every mass organization is a latent danger just as much as a heap of dynamite is. It lets loose effects which no man wants and no man can stop. It is therefore in the highest degree desirable that a knowledge of psychology should spread so that men can understand the source of the supreme dangers that threaten them. Not by arming to the teeth, each for itself, can the nations defend themselves in the long run from the frightful catastrophes of modern war. The heaping up of arms is itself a call to war. Rather must they recognize those psychic conditions under which the unconscious bursts the dykes of consciousness and overwhelms it (ibid.).

For precisely this reason, humanity has attempted to create certain “alleviating intermediaries” (Safranski) to filter the irruptions of the unconscious into the conscious mind. Yes, these irruptions on a mass scale can come in the form of wars, pandemics, and societal atrocities, and, on an individual level, psychoses and infirmities. The ancients seemed to know more than modern man about creating protections against the ravages of the unconscious. They accomplished this through myth, music, and art. With the advent of The Enlightenment, western man in particular began to view these as mere entertainment. The word, “myth,” even came to mean, in modern parlance, “delusion.” Myth, music, and art are innate, natural filters that mitigate the awesome terrors of the abyss we call the unconscious mind. Humans are hard-wired, so to speak, to utilize these to shield the conscious mind from the unconscious.

Under the category of myth, I would place religion. Religious ritual is one of the most powerful ways ever devised by man to shield the mind from the unconscious. For millennia, humans have engaged in religious ritual, probably unaware of its protective powers. The Catholic Mass was one of the most effective means of warding off the evils that lie in wait to snatch one’s mind away, dragging it down into the Underworld, just as Persephone was dragged down by Hades into the realm of shades. There is something about ritual that most do not understand because of our age of “rationality” and demythologization. Those who still practice the old religions have great understanding of the protective powers of ritual. Typically, Christians, especially Protestants, do not believe or understand this. Most reject imaginal and mythological thinking. Some Catholics and Orthodox still realize it, but this knowledge is waning. Our culture, largely based on science and technology, rejects such thinking. The masses have been conditioned to think this way, but the danger still lurks in the unconscious. The more we ignore it, the more perilous it becomes.

Jung taught us that symbols can be worn out, become obsolete and ineffective. For this reason, much of Christianity has become an ineffective filter for our experiences. We need fresh, new myths that will screen our minds from the damaging effects of the dark unconscious. We need new artistic and musical geniuses that will bestow upon us gifts for the good of the species. We need imagination and creativity!

Art cannot be precisely defined. But, as an attempt to do so, art is unconsciousness made conscious. It is myth made visual, just as music is myth made aural. Art and music come about as close to a universal language as one can get. Great works of art and music are examples of “alleviating intermediaries” placed between the conscious mind and the dark fury of the unconscious to filter unconsciousness to the point where we can, first of all, bear it psychologically, and then benefit from it.

Works Cited

Jung, C. G. The Symbolic Life. The Collected Works of C. G. Jung. (Vol. 18) (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). Princeton: Princeton, 1976.

Safranksi, Rüdiger. Nietzsche, a Philosophical Biography. Tr. Shelley Frisch. New York: Norton, 2002.

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Aquinas and Spinoza: The Concept of God

Throughout recorded history, mankind has envisaged an ultimate being, omnipotent, omniscient, infinite. This being, which we call God, has been described in many different ways, in cultures all over the world. It seems there are as many ideas about God as there are stars in the heavens.

In this article, I will set my sights on the ideas of two very famous Western thinkers concerning the conception of God, these being Thomas Aquinas and Benedictus de Spinoza. Initially, an examination of Aquinas’ views will be undertaken. I will then proceed to Spinoza’s ideas of God. Comparison and contrast will be followed by a few thoughts of my own.

For Aquinas, God is, of course, the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition, the transcendent God of the Bible. The Bible, however, was not the only contributing factor in Aquinas’ thinking. The philosophy of Aristotle also played a major role in the formation of his concept of God. Seeing that Thomas was attempting to synthesize Aristotelian philosophy with Christianity, it is not surprising that Aristotle’s ideas are abundant in his writings. One need only look at the Five Ways, contained in the Summa Theologica, where God looks very similar to Aristotle’s “unmoved mover.”

The Five Ways, or five proofs for God’s existence, give us a good idea of what Aquinas thinks about God. He began by analyzing our everyday experience, such as motion, for example. His Five Ways conclude that God is

  • first mover
  • first efficient cause
  • absolutely necessary and independent being
  • ultimate being and goodness
  • super-intelligent being

But what do these descriptions really tell us about the attributes of God? For the answer to this, Aquinas’ via negativa, or “negative way”, will be used to arrive at some understanding of what Thomas is saying.

First of all, God, as first mover, cannot undergo change from potentiality to actuality, therefore God must be totally actual. From this we can conclude that, since only material things can move from potentiality to actuality, God cannot be material or corporeal, thus God is incorporeal, according to this line of reasoning.

God, as first efficient cause, cannot have a prior cause, therefore God is self-existent. God relies on none other than Himself for His existence (Aquinas believes God is sexless, but is usually referred to in the masculine sense). Since there are no accidents in God (since accidents must have some cause other than themselves), God is His essence.

God, as absolutely necessary and independent being, is similar to the previous argument. God cannot not-be, therefore God’s existence is necessary, not contingent.

According to Aquinas, God, as ultimate being and goodness, cannot be more or less good; God is the supreme Good. God cannot possess more or less being; God is supreme Being and the source of all being.

God, as super-intelligent being, cannot lack knowledge or intelligence, and God is the director of all non-intelligent natural bodies, such as the planets and the stars. Herein, we also see the providence of God.

In addition to these, Aquinas also asserted that God wills Himself, and, In willing Himself, He wills the existence of all creatures. Furthermore, God is the creator, and the Christian doctrine is one of creatio ex nihilo, creation out of nothing.

Spinoza’s God, overall, is radically different. He does not initiate his investigation by reasoning from common, everyday experiences as Thomas did. In his work, The Ethics, Spinoza puts forth a set of definitions from which he proceeds to reason. His definition of God is as follows:

By God, I mean a being absolutely infinite–that is, a substance consisting in infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite essentiality (Spinoza 45).

The entire argument rests on his idea of substance, which he defines as “that which is in itself, and is conceived through itself, in other words, that of which a conception can be formed independently of any other conception” (ibid.). A substance, by this definition, is entirely independent, i.e. it relies on nothing else for its existence. Unlike Aquinas, who draws a distinction between finite substances and infinite substance (God), Spinoza posits a single substance, which he called God. All other things are properties of God, thus meaning, basically, that God is the totality of all things. Hence, Spinoza is espousing a form of pantheism.

Spinoza was critical of some Christian thinkers’ advocation of both a finite and an infinite substance. Aquinas had assumed the two were not “univocally substantial” (Jones 199), meaning that finite beings and God are not substantially the same. Spinoza reasoned that, if finite beings are not substantially the same as God, why, then, are they called substances? He saw this as absurd. A substance, as previously mentioned, is that which has its existence in itself. Spinoza believed that Aquinas put forth this assumption in order to satisfy Christian dogma, for Christianity taught that everything must be dependent on God for its existence, and that certain of these “finite substances” required individuality, viz. humans. This was done to avoid a monistic absorption into an all-encompassing One, such as is found in Hinduism (Jones 200).

Spinoza also believed that more than one substance inferred more than one universe, and this was nonsense to him. He believed our universe is infinite itself. There is no need to pass beyond it to discover God, as Aquinas taught in asserting a transcendent God (ibid.). 

Although Spinoza equated God with Nature, he does make a distinction between substance and the properties of that substance. A property of substance is anything that is not substance. There are two kinds of properties, which Spinoza called mode and attribute. Spinoza said that mode is the “modifications of substance, or that which exists in, and is conceived through, something other than itself” (Spinoza 45). Attribute is “that which the intellect perceives as constituting the essence of substance” (ibid.). Descartes had posited thinking substance and material substance. In Spinoza, these become attributes of the one substance, God. Aquinas put forth a multitudinous array of substances, but with Spinoza these become modes of God. God possesses infinite attributes, but thought and extension are the only ones we can know, these being basic determinations of the one substance. Modes are individual, particular modifications of substance. “What in earlier language was called the world, Spinoza now calls the modes of God’s attributes” (Stumpf 242). God is expressed in Nature as different modes of either thought or extension, but everything is God, nevertheless–Deus sive Natura.

There is little similarity between Aquinas’ God and Spinoza’s God. However, Spinoza was, indeed, referring to God as ultimate reality and truth, a tradition, according to W.T. Jones, that can be traced back thousands of years, even before Plato (Jones 202). Aquinas, and all other Christian philosopher, did the same, even though their views were vastly different from Spinoza’s. Metaphysically and epistemologically, Spinoza’s complex web of reality functioned the same as Aquinas’ infinite and transcendent substance, in that God is the source of existence for whatever there is, and that He is the font of all infinite truth. That is about as far as it goes in discussing similarities between the two men, except maybe to say that both offered so-called proofs for God’s existence, and that both conceptions of God seem to be ingenious solutions to philosophical problems.

There are many contrasts. I will only touch on a few of the most obvious. First, Aquinas eschewed any form of pantheism. Being a Christian theologian, he believed in a deity that transcends this space-time universe. He held that God is both transcendent and immanent, this being the teaching of the Church Fathers. Spinoza’s equation of God and Nature is heresy in his eyes. This is probably the most glaring difference. All others will stem from this source. For example, we have already discussed the distinction Thomas made between finite substance and infinite substance (God). Spinoza consider this absurd, as previously mentioned. The Christian God of Aquinas is a loving Father who sympathizes with the suffering of His creatures. Spinoza’s God is a system of cold, abstract assertions, a vast geometrical network of “implicatorily related” truths (Jones 194). For Aquinas, God is the creator of the world. Spinoza claims that a God who wills to create would be limited, and therefore not perfect.

In my own thinking, I tend to shy away from any attempt whatsoever to claim what God is. I am more comfortable with the via negativa. In this, I respect Aquinas, but do not share his dogmatic assertions on the nature of God. I also do not believe one can arrive at true knowledge of God through rational means. I think there is truth to be found in all cultures, religions, and philosophies.

Both conceptions of God are rather cold and abstract for my taste. Whatever ultimate truth may be, I hate to think of it as being so impassive. Aquinas speaks of the stars and planets as non-intelligent natural bodies. I reject this. In my thinking, all natural bodies possess soul in some way, and thus have some sort of intelligence, what Aristotle called entelechy.

Honestly, I do not find either man’s God as being very intelligible. I suppose Aquinas’ God is more comprehensible, simply because our culture is so saturated with Christian teachings. Notwithstanding, I find his teaching quite unpalatable. Spinoza is too systematic, as is Aquinas for that matter. It strikes me as pointless to attempt to treat God or reality systematically. I have the same problem with Hegel.

If knowledge of God does indeed stem from ratiocination, then Spinoza has a firm grasp of the matter. He seems to carry things to their logical conclusion much better than Aquinas, who is biased by Church dogma. I am thinking here of Aquinas’ failure to see the contradiction involved in distinguishing between finite and infinite substance. Of course, Spinoza was not under theological constraints, as Thomas was.

Spinoza is to be commended for his free-thinking. It must have taken much courage to break with the Jewish orthodoxy of his fathers to go in search of truth on his own. That is most likely the path to God, in my estimation, unlike Aquinas, who wrote under the watchful eyes of the Roman Catholic censors. I wish Spinoza would have realized that human reason does not seem to get us any closer to knowing God.

If humanity ever arrives at true and certain knowledge of God, which I seriously doubt will ever occur, then it will be through individuals who are able to express themselves freely, without fear of reprisal from authorities. There is no other way.

Works Cited

Jones, W.T. Hobbes to Hume. Fort Worth: Harcourt, 1969.

Spinoza, Benedictus de. The Ethics. New York: Dover, 1955.

Stumpf, Samuel Enoch. Socrates to Sartre: A History of Philosophy. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1982.

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Entelechy and the Will to Power

Ship’s Motif, by Alfred Jensen (1859-1935)
In The Entelechy of Animatter, I presented my ideas concerning how the soul serves as the entelechy of all things. Entelechy is the realization of potential. In Aristotle’s thought, soul gives form to matter, thus bringing about the actions necessary for the potential within a thing to come into realization, to be what it is meant to be. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said, “Entelechy is inside of you, like the butterfly is inside of the caterpillar…”

Form and matter, as in Aristotle, cannot be separated; they can only be distinguished. In other words, they are a holistic entity that I have called animaterial. Anima, or entelechy, provides form for the material. In this way, all things come-to-be to fulfill their destinies.

Nietzsche’s idea of the will to power is similar. I interpret “will” to be the entelechy, the coded blueprint within all humans that brings them to complete realization, but not a place of stasis. We are forever in flux. “Power” is the ability to operate in the earth as a creator of one’s life and one’s values, completely free from any external authority. Complete freedom, however, does not mean Utopia. These humans are engaged with suffering, the body, and the earth. They have willed their souls to grow the seeds within until they become towering redwood trees.

With great passion, Nietzsche writes,

For believe me! — the secret for harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment is: to live dangerously! Build your cities on the slopes of Vesuvius! Send your ships into uncharted seas! Live at war with your peers and yourselves! Be robbers and conquerors as long as you cannot be rulers and possessors, you seekers of knowledge! Soon the age will be past when you could be content to live hidden in forests like shy deer! At long last the search for knowledge will reach out for its due: — it will want to rule and possess, and you with it (The Gay Science, sec. 283)!

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The Benefits of Boredom

L’ennui, by Gaston de la Touche

In 1964, Isaac Asimov peered down through the corridors of time to 2014 and made the following prognostication:

…mankind will suffer badly from the disease of boredom, a disease spreading more widely each year and growing in intensity. This will have serious mental, emotional and sociological consequences, and I dare say that psychiatry will be far and away the most important medical specialty in 2014. The lucky few who can be involved in creative work of any sort will be the true elite of mankind, for they alone will do more than serve a machine (Visit to the World’s Fair of 2014, New York Times, August 14, 1964).

Asimov believed that extreme boredom would be the result of the over-automation of society. This, however, has not occurred as quickly as he surmised. He was correct that boredom is “spreading more widely each year and growing in intensity,” but it is not due to over-automation. Rather it is because we have lost our souls and need to find them again.

What causes boredom? Friedrich Nietzsche did not believe it was a disease. Rather, he believed that the “flight from boredom is the mother of all art” (qtd. in Safranski 23). In other words, the experience of boredom is the impetus, sine qua non, in the creation of art. The imagination is stimulated by the onset of boredom and subsequently devises creative work to alleviate it.

For thinkers and all sensitive spirits, boredom is that disagreeable “windless calm” of the soul that precedes a happy voyage and cheerful winds. They have to bear it and must wait for its effect on them (Nietzsche 108).

There are different kinds of boredom, no doubt, but what Nietzsche is referring to here is existential boredom. The soul and the world have no meaning. One knows not where to turn, what to do. This type of boredom is an encounter with existential angst. It forces one to face nothingness, the possibility of a meaningless existence.

This experience is a thoroughly modern problem, especially after Nietzsche’s declaration that “God is dead.” In throwing off the shackles of idealism and two-world theories, the modern thinker met existential nothingness head-on. Life, therefore, was experienced as boring, meaningless, nihilistic. The soul brings about this state to compel one to discover one’s true purpose in life, among other things. By looking inward and examining oneself, nihilism can be overcome and true meaning can be found. The one who embarks on this quest will, at journey’s end, find “a happy voyage and cheerful winds.”

So, Asimov apparently did not understand the great benefits of boredom. Instead of viewing the increase of boredom as damaging to the psyche, Asimov should have realized its value.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Gay Science. Trans. Walter Kauffman. New York, Vintage: 1974.

Safranski, Rudiger. Nietzsche: a Philosophical Biography. Trans. Shelley Frisch. New York: WW. Norton, 2002.

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Call of the Daimones

Aeneas and the Sibyl, by John Martin

When the daimon calls, one must answer. I get these incredible urges to read, write, soak up every bit of wisdom and knowledge from those who have followed their daimons before me. I regret the times I have not been pulled in this direction. There are several selves within, however, which compel all of us. I have written of this before. My primary ones are the philosopher self and a computer technologist self. There is also a musical self there, as well. The philosopher archetype is the most potent and compelling of the three, as this blog is testimony to. The technology self has provided me with a career, although I have felt for years that I missed my calling. The folly of youth and life’s circumstances have confined me and my ideas to this medium, not that it is unworthy, only that I long for time to write books, travel, and glean more than I currently am from the world. The philosopher daimon has an insatiable appetite!

Of course, we all possess many selves. Some are just more dominant than others. While I am in one of these modes, I am totally consumed with the subject matter at hand. The god of philosophy usually flourishes in mid-winter. Being shut in so much because of the cold weather puts me into a more contemplative state and my mind is flooded with ideas to write about.

This is nothing new. The Greeks wrote about this experience over two thousand years ago. The daimones are beings who make up our souls. They are intermediate entities that bridge the gap between physical and spiritual. They are angels who deliver messages to humans from The All. A character in Plato’s Symposium, Diotima, puts it this way:

All that is daemonic lies between the mortal and the immortal. Its functions are to interpret to men communications from the gods—commandments and favours from the gods in return for men’s attentions—and to convey prayers and offerings from men to the gods. Being thus between men and gods the daemon fills up the gap and so acts as a link joining up the whole. Through it as intermediary pass all forms of divination and sorcery. God does not mix with man; the daemonic is the agency through which intercourse and converse take place between men and gods, whether in waking visions or in dreams (quoted in Dodds, Pagan and Christian In An Age Of Anxiety, pages 86-7). 

One thing that interests me is that the World Soul, the macrocosm to our microcosm, is also, by course, subject to the influences of the daimones. What is this like? Is this why the world suffers times of great suffering or great blessing? Europe saw a Dark Age, but also witnessed a great Renaissance. The daimones can bring both good and evil. Can we influence these for good instead of evil? Is this why we pray?

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Time for Art

Portrait d’Aristide Capelle, by Richard Heintz

To the introvert, there can be no creative insight without time spent with oneself, with one’s daimon. Time is so precious, especially as one grows older. In youth, it seemed devoid of meaning; life was so carefree and frivolous.There was so much time to do whatever one desired. But now, it races by at a breakneck pace. Having the ability to spend sufficient time with oneself is a privilege reserved for either the unemployed, and thereby destitute, or the very wealthy. The working-class, even if intensely moved by the Anima Mundi, must be excellent time-managers in order to bring forth any innate creative gifts. Even then, it can in no way be equal to those who devote everything to their art. In the end, however, some creativity is better then none at all.

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Introduction to Animaterialism

Khan Altai, by Grigory Gurkin

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

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

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

Physicist David Bohm said,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once again, quoting David Bohm:

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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Alchemy: The Vessel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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Alchemy: The Soul of Metals

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

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

Moon    Mercury   Venus    Sun    Mars    Jupiter    Saturn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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Alchemy: Spirits in the Earth



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

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

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

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

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

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

Moon > Silver

Mercury > Mercury

Venus > Copper

Sun > Gold

Mars > Iron

Jupiter > Tin

Saturn > Lead

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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Alchemy: In the Service of Nature



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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The Fire of Alchemy

Photo by Malene Thyssen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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Neykia: Descent to the Underworld

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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The Doctors of Soul: Gustav Fechner

Gustav Fechner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Going Deeper Into Hades

Elisium, by Leon Bakst

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Doctors of Soul: Sigmund Freud

Freud, circa 1900

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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The Doctors of Soul: Wilhelm Dilthey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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The Doctors of Soul: Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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