Sep 12, 2010

Meaning Of Life Part IX

The kind of in-ness that is longed for, if it were indeed realized, would be intolerable for the modern subject. It would collide with our inalienable insistence on emancipated individuality and rationality. It would necessarily be felt as imprisonment, as a nightmare, of which the 20th-century experience in totalitarian states and with fundamentalist sects has given us a taste (Giegerich, The End Of Meaning).
We have established that modern humans have an intense longing for meaning, and that it's not really effective to seek after it any longer. Giegerich has told us that continuing to ask the question, "What is the meaning of life?" in fact, makes our desire for meaning even more insatiable. Here, he tells us that, if by some miracle, we did achieve meaning, we wouldn't be capable of tolerating it. This begs the question, what sort of meaning do we want out of life? This is assuming we accept Giegerich's proposition that meaning and in-ness are synonymous:
The search for meaning is in truth, but secretly, the longing for a state of in-ness
If we possessed the same kind of envelopment in life as did the ancients, our Western insistence on individuality and rationality would appear to us as nightmarish slavery. He compares this state of affairs to having our humanity quashed in totalitarian fashion. We are accustomed to striving on our own to accomplish whatever we put our minds to, to being totally self-sufficient. The ancients did not live in this manner. They were enveloped in life and each other. They relied on each other for survival.
Second, the individual had his reality and substance not in himself but in something larger, logically speaking in a universal, be it the family, the clan, the tribe, or a corporation, which was the only true real and of which the individual was no more than sort of a fall-out, an emanation. He likewise had his Self and his soul not in himself, but in the king, the tribe’s medicine man, the Pharaoh.
We are no longer fish swimming in an ocean of meaning. We have been, and are still being,  cooked in an alchemical retort. Up to this point, the alchemical magnum opus has brought us vis-a-vis to existence itself. To seek the old mode of in-ness once again would be acting contrary to the processes of Soul. We must continue to simmer.

We are experiencing a new phase in human evolution. The in-ness of the ancients is past. It is no longer for us. We moderns have been birthed out of the envelopment of in-ness and have been thrust to a position outside of life, outside of meaning, where we stand aloof, gazing upon our own lives. We are confused; we despair; we suffer. But we are strong. We will continue.

Sep 6, 2010


Golgotha, by Vilmos Aba-Novák (1894–1941)
"In order to approach the psychology of pathology afresh, I am introducing the term, pathologizing to mean the psyche's autonomous ability to create illness, morbidity, disorder, abnormality, and suffering in any aspect of its behavior and to experience and imagine life through this deformed and afflicted perspective" (Hillman 57). 
I would like to delve into the matter of how we can "experience and imagine life through this deformed and afflicted perspective." When one is afflicted with pathological experiences, it is, of course, not pleasant. It is no simple matter to extricate oneself from it. As I read Hillman, however, the way is not out of, but through.

Suffering is intrinsic to the human experience. The Western medical model portrays psychopathology as something to be excised, like a tumor that must be surgically removed. This is absolutely contrary to the way of the Soul. Carl Jung once said,
The gods have become diseases; Zeus no longer rules Olympus, but the solar plexus, and produces curious specimens for the doctor's consulting room (Jung, 37).
 One of my pet peeves is how so-called "depression" is treated in our culture. First of all, what is the origin of the word, "depression," as it is used in current psychological parlance? "Depression" came to be used extensively in the nineteenth century to describe what had previously been called melancholia. Melancholia connotes sadness or gloominess. It literally means "black bile." In Hippocrates' Theory of the Four Humours, too much black bile was thought to be the cause of melancholia. The idea of depression is a totally different concept. Something is being pressed down upon and this is the source of the sadness and gloominess. But what is being depressed? It seems as if the human personality is being depressed, thus the recipient of this pressure is the ego, since this is the only aspect of the Soul that the typical Westerner is familiar with. It is anathema in the West to have a trodden down ego, since this is the agent of staunch independence and individualism, the hallmarks of Western culture.

Depressione, by Aurora Mazzoldi
The ego is said to be, at times, over-inflated. This is the opposite of a depressed ego. An over-inflated ego thinks it is the center of the universe. In extreme over-inflation, it can become possessed by a messiah complex. If this is correct, then the best of the West, the movers and shakers, the leaders of Western culture should have over-inflated egos to excel in this culture. We see this everyday in the news, in the lives of politicians, businessmen, scientists, and many others. There are a rare few that succeed without the benefit of over-inflation, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

Western science's answer to depression is to provide, what else, anti-depressants. Following our line of thinking, it would seem that the goal of administering an anti-depressant to a melancholiac would be to re-inflate the Ego. But, does an over-inflated ego bring happiness?

Hillman, James. Re-Visioning Psychology. New York: Harper Collins, 1975.

Jung, C.G.(1929). Commentary On The Secret Of The Golden Flower. In Alchemical Studies. In The Collected Works of C.G. Jung. Vol. 13. Princeton: Bollingen.

Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be The Whole Of The Law

A famous quote from Aleister Crowley's Book Of The Law states, "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law." Some people, mostly those who don't think beyond their church pew, say it means Crowley was saying to follow one's egocentric, hedonistic desires. What he actually meant was something like discovering one's innate Nature or personal Destiny or true purpose in this world. It seems to me that True Will can be likened to what James Hillman wrote about in his book, Soul's Code, i.e. following one's Daimon.

The Collective Unconscious

Photo by Uray1130
 Carl Gustav Jung did very original work in his field. One thing that seems to be largely ignored is that he was also an ingenious philosopher. Some of his theories deal with important philosophical questions rather than strictly psychological issues. One such theory has to do with what he called the collective unconscious.

When Jung entered the field of psychology around the turn of the twentieth century, there were notions of an unconscious region prevalent among those who studied the human mind, even before Sigmund Freud began writing about the subconscious as a repository of repressions. Investigators of spiritualism, such as F.W.H. Myers, author of Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death, wrote about mental activity which exists below the threshold of consciousness (Bennet 60). At least two philosophers had been speculating on this subject prior to the twentieth century. According to the Dictionary of Philosophy,
the doctrine of the subconscious was foreshadowed in Leibniz's doctrine of petite perceptions (Monadology, sections 21, 23) and received philosophical expression by A. Schopenhauer (Runes 303).
Jung immediately picked up on the idea as a possible explanation for results obtained in experiments with so-called "association tests," that is, where the doctor gives the patient a word and instructs him/her to respond with the first word which arises in the mind. Jung claimed that this method
demonstrates very accurately the presence of conflicts in the form of "complexes" of feeling-toned ideas, as they are called, which betray themselves through characteristic disturbances in the course of the experiment (Jung, Two Essays 30).
Apparently, Jung was able to arrive at the notion that complexes exist in a region of the mind which was not known to the conscious subject. Complexes are repressed, emotionally-charged ideas which conflict with other ideas in the mind. He was also very influenced in this area by the work being done by Freud.

By observing the dreams and hallucinations of his patients at the Burghozli Hospital in Switzerland, Jung theorized that the unconscious consists of what he termed the personal unconscious, and a deeper, more primal and impersonal area, which he called the collective unconscious. This latter notion, among others, was a new idea that caused a rift between Jung and Freud. Jung was discovering that many of the images related to him by his patients were recurring mythological motifs which Jung claimed were universal. This led him to believe that the human race is connected somehow at the unconscious level. Freud vehemently denied that such a theory was needed. Jung, however, was convinced that his hypothesis was true. The two never reconciled their differences, but Freud later admitted that certain "archaic remnants" exist in the mind which he could not adequately explain.

In contrast to the personal unconscious, which Jung said contains "lost memories, painful ideas that are repressed, subliminal perceptions, . . . and contents that are not yet ripe for consciousness" (Jung, Two Essays 76), the collective unconscious harbors primordial images which are universal to mankind. These images, or archetypes, as Jung called them, are inherited motifs,
. . . mental forms whose presence cannot be explained by anything in the individual's own life and which seem to be aboriginal, innate, and inherited shapes of the human mind (Jung, Man and His Symbols 57).
Certain mythological themes occur in dreams and in the fantasies of mental patients which are common among human the world over. The claim that these motifs exist among all cultures has been much heralded by Joseph Campbell, author of many books on comparative mythology. Campbell presents strong evidence for the existence of the archetypes of the collective unconscious, even though his evidence is really empirically untestable. As one example, the figure of a mother goddess exists in the mythology of many diverse cultures, even those separated by vast oceans.

A problem with this theory, however, is that it is not falsifiable. We cannot test these assertions, since they supposedly exist at a level of the mind which is not open to our scrutiny. Saying that humans are connected in some mysterious way at the subconscious level is like saying that we have lived past lives; neither theory is testable at the empirical level. But, of course, logic breaks down in such areas of inquiry.

Jung does not agree with John Locke that the mind of a new-born infant is a tabula rasa. More akin to Kant, he believes there are certain inherited a priori structures of the mind, which are "patterns of instinctual behavior" (Bennet 66). These patterns shape our lives--who we are, how we act, and where our destinies lie.

According to Jung, the archetypes are analogous to human instincts in that they are images of the instincts. They are inborn and unlearned, just like instincts. And just as instincts evolve from repeated experiences of a species, so have the archetypes evolved in the human species from repeated inner experiences. For example, the archetype of the hero, which Joseph Campbell spent considerable time writing about, is a process that is seen in all cultures, and which seems to have evolved as a means of overcoming what we call schizophrenia. According to Campbell (who is quoting a Dr. John Perry), the way a schizophrenic loses touch with reality and turns inward corresponds to the mythical journey of the hero, who
ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder; fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow men (Campbell 209).
A good example of this is in Wolfram von Eschenbach's story of the Holy Grail, Parzifal being the hero.

Campbell (and Dr. Jung) believed that the inward journey of a schizophrenic could be a process of healing if it were left to run its course. So here we have an inner instinctual process which may have evolved as a way for the species to deal with mental illness. This is what Jung seems to have meant when he said the archetypes are images of the instincts.

Jung saw the pre-rational forms of the mind as being analogous to the inherited bodily form which we all possess. Just as most of us have two arms, two legs, a torso, and a head, so the basal layer of the mind also has its inherited structure, namely the archetypes. These are common in all humans just as our bodily form is common to all.

In one way, Jung's theory of the archetypes is similar to Plato's theory of Forms. Plato would say that for everything there is a Form, which is the original blueprint of a particular thing. Just so, the archetypes of the collective unconscious are patterns of inner workings which supply a certain "inborn manner of comprehension" (Bennet 69). But, instead of placing the Forms in a world totally separate from ours, as Plato did, Jung places his archetypes in the primal layer of the human mind. Jung seems closer to Immanuel Kant, even though Kant did not posit a pre-rational and unconscious archetypal storehouse (perhaps this could be tied in with noumenon?).

As much as I like this theory of Jung's, I have certain reservations. For example, I am not fond of dichotomizing, i.e., I do not see a need to separate personal unconscious from collective unconscious. Perhaps they need to be distinguished when discussing them, but, in reality, a reciprocal flow between the personal and collective would have to occur. Actually, from reading Jung himself, I think he also had this notion, for he mentions that, sometimes, contents of the collective unconscious irrupt into the conscious mind, as when a schizophrenic hallucinates, or when we dream. He probably did not intend for personal and collective to be thought of as separate. After all, these are just metaphors for our experiences, and cannot be expected to be precise,  literal accounts of what really occurs in the mind.

Another problem I have is that it seems it would be very difficult to gain knowledge of the collective unconscious, and thereby become an integrated personality (no imbalance between conscious and unconscious), without either being extremely familiar with ancient mythological motifs oneself, or having the assistance of someone who is both trained in mythology and psychology. In Jung's schema, it seems nearly impossible to develop one's personality (or individuate, as Jung calls it) without such specialized knowledge or aid. Personally, I have followed my dreams for months at a time and have been baffled as to what inner workings they represent. I no longer think that the goal of human striving if a unified whole. I am of the opinion fragmentation is natural for us. The unified view smacks of monotheism, in my opinion, and is not in line with the way we are, as we are phenomenologically.

So, is Jung's hypotheses of the collective unconscious and the archetypes worth anything to us? In my opinion, they are extremely valuable, just as Plato's theory of the Forms is valuable, even though they may not be totally accurate. Such theories provide for us a point of departure for future thinking. They are images and metaphors to propel us on to greater lucidity.

We are barely scratching the surface in our knowledge of the human mind. The future holds great discoveries which may reconcile the views of science and the ideas of someone like Carl Jung. There are still great mysteries to be solved, as in the areas of hypnosis and dream research, and, perhaps, how this all ties in with the enigma of quantum physics. Jung, along with Freud, provided a framework for such studies. Even though Jung's ideas sound strange to the rational mind, we should hear him out, and consider very carefully what he said before labeling him a psychotic, as one psychology professor described Jung to me a few years ago. I was not surprised, seeing the professor's main thrust was Behaviorism.


Bennet, E.A. What Jung Really Said. New York: Schocken, 1966.

Campbell, Joseph. Myths to Live By. New York: Bantam, 1972.

Jung, Carl Gustav. Man and His Symbols. New York: Dell, 1964.

---. Two Essays on Analytical Psychology. New York: Meridian, 1956.

Runes, Dagobert D. Dictionary of Philosophy. Totowa: Littlefield & Adams, 1966.

Sep 3, 2010

Deceit, Mendacity, And Manipulation

Each religion has got their own way of making you feel like a victim. The Christians say 'you are a sinner', and you better just zip up your trousers and give the money to the pope and we'll give you a room up in the hotel in the sky. ---Timothy Leary, Timothy Leary's Last Trip
Guilt is one of the primary tools used in our culture to manipulate us, whether it be by so-called religious leaders, politicians, managers, or family members. It is a deep-seated problem in human existence, especially in the Western mindset. These people are ego-driven and want only to fulfill their own desires at our expense.

For millenia, we have been pummeled over the head with our sin and degradation by religious zealots. We have been told that when the so-called Fall occurred, man turned against God and became a sinful and shameful creature. This is an old myth that has been turned on its head by those who desired only to manipulate the masses in order to control them. I'll not get into my own personal ideas concerning The Fall, but I will say that, in my opinion, it is primarily about consciousness, and not to be taken literally. Most manipulators of myth take them literally, thereby fully displaying their ignorance.

Why do they want us to think we are loathsome creatures? Perhaps they are frightened by the possibility we might discover the truth, that we are really supernatural beings. Is this the reason organized religions exist, i.e., to control the power and potential of the people through lies concerning their true destiny? This was the secret concealed for millenia by the mystery schools; could it be true? Why were the esotericists intent on keeping their secrets for only a few chosen students? Would it be dangerous if these truths found their way into the minds of the masses?

You can be certain of one thing: we are being lied to daily by those in positions of authority. And though the mystery schools don't seem to be as prominent in our culture as they once were, say, in ancient Greece, there are still those who would conceal the truth from us on a regular basis.

The primary method of manipulating the masses in our day is the television. They don't call them TV programs for nothing, as someone reminded me recently. The masses are indeed programmed via their TVs. Instead of being used as an educational and informative tool to edify our culture, it has long been controlled by giant corporations, whose only desire is to talk you into buying something so the stockholders and CEO's can own expensive cars, live in luxurious homes, and buy all the cocaine they can snort up their noses.
We live at a time when capitalism's inner demons are beginning to be exhumed from the catacombs of the human ego, when love for the almighty dollar and her sister greed blinds those basking in the hypnotizing light of greenbacks and materialism. This phenomenon, combined with the addictions spurred by power and pomposity, has created in the last several decades a need by the powerful elite to manipulate and condition the masses; to transform and mold us into subservient drones that neither think, question, participate or demand (The Stupefaction of a Nation, Manuel Valenzuela).
The entire article, The Stupefaction of a Nation, can read here. It's very good.

Television is a wonderful invention. If used properly, it can be very beneficial. But, in our so-called democracy, we are mere pawns of the aristocracy.

I began this article discussing how we've been lied to for thousands of years concerning our role as humans in this world. They tell us we are filthy sinners. They claim to know what's best for us, that all we need is to accept Christ into our hearts and all will be well. Jesus himself would be appalled at the things put forth in his name. He knew what humans really are, for he said, "You are gods" (John 10:34). So, stop watching your TV all the time. Pick up a good book, preferably one that will tell you the truth. Or, if you prefer the TV, get some good movies to watch or some informative documentaries. We don't need all the crap they try to put into our heads, and we most certainly don't need all those stupid things they try to sell us. You're a god, you decide what's best for YOU!

Jung's Ideas On Alchemy

Alchemy, in our day, is an aspect of our European heritage which many of us view as being silly. The general consensus is that alchemy was a product of a more primitive worldview. It is somewhat puzzling as to why a twentieth-century psychologist like C.G. Jung would have such a passionate interest in the subject. In this article, I will attempt to explicate Jung's ideas concerning alchemy. Following a short critique of his views, I will add a few of my own thoughts.

Basically, alchemy is the attempt to transmute base metals, such as lead, into silver or gold. Theories have arisen in many different cultures as to how this could be done. The movement was at its peak during the Middle Ages in Europe. Alchemists were concerned with discovering a substance called the philosopher's stone, the lapis philosophorum, which would enable them to make the transformation. They were also searching for something called the elixir of life, which supposedly was a potion that would cure all disease and make humans immortal. Besides being a primitive form of chemistry, alchemy was also replete with a system of symbols which illustrated the alchemical process. Jung saw in these symbols a depiction of human psychological development.

In the early years of Jung's career, alchemy was just as nonsensical to him as it is to the general public today. He did not make it a serious object of study until the late 1920's when he read an ancient Chinese alchemical text translated by sinologist, Richard Wilhelm, called The Secret of the Golden Flower. This work aroused Jung's interest in alchemy. As a result, he began to collect alchemical writings. Some years later, Jung began to see parallels between the writings of the alchemists and his own psychological theories. "I had stumbled upon the historical counterpart of my psychology of the unconscious" (Memories, Jung 205). The discovery which made Jung think along these lines was that the alchemists were not writing in a literal fashion, but in symbols. According to Jung, these symbols assisted him in understanding the abundance of empirical evidence he had gathered from his practice since its inception.
When I pored over these old texts everything fell into place: the fantasy images, the empirical material I had gathered . . . and the conclusions I had drawn from it. I now began to see what these psychic contents meant when seen in historical perspective. (ibid. 205).
This "empirical material" consisted of observations of his patients, such things as dream and fantasy images, and hallucinations. Jung claimed that many of these images have a close correspondence to many of the symbols used by the alchemists in their writings. For example, in her book, Alchemy, Jungian analyst Marie-Louise von Franz writes about a woman (a patient of Jung's) who had a dream of an eagle soaring up into the sky, then turning and eating its own wings. This image baffled Jung until, one day, he was reading a certain alchemical text called the Ripley Scroll. In it, he found a series of pictures which described the alchemical process. One of them was an eagle which turns back and eats its own wings. Apparently, this represents the opposites within the psyche striving against one another. Jung claimed to have found many such motifs in the dream and fantasy images of his patients.

In a previous article (Enantiodromia), I dealt with Jung's theory of the conflict of opposites. He saw a parallel teaching in the alchemical texts. This is probably the primary reason why Jung speaks so highly of alchemy. Basically, Jung believed that mental energy is created through the conflict of opposites. He said, "there is no energy unless there is a tension of opposites" (Jung, Two Essays 63). He called this energy libido. It is to be distinguished from Freud's definition of libido, in that Freud saw it only as pertaining to sexual desire, whereas Jung viewed libido as psychic energy in general. According to Jung, libido is the vital impulse of human life.

In Jung's view, the alchemical attempt to transmute base metals into gold (the philosopher's stone) was actually a psychological process which had been unconsciously projected onto the various material substances used in the process. The alchemists were usually not aware of the projection, according to Jung. They really believed they could turn base metals into gold. The symbols used by the alchemists were really representative of what he termed the process of individuation. Jung stressed that individuation must not be understood as a linear development, but as a "circumambulation of the self" (Jung, Memories 196), that is, the movement is toward the center, which Jung says is the Self. One of the symbols in alchemy which represents this process is the Ouroboros, the serpent which devours its own tail. This means that the process is circular and self-contained, according to Jung.

In Jung's thinking, the path to individuation is characterized by the constant conflict of opposites, which of course produces psychic energy. One must bring the opposites into complete union in order to accomplish individuation. This means that the conscious and unconscious become integrated and assimilate the ego, after which the Self emerges. In alchemy, this union is known as the coniunctio. The coniunctio is symbolized in various ways in alchemy. One such symbol shows a king and queen in a hermaphroditic union. In Jung's mind, this represents the union of opposites, and, more specifically, the union of anima and animus, the male and female aspects of the unconscious. Jung claims that these must be integrated in order to achieve individuation.

If a patient is in a state of deep depression, Jung would say that it corresponds to the alchemical stage of nigredo, or blackness. Just as the prima materia (the substance being worked on) must be washed and distilled before it is purified, so also the individual must undergo a process of cleansing and distillation before achieving wholeness. The purified state is known as albedo, or whiteness. The process, according to Jung, usually begins at the nigredo stage, which is characterized by self-reflection and a state of dissolution. In alchemical literature, the procedure moves through various stages of distillation and purification. To Jung, this means that a patient will gradually gain sufficient knowledge of the unconscious until one's inner life becomes integrated and balanced (all projections are withdrawn). When this occurs, one enters a state of great peace and tranquility. Jung claims that this is the pure gold spoken of by the alchemists.

If there truly is development of the Self, or individuation, I can't think of a better metaphorical dressing to place it in than alchemy. Interpreted as such, it seems to deal with reality better than Christianity, which denies that humans have anything within them that is worthy of development. I am thinking here of Calvinism, which teaches that man is wicked and corrupt, and cannot perform any good deed unless God moves him to do it. Even though it may be admitted by other Christian theologians, the doctrine of human depravity seems to be at the very foundation of the entire Christian doctrine. If not, why did St. Paul spend so much time discussing justification in the juridical sense? Does he not admit that man is a criminal which must be pardoned in order to receive the blessing of God?

In the Jungian interpretation of alchemy, the process of development does not require a one-sided emphasis on the wickedness or holiness of man. Rather, it demonstrates that we contain opposing energies, both good and evil, which must be reconciled in order for mental and spiritual health (and physical health as well) to occur. This seems to be more in line with reality.

We humans do like to think that we have something of value within us which can be developed and brought forth. I suppose that is why I study philosophy. Through it, I hope to gain meaning for my life, meaning which I failed to find in Christianity. That is also why I read Jung. Even though I sometimes have problems with his methods, his ideas at least give me a framework for understanding myself.

On the other hand, I am in disagreement with Jung over the need for all archetypes to be individuated into one central Self. This seems to deny the reality of Soul, which is truly multifaceted. I am of the opinion that Jung was still somewhat stuck in the Western monotheist mindset.


von Franz, Marie-Louise. Alchemy. Toronto: Inner City, 1980.

Jung, C.G. Memories, Dreams, and Reflections. New York: Vintage, 1965.

Sep 2, 2010

Follow Your Star

Whoever . . . scrutinizes his mind . . . will find his own natural work, and will find likewise his own star and daemon, and following their beginnings he will thrive and live happily. Otherwise, he will find fortune to be adverse, and he will feel that heaven hates him (Ficino 169).
The daimon is a sort of inner mentor, dissuading us from taking certain paths in life. Heraclitus adds that our ethos is our daimon. In this work, the emphasis will be on my own personal search for a place in life.

Marsilio Ficino, obviously influenced by Greek tales of the daimonic, makes some very precise statements concerning the consequences of following or ignoring one’s daimon. The search for one’s place in the world is often overshadowed by many things, such as the quest for affluence, worrying about what others think, or being pushed into a certain vocation by one’s family. Ficino gives a seemingly simple plan for ensuring a fulfilling life. But if it is so simple, why do we see so many miserable people in the world? Surely it isn’t because most people have never heard of Marsilio Ficino. The truth he brings seems self-evident. Some find their niche naturally by simply following their heart, even if they have never read Plato or Ficino or any of the other thinkers who have advised us of this truth. For these, it is instinctual.

In my personal situation, I got off to a good start, but became very confused as life progressed. In elementary school, I was considered very bright, possibly even gifted. I received straight A’s until I was in the seventh grade. By the time I was sixteen, I had lost most of my interest in school. My personal reading was much more fascinating. It fueled my inquisitive nature while school bored me to tears. My teachers seemed imbecilic, and my parents had no idea people could actually choose a vocation which coincided with their natural inclinations. Needless to say, I had no external guidance. By the time I married at twenty, I was thoroughly misplaced. I had a factory job which was akin to slavery, at least in my mind. I was enslaved to the grind of the routine machine.

I worked second-shift, three to eleven. When I would get home at night, I would sit up into the wee hours reading. This was the only free time I had and I cherished it. I began reading about things that interested me. It was just light stuff, something to get my mind off my miserable job. After a few years, I found myself going to the library and checking out books of a more philosophical bent. After awhile, I got involved with computers and online discussions. This is really where I discovered how much I love philosophy. At that time, I made up my mind, with the help of the daimon, to study philosophy.

I suppose my main point in all of this is to say that my reading caused me to enter into an inner process of scrutinizing. If something fueled my imagination, I read everything I could find on the subject. By doing this, I found out something about my daimon, my character, my natural inclinations. I have been in situations where I did not follow my inner voice and it is not pleasant. Just as Ficino says, it felt like heaven was against me.

Even though I believe I am now following my heart, sometimes I feel guilty. Here I am, fifty-something, and still have no idea what I will do with the rest of my life. I suppose I feel that my life’s work should already be established, and, in part it is. But, because I have already experienced life without Soul, I refuse to return to the miserable existence of ignoring my natural inclinations.

Works Cited

Ficino, Marsilio. The Book of Life. Irving: Spring, 1980.

We are Soul

The Japanese Footbridge, by Claude Monet
Ficino writes, “Man is the soul itself. . .” (Ficino 74). In his Commentary On Plato’s Symposium, Marsilio Ficino makes a statement that is totally antithetical to the teachings of modern psychology. For the most part, psychology today refuses to accept any idea of Soul. The predominant view of our day is Behaviorism, which is totally materialistic and naturalistic. Man is a material entity. There is no metaphysical element, such as Soul, mind, or consciousness. Man has only a brain, which responds to external stimuli. What a far cry from Ficino! How can there even be such a field as psychology (the study of Soul or psyche) without admitting the Soul’s existence? To me, it is absurd.

To Ficino, and also to me, the world is alive because of Soul, for Soul is all things. Even though he seems to be attempting a definition of Soul, he’s really not. He is fully aware of Heraclitus’ statement concerning the unfathomable depths of Soul. In a roundabout sort of way, I think Ficino is proposing that neither man nor the Soul can be precisely defined.

In the context of Ficino’s statement, I do not possess Soul as I would a coat or tie, I am Soul. I cannot experience the world apart from Soul. Behaviorism cannot tell me why my breath is taken away by Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique; or when I read Poe, Keats, or Goethe; or when I walk in the forest and relish the green earth. They might try and tell me these are merely chemical reactions in my brain, but anyone who has experienced these things will know of a certainty how ridiculous this is. The depth of the experience tells the story. All that I do and feel is because I am Soul.

If I am Soul, what about my body? What role does it play, besides enabling me to operate in the material world? I see material things (including the human body) as images and metaphors. To me, this world is filled with images of the True. Through these images, I am able to learn more about the True. Through living in this body, I am better able learn about Soul. Knowing the Platonic and Neoplatonic foundations of Ficino’s thought, I think he would agree. For untold generations, the material universe has been viewed as an image of the inner workings of the human being. The ancient saying, “As above, so below,” speaks to this fact. Such a view makes the world incredibly fascinating and alive, for there is always something nearby to pique one’s interest and to shed light on the True.

Ficino’s idea of Soul is that it is Man himself. The body/Soul dichotomy we talk about is just another story of Soul, just an image that can help us understand ourselves a little better. In reality, we can’t put into words what Man/Soul is. The mystery of Soul is what makes it so intriguing. As author Phil Cousineau said, “. . . frustration, uncertainty, confusion, and fear of drowning in the depths is at least a sign that we have our hands on it” (Cousineau xxiii).

Works Cited

Ficino, Marsilio. Commentary On Plato’s Symposium On Love. Dallas, Spring: 1985.

Cousineau, Phil. Soul: An Archaeology. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1994.

Vico's Ideas On Imagination

One of the most ignored and underestimated thinkers in Western history is Giambattista Vico (1668-1744). Here is a brief biography from the Wisdom Supreme:
Giambattista Vico (or Giovanni Battista Vico) was a Neapolitan philosopher, historian, and jurist.

Vico is famous for his concept of truth as an act, verum factum.

His major work is the New Science (Scienza Nuova), published in 1725 and, as a completely rewritten work, in 1730. His major idea — that truth is an act, is discussed in this work as a principle of history — that it is made by humans, and so humans are able to fully understand it, just like mathematics, which is product of human imagination.

Vico suggested study of tradition, mythology and language as methods for investigating history. He is believed to be the pioneer of ethnology. The historical life follows similar pattern — although not in details — in every nation, according to Vico. The first humans thought in mythical terms, universali fantastici or poetic characters. All nations begin by fantasia, the power of imagination and the age of gods which are needed to comprehend the world. After that, there comes a second age in which fantasia is used to form social institutions and heroes are used to inspire moral virtues. The third and final age is the age of rationality, in which humanity declines into barbarie della reflessione — barbarism of reflection. According to Vico, this is a cycle — gods, heroes and humans — which repeats itself within the world of nations, forming storia ideale eterna — ideal eternal history.

Vico was an isolated genius, who lived in near poverty and never met a thinker of equivalent magnitude. However, his views have influenced many philosophers in the nineteenth century. Karl Marx studied Vico, and owes much to him. Also, Vico's notion verum factum anticipates pragmatism and pragmaticism of Charles Sanders Peirce. He was able to predict historical development of Europe with appalling accuracy. In the 20th century, his ideas of the myth and nation were embraced by James Joyce, as well as Edward W. Said.
Vico is important for a few ideas he introduced into Western philosophy. The one I would like to focus on is this notion that, historically, civilizations cycle through three periods. For the sake of brevity, here is a concise quote from the aforementioned website:
Historically, society evolves in cycles from one governed by imagination, superstition, and custom to one governed by rational understanding and that, in turn, declines into a society governed by imagination; in a parallel fashion, the political nature of society evolves from anarchy to oligarchy and then to democracy and monarchy, and finally declines to anarchy.
During the Renaissance, imagination prevailed and many wonderful things were accomplished. Since then, Western civilization has gradually devolved into what we see today. We are close to the next turning point, in my estimation. All societies undergo similar periods of evolution and devolution, as well.

The past few years, we have witnessed a plunge into societal pathology. The past decade has been a rough ride. We have strayed from the path of imagination onto one of barbarism and greed. War, corruption, and lucre have ruled the day. But don't give up. Things always change. We are dynamic beings living in a dynamic world.

Vico was a man of vision. He realized that a society devoid of imagination would necessarily crumble. There is always hope, however. Things always cycle around again. Our civilization will eventually turn back to the Imaginal.

Birth Pangs

Occasionally, when things look dark and dismal in the world, as they very much do now, the voice inside my head reminds me that such times are simply birth-pangs. A new society is struggling to be born. From the ashes of the twentieth-century totalitarian paradigm, a great Phoenix is rising. No, it will not be a Third Awakening of religious devotion; rather, it will be an awakening of humans devoting themselves to one another, to care for one another, to befriend one another. People of the world are becoming cognizant of the fact that we need each other to survive on this planet.

There are always two sides to the same coin. We all know this. It's elementary. Dark cannot exist without light and vice-versa. It's the shadow-play that's interesting and mysterious. There are wonderful things going on in our world, but there are also very sinister things occurring.

Think of the European Renaissance. It was an era of intense creativity. But don't forget that it was also a time of great suppression by the Roman Catholic Church. The Spanish Inquisition was setup in 1478 and was highlighted (or perhaps lowlighted) by the atrocities of Torquemada.

I think we have, indeed, entered an era of darkness.  But Is there a birth-process stirring underneath all this ugliness? Is there a new day of benevolence and creativity on the rise? Paradoxically, I think so.

The motion of nature
is cyclic and returning.
Its way is to yield,
for to yield is to become.
All things are born of being;
being is born of non-being.
--Tao Te Ching

So, let us wait and be patient. Days of peace and prosperity will return, just as sure as the pains of childbirth inevitably give way to a joyous new life.

Sep 1, 2010

Dark Myth

Mythology can be an ugly business. Mythical stories contain some of the most macabre, violent, and psychotic images known to humanity. But, think about it, what would a good story be without these pathological elements? Take the best movies ever made, for instance. The Godfather films contain what most people would consider deviant behavior. Pulp Fiction is another example. My favorite genre, film-noir, deals with very dark subject-matter, but has produced some of the most memorable tales in the history of film-making.

Why do myths take this form? What phenomena are occurring in the psyche that create such images?
The psyche does not exist without pathologizing (Hillman, Revisioning Psychology).
Lou Salome quotes Freud as saying,
We can catch the unconscious only in pathological material (Salome, The Freud Journal).
It's as if we are so preoccupied (basically, asleep while awake) with our upperworld lives that the psyche can only get our attention by presenting pathological images and scenarios before us. We get sick. Our bodies suddenly find themselves broken, in dire straits. We have nightmares that startle us. Or we suddenly find ourselves out of work and penniless. These situations are very meaningful, if we would only take the time to listen to what they are saying.

It seems that myths, personal, or collective, are just a necessary part of soul-making, albeit utterly mystifying. We are not given "a soul" at birth, but are given the task of laying each brick in the construction of a soul-house.
The world is a place for fashioning the soul, in the sense that soul is not given to us automatically, despite our assumptions to the contrary. Our interiority, our presence must be created from within the distractions and forgetfulness of everyday outer life, from within the constant clash of pleasure and pain, happiness and loss. Our soul is a space for our experience; it makes the difference between being nominally alive and consciously alive. It makes a real connection possible between the ego and Spirit (Soul Loss & Soul Making, by Kabir Helminski,
A reminder of what I mean by soul in my articles:

I take soul as equivalent to psyche. I adhere to the Heraclitan idea of soul, as possessing limitless depth. It is the state of metaxy, between gods and mortals. I like Hillman's idea 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 (Revisioning Psychology) .

More On Ficino's Ideas of Soul

As I delve further into Marsilio Ficino's writings on soul, I am beginning to see that it is not a small task. To understand him properly, I think, one must have a firm grasp of Plato's idea of soul, since Ficino borrows so heavily from him.

Plato states in the Phaedrus, "Of the nature of the soul, though her true form be ever a theme of large and more than mortal discourse, let me speak briefly, and in a figure" [246a]. We humans cannot perfectly understand soul. All we can do is speak "in a figure." Figures are ideas and ideas are the best we can do. Ficino writes, "The soul as divine is known only to divine beings. But we use comparisons at least to think about it" (Marsilio Ficino and the Phaedrian Charioteer, Michael J.B. Allen, page 98).

Comparisons are also ideas. Metaphorical language uses ideas to try and express the depth of human experience.

I keep returning to the importance of Ficino's (and Plato's) insistence that we remember soul is an idea. This is something which must be thought about slowly, more as a meditative exercise.

An idea is a path of seeing, a way to better understanding. An idea is characterized by an image in the mind. When I think of the idea of a horse, I see a typical horse in my mind, perhaps running in a race. When I think of soul, it is quite different. Again, I see images, but not of literal things. I suppose I would think of the Ouroboros, since that image means so much to me and is so illustrative of the nature of soul. I have seen horses with my physical eyes, but I have never seen Soul. The idea of soul is akin to the ideas I have of God, Mind, Justice, Being, Courage, etc. I think about the ideas of these "things" to get a better understanding of them. The ideas are perspectives that paint images in me which I can grasp, albeit in a limited way. Since these images are limited and fragmentary, they will always be subject to change.

Our word, "idea," comes from the Greek word, eidos, which includes the notion of "that which one sees," and "that by means of which one sees." We see ideas as shapes and appearances, and we also see by means of ideas. We see with ideas, as well as seeing ideas themselves. By means of ideas, our vision is opened. It is implied here that "the deeper the ideas we have, the deeper we see." Thus, as our ideas of soul deepen, we understand soul more clearly.

Our perception of reality is even molded by our ideas. For example, Westerners once perceived the Sun to be revolving around the Earth. That perception was a product of the cosmological ideas held at the time. We had the idea that the Sun was in motion around our planet. Soon, our idea changed. Now we believe the Earth is in motion around the Sun. What we see with our eyes didn't change. We still see the Sun rise in the morning, climb to the middle of the sky at noon, and set in the evening. What changed was our idea. If our ideas do not deepen, our understanding will not grow.

The soul seems to reveal itself in its ideas. Since it is in constant motion, our ideas are also in motion. As our ideas deepen, our vision of soul is elucidated.


One evening, I sat on the beach here at Palmetto Dunes and gazed into the vast expanse of water we call the Atlantic Ocean. It was twilight and the moon was on the rise. The waves crashed gently, creating chaotic foam-swirls at my feet. The sound of the ocean was hypnotic, inducing a trance-like state of consciousness.

On the eastern horizon, I could just make out several lights, probably from shrimp boats. The scene was quite magical and picturesque.

I thought to myself, "This is the mother of us all, for all life on earth originated in the sea."

The ocean is, of course, one of the classic symbols of what Jung deemed the collective unconscious. But that sounds so cliche nowadays, so banal. Symbols don't mean much on paper, but the living experience of so great a phenomenon is just amazing.

Many people take the ocean for granted because they live so close to it. I grew up in the Midwest and didn't witness the power of the sea until about ten years ago. When I come to it now, it is much like a pilgrimage to my point of origin. I love to sit before it, as a student would sit before a teacher. The experience is so overwhelming! If one desires to know the power of Soul, go sit by the ocean for awhile, close your eyes, empty your mind of all distractions, and just enjoy the trip.
Sometimes when I gaze out upon the ocean
I dwell on its vastness in amazing clarity

I try to capture the totality of its size
within me, to absorb its seemingly endless distance

When the ocean air flows around me
as gentle as a breeze can be
I try to capture the sun's rays
keeping it within me, within my mind

I find solace in the ocean
I retreat to it like a place of refuge

When the days become shorter
and the breezes cooler
I walk on the sand in solitude
joyful in the presence of divine nature

The waves crash and its sound
lulls and comforts my weary soul

as if in a dream
the ocean soothes my restless mind
its divine peace, a cure
to my saddened heart

We are like waves
a movement that is a flicker of
that great ocean

We may reach the shore and cease to exist
but like a wave we are forever part of
the ocean.
--by randomguru


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