I’ve recently reread James Hillman’s book, Dream And The Underworld. It is a truly fascinating work. It’s one of those books that bears reading over and over, for its ideas are very profound.
I am most interested in Hillman’s thoughts on Hades and Death. Specifically, I would like to focus on what Hillman refers to as, “the call to Hades” (page 31). He states:
Because his realm was conceived as the final end of each soul, Hades is the final cause, the purpose, the very telos of every soul and every soul process…All soul processes, everything in the psyche, moves toward Hades (page 30).
Typically, when we hear such statements, we immediately begin to think of our own deaths, but it is not so cut and dried. For Hillman, the call to Hades is about carrying the finalistic aspect of psychology ( ala Jung, Adler, et al) to its full mythological end.
For example, Jung wrote much on the subject of individuation. In a nutshell, he said,
Individuation means becoming a single, homogeneous being, and, in so far as ‘in-dividuality’ embraces our innermost, last, and incomparable uniqueness, it also implies becoming one’s own self. We could therefore translate individuation as ‘come to selfhood’ or ‘self-realisation (Jung: Memories, Dreams, and Reflections).
So, the telos for Jung would be achieving a state of “wholeness,” a state where unconscious contents become thoroughly conscious. In Jung’s thinking, the path to individuation is characterized by the constant conflict of opposites, which of course produces psychic energy. One must bring the opposites into complete union in order to succeed in individuation. This means that the conscious and unconscious become integrated and assimilate the ego, after which the Self emerges. In alchemy, this union is known as the coniunctio.
The coniunctio is symbolized in various ways in alchemy. One such symbol shows a king and queen in a hermaphroditic union. In Jung’s mind, this represents the union of opposites, and, more specifically, the union of anima and animus, the male and female aspects of the unconscious. Jung claims that these must be integrated in order to achieve individuation.
Hillman says that psychological theories, such as this, do not proceed far enough. His idea is that the telos for Soul is the call of Hades. This is not to be taken as literal death, but as an experience of Soul.
By the call to Hades I am referring to the sense of purpose that enters whenever we talk about soul. What does it want? What is it trying to say (in this dream, this symptom, experience, problem)? Where is my fate or individuation process going? If we stare these questions in the face, of course we know where our individuation process is going—to death. This unknowable goal is the one absolutely sure event of the human condition. Hades is the unseen one and absolutely present (Dream and the Underworld, page 31).
What to make of this mysterious statement? I believe he is saying that Hades is calling to us now, throughout our lives, not just toward the end. The objective, or goal, is always occurring now, in this present moment.
We know about the Zen teaching of “is-ness,” or the “eternal now.” I think this applies to life as well as death. Let’s face it, they’re the same anyway.
So, if we are to constantly be living in the now, we should also be dying in the now, which we do daily. The call to Hades is the call to Soul.
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