By entering the imagination we cross into numinous precincts. And from within this territory all events in the soul require religious reflection.
James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology, p. 226
Archetypal Psychology is ultimately a religious project since its primary concern is for the soul and its relationship with the Gods. Hillman’s (1975) conception locates soul in a nonhuman realm where it is more of a perceptive quality rather than an object or substance. Furthermore, this perceptive quality of soul is self-reflective—it differentiates, mediates, communicates; it imaginates, congregates, and “deepens events into experiences” (p. xvi). As a perceptive functionality, soul is inseparable from image. It is a visionary and myth-making activity that experiences itself “through dream, image, and fantasy—that mode which recognizes all realties as primarily symbolic or metaphorical” (p. xvi). Jung also placed high value on images and their function in the psyche. Indeed, Jung said that “image is psyche” (Jung, 1929/1967, p. 54, CW13 para. 75) and Hillman follows Jung by confirming the monumental purpose of images in human psychology. Both men argue that images are the primary data of psychic life where soul is image and image is soul. Therefore understanding the nature of image would lead to a deeper understanding of not just the nature of soul, but also its needs and requirements.
Turning to the word “archetypal” which qualifies Hillman’s psychology is already a move toward images since archetypes themselves are inherently inscrutable and intrinsically unknowable so that there can be no conception or experience of an archetype without an image. Images are the language of the archetypes and if “image is psyche” then archetypes are psyche, too. An archetype brings a particular style of perception or a pattern into which experience can flow and grow into an intelligible psychological metaphor. So an archetypal perspective is a soulful and imaginative perspective.
Through overpowering numinous images, archetypes seize the soul and induce psychic action which then sensuously unwinds itself into a longwinded drama with countless actors and as many acts. These archetypal events are metaphor, myth, and story that take place in what Corbin (1972) has called the mundus imaginalis—a world of “celestial spheres” and “mystical cities” located between “the empirical world and the world of abstract intellect” (p. 7). Because of their residence in this celestial yet ontologically real nonhuman sphere, archetypes are imagined by Hillman as veritable Gods, and since they are innumerable, Hillman conceives of psyche as essentially polytheistic. Gods and the archetypal images they inhabit are perceived and experienced through imaginal stories and metaphors of the psyche, thus they allow the soul to make and experience itself. This process of soul-making is the primary concern of archetypal psychology.
For Hillman, the human being is inside the psyche, not the other way around. Therefore the most urgent work of life is to awaken to the inherent divinity of our souls—to internalize external reality and transmute it into metaphorical, imaginal, and symbolical reality which is the only reality the soul can recognize. The literal events of everyday life must be taken inward to the soul’s realm where they are transformed into the myths and dramas and stories of our polytheistic souls and their archetypal patterns. Archetypes are the root metaphors of the psyche and give it its flow and direction, they are the ideas of the soul, tools with which it weaves itself into illustrious or tragic patterns. Without this procedure we are left with nothing but the literal world of “history, society, clinical psychopathology, or metaphysical truths” (Hillman, 1975, p. 128) and these literalized aspects of external life are alien to the soul and naturally cause alienation and harm. Archetypal psychology therefore encourages us to “recollect the Gods in all psychological activity” (p. 226). Through the imaginative function we can realize that we are made of the nonhuman stuff of the soul and that this nonhuman stuff is essentially divine. This is the work of soul-making.
Corbin, H. (1972). Mundus imaginalis or the imaginary and the imaginal. Spring: An annual journal on Archetypal Psychology and Jungian thought. Putnam, CT: Spring Publications.
Hillman, J. (1975). Re-visioning psychology. New York, NY: Harper & Row Publishers.