A Deeper View of the Archetypes

A Deeper View of the Archetypes

Portrait of Marceli Staroniewicz Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz – 1927

While perusing James Hillman’s book, The Myth of Analysis, I came across an idea that had never really crossed my mind before:

…we have become…obsessed with symbolic images, confusing archetypal reality with visual imagery (Hillman 188).

This floored me! Had my love for visual symbolic imagery deceived me into ignoring deeper archetypal reality? Apparently, when there is no imaginal connection to the soul, the archetypes initially present themselves as “pictorial configurations,” symbolic images. This is fine, but one should not stop there and rest on their laurels. There are deeper ways in which the archetypes reveal themselves to us. Hillman says, “We overvalue the study of symbols believing that we will find archetypal reality there” (ibid.).  The archetypes manifest, many times, through the body: through the voice, the way a person carries herself or himself, symptoms of illness, or just their overall style and form. Thinking imaginatively about these things brings a deeper understanding of how the archetypes are influencing the person. This kind of thinking requires the imaginal ego, of which Hillman says “does not mean an ego filled with drug-caused images or one filled with the knowledge of images. It rather means behaving imaginatively” (Hillman 189).

The archetypes also manifest themselves throughout the universe and all its animaterial contents. Not only visually, as in the amazing spiral nebulae, stars, and planets, but in subtler ways too, such as planetary movement, dark matter, and black holes. All behavior can be viewed imaginally. This involves, first of all, not taking behavior literally, as we usually do because of our scientific bent. Thinking archetypally means thinking imaginally about all things.

Jung attempted to develop the imaginal ego in his patients by using “active imagination,” which Hillman describes as “a term describing the subtle balance between the three faculties: an active will, an interpretative understanding, and the independent movement of fantasies” (ibid.). The practice of active imagination allows the imaginal ego to come to the fore, thus facilitating the soul-making process.

In summary, if one has just become familiar with depth psychology through C.G. Jung’s work, it is very easy to become somewhat obsessed with the strictly pictorial symbols, such as mandalas. It is normal, though, since this is the initial kind of archetypal recognition. The point Hillman tries to make, however, is that there are deeper levels of archetypal phenomena than just the visual. The archetypal practitioner must “see through” all things. So, look for the gods in all things. Think imaginatively.

Works Cited

Hillman, James. The Myth of Analysis. New York: Harper, 1972.

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