|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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