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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Impediments to Soul-Making

El Abrazo de la Noche, by Daniel Valcarce

The soul’s tendency to pathologize, to fall apart, is absolutely crucial to soul-making. In our culture, with its positive thinking, extreme fitness advocates, diet fads, and pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstrap philosophy, you would think we were the healthiest and most blessed people in the world. But it’s just the opposite. We fall apart just like every other human being. Our culture views pathology as evil in some sense, to be shunned. Let’s be truthful, however. Pathologizing is as much a part of our lives as waking and sleeping. We see ourselves as failures if we fall into calamity of some sort, be it ill health, financial ruin, or a bout of depression. In reality, pathologizing occurs in all of our lives at one time or another.

In depth psychology, much wisdom is gained from the study of pathologizing. Psychologist Erik Erikson once wrote, “Pathography remains the traditional source of psychoanalytic insight” (Identity and the Life Cycle, p. 122).  James Hillman said, “The insights of depth psychology derive from souls in extremis, the sick, suffering, abnormal, and fantastic conditions of psyche” (Revisioning Psychology, p. 55). We all experience these extreme states; it is part of the human condition.

Hillman defines pathologizing as

…the psyche’s autonomous ability to create illness, morbidity, disorder, abnormality, and suffering in any aspect of its behavior and to experience and imagine life through this deformed and afflicted perspective ( ibid. p. 57).

Hillman’s idea is that we begin to “see through” our suffering to what it is trying to say about the soul through the pathological event, and what the soul itself is saying. This is a phenomenological approach, taking the image of the pathological event as it appears, and allowing it to bring forth what is behind the event. Archetypal psychology looks for a god behind the pathology, an autonomous being of the psyche that demands to be recognized.

Since the inception of modern psychology, there have been roadblocks thrown in the way of allowing pathological images to speak. These are impediments to the soul-making process. The following ideas, which I borrow from Hillman’s book, Revisioning Psychology, form impediments that stand in the way of the crucial necessity of the soul’s pathologizing nature.

The first such idea Hillman deals with is Nominalism, or as he calls it, “nominalistic denial” (p. 58). In the early days of modern psychology, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was stylish to attempt to classify psychological disorders in a rational and orderly manner. This is when many of the familiar psychological terms were coined, such as schizophrenia, alcoholism, claustrophobia, psychopathology, etc. In an attempt to classify illnesses in an objective, rational manner, the subjective person who suffered was ignored. Such an approach may work for the objects of scientific study, but the study of the soul is an entirely different thing. Hillman writes,

Labels like “psychopath” or “manic-depressive,” while bringing intellectual clarity also seal off in closed jars the content of what is named, and the person so named is relegated to a shelf marked “abnormal psychology” (ibid. p. 61).

The second “style of denial” Hillman deals with is that of nihilism. The point here is that, in the “language game called psychopathology,” diagnoses of abnormal psychology, since they now consist of empty, meaningless words, are simply thrown out. “There are no neuroses, only cases;  no cases, only persons in situations…” (ibid. p. 62). Hillman points the finger at existentialism, and, in particular, at philosopher, Karl Jaspers. Jaspers’ critique of psychopathology resulted in the rejection of it as a viable field by many of his followers because they didn’t take the time to “sort it through.”  Hillman names Michel Foucault and Ronald Laing as two thinkers who completely deny there is any value at all in psychopathology. They would even do away with psychiatry altogether.

The third impediment to soul-making is the idea of transcendence. Here, Hillman directs his critique at humanistic psychology. Humanistic psychology idealizes man, “sweeping his pathologies under the carpet” (ibid. p. 64).

Unlike the terms of professional psychopathology, these resonate with a positive glow: health, hope, courage, love, maturity, warmth, wholeness; it speaks of the upward-growing forces of human nature which appear in tenderness and openness and sharing and which yield creativity, joy, meaningful relationships, play, and peaks. We find the same one-sidedness in its goals, such as freedom, faith, fairness, responsibility, commitment. Besides the fact that its notion of growth is simplistic, of nature romantic, and love, innocent–for it presents growth without decay, nature without catastrophes or inert stupidity, and love without possession–besides all this, its idea of the psyche is naive if not delusional” (ibid. p. 65).

Hillman further criticizes humanistic psychology for being “shadowless, a psychology without depth, whose deep words remain shallow because transcendence is its aim” (ibid.). Hillman has the psychology of Abraham Maslow, et al. in mind here.

Attention is also turned to the transcendent teachings of the East, that have so pervaded our culture since the 1960’s. Eastern teachings, many times, view human pathologizing as “evidence of the lower, unactualized rungs of the ladder. Meditate, contemplate, exercise through them and away from them, but do not dwell there for insight” (ibid. p. 66). This attitude says that

Psychopathology in and for itself is not an authentic expression of the soul’s divinity. Divinity is up at the peaks, not in the swamps of our funk, not in the sludge of depression and anxiety…” (ibid.).

Hillman admits that his take on Eastern teachings derives from the manner in which they are taught by Westerners. In their native soil, they are “rooted in the thick yellow loam of richly pathologized imagery–demons, monsters, grotesque Goddesses, tortures, and obsenities” (ibid. p. 67). He says,

The archetypal content of Eastern doctrines as experienced through the archetypal structures of the Western psyche becomes a major and systematic denial of pathologizing (ibid.).

The soul’s pathologizing is a natural occurrence. To deny it, is to deny soul.

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On the Nature of the Archetype

A Winter Landscape With A Horse Drawn Cart Going Over A Bridge, Peasants Transporting Pigs Over The River, And Children Sledging, by Andries Vermeulen

In his work, On the Nature of the Psyche, Carl Jung differentiates between the modus operandi of the archetype, and the archetype as such:

The archetypal representations (images and ideas) mediated to us by the unconscious should not be confused with the archetype as such. They are very varied struc­tures which all point back to one essentially “irrepresentable” basic form. The latter is characterized by certain formal ele­ments and by certain fundamental meanings, although these can be grasped only approximately. The archetype as such is a psychoid factor that belongs, as it were, to the invisible, ultra­violet end of the psychic spectrum (Jung 213).

Jung compares the the psyche to the electromagnetic spectrum in order to illustrate the difference between the archetype, in its role as mediator between consciousness and unconsciousness, of images and ideas, and the archetype as such, which is “irrepresentable.” This strikes me as an example of Jung’s fondness for Kantian philosophy. Kant distinguished between the empirical thing, and the thing-in-itself. Jung uses Kant’s framework to describe the way an archetype functions as mediator, and the way an archetype is in itself, which, of course, cannot be fully known. Later, he will compare the archetype as mediator to infrared light in the spectrum.

He says the archetype as such is like ultraviolet light, invisible, and is a “psychoid factor” (ibid.), by which he means non-psychic. In other words, the archetype as such is beyond the psyche, residing in the physiological organism as instinct. It is beyond the psyche because it is incapable of reaching consciousness. The archetype as such, as psychoid factor, creates a bridge uniting psyche and matter. This is what Jung means by the unus mundus.

Since psyche and matter are contained in one and the same world, and moreover are in continuous contact with one another and ultimately rest on irrepresentable, transcendental factors, it is not only possible but fairly probable, even, that psyche and mat­ter are two different aspects of one and the same thing (Jung 215).

By this, Jung is saying that 1) archetype as such (analogous to physiological instincts), and 2) the archetypes (as mediators of images and ideas that reach consciousness) have a common point of origin that is transcendental and irrepresentable. This common source is the unus mundus, the “one world.” It is also what I have called Animatter.

Jung summarizes and explains further:

Just as the “psychic infra-red,” the biological instinctual psyche, gradually passes over into the physiology of the organism and thus merges with its chemical and physical conditions, so the “psychic ultra-violet,” the archetype, describes a field which exhibits none of the peculiarities of the physiological and yet, in the last analysis, can no longer be regarded as psychic, although it manifests itself psychically. But physiological processes behave in the same way, without on that account being declared psychic. Although there is no form of existence that is not mediated to us psychically and only psychically, it would hardly do to say that everything is merely psychic. We must apply this argument logically to the archetypes as well. Since their essential being is unconscious to us, and still they are experienced as spontaneous agencies, there is probably no alter­native now but to describe their nature, in accordance with their chiefest effect, as “spirit,” in the sense which I attempted to make plain in my paper “The Phenomenology of the Spirit in Fairytales.” If so, the position of the archetype would be located beyond the psychic sphere, analogous to the position of physio­logical instinct, which is immediately rooted in the stuff of the organism and, with its psychoid nature, forms the bridge to matter in general. In archetypal conceptions and instinctual perceptions, spirit and matter confront one another on the psychic plane. Matter and spirit both appear in the psychic realm as distinctive qualities of conscious contents. The ultimate nature of both is transcendental, that is, irrepresentable, since the psyche and its contents are the only reality which is given to us without a medium (Jung 214-215, emphasis mine).

This is the foundation of Jung’s theory of synchronicity.

Jung, C. G. On the Nature of the Psyche. The Collected Works of C. G. Jung. (Vol. 8) (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). Princeton: Princeton, 1954.

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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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