Archetypal psychology  

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Archetypal psychology is a vein of inquiry into the psyche inaugurated in the early 1900s by Carl Gustav Jung. Jung and his followers, as well as Mircea Eliade, imagined the psychology of the archetypes from studying anthropology and archeology reports of their times and weaving it into their understandings of the psyche. They studied how the hierarchy of ancient gods, polytheistic religions, and archetypal ideas found in tales might influence modern life with regard to soul, psyche, dreams and the Self.

Aristotle described an archetype as an original from which derivatives or fragments can be taken. In Jung's psychology an archetype is an inherited pattern of thought or symbolic imagery derived from the past collective experience and present in the individual unconscious.

Jung and his followers followed Sigmund Freud and others of Freud's generation, who also investigated, analyzed and put forth theories about how ancient myths, legends, sagas, and religions mimicked some of the broad impulses and drives in the psyche.

There are many psychoanalysts, psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists who are sometimes called neo-Jungians and who take various approaches to archetypal psychology. These include Jungian psychoanalyst Marion Woodman, with her inquires into the archetypes and dreams of the feminine and how these are affected by clashes and supports from masculine archetypes, therefore influencing soul and psyche in women's development. Jean Shinoda Bolen, a Jungian analyst psychiatrist, has also made a lifetime inquiry into the psychology of archetypes for men and for women, and their basis in conscious growth of the soul. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Jungian psychoanalyst, holds that insights into soul and psyche, archetypes and dreams were preserved specifically and handed down by indigenous people worldwide, they being the original archetypal theorists.

The inquiry into archetypal psychology has many different subsets, many different progenitors. Archetypal psychology as a basis for developing theory, and especially, down-to-earth applications, is ongoing and evolving constantly.

In the mid-1900s, James Hillman, a psychologist who trained at the Jung Institute in Zurich, also called his work Archetypal psychology. He reports his is in the Jungian tradition and most directly related to Analytical psychology, yet departs radically. His "archetypal psychology" relativizes and deliteralizes the ego and focuses on the psyche, or soul, itself and the archai, the deepest patterns of psychic functioning, "the fundamental fantasies that animate all life" (Moore, in Hillman, 1991). Hillman's archetypal psychology is a polytheistic psychology in that it attempts to recognize the myriad fantasies and myths—gods, goddesses, demigods, mortals and animals—that shape and are shaped by our psychological lives. To him, the ego is but one psychological fantasy within an assemblage of fantasies. Hillman's archetypal psychology is, along with the classical and developmental schools, one of the three schools of post-Jungian psychology outlined by Andrew Samuels (see Samuels, 1995).



The main influence on the development of archetypal psychology is Carl Jung's analytical psychology. It is strongly influenced by Classical Greek, Renaissance, and Romantic ideas and thought. Influential artists, poets, philosophers, alchemists, and psychologists include: Nietzsche, Henry Corbin, Keats, Shelley, Petrarch, and Paracelsus. Though all different in their theories and psychologies, they appear to be unified by their common concern for the psyche—the soul.

Hillman (1975) sketches a brief lineage of archetypal psychology.

By calling upon Jung to begin with, I am partly acknowledging the fundamental debt that archetypal psychology owes him. He is the immediate ancestor in a long line that stretches back through Freud, Dilthey, Coleridge, Schelling, Vico, Ficino, Plotinus, and Plato to Heraclitus—and with even more branches yet to be traced (p. xvii).

Polytheistic psychology

Thomas Moore says of James Hillman’s teaching that he “portrays the psyche as inherently multiple”. In Hillman’s archetypal/polytheistic view, the psyche or soul has many directions and sources of meaning—and this can feel like an ongoing state of conflict—a struggle with one’s daimones. According to Hillman, “polytheistic psychology can give sacred differentiation to our psychic turmoil.…” Hillman states that

The power of myth, its reality, resides precisely in its power to seize and influence psychic life. The Greeks knew this so well, and so they had no depth psychology and psychopathology such as we have. They had myths. And we have no myths as such—instead, depth psychology and psychopathology. Therefore…psychology shows myths in modern dress and myths show our depth psychology in ancient dress."

Hillman qualifies his many references to gods as differing from a literalistic approach saying that for him they are aides memoires, i.e. sounding boards employed "for echoing life today or as bass chords giving resonance to the little melodies of life." Hillman further insists that he does not view the pantheon of gods as a 'master matrix' against which we should measure today and thereby decry modern loss of richness.

Psyche or Soul

Hillman says he has been critical of the 20th century’s psychologies (e.g. biological psychology, behaviorism, cognitive psychology) that have adopted a natural scientific philosophy and praxis. His main criticisms include that they are reductive, materialistic, and literal; they are psychologies without psyche, without soul. Accordingly, Hillman’s oeuvre has been an attempt to restore psyche to its proper place in psychology. Hillman sees the soul at work in imagination, in fantasy, in myth and in metaphor. He also sees soul revealed in psychopathology, in the symptoms of psychological disorders. Psyche-pathos-logos is the “speech of the suffering soul” or the soul’s suffering of meaning. A great portion of Hillman’s thought attempts to attend to the speech of the soul as it is revealed via images and fantasies.

Hillman has his own definition of soul. Primarily, he notes that soul is not a “thing”, not an entity. Nor is it something that is located “inside” a person. Rather, soul is “a perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint towards things… (it is) reflective; it mediates events and makes differences…”(1975). Soul is not to be located in the brain or in the head, for example (where most modern psychologies place it), but human beings are in psyche. The world, in turn, is the anima mundi, or the world ensouled. Hillman often quotes a phrase coined by the Romantic poet John Keats: “call the world the vale of soul-making.”

Additionally, Hillman (1975) says he observes that soul:

refers to the deepening of events into experiences; second the significance of soul makes possible, whether in love or religious concern, derives from its special relationship 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.

The notion of soul as imaginative possibility, in relation to the archai or root metaphors, is what Hillman has termed the “poetic basis of mind.”

Dream analysis

Because Hillman's archetypal psychology is concerned with fantasy, myth, and image, it is not surprising that dreams are considered to be significant in relation to soul and soul-making. Hillman does not believe that dreams are simply random residue or flotsam from waking life (as advanced by physiologists), but neither does he believe that dreams are compensatory for the struggles of waking life, or are invested with “secret” meanings of how one should live (à la Jung). Rather, “dreams tell us where we are, not what to do” (1979). Therefore, Hillman is against the 20th century traditional interpretive methods of dream analysis. Hillman’s approach is phenomenological rather than analytic (which breaks the dream down into its constituent parts) and interpretive/hermeneutic (which may make a dream image “something other” than what it appears to be in the dream). His dictum with regard to dream content and process is “Stick with the image.”

Hillman (1983) describes his position succinctly:

For instance, a black snake comes in a dream, a great big black snake, and you can spend a whole hour with this black snake talking about the devouring mother, talking about anxiety, talking about the repressed sexuality, talking about the natural mind, all those interpretive moves that people make, and what is left, what is vitally important, is what this snake is doing, this crawling huge black snake that’s walking into your life…and the moment you’ve defined the snake, you’ve interpreted it, you’ve lost the snake, you’ve stopped it.… The task of analysis is to keep the snake there.…

The snake in the dream does not become something else: it is none of the things Hillman mentioned, and neither is it a penis, as Hillman says Freud might have maintained, nor the serpent from the Garden of Eden, as Hillman thinks Jung might have mentioned. It is not something someone can look up in a dream dictionary; its meaning has not been given in advance. Rather, the black snake is the black snake. Approaching the dream snake phenomenologically simply means describing the snake and attending to how the snake appears as a snake in the dream. It is a huge black snake, that is given. But are there other snakes in the dream? If so, is it bigger than the other snakes? Smaller? Is it a black snake among green snakes? Or is it alone? What is the setting, a desert or a rain forest? Is the snake getting ready to feed? Shedding its skin? Sunning itself on a rock? All of these questions are elicited from the primary image of the snake in the dream, and as such can be rich material revealing the psychological life of the dreamer and the life of the psyche spoken through the dream.…

The Soul's Code

Hillman's book, The Soul's Code: In Search of Character and Calling, outlines an "acorn theory of the soul." His theory states that each individual holds the potential for their unique possibilities inside themselves already, much as an acorn holds the pattern for an oak, invisible within itself. It argues against the parental fallacy whereby our parents are seen as crucial in determining who we are by supplying us with genetic material and behavioral patterns. Instead the book suggests for a reconnection with what is invisible within us, our daimon or soul or acorn and the acorn's calling to the wider world of nature. It argues against theories which attempt to map life into phases, suggesting that this is counter-productive and makes people feel like they are failing to live up to what is normal. This in turn produces a truncated, normalized society of soulless mediocrity where evil is not allowed but injustice is everywhere—a society that cannot tolerate eccentricity or the further reaches of life experiences but sees them as illnesses to be medicated out of existence.

Hillman diverges from Jung and his idea of the Self. Hillman sees Jung as too prescriptive and argues against the idea of life-maps by which to try to grow properly.

Instead, Hillman suggests a reappraisal for each individual of their own childhood and present life to try and find their particular calling, the acorn of their soul. He has written that he is the one to help precipitate a re-souling of the world in the space between rationality and psychology. He replaces the notion of growing up, with the myth of growing down from the womb into a messy, confusing earthy world. Hillman rejects formal logic in favour of reference to case histories of well known people and considers his arguments to be in line with the puer aeternus or eternal youth whose brief burning existence could be seen in the work of romantic poets like Keats and Byron and in recently deceased young rock stars like Jeff Buckley or Kurt Cobain. Hillman also rejects causality as a defining framework and suggests in its place a shifting form of fate whereby events are not inevitable but bound to be expressed in some way dependent on the character of the soul or acorn in question.

See also


Select bibliography

  • A Terrible Love of War, 2004
  • The Force of Character, 2000
  • The Myth of Analysis : Three Essays in Archetypal Psychology, 1998, ISBN 0-8101-1651-0
  • The Soul's Code: On Character and Calling, 1997, ISBN 0-446-67371-4
  • Kinds of Power: A Guide to its Intelligent Uses, 1995
  • Healing Fiction, 1994
  • We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy (and the World's Getting Worse), (with Michael Ventura), 1993, ISBN 0-06-250661-7
  • The Thought the Heart and the Soul of the World, 1992
  • Archetypal Psychology: A Brief Account, 1991, ISBN 0-88214-373-5
  • Anima: An Anatomy of a Personified Notion, 1985
  • Inter Views (with Laura Pozzo), 1983
  • The Dream and the Underworld, 1979
  • Loose Ends: Primary Papers in Arcehtypal Psychology, 1975
  • Re-Visioning Psychology (based on his Yale University Terry Lectures), 1975

Other writers

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