The Essential James Hillman; A Blue Fire

The Essential James Hillman; A Blue Fire

  • Paperback:336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (June 19, 1997)
  • Language:English
  • ISBN-10:0060921013
  • ISBN-13: 978-006092101Book review and synopsis written by Shane Eynon PhD

James Hillman (April 12, 1926 – October 27, 2011) was an American psychologist. He studied at, and then became the leader of studies for, the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich soon after the death of C.G. Jung.

Hillman was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1926. He was the third child of four born to Madeleine and Julian Hillman. James was born in Breakers Hotel, one of the hotels his father owned. His maternal grandfather was Joseph Krauskopf, a rabbi in the Reform Judaism movement who founded several schools and synagogues. For many years he served as an itinerant rabbi in the Deep South of the United States. After high school, he studied at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service for two years. He served in the US Navy Hospital Corps from 1944 to 1946, after which he attended the University of Paris, studying English Literature, and Trinity College, Dublin, graduating with a degree in mental and moral science in 1950. In 1959, he received his PhD from the University of Zurich, as well as his analyst’s diploma from the C.G. Jung Institute and was then appointed as Director of Studies at the institute, a position he held until 1969.



In 1970, Hillman became editor of Spring Publications. Re-visioning Psychology, was written in 1975 and nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. His 1997 book, The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, was on The New York Times Best Seller List that year. His works and ideas about philosophy and psychology have also been popularized by other authors such as Thomas Moore. His published works, essays, manuscripts, research notes, and correspondence (through 1999) reside at OPUS Archives and Research Center, located on the campuses of Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria, California which is now a hub for the study of depth psychology.


Archetypal Psychology

Archetypal psychology is a polytheistic psychology that differs from Jung’s Analytical Psychology in many ways, in that it attempts to recognize the myriad fantasies and myths that shape and are shaped by our psychological lives. The ego is but one psychological fantasy within an assemblage of fantasies. To illustrate the multiple personifications of psyche Hillman made reference to gods, goddesses, demigods and other imaginal figures which he referred to as sounding boards “for echoing life today or as bass chords giving resonance to the little melodies of daily life”. Here we can see a difference with orthodox Jungian Psychology.  Although he insisted that these figures should not be used as a ‘master matrix’ against which we should measure today and thereby decry modern loss of richness. Archetypal psychology is part of the Jungian psychology tradition and related to Jung’s original Analytical psychology but is 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 de-literalizes the ego and focuses on psyche, or soul, and the archai, the deepest patterns of psychic functioning, “the fundamental fantasies that animate all life” (Moore, in Hillman, 1991). NB: Adapted and revised from Wikipedia, 2018



‘Archetypal psychology is not a psychology of archetypes. Its primary activity is not matching themes in mythology and art to similar themes in life. Rather, the idea is to see every fragment of life and every dream as myth and poetry.’

Hillman, James. The Essential James Hillman: A Blue Fire (p. 15). Taylor and Francis.

We see here that Hillman makes a divergence from classical the classical Analytical Psychology from the outset. Hillman is building the basis of a psychology that views the inner world and outer world through the lens of myth and poetry. Hillman bases the entirely of his psychology not on science but on the aesthetic and poetic basis of the soul. He views consciousness as a thin layer of literalism that is depriving the soul of much needed meaning and experience. In essence, Hillman is seeking to harness the power of imagination and the image to bring a true and profound meaning to life. Therefore, psychology stands apart from science, moral philosophy, and religion in that is a disciple of the imaginative activity of the soul. Hillman wants us to be forced by the images. Rather than interpret a dream, Hillman prefers to let the dream interpret us. This approach gives imagination absolute priority over ego understandings and applications. The idea of a poetic basis of mind is a radical one, moving consciousness away from heroics toward a more receptive and malleable posture.

For Hillman, the soul takes on all the meanings that have been handed down throughout time and across cultures. He describes the essential meaning of soul as that part of human experience that is able to create and image. The loss of soul as described in the past includes not only a particular lifelessness and meaninglessness for those who lose soul, but also all the past descriptions of possession and oppression defined by past spiritual practices.

Hillman takes a unique view of psychopathology and psychiatric symptoms. In his view, which he shares with Jung, the very symptoms of suffering such as psychosis, depression, and anxiety are in actuality a language of the soul. In helping us with those symptoms the analyst and patient both need a loving patience in order to uncover and understand the nature of the symptom and learn the language of the soul.

Readers complain that James Hillman offers little in the way of technique and method. He speaks strongly against guided imagery, Gestalt techniques, the interpretation and application of images for life, drug-induced reverie, and studies in symbolism. While it is true one looks in vain in Hillman for a manual explaining how to work with images, he does provide some precise guidelines for elaborating images and for preserving their integrity. Of primary importance in archetypal practice is one’s attitude toward an image. Hillman says over and over that he wants to preserve the phenomena. “Stick to the image” has become a rule of thumb. This means not translating images into meanings, as though images were allegories or symbols. As he says, if there is a latent dimension to an image, it is its inexhaustibility, its bottomlessness. Even subtle moves with an image can turn it into a concept or link it into an abstract group of family symbols. Hillman also advises that an image comes with a moral claim. It haunts or obsesses until we respond to it in some fashion. It may suggest an internal necessity or a limitation, or it may require direct action. Images are daimones offering indications of fate. In a climate of modernism, imagination is often taken lightly. Relying on images for an ethical sensibility would seem to promote relativity. Anything goes. But Hillman recognizes a profound, subtle, complex morality in taking images seriously. Knowing our fantasy life is to know ourselves profoundly. From that particular kind of self-knowledge that is beyond ego comes a strong sense of destiny. In this sense, imagination provides a solid moral grounding. A different yet important kind of grounding also arises from psychological ideas. Modern psychology suffers from a debilitating anti-intellectualism. Instead of ideas, it relies on research designs, quantitative studies, simple and literalistic catalogs of illness, and a wide range of techniques. Or, it goes in the opposite direction where feelings are the final moral arbitrator. One of Hillman’s radical contributions to psychology is to ground psychology once again in ideas that have depth and texture, and to propose ideas with intellectual passion. In many writings, Hillman presents “rules” for working with images that are similar to the “rules” artists follow in their work. These rules protect the individuality of the image and yet let it speak more loudly than it would without this work. One rule, for instance, is to consider all the details and the context of an image. If you dreamed of a snake last night, that snake is not identical to the one that appeared to Adam and Eve, although it may be related. Hillman recommends that we take an olfactory approach to images. Pg 50.



According to the ancient Greek philosopher Thales, “the whole world is full of gods.” The idea that the world itself in all its particulars has soul was reborn in the Renaissance and now it is taken up in archetypal psychology. In the writings of James Hillman, Robert Sardello, Ginette Paris, Wolfgang Giegerich, and other archetypalists, this is not just a philosophical and mystical notion. If psychology is by definition work with the soul, and if nature and culture have soul, then psychology must concern itself with this larger sphere. Hillman argues strongly against reducing soul to personal subjectivity, naming personalism as one of the burdens of the modern era.

Psychology assumes that only humans are persons, and therefore we are given the impossible responsibility of carrying the full weight of soul. We tend to interpret everything in terms of personal relationships. Even therapy is often defined as the interaction of two persons, and the goal in therapy is the personal development or growth of the private individual. The soul is not of itself personal. Of course, the psyche presents itself in images of persons and in personal feelings, but it is more than personal. Carl Jung used the phrase objective psyche, suggesting that when we look into the soul, we are looking at something with its own terrain, its own history and purposes, and its own principles of movement and stasis. The interested, noninterfering tone Hillman usually takes when dealing with manifestations of the soul derives in large measure from this conviction that the soul has its own reasons.

To the archetypal psychologist the world, too, is a patient in need of therapeutic attention. When our fantasy of the world deprives it of personality and soul, we tend to treat this “inanimate” world badly. We place all our psychological attention on interior events and intimate relationships, withdrawing that attention from the world. But if the world has subjectivity, we have to have a relationship with it Therefore, as Hillman says, we can be in the world through the heart rather than the head. We can feel our congenital ties to the things of nature and of culture, discovering our actual attachments and thereby developing new intimacies with what has been previously dismissed as dead throwaway matter. Hillman refuses to see personality in the world of things as projection of our own fantasies. While it is true that we perceive the world’s soul through a refined and strong imagination, that doesn’t mean that the world is alive only through our fantasy of it. Nature, architecture, politics, economics, and even city transportation are filled with fantasy that lies beyond our projections. Archetypal psychology tries to unveil that imagery. The point is not to dissect the world’s soul for the mere pleasure of analysis and understanding, but to remember the world’s body so that we can become more aware of how it affects us and relate to it as person to person. We might also find in that relationship, as we would with a human patient, areas of suffering in need of special attention. Here, Hillman’s point is that therapy on our own souls is ultimately ineffective without equal attention to the world soul.

Panic, especially at night when the citadel darkens and the heroic ego sleeps, is a direct participation mystique in nature, a fundamental, even ontological experience of the world as alive and in dread. Objects become subjects; they move with life while one is oneself paralyzed with fear. When existence is experienced through instinctual levels of fear, aggression, hunger or sexuality, images take on compelling life of their own. The imaginal is never more vivid than when we are connected with it instinctually. The world alive is of course animism; that this living world is divine and imaged by different gods with attributes and characteristics is polytheistic pantheism. That fear, dread, horror is natural is wisdom. In Whitehead’s term nature alive means Pan, and panic flings open a door into this reality. There is no access to the mind of nature without connection to the natural mind of the nymph. But when nymph has become witch and nature a dead objective field, then we have a natural science without a natural mind. Science devises other methods for divining nature’s mind, and the nymph factor becomes an irregular variable to be excluded. Psychologists then speak of the anima problem of the scientist. But the nymph continues to operate in our psyches. When we make magic of nature, believe in natural health cures and become nebulously sentimental about pollution and conservation, attach ourselves to special trees, nooks and scenes, listen for meanings in the wind and turn to oracles for comfort—then the nymph is doing her thing. (“Pan,” 24–25,33, 54)

Therefore, for Hillman, the Anima Mundi (World Soul) is a necessary and essential psychological phenomenon that requires fostering in the Western psyche.

Hillman writes, “Let us imagine the anima mundi as that particular soul spark, that seminal image, which offers itself through each thing in its visible form. Then anima mundi indicates the animated possibilities presented by each event as it is, its sensuous presentation as a face bespeaking its interior image—in short, its availability to imagination, its presence as a psychic reality. Not only animals and plants ensouled as in the Romantic vision, but soul is given with each thing, God-given things of nature and man-made things of the street. The world comes with shapes, colors, atmospheres, textures—a display of self-presenting forms. All things show faces, the world not only a coded signature to be read for meaning, but a physiognomy to be faced. As expressive forms, things speak; they show the shape they are in. They announce themselves, bear witness to their presence: “Look, here we are.” They regard us beyond how we may regard them, our perspectives, what we intend with them, and how we dispose of them. This imaginative claim on attention bespeaks a world ensouled. More—our imaginative recognition, the childlike act of imagining the world, animates the world and returns it to soul. Then we realize that what psychology has had to call projection is simply animation, as this thing or that spontaneously comes alive, arrests our attention, draws us to it. This sudden illumination of the thing does not, however, depend on its formal, aesthetic proportion which makes it “beautiful”; it depends rather upon the movements of the anima mundi animating her images and affecting our imagination. The soul of the thing corresponds or coalesces with ours. This insight that psychic reality appears in the expressive form or physiognomic quality of images allows psychology to escape from its entrapment in “experience.” Ficino releases psychology from the self-enclosures of Augustine, Descartes, and Kant, and their successors, often Freud and sometimes Jung. For centuries we have identified interiority with reflexive experience. Of course, things are dead, said the old psychology, because they do not experience (feelings, memories, intentions). They may be animated by our projections, but to imagine their projecting upon us and each other their ideas and demands, to regard them as storing memories or presenting their feeling characters in their sensate qualities—this is magical thinking. Because things do not experience, they have no subjectivity, no interiority, no depth. Depth psychology could go only to the intra- and inter- in search of the interiority of soul. Not only does this view kill things by viewing them as dead; it imprisons us in that tight little cell of ego. When psychic reality is equated with experience, then ego becomes necessary to psychological logic. We have to invent an interior witness, an experiencer at the center of subjectivity—and we cannot imagine otherwise. With things returned again to soul, their psychic reality given with the anima mundi, then their interiority and depth—and depth psychology too—depend not on their experiencing themselves or on their self-motivation but upon self-witness of another sort. An object bears witness to itself in the image it offers, and its depth lies in the complexities of this image. Its intentionality is substantive, given with its psychic reality, claiming but not requiring our witness. Each particular event, including individual humans with our invisible thoughts, feelings, and intentions, reveals a soul in its imaginative display. Our human subjectivity too appears in our display. Subjectivity here is freed from literalization in reflexive experience and its fictive subject, the ego. Instead, each object is a subject, and its self-reflection is its self-display, its radiance. Interiority, subjectivity, psychic depth—all out there, and so, too, psychopathology.”



According to Hillman, the soul searches everywhere for the myths that will nourish it. For millennia people have looked at trees, springs, caves, mountains, wheels, tall buildings, strongmen, lovely women, and animals of all kinds and have found the sparks of myth. Fantasy weaves around these things and ripens into myth. Later, scholars sometimes try to explain myth by reducing it to the originating object, but they get it backward. It is myth that is significant to human experience, not the object that sparked fantasy.

It’s difficult to apply this mythological viewpoint to the family. And it is upon the western family model that Hillman takes great pains to dissect. We have been thoroughly educated into thinking of the family as a literal sociological and psychological entity. Nevertheless, the family that is the concern of many of James Hillman’s essays is the mythic, archetypal family. It’s possible to look at anything through the image of family. The image itself continually draws on our actual experience of family, but it is not about the actual family. The family serves as metaphor, as a special lens through which we can see certain relations and patterns. Even in actual families, images of family members do not always coincide with literal expectations. A father or brother in a family may evoke maternal qualities, the mother a paternal tone, and so on. Our daily language often reflects this fantasy family. Industries and corporations speak of a family of companies or products. Unions and other organizations call themselves brotherhoods and sisterhoods. We speak casually of mother figures and father figures.

Hillman’s writing on the family examines subtle aspects of this metaphoric family. Hillman ‘s earlier essays explored family members as myth: the abandoned child, the hero’s mother, the senex, the puer. These family personalities were seen as types or figures for ways of being. One of the problems in thinking about family mythology is the tendency to forget that even as we think we are always in a particular myth. Even psychological analysis is done through a particular mythic pair of eyes. It is easy to fall into the senex when condemning youth as irresponsible and self-destructive. Some people naturally slip into a maternal complex whenever they encounter a child. A puer might easily discuss the senex with apparent objectivity and yet, from the puer viewpoint, make subtle negative judgments about conservatism or slowness. Hillman helps us get some distance on these unconscious habits derived from the mythical figures of family. For example, he warns against an element of emptiness in the puer’s charm, and he suggests that senex melancholy might be a way toward imagination. These essays on family members also attempt to move us out of conventional and therefore unreflected biases. Hillman does not accept the commonly presented view that consciousness is a young male hero battling for independence from a smothering mother. He does not see the child as a phase we grow out of, or as a shadowless source of creativity. He criticizes fantasies of personal growth and warns that we cannot enjoy the benefits of the eternal child unless we also tolerate the childishness and dependence that come along with it.

Hillman also closely studies relations among the members of the archetypal family. He looks for polarities that suggest what is sometimes called a split archetype. From a certain point of view, puer and senex are part of the same archetypal formation. For instance, one solution to senex rigidity and authoritarianism in an organization or in government might involve accommodating some puer elements, some experimentation and re-visioning, rather than valuing only order and tradition. Implied, however, in Hillman’s approach is an avoidance of compensatory moves. He has frequently warned against the dangers of compensation in any oppositionalist view of the psyche. Therefore, in a case of a destructive senex complex, it might be better to deepen and enrich the senex element than to compensate by trying to force carefree spontaneity. It is the troublesome family member that needs closer attention, not some other figure.

Hillman takes a unique perspective on the family that needs to respected. “We are born into a family and, at the last, we rejoin its full extension when gathered to the ancestors. Family grave, family altar, family trust, family secrets, family pride. Our names are family names, our physiognomies bear family traits and our dreams never let us depart from home—father and mother, brother and sister—from those faces and those rooms. Even alone and only ourselves, we are also always part of them, partly them…. Where does family fit in the modern myth of individual independence?

That myth says home is what you leave behind. Moving on means moving out. You can’t go home again—unless after failure or divorce. Women want careers, downtown, where the action is. Men long for something more, undefined, but most surely not more family. Marriages and family founding, especially foundings of large families, are more and more countered by separations, living apart, single-parent households, divorces. Generations divided; children in day care; elders in Arizona. The place where one is most likely to be killed is at home, both perpetrator and victim, family members. Yet family has been battered by more than these sociological developments.

It has taken an even worse beating from the notion of development itself. Nothing has abused the family more than our psychological theories of development, with their myth of individual independence. Family, so goes the developmental tale, is only the beginning, a necessary evil, which like all beginnings must be left behind. An adult has grown up, declared his independence, and his life and liberty are dedicated to the pursuit of his own happiness. In the United States a newborn infant is believed to be so symbiotically fused with its mother that every effort must be made to develop its ability to separate, to stand on its own as early as it can. In Japan a newborn infant is believed to be so utterly alien that every effort must be made to enfold it within the human community as early as possible. Two opposed trajectories of development. Neither is right or wrong. Both are living myths, myths because they are lived unconsciously as truths and have long-term consequences.

Psychoanalysis has swallowed whole the myth of individual development away from family. Everyone who buys an hour of analysis buys into this myth called “strengthening the ego.” The first steps of any current treatment in mental hygiene (brain washing?) uncover the family romance, as it is called, which, in the widest sense, refers to the damaging fantasies arising from an individual’s relations within the family. Notice here the focus on the independent ego; the family represents merely the limits imposed by genetic nature or environmental nurture, a restrictive influence on personal growth. Other cultures would not imagine the individual over and against family. Where other cultural myths dominate, an individual is always perceived as a family member.

Our myth, however, insists that ego is strengthened and full personality achieved away from familial ties and pressures. Psychology has even invented secondary embellishments to make its myth of individual independence more compelling. (Otherwise a person might naively suppose that the family pulls and pressures are what other cultures regard as filial bonds, kinship love, family pride, parental sacrifice.) Therefore, psychology has discovered an entire demonology within family: the irremediable envy of sibling rivalry between brothers and sisters, castration threats by fathers, disguised cannibalism by sons, devouring mothers and schizogenetic mothers, as well as omnipotent, amoral, polymorphously perverse children. These are only some of the denizens of the deeps in family life. Of course, therefore, maturing, coping and handling have come to mean freedom from family. And of course psychology finds itself justified to go right into the home to exorcise by means of family therapy the creatures that its myth has created.

Is it too much to assert that the most devastating effect of Western psychology is neither the reductive sexualization of the mind nor the pseudoreligion of self-centeredness, but rather its deliberate rupture of the great chain of generations, which it has accomplished by means of its myth of individual development toward independence? Not honor your father and mother, but blame them and you will come out strong…. The overwrought, exhausting difficulties that consume family life indicate that something important is going on. Any big emotion signals value; the task is to discover the gold in the sludge. Let’s see what we can recover from [four] typically emotional moments in family life. False identity: During childhood, traits of personality are identified and one’s identity begins to form partly in accordance with the perceptions of others. “Gilly’s a real tomboy, a stringbean who only has time for animals.” (Will Gilly ever marry? Will she become a lesbian or a veterinarian?) “Billy can’t keep out of trouble. I can’t trust him out of my sight.” (Will Billy ever hold down a decent job? Might he end up in prison?) “Milly was the quietest baby, always smiling and such a charmer.” (Will Milly stay home with her parents, keeping them happy, or get pregnant at fifteen?)”

Going back home: Whether from prison camp after a war or just taking the bus home for Thanksgiving, homecoming is fraught with dreadful anticipation. Opening the front door releases overwhelming emotions—and also the counterforce of repression against those emotions that so often characterizes the stifled atmosphere of returning. Here we must remember that going home is always going back home. Returning is essentially a regressive act in keeping with an essential function of family: to provide shelter for the regressive needs of the soul. Everyone needs a place to crawl and lick his wounds, a place to hide and be twelve years old, inept and needy. The bar, the bed, the boardroom and the buddies do not meet the gamut of needs, which always limp along behind the myth of independent individuality. Something always remains undeveloped and this piece needs to “go back home” as country-and-western lyrics often enough affirm. Going back may mean sleeping till two in the afternoon, or taking refuge in the bathroom, crying with mom in the kitchen, or just complaining as do the grandparents who fall ill during every visit. Going home, at whatever age, offers going back, regression. And the fight against family during these return trips is therefore a displacement of the fight against regression.

We don’t want to admit the weaknesses in our characters and the hungers in our desires. We don’t want to admit that we have not “grown up,” and so blame the family both for bringing out our worst and then for not indulging it enough. Meanwhile: that strange sense of consciousness ebbing away, going down the family drain. The debilitating energy loss strikes everyone alike as if a communal power outage. Everyone caught in repeating, and resisting, old patterns. Nothing changed, after all these years! No one can get out even for a walk to break the spell, the whole family sinking deeper into the upholstery (and television has little to do with it and may even be, in such moments, the household god who saves). These moments attest to the capacity of family for sharing—French anthropology used to speak of a participation mystique—in a common soul or psychic state, and for containing the regressive needs of the soul. No one is at fault, no one is kicked out, and no one can be helped. In the paralysis lies the profoundest source of acceptance. Grandpa can go on grumbling, brother attacking the administration, sister introvertedly attending her exacerbating eczema, and mother go on covering up with solicitous busy-ness. Everyone goes down the drain because family love allows family pathology, an immense tolerance for the hopeless shadow in each, the shadow that we each carry as permanent part of our baggage and that we unpack when we go back home.

These [four] bad moments are symptomatic of what lies at the root of family problems. Not the failure to “relate,” not the breakdown of the old patriarchal model, not even the incurably freakish, especially depressive, pathologies that make their home at home, but rather the root lies in the archetypal nature of family itself. As an archetypal reality, the experience of family feels so often “unreal” because family is permeated through and through with eternal exaggerations, an impossible too-muchness or mythic dimension, which is the stuff of the symptoms we suffer and also the stuff of much of Western culture’s stories, novels, and dramas. And this mythical exaggeration is at work in even the most conventionalized, urban, eat-and-run, unconnected, first-name parents, upward-mobile, areligious unit of consumers called family. Family is less a rational place than a mythical one, and the expectation of finding rational reality at home is precisely what makes us condemn it as “unreal.” Attempts at unambiguous communication, reasonable discussion of problems and structuring a new paradigm, all overlook the fundamentals at the source of family life: the deep-seated and indestructible complexes of the psyche—once called daimones, ghosts and ancestors—whose place is in the home. The notorious “nuclear” family of statistics, sermons and advertisements—two parents, two siblings, a family car and a pet—does not correspond with the Latin word from which family derives. “This famous word … is inseparable from the idea of land settlement, and is therefore essentially the house itself, with the persons living in it…. And thus the religion of the familia will be a religion of practical utility, of daily work, of struggle with perils…. It is not the worship of an idea of kinship” (W. W. Fowler, The Religious Experience of the Roman People, Macmillan).

Familia, familias to the Romans meant primarily “a house and all belonging to it,” “a household establishment, family servants, domestics (not = family, i.e., wife and children).” Neither parentage nor descent, not even bloodkinship within the clan (for which the Romans had the word gens) determined the use of the word family; place did. By Romans, here, I mean the entire civilized Western world and its language that lives on in our Latinate roots. Because familia connoted a physical house and all belonging to it as goods, fortune, inheritance, the more accurate part of the fantasy of the American nuclear family may be the estate car and the household pet. In fact, a domesticated animal was considered often a familiar. Living together in familiarity as a psychoeconomic organism—such is the meaning of family. Even the Greek word oikonomia (from which come economy and economics) means household management or keeping house. The family is a function of the house, rather than vice versa, where house is the concrete container of multiple familiarities and intimacies, the domesticated (from domus = “house”) world of belongings—what belongs to us and to what we belong—and where “belonging” also means what is fitting, appropriate and customary. This etymological revelation suggests a far broader sense of family, giving primary emphasis to the idea of a supportive psychic system under the same roof, whether farm, kibbutz, or a condominium block. This broader sense includes the notions of service and participation, a membership investing in and benefiting from a larger household. Filial piety and brotherly love seem irrelevant to this household, yet it does include all the things belonging to an estate: animals, goods and furnishings. Your family is your furniture in more than a metaphoric sense. Little wonder that such bitterness can erupt over dividing the family dishes after divorce or death; or that dreams of the old family car can continue to haunt long after the car itself was trashed.

On the use of dreams in analysis, Hillman takes a different course than Jung. A persistent message comes through again and again in James Hillman’s approach to dreams: draw near to the dream with respect and attention, enter its culture like a foreigner open to new ways. He urges us to “befriend” the dream, getting to know it the way we might get to know a person. The dream then becomes the occasion for learning about the inner worlds; the people who wander the soul; the landscapes of imagination; the stories and themes that are the cycles of fate, mood, and experience.

Hillman does not recommend bringing a dream up into the light and air of conscious life for interpretation, translation, and application. Rather, he suggests that we stay with the dream, letting it take us to places rarely glimpsed, except perhaps in complexes and compulsions. If, as many dreams show, there is an elevator or escalator between consciousness and the lower world of dream, Hillman’s advice is always to press the down button. Befriending a dream requires time, no quick and clever solutions, as though the dream were a puzzle to be solved. The analysis of a dream, therefore, never ends; it goes on and on. Analysis essentially means to “loosen up.” In imagination, in reflection, and in conversation, perhaps over years, a dream may loosen somewhat, and we might catch something of its mood and setting, its people and its action. It is as though the atmosphere of the dream, like the tone of a good story, draws us into itself, coloring our very reflection on it.

Avoiding interpretation does not mean leaving the dream untouched. Much work can be done without translating the dream into concepts or taking a lesson which is then applied directly to life. A dreamer or analyst can draw on a wealth of knowledge, on imagination and feeling, and on various traditional sources such as astrology or folktales or painting and work the dream without abusing it. Hillman offers a way into the dream other than taking up the club of Hercules and heroically getting the dream under conscious submission. Dante and Odysseus offer a different approach: look around, observe every detail, and get to know the locals. Perhaps because we live in such an extroverted world, surrounded by literalistic readings of life, it is difficult to maintain the underworld point of view. Yet, this is Hillman’s charge. Perhaps, he has written, the point of dreaming is to soak the ego over a long period of time in this world of death—death to our usual, conventional sense of life. An ego pickled in the dream juices of death might then be ready for a soulful life.

In summary, James Hillman was one of the first post-Jungians who endeavored to formulate his own unique approach to the psyche and in term a method for psychotherapy. In comparison to Jung, Hillman downplays the role of consciousness in belief that building soulfulness required the diminution of consciousness in world that overvalued rationality and logic. As a social critic, he could demonstrate uncanny insight and ability to see clearly what others could not see. Hillman invites us to participate in our lives and the world around us as a continuation of the great mythological tales full of mystery and abounding in life and soul.


Share this post

Comments (2)

  • susan Reply

    Thank you .. rich material ..

    December 10, 2018 at 7:29 pm
  • Linda Whitefeather Reply

    Very stimulating, thanks Stephen, and it certainly stimulates me to do more reading of Hillman. I laughed out loud at the ‘going back home’ section and I imagined reading it aloud at a family gathering, if I had such things.

    December 14, 2018 at 12:03 pm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *