This is the third in a series of blogs exploring, comparing and contrasting the writings and ideas set forth by the iconoclastic pioneer of archetypal psychology, James Hillman, with those of Bill Plotkin, a visionary leader in the endeavors of depth ecopsychology. The intention of the series is to deepen understanding of how the human being might contact and embody the imaginal realms whose formless forms connect each to all, breathing life into the communal dreaming of the Earth. The reader is assumed to at least have some familiarity with the general body of ideas, if not these particular thinkers. Click this category link to see all posts in the series.

Following on the theme of our last post concerning psychologies of structure versus psychologies of perspective, we venture into considerations of what sort of cosmology is enacted in the process of basing consciousness upon ego versus soul.[i]

Whether one might approach the challenges of psychology and psychospiritual development from the confines of a limiting schematic predicated on predictability and chronological sequences, or whether one is willing to navigate a life in flux, replete with mystery, paradox and dimensions beyond the quotidian, partly depends upon the meaning-making inherent in one’s worldview. The cultural historian and geologian Thomas Berry emphasizes that the cosmos is not a univocal phenomenon, but an analogous one. By this he means that the universe does not have a single meaning, nor does it render itself intelligible to a univocal approach. Being analogous, the universe is not a static and unchanging phenomenon; rather, it is fluid, changeable, interactive and responsive, and it invites us to understand by way of metaphorical language and comparisons.

Take for example the term “the Big Bang” used to describe the theoretical origin point of the universe in modern scientific understanding. It conveys with the simplest image “what happened in the beginning,” even though the term is not a univocal descriptor. Or as Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry explain the formation of stars in The Universe Story, “To say that the quantum tendencies of the hydrogen are influenced by the density waves passing through the cloud, and that this shock wave initiates the cloud’s implosion, is to describe an event using the univocal language of physics. An equivalently valid if metaphorical expression might be to say that the hydrogen listens to voices of the galaxy and responds by creating stars.”[ii]

The primary aim of all modern scientific language is univocality, or pinning down only one, unambiguous meaning for each term, which highlights a particular impotence to accurately describe the universe since our descriptions both reflect and enact our cosmology. As Swimme and Berry point out, their analogical description of the formation of stars reflects the interactive nature of the process, that both the gravity wave and the cloud of hydrogen participate in star formation. Univocal definitions tend to animate passive and mechanomorphic ideas, whereas Berry asserts that “analogy is the key to all human communion with the nonhuman, whether the divine or the natural world. The divine has ways of speaking that are not human ways. So too do natural phenomena have ways of speaking that are not human language. The effort to reduce all wisdom to univocal language is a primary error or failure of our times.” [iii]

As well is the effort to reduce human psychology to the literalizing motives and narrative of the ego which typically denies the agency of the other within—soul—and the others without—the anima mundi or soul of the world. Interacting with the universe as an analogous phenomenon supports the notion of a psychology of perspective, particularly as regards the perception of an archetypal dimension of the cosmos.

The conversation between ego and soul could be said to be mediated by archetype, a queer concept which itself eludes univocal definition. Bill Plotkin offers that archetypes are the “universal patterns of human behavior and character found in all cultures and in myths, dreams, art and literature.”[iv] Through his extensive researches of those areas of life, as well as clinical observations, Carl Jung came “to view archetypes as innate symbolic forms and psychological dispositions that unconsciously structure and impel human behavior and experience at both the personal and the collective level.”[v] James Hillman notes that “[t]hey tend to be metaphors rather than things” and we are “more inclined to describe them in images. …Archetypes throw us into an imaginative style of discourse.” In an important way, they are beyond description and “are the axiomatic, self-evident images to which psychic life and our theories about it ever return.”[vi] Since an archetype itself cannot be seen directly, it can only be recognized through repeated encounters with concrete manifestations.

According to Hillman, we may recognize an archetype by its behavior, its images (such as figures of myth) as well as its style of consciousness, taking for example the archetype of the Sage. Typically the Sage moves without haste or urgency, for she relaxes her rational, logical faculties and allows intuitive and imaginal knowing to present a holistic picture in which she is a participant of the cosmos, rather than an omnipotent orchestrator of its movement. She can see deeply into the future by rooting in the eternal present moment, sensing the continuity of past, present and future; she knows that cause and effect form a unity and that effects can affect their cause. The Sage thus listens carefully to the whole, rather than trying to extract specific information in an attempt to predict and control circumstances. She rests in the wisdom of letting go of personal preferences and cooperates with the flow of the phenomenal world. Popular images of the Sage are found in the Chinese Lao Tzu, Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series, the Oracle in the film The Matrix, and Caine in the TV series Kung Fu.

To engage the world through the lens of archetype is to journey beyond the confines of prescriptive schemata for analyzing and organizing our experiences of life, and to tumble into a world which is forever becoming, unfolding, mysteriously revealing different and even contradictory facets to the beholder. “Even sober operational definitions in the language of science and logic are no less metaphorical than an image which presents the archetypes as root ideas, psychic organs, figures of myth, typical styles of existence, or dominant fantasies that govern consciousness,” writes Hillman.[vii] Recalling Bill Plotkin’s attempt to map a general trajectory of psychospiritual development with the Soulcentric Developmental Wheel, mentioned in the previous post of this series, we briefly consider how models of the psyche may enact an analogous universe faithful to a psychology of perspective.

To reflect and enact a psychology of perspective, one must be careful not to use models of the psyche to create armoring against the mysterious ebb and flow of soul whose movements are far beyond the ken of the ego. Much as Hillman depicts the dance of puer and senex—the new and the old, innovation and structure, respectively—any soul-centered developmental model must fully integrate the puer, which arrives in the form of the unexpected, the sudden flash of insight, a disruption to the pattern-so-far, a bifurcation point. In this view, a model of the psyche may provide signposts or reflection points, a means to insight into movements of soul, but it is not to be taken as a straightforward road map depicting a series of hurdles to be cleared along the way to a finish line.  If we are navigating by and through archetype, then fluidity is required, for an analogous universe is rendered most intelligible through attention to qualitative rather than quantitative differences. In an analogous universe, our participation with its qualities brings us closer to the “real thing” precisely because it is not a univocal cosmos which is static, dead and unchanging, but evolving in a process of becoming and self-disclosure.

Perhaps this is why the artist is so revered in this lineage of depth psychology as the necessary ingredient for cultural transformation and healing—the subject of a later post in this series.

[i] For the definition of soul for the purposes of this series, viz. Part I. For an explanation of a psychology of structure and of perspective, viz. Part II.

[ii] Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), 43.

[iii] Thomas Berry, ed. Mary Evelyn Tucker, The Sacred Universe (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), 145.

[iv] Bill Plotkin, Wild Mind (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2013), 14

[v] Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche (New York: Viking, 2006), 57.

[vi] James Hillman, ed. Thomas Moore, A Blue Fire (New York: HarperCollins, 1989), 23.

[vii] James Hillman, ed. Thomas Moore, A Blue Fire (New York: HarperCollins, 1989), 23.