I don’t know where to start when attempting to describe the work of the late American Psychologist James Hillman, who has had a great inspirational influence on me. I learned of him a few years back through reading Thomas Moore’s work, a good deal of which has been influenced by Hillman. In between reading several of Moore’s popular books, including his very recent Ageless Soul: Living a Full Life with Joy and Purpose, I have read two of Hillman’s books, The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, and very recently The Force of Character and the Lasting Life. I’ve also started to watch and listen to some of his lectures and interviews via You Tube, and have read a good number of his essays.
I have been studying Hillman and Moore, as well as CG Jung, the pre-Socratic thinkers, and much more in the so-called field of “depth psychology,” simply because they are extraordinarily interesting to me. I am not studying to become a therapist, and I am still a neophyte when it comes to explaining this stuff, yet I’m learning quickly. Depth psychology, as defined by the CG Jung Center, “refers to approaches to therapy that are open to the exploration of the subtle, unconscious, and transpersonal aspects of human experience. A depth approach may include therapeutic traditions that explore the unconscious and involves the study and exploration of dreams, complexes, and archetypes.”
Hillman called himself a “renegade psychologist” for promoting what psychology professionals labeled as an archetypal psychology movement in the 1970s, based in part from his relationship with Jung and Jung’s focus on depth psychology.
I think it’s important to not let the words “soul” and “archetypal” pull you into any pre-conceived notions about religion and ancient mythology that you may hold. For me, the frequent use of these two words by Hillman and Moore initially confused me greatly. I found it easier to grasp their overall work as depth psychology instead of archetypal psychology. But that is a neophyte’s opinion.
After reading slower and deeper into their work, along with translations of some of the pre-Socratic thinkers and the etymology of ancient Greek and Roman terms they both refer to in their writings, I began to get a clearer understanding of their theories and concepts about- well – about everything.
Soul in this domain does not necessarily refer to that part of us that many believe lives on after we die and goes on to some heavenly paradise or nasty hell or purgatory. In fact, Hillman did not believe in the afterlife, although you would think differently after perusing through his soulful, friendly writing. Soul, plain and simple, means your real essence, that inner voice that guides your growth through your entire life. It is what we are born with, and, perhaps, destined to fulfill, regardless of how we ultimately windup – and it never stops.
Your soul is something you hear inside yourself all the time, but it is also something that not everyone listens to intently. We can totally not fulfill our soul’s journey through nonattention. Many people, both consciously and unconsciously, avoid listening to their inner voice because it can frequently make you feel uncomfortable. It is too philosophical. It is too psychological. It’s both skeptical and positive and full of torment. It has too much seemingly undefinable depth of the past, present and future, causing deep confusion. At the same time, it is joyous, and a strong catalyst for insightful emotional states in which one feels more fully alive. It is all about honoring your freedom to be who you truly are inside – many people have died by the hands of unaware and evil humans for fully honoring their soul’s freedom. Jesus comes to mind, along with Socrates, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and numerous other heroic, mystical figures who came to untimely deaths because of their arrow-like focus to follow their soul’s guidance unabated.
The word archetypal has lots of various meanings, the primary one in this view, as it relates to our mental state within the world of psychology, is not based on scientifically oriented, materialistic studies, but instead gets its source of meaning by harkening back to ancient philosophical texts and art, or even modern-day poetry and the history of creative fictional literature from ancient times up through today – in other words, our imaginations.
So, for example, my penchant for drawing and doodling arrows in imaginative ways, as well as my love of all kinds of pathways and pictures of scenic roadways, may come from the pre-Socratic story of Hermes, known as “Lord of the Roads,” that is perhaps unconsciously embedded in my soul. Hermes also “marks our psychological roads and boundaries; he marks the borderlines of our psychological frontiers and marks the territory where, in our psyche, the foreign, the alien, begins,” writes Rafael López-Pedraza in “Hermes and his Children” (recommended by Moore).
López-Pedraza adds that this kind of approach “is well within the tradition of Jung; he was the first to give importance to Hermes in psychotherapy through his interpretations of hermetic symbolism and his alchemical studies, work which led to a psychology of depth. He was also the first to introduce the study of the archetypes into modern psychology, thus opening new ways for seeing into human nature and new possibilities of which we are still only partially aware.”
Both Hillman and Moore talk about all sorts of human behavior using this kind of explanatory, archetypal-oriented, depth-psychology base or model, if you will.
I’m very pleased that I ran across these two writers several years ago, and I have grown much more interested in them as I age in my sixties. Age, however, is irrelevant at this point, as their work can be enjoyed and learned from by adults of any age, even if you are not into psychology.