The Anima Mundi in Matter

In my last post, I quoted a paragraph from Jung commenting on Gerhard Dorn’s alchemical philosophy. In it, he uses a very curious phrase. Here is the relevant section:

…the caelum also signifies man’s likeness to God (imago Dei), the anima mundi in matter, and the truth itself (Jung 539).

According to Jung, the caelum is the Philosopher’s Stone, but it is also the anima mundi in matter.

Caelum is the blue sky above us, the vault of heaven, and also includes the Zodiac. It is the metaphorical realm of the gods. It can carry the connotation of “universe,” as well, which we know is infinite. What interests me here is why Jung would say it can mean “the anima mundi in matter.”

All matter in the universe is sprinkled with a sampling of the World Soul. It is hidden. Most do not know or realize it. The consensus of our culture is that matter is cold and dead. A literal mindset, one dominated by logic and the scientific method, cannot understand the idea of soul within matter. The literal mind would explain the azure sky-vault over our heads as being composed of various gases, but a gifted poet could bring tears to our eyes by describing it in language filled with soulful images. James Hillman says that the curse of Western consciousness is the manner in which we speak about matter, but that

Our speech itself can redeem matter if, on the one hand, it de-literalizes (de-substantiates) our concepts, distinguishing between words and things, and if, on the other hand, it re-materializes our concepts, giving them body, sense, and weight (Hillman ch. 1).

The practice of alchemy is so powerful as an esoteric practice because its images cannot be taken literally without plunging our minds into an abyss of total nonsense.

I know I am not composed of sulfur and salt, buried in horse dung, putrefying or congealing, turning white or green or yellow, encircled by a tail-biting serpent, rising on wings. And yet I am! I cannot take any of this literally, even if it is all accurate, descriptively true. Even while the words are concrete, material, physical, it is a patent mistake to take them literally (ibid.).

Metaphorical thinking is forced upon us when we read alchemical writings. Hillman claims this is an example of “the materialization of the psyche and the psychization of matter” (ibid.). Our hermeneutical skills are stretched to their limits, allowing soul and matter to meld into one. Hermeneutics are, of course, named after Hermes. He is the messenger of the gods. He brings to our minds the interpretations we need from the holy places. He travels between our world and the Underworld, bringing knowledge from our deep unconscious.


Works Cited

Hillman, James. Alchemical Psychology (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman). Spring Publications, Inc. Kindle Edition.

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

Share Button

Hermetic Intelligence

Hermes and Athena (ca 1585), by Bartholomeus Spranger

…the great advantage of Mercurial intelligence is its power to keep the soul in motion, spiraling down toward a vortex of significance. Mercury keeps the carousel of interpretation moving, feeding wonder and curiosity instead of granting the stupor of final conquest (Moore 153).

The primary way the soul is deepened is through imagination. When we have new ideas about something we’re thinking about metaphorically, such as how a spiral exemplifies the movement of the soul, or how snowflakes are perfect mandalas, then we are functioning in the area of Hermetic intelligence. One of the main tasks of Hermes as World Daimon is to guide the soul into a deeper experience of the world. In our day, viewing the world metaphorically and imaginatively has taken a back seat to science, engineering and technical learning. What many don’t understand is that our technical concentration of this age is yet another story of soul, and we must view it, not literally, but through the eyes of soul. Most don’t listen to the voice of Hermes. Most are not receptive to the wisdom he provides.   Everything that occurs in this world can be “seen through,” as James Hillman often said. We can view all of the wonders of Nature metaphorically. If we listen closely, Hermes will supply us with a wealth of interpretations that will lead our souls downward into, what Moore calls, “a vortex of significance.”

The practice of hermeneutics, the science of interpretation, is named after Hermes because of his role as messenger. He brings knowledge of a thing from the illimitable depths to the human soul. This nugget of knowledge was previously hidden from the awareness of the seeker of truth. These unconscious musings that arise from the abyss into our conscious awareness are delivered by Hermes. In doing so, he also fulfills his role as the god of the liminal, since, by bringing us to greater awareness, he creates liminal space, the “neither-here-nor-there,” the metaxical reality we call soul.  Of this marginality, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Chicago, Paul Friedrich, writes in his book, The Meaning of Aphrodite, that

Hermes moves by night, the time of love, dreams, and theft;

he is the master of cunning and deceit, the marginality of illusions and tricks;

he has magical powers, the margin between the natural and the supernatural;

he is the patron of all occupations that occupy margins or involve mediation: traders, thieves, shepherds, and heralds;

his mobility makes him a creature betwixt and between;

his marginality is indicated by the location of his phallic herms not just anywhere but on roads, at crossroads, and in groves;

even his eroticism is not oriented to fertility or maintaining the family but is basically Aphroditic–stealthy, sly, and amoral, a love gained by theft without moral concern for consequences; and finally

Hermes is a guide across boundaries, including the boundary between earth and Hades, that is, life and death (Friedrich 206)

Of course, Hermes is closely attached to Aphrodite, who is a wonderful image for the identity of the Anima Mundi. Remember, Hermes is daimon to the World Soul.

So, the messages that Hermes brings are messages that have been previously hidden from us, but, upon our receiving them, our souls are deepened. This is Hermetic intelligence in a nutshell. In a later article, I’d like to delve into what Henry Corbin believed about the practice of hermeneutics. It is fascinating and very related to a discussion of Hermes as messenger.


Works Cited

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

Friedrich, Paul. The Meaning of Aphrodite. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.

Share Button

Ciphers of Nature

Photo by Pauk

…initial imaginative operation is to typify (tamthll) the immaterial and spiritual realties  in  external or sensuous  forms,  which  then  become  “ciphers”  for  what they manifest. After that the Imagination remains the motive force of the ta’wil which is  the continuous ascent of the soul In short, because there is imagination there is  ta ‘wll; because there is  ta ‘wll,  there is symbolism;  and because there is symbolism, beings have two dimensions (Alone with the Alone, by Henry Corbin).

Could it be that we, in this material world of self-aggrandizement, are really asleep? In our humdrum day-to-day existence of relying on the physical senses to perceive this world, truly a one-sided state of affairs, we don’t realize that we’re omitting the most important aspect of reality.

The Hermetic doctrine teaches,

For All things, are but two Things, That which Maketh, and that which is Made, and the One of them cannot depart, or be divided from the Other (Corpus Hermeticum, Book 17).

Every empirical object is not just an entity to be observed and measured. All things are two. These cannot be divided; they are actually one reality. This other corresponds to the physical object, but it is not observable by the physical senses.

Let’s take a concrete example and discuss a tree, since I like talking about trees. Let’s talk about an oak tree. The oak tree has spirally arranged leaves; its fruit is a nut called an acorn. Within this hard little nut is another tall, strong oak tree in potentia. The bark is hard to the touch. These are physical characteristics of the tree. Is this all there is to an oak? What about the awesome symbolism inherent in such a mighty tree? The spiral, which I have discussed on this blog, is a tremendous spiritual image. Each oak leaf is based on a spiral pattern, which expresses the famous Fibonacci series. Tremendous imagery! The acorn has been used by psychologist, James Hillman, in his book, Soul’s Code, to theorize individual human destinies. This is just scratching the surface of the rich depths of symbolism the oak possesses. 

When we begin to experience the depths inherent in Nature via imagination, our souls begin a journey back to their origin. This is all about imagination. Corbin talks a lot about ta’wil. This idea, taken from Islamic mysticism, is spiritual exegesis on, not only sacred texts, but also on the world around us. Through imagination, we experience the twin of all material things. The maxim, As above, so below, leads us to greater understanding of ourselves. That is why we can discuss, say, a flower, and discover a plethora of truths inherent in its reality. 

All manifested forms function as ciphers that, if read properly, will unveil their inherent truths. This is exactly how the ancients formulated their spiritual ideas. It is a hermeneutical, imaginative reading of Nature. Jung’s active imagination is very effective in this pursuit of truth.

So say those who have gone before us, if we follow this truth, our souls will also return to their rightful place in the universe.

Share Button