James Hillman Tribute

I received today the sad news of James Hillman,who died today, 27th October, aged 85, a man I was never able to meet in person but whose thoughts and writings formed a large part of my post graduate training in psychotherapy /counselling in the early nineties and beyond. 

He had a formidable intellect and a truly original mind and although I found his works on archetypal psychology quite opaque at first, eventually an understanding grew and opened up my mind to significantly new ways of thinking.

He has certainly been influential in the way I view and interpret human existence, human problems and conflicts. Through the lens of Hillman,  the works of C.G. Jung  in particular were clarified and refined.

The most significant phrase that I remember from the early days of my counselling was a deceptively simple one but through experience of counselling people I realised it's profound significance in a therapeutic setting.

"Stick with the image "

It's also an axiom that is very much at home within the Catholic tradition of the Ignatian Spiritual exercises and the practice of imagination and discernment in the examen.

Hillman said :

"When trying to see through to what is happening in a dream, or in an imaginal situation of any sort—and even the most concrete of our waking situations has an archetypal dimension, an imaginal basis—one relies on the image itself to deliver the insight, not to any system of thought, book of symbols, or externally imposed source of interpretation.  

Image alone, according to Hillman, is sufficient to the task.  “Image,” he taught, “is primary.”

 Richard Rohr in Křižanov, Czech RepublicImage via Wikipedia  
Franciscan Fr . Richard Rohr's non dualistic thinking also draws heavily from the combined thoughts and insights of Jung and Hillman around such  themes of anima and animus, shadows, projections, transference and counter transference etc ; all rich areas for mining the complexity of  the human psyche and soul.

 St. Francis of Assisi (circa 1182-1220)Image via Wikipedia

St John of The Cross and The Dark Nights of The Soul and other mystical saints lives like St Francis of Assisi, St Clare and St Therese also benefit and are enriched by applying Hillman's work and insights to them.

"Therapy, or analysis, is not only something that analysts do to patients; it is a process that goes on intermittently in our individual soul-searching, our attempts at understanding our complexities, the critical attacks, prescriptions, and encouragements we give ourselves. 

We are all in therapy all the time insofar as we are involved in soul-making." 

- James Hillman, Re-visioning Psychology

James Hillman was one of the Founders of Archetypal Psychology and was inspired by Carl Jung, yet Hillman, expanded Jung to develop a rich, complex, and more poetic basis for a psychology of psyche as "soul." 

Hillman's archetypal psychology is a polytheistic psychology that attempts to recognize the myriad fantasies and myths, gods, goddesses, demigods, mortals and animals, that shape and are shaped by our psychological lives.

It incorporated Jung's original Analytical psychology but was also a radical departure from it in some respects.

Whereas Jung’s psychology focused on the Self, its dynamics and its constellations (ego, anima, animus, shadow), Hillman’s Archetypal psychology relativizes and deliteralizes the ego and focuses on psyche, or soul, and the archetypes, the deepest patterns of psychic functioning, "the fundamental fantasies that animate all life" 

Hillman's writings are always innovative, provocative and often full of insights.

This is an extract from this site with extensive links to Hillman's works:

"What makes Hillman's work so important is its emphasis on psychology as a way of seeing, a way of imaging, a way of envisioning being human. His work involves a radical "re-visioning" of psychology.

Hillman's roots were mostly classical, but the power of Hillman's thought, however, has more to do with how he approaches phenomena rather than what he has to say about it. 

Soul-making is a method, a way of seeing, and this cannot be forgotten. Hillman's roots include Renaissance Humanism, the early Greeks, existentialism and phenomenology. 

His thought is rhetorical in the best sense of the word; thus, imaginative, literary, poetic, metaphorical, ingenius, and persuasive. If nothing else, one cannot read Hillman without being moved. 

Hillman's work is "soul-making" and, in this sense, psychological (the "logos" of the "psyche") in the truest sense of the word. Hillman listens to the saying of the soul, and it speaks in his writing through him. 

Of Hillman's use of the term "soul," Thomas Moore writes: 

"Hillman likes the word for a number of reasons. It eludes reductionistic definition: it expresses the mystery of human life; and it connects psychology to religion, love, death, and destiny.

It suggests depth, and Hillman sees himself directly in the line of depth psychology, going all the way back to Heraclitus, who observed that one could never discover the extent of the soul, no matter how many paths one traveled, so profound in its nature. 

Whenever Hillman uses the forms psychology, psychologizing, and psychological, he intends a reference to depth and mystery." 

For Hillman, "soul" is about multiplicity and ambiguity, and about being polytheistic; it belongs to the night-world of dreams where the lines across the phenomenal field are not so clearly drawn. 

Soul pathologizes: "it gets us into trouble," as Moore writes, "it interferes with the smooth running of life, it obstructs attempts to understand, and it seems to make relationships impossible." 

While spirit seeks unity and harmony, soul is in the vales, the depths. 

In his magnum opus, Re-Visioning Psychology, Hillman writes of "soul": 
"By soul I mean, first of all, a perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint toward things rather than a thing itself. 

This perspective is reflective; it mediates events and makes differences between ourselves and everything that happens. Between us and events, between the doer and the deed, there is a reflective moment -- and soul-making means differentiating this middle ground. 

It is as if consciousness rests upon a self-sustaining and imagining substrate -- an inner place or deeper person or ongoing presence -- that is simply there even when all our subjectivity, ego, and consciousness go into eclipse. 

Soul appears as a factor independent of the events in which we are immersed. 

Though I cannot identify soul with anything else, I also can never grasp it apart from other things, perhaps because it is like a reflection in a flowing mirror, or like the moon which mediates only borrowed light. 

But just this peculiar and paradoxical intervening variable gives on the sense of having or being soul. 

However intangible and indefinable it is, soul carries highest importance in hierarchies
of human values, frequently being identified with the principle of life and even of divinity. 

In another attempt upon the idea of soul I suggest that the word refers to that unknown component which makes meaning possible, turns events into experiences, is communicated in love, and has a religious concern. 

These four qualifications I had already put forth some years ago. I had begun to use the term freely, usually interchangeably with psyche (from Greek) and anima (from Latin). 

Now I am adding three necessary modifications. First, soul refers to the deepening of events into experiences; second, the significance of soul makes possible, whether in love or in religious concern, derives from its special relation with death.

And third, by soul I mean the imaginative possibility in our natures, the experiencing through reflective speculation, dream, image, fantasy -- that mode which recognizes all realities as primarily symbolic or metaphorical."

Inevitably his work was hijacked and dumbed down by some on the wackier edges of New Age movements and practices and this was a major annoyance for him.

His scholarly thinking was far removed from the cheap trivialision and absurd literalisation of the gods and goddesses"mythologies that abound in modern pop culture and arcane areas of astrology.

I did not agree with everything Hillman said, particularly regarding polytheism nor was I always able to grasp the meaning of everything he wrote.

Some of his writing was beyond my intellect and liking but he certainly taught me to apply a new rigour in thinking in a non- literal way  and taught me ways to free my imagination.

He gave me some useful tools to honestly examine myself in all my flaws in relation to God, others and the world without falling into the pathologising trap which is one of the major flaws common in other types of humanistic psychology. 

This does not mean that pathology and its manifest symptoms do not exist (!) but rather deals with a more imaginal way of dealing with them after first confronting and naming them.

He was a compassionate man who sought for authentic answers to deep human questions of meaning  and for that I am profoundly grateful to him.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord,  and may perpetual light shine upon him. 
May he rest in peace , Amen.
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