Using the terms of today, we might translate this art as a method of presenting the organization of the collective unconscious too–according to archetypal dominants. The archetypes would correspond to divine imaginal forms used as Aristotelian or Kantian conceptual categories. Rather than logical or scientific laws, mythical figures would provide the a priori structures within the caverns and dens of the immeasurable imagination. All psychic events might be placed in meaningful coherence by means of these mythical structures. In fact, the categories of logic and numbers, of science and theology, could themselves be reduced (i.e., led back) to more basic metaphors of myth. No concepts, no matter how general and abstract, could embrace the range of these archetypal metaphors (The Myth Of Analysis, James Hillman, page 179).
Everything we empirically experience is myth and metaphor. All that we experience with the senses points to a parallel archetypal reality. As above, so below. The universe we experience everyday hints at the universe within. This is why, say in Zen Buddhism, for example, one can learn more about truth by pondering a flower than by taking all the psychology courses in the world. There is more truth in a tree than in all the science textbooks in all the universities in the world. But we must remember. The Ars Memoriae provides us with a methodology whereby we can do just that.
The psyche is a vast universe populated with innumerable images, just as the universe we gaze out upon everyday holds innumerable planets, stars, and galaxies. The ancients called this thesaurus inscrutabilis, or “treasure of the unfathomable.” What a perfect metaphor for soul! We remember well the words of Heraclitus,
The limits of the soul you would not find out though you traverse every way, so deep lies its principle (Fragment 71).
All truth lies within us. Because we are all connected unconsciously, and have been for untold eons, we have access to all truth. We know this unconsciously, but we have been washed in the river Lethe and have forgotten. Truth in Greek is Aletheia. Notice that Lethe is part of this word. Aletheia, however, it is a remembering or recollection. Thus, truth comes through reminiscence.
The Ars Memoria utilized a technique called the Memory Palace, or Memory Theater. You can read more about that here. I think the road to reminiscence may lie with this technique and the imagination. These “archetypal dominants,” mentioned above by Hillman, can be seen as overarching categories under which all knowledge can be subsumed. In ancient Greece, the pantheon of gods served this purpose. Today, we call them archetypes. But they are just as powerful today as they were then. The planets were also used, as were the zodiacal signs. There are many systems all over the world for imagining the archetypes. They are, however, many roads to the same realities, just as some see the various religions as many paths to the same god.
The collective unconscious conceptually represents what St. Augustine called memoria:
Great is this power of memory, exceedingly great, O my God–a large and boundless inner hall! Who has plumbed the depths of it? Yet it is a power of my mind, and it belongs to my nature. But I do not myself grasp all that I am. Thus the mind is far too narrow to contain itself. But where can that part of it be which it does not contain? Is it outside and not in itself? How can it be, then, that the mind cannot grasp itself? A great marvel rises in me; astonishment seizes me. Men go forth to marvel at the heights of mountains and the huge waves of the sea, the broad flow of the rivers, the vastness of the ocean, the orbits of the stars, and yet they neglect to marvel at themselves. Nor do they wonder how it is that, when I spoke of all these things, I was not looking at them with my eyes–and yet I could not have spoken about them had it not been that I was actually seeing within, in my memory, those mountains and waves and rivers and stars which I have seen, and that ocean which I believe in–and with the same vast spaces between them as when I saw them outside me. But when I saw them outside me, I did not take them into me by seeing them; and the things themselves are not inside me, but only their images. And yet I knew through which physical sense each experience had made an impression on me (Confessions, VIII, 15).
James Hillman comments on Augustine’s musings on memoria:
What we today call “the unconscious” and describe in spatial metaphors, though it is boundless and also timeless, which “contains” “contents” – images, personages, and affects, now called complexes – and which has a collective historical aspect as well as an ahistorical archetypal structure, at the unfound center of which, and around which, all else moves, the imago Dei: this unconscious appears hardly to differ from what was once called by Augustine memoria or memoria Dei or the thesaurus inscrutabilis (The Myth of Analysis, pg. 171).
This unfathomable chamber greatly reminds me of Tolkien’s dwarvish stronghold of Moria, which lay deep beneath the Misty Mountains. Its incredibly complex tunnels, chambers, halls, and mines provided, for many millennia, a home for the clan, the Longbeards. According to Tolkien, the word, “moria” is Sindarin for “Black Chasm,” or “Black Abyss,”which is a wonderful metaphor for the collective unconscious. The dwarves called it Khazad-dûm, or the “delving of the dwarves.” To “delve” means “to research or make painstaking inquiries into something.” This is what we are doing by exploring the caverns and grottoes of the soul. Deep within the labyrinth of Moria, the dwarves found vast amounts of treasure, gold, and mithril, just as we are continually discovering rich treasures of the soul. We know that danger lurks there, as well. In the depths of Moria lived a Balrog, whom the dwarves called Durin’s Bane. There are also similar beings within the collective unconscious that can wreak comparable havoc.
Augustine had grasped in the late fourth century the truth of the objective psyche, or, as Jung named it, the collective unconscious. He understood the paradoxical nature of the soul, that it is “a power of…mind,” yet he saw that “the mind is far too narrow to contain itself.” Hillman says, “the parallels to the unconscious of Jung are obvious” (The Myth of Analysis, pg. 172).