I thought the readers of this blog would want to know of the passing of psychologist James Hillman, who died on October 27 at 85 from complications with bone cancer.
Just the little I’ve read of his amazing work has had a profound and long term effect on me. Perhaps the most influential was when I was at Antioch College. I was in crisis mode. I was telling a counselor that I wanted to go into Psychology, except I was having issues with the head of the department who was a big behaviorist with a picture of B.F. Skinner hanging above his desk. The school counselor suggested I read Hillman’s book We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy – and the World is Getting Worse written in conversation with Michael Ventura. I never did read that one, and I never did study psychology in academic setting. The teacher was very hostile towards Wilhelm Reich and Carl Jung, even at a radical school like Antioch. I dropped out after the term.
Later I did read The Souls Code: In Search of Character and Calling by Hillman which is basically his thoughts about the Daemon, or Holy Guardian Angel if that’s your preference of terms. It was excellent. In it he talked about various well known individuals early lifes, and how by looking into them, the pattern, as set out by the daemon, for a persons life work could be seen in these early experiences. I still have The Dream and the Underworld sitting on one of my bookshelves awaiting attention. I’m sure it is essential reading for aspiring Oneiromancers.
In the New York Times obituary of Hillman they quoted him from 1976:
“Some people in desperation have turned to witchcraft, magic and occultism, to drugs and madness, anything to rekindle imagination and find a world ensouled. But these reactions are not enough. What is needed is a revisioning, a fundamental shift of perspective out of that soulless predicament we call modern consciousness.”
Gyrus wrote of this, over on his Dreamflesh blog, “However else Hillman has inspired me—and he’s inspired me very deeply—I just have to admire someone for whom witchcraft, magic, occultism, drugs and madness are ‘not enough’. Obviously he didn’t take the path of trying all of these and going through the other side. And obviously I don’t agree with him if he’s dismissing them outright (I don’t think he is). But it’s an important message for all of us mad druggie occultists. Something more is necessary.”
Eric Clarke and I had a good chat about James Hillman at the Esoteric Book Conference after party (2011). Eric emphasized how James Hillman wasn’t into the “victimization” that is part of so much modern day therapy and New Age fluff. In a review of One Hundred Years of Psychotherapy… the Library Journal wrote that Hillman “contend(s) that therapy encourages self-preoccupation, leaving no attention or energy for the woes of the outside world. Similarly, the ‘inner child’ movement has created a population of self-centered, juvenile adults who feel they have little power. Political apathy, a dying environment, and an inability to form real relationships are among the ills resulting from this solipsism.” Rather than fall back on endless hours of therapy and introspection people can pick themselves up and set about doing the real work, based on the call of their daemon, that will change themselves and this world. By writing this I’m not dismissing the validity of soul retrieval and our inner young ones. These aspects need to get reintegrated. Health is the goal -and a return to meaningful work and life, not an endless round of sessions delving into troubled pasts, which in many instances seems to prevent people from moving forward. A good therapist would be one you don’t need to see forever.
James was also an adept dream teacher. His most famous words for dream interpretation were “Stick with the image”. Don’t over-interpret the image. Carry the image with you. It has its own energy and is its own interpretation.
James Hillman was a champion of the imagination and the soul. His tireless work aimed at the reenchantment of this world.