Polytheistic Psychology

There cannot be only one…

This goes into territory that seems more fitting in the religion forum than any other forum, so away we go. One of the threads that runs through the book Re-Visioning Psychology by James Hillman is the matter of polytheistic psychology.

“Polytheistic psychology refers to the inherent dissociability of the psyche and the location of consciousness in multiple figures and centers.”

He marks this in contrast to monotheistic consciousness.

“What we learn from dreams is what psychic nature really is – the nature of psychic reality: not I but we; not one but many. Not monotheistic consciousness looking down from the mountain, but polytheistic consciousness wandering all over the place, in the vales and along rivers, in the woods, the sky and under the earth.”

He is suggesting a significantly different perspective on ourselves.

“Polytheism, which many call a heresy, implies radical relativism…”

In other words the idea that there are multiple perspectives that are all correct. A heresy indeed in both science and theology.

“…myths offer the multiplicity of meanings inherent in our lives, while theology and science attempt singleness of meaning. Perhaps this is why mythology is the mode of speaking religion in polytheistic consciousness, and why monotheistic consciousness writes down theology. Polytheistic consciousness is ever reminded by myth of the ambiguity of meanings and the multiplicity of persons in each even in each moment.”

There are entrenched habits that we would have to overcome.

“The egocentric psyche with its one eye fixed on wholes and unities may grudgingly admit personifying as a figure of speech, but never that the imaginal realm and its persons are actual presences and true powers.”

What effect could this shift in our thinking create?

“This means nothing less than dethroning the dominate fantasy ruling our view of the world as ultimately a unity – the real meaning, real beauty and truth require a unified vision. It also means that we would abandon a notion of our personality as ultimately a unity of self.”

“And with the departing dominant unitary fantasy would go as well its dominant emotion: loneliness”

Hi Xanderman

I think that James Hillman may have read some books on esoteric Christianity.

Yes, man’s name is legion and as a plurality, we are the wretched man; not one but many. Each take their turn of superiority through our ever changing emotional states. Man’s evolution is in the conscious direction of inner unity or “I” which exists in our collected being only as a potential.

Yes, this is the fallacy of acornology that suggests our personality as the unity of self.

If the shell of an acorn, our personality is nurtured to the extent of starving the kernel of life within the acorn’s shell, then a person dies on the inside. If a person becomes aware of what they are losing, then they can consciously begin to separate the wheat from the tares within themselves and begin to experierience life from a more collected state of presence rather than anticipate it as it turns in circles in accordance with the results of our habitual plurality.

That is certainly possible, but it is not what leaps to my mind. His work is overall critical of the Christian perspective.

This idea that you present is completly at odd with Hillman’s idea. The plurality of man is beautiful, not wretched. One does NOT need to seek unity. Unity is not the goal here. Rather the point is that mutliplicity is mighty fine.

Well Xanderman, as you can see I’ve never read James Hillman. But, assuming he believes in evolution, if he asserts that evolved man, that which we strive towards, lacks inner unity and void of “I am” as we are now, then you are right, he is not at all related to esoteric Christianity. :slight_smile: This outlook seems more Pagan.

Oh yes, it is a far more pagan idea. Although it is important to note that he never advocates the worship of the Gods, just the recognition of them. That is key. Recognition and acceptance of the Gods as autonomous non-human powers. They are beyond humanity, outside of it, enveloping it. We are all in the hands of the Gods, no matter if we know it or not. So then it is better to be fully aware of them and their constant influence on our lives. I am moved by the Gods. “I” as this ego am created by the Gods, just as every “I” is their creation.

This is a critical re-evaluation of our place in the greater picture. We are all mere mortals, even to the best and worst among us. The Greeks found a keen awareness of this in their myths. The same awareness was being rediscovered in the Renaissance.

Xanderman

This is really quite fascinating. Self knowledge for me is what you imply. It is understanding the nature of what influences us. It seems as though you seek to support it through our many i’s in service to the earth while for me, the goal is to out grow it and not just serve the earth but be an aspect of a cosmological connection sometimes described as what connects heaven and earth.

I guess to each his own.

Self-knowlege yes, but this is not the self-knowledge of ego-psycholgy. This is a different order of self-knowledge. It is knowing the complexity of the the diversity, the fullness of the self. This is the middle ground between theology and science. It is the space between physics and metaphysics.

I agree that the nature of ones ego must be made clear. We would disagree as to its validity in respect to human “being.”. The view of esoteric Christianity and those who understand it even without formal study such as Simone Weil is that the fullness of our ego is formed from imagination taking the place of consciousness where the spirit can dwell. This is the human condition.

Self knowledge of ourselves and our plurality experienced from the conscious perspective of presence allows us to be known from above. Normally this presence is denied by our imagination or egotism which takes the place of consciousness.

From the Gospel of Thomas:

This is “I Am.” It is above the earth. It is the knowledge of the psychological poverty of man tied to the earth. Unfortunately this struggle to know ourselves is underestimated in the New Age and people ignore this detail and announce that they are sons of God. Nothing like escapism. :slight_smile:

But the point in regards our conversation is in our diferences concerning our understandings of ego. It is true that egotism makes our plurality appear desirable. My concern is for what is sacrificed to this pleasure.

Well the idea that I am working with here does not see the imagination as a source of trouble. The imagination is a wonderful thing.

“The soul’s first freedom is the freedom to imagine.”
“The autonomy of fantasy is the soul’s last refuge of dignit, its guarantor against all oppression; it alone we can take with us into the barracks behind the barb wire.”

Every movement may be denied to you, but your imagination can always keep moving.

Hillman’s ideas work against what he calls the heroic ego fantasy. This he ties in with the medical fantasy.

“We must leave the normative ideals of health as balanced wholeness which derives either from statistical averages of idealizations of a sound mind in a sound body, a superman image of God-man who dominates our ego’s fantasies of itself as a hero in marble without hurt or blemish, carved on one solid piece, perpetually balanced upon its center of gravity.”

A focusing on consciousness is presented as an obstacle.

“If tendencies towards dissociation were not inherent in the human psyche, fragmentary psychic systems would never have been split off; in other words, neither gods not spirits would have ever come into existence. That is also the reason why our time has become so utterly godless and profane: we lack all knowledge of the unconscious psyche and pursue the cult of consciousness to the exclusion of all else. Our true religion is a monotheism of consciousness, a possession by it, coupled with a fanatical denial of the existence of fragmentary autonomous systems.” Carl Jung Collected Works.

This is a movement beyond the “above” perspective. It is down here in the thick of it. I don’t quite get the blending of imagination and egotism. I see the imagination well outside of the ego. Do you see them as occupying the same space?

From the Gospel of Thomas:

This passage, which I have read before, currently reminds me of this:
“We learn that one need not soar and plunge on grand shamanistic journeys in order to affect the soul to its depths. Those would be trips of the spirit which distend the soul filling it with air or gas, inflation. The souls is not moved by our moving through it; this is but another heroic voyage of the ego now translated into interior space. Instead, the pathologized image held solemnly is what moves the soul. One dwells upon the affliction or dwells with it, in bed with the leper, in its embrace. And as in alchemy or memorizing, one goes over and over the same ground again. The iteration, as it was called, is the itinerary, fantasy ever returning to the same complex, moving it now this way, now that. A virtue of pathologizing is that it does not let us escape the closed space required for soul making, the heat and oppression and intensity-all of which are the antidote for spiritual inflations.”

Well I am certainly not advocating hedonism, and nor does Hillman. SO I am uncertain how that applies.

Not a reader of Hillman, but his ideas seem familiar and present in other philosophies, so I’ll take a shot at it.

Hillman-- “Polytheistic psychology refers to the inherent dissociability of the psyche and the location of consciousness in multiple figures and centers.”

Rather than inherent I would say “apparent”. Ofr course, I would like to better understand what he means by “psyche” and how words like “centers” and “figures” apply to a subject so prone to misgivings as psychology. I will continue on but not before saying that it seems logically necessary that the self is divided, perhaps because experience itself and the senses and time collaborate to prevent a true unity not only of the subjects outer environs but his inner environs as well. However, it seems to me that the role of the self is to impose unity on what is disperse and thus would argue that the psyche is, from my pov, is inherently social, not dissocial.

Hillman-- “What we learn from dreams is what psychic nature really is – the nature of psychic reality: not I but we; not one but many. Not monotheistic consciousness looking down from the mountain, but polytheistic consciousness wandering all over the place, in the vales and along rivers, in the woods, the sky and under the earth.”

I think that Hillman is writing here ancient views and confidence of freudians that dreams are “what psychic nature really is”. Even now it sounds strange to speak of dreams as “really” since often reality is contrasted to dreams. This confidence seems misplaced since we may discuss about what dreams are like–but we are not always dreaming. Now a dream is dissociable, I agree, and apart from lucid dreamers most of humanity is prey of dreams. Dreams can be crippling and nightmares can weaken one after in the light of day. But when we are not dreaming, in our practical life, we have a social sense of self. I may act different at work, at home at church, with my child, with my wife, with my boss or with a stranger. But all these aspects of my self are sociable with one another and merge into my idea of my-self.

Hillman- “Polytheism, which many call a heresy, implies radical relativism…”

Not at all, as Socrates found out.

X- In other words the idea that there are multiple perspectives that are all correct. A heresy indeed in both science and theology.

There is a hiearchy within pantheons of gods. Zeus is the most potent god of Olympus, and rules the other gods. I am not saying that the gods are not gods but that in relation man they are gods but in relation to Zeus, what can they be?
And let’s not discriminate or divide so sharply what is closely nit. For example, monotheism is not as monotheistic as you imagine. God is the “God of Host”. He rules amongst powerful beings; opposed by a powerful Acuser who is served by his own evil army; has a son—are these things that could not be said of Zeus?

Hillman-- “…myths offer the multiplicity of meanings inherent in our lives, while theology and science attempt singleness of meaning. Perhaps this is why mythology is the mode of speaking religion in polytheistic consciousness, and why monotheistic consciousness writes down theology. Polytheistic consciousness is ever reminded by myth of the ambiguity of meanings and the multiplicity of persons in each even in each moment.”

Mythology and theology…are they really different? Could we not say that theology is but a sublime mythology? If you take Genesis, for example, what is that but mythopoetic consciousness revealed?! I still do not see this sharp distinction and perhaps it is because there isn’t any and the author is forcing it in place to:
1- advance a theory.
2- weaken a ghost of ages past, just like Nietzsche and Freud and in a way even Jung.
The choir to this comedy is that monotheism is bad and polytheism is good as a guide to the real psyche of man and that seems far from demonstrated historically.

Hillman-- “This means nothing less than dethroning the dominate fantasy ruling our view of the world as ultimately a unity – the real meaning, real beauty and truth require a unified vision. It also means that we would abandon a notion of our personality as ultimately a unity of self.”

What is beautiful? What is true? What you and I agree on as being true or beautiful-- that is unity of voice, of opinion. Meaning is obtained when we can agree on an acceptable definition. The dictionary would be an impossibility is a provisional conscensus could not be reached. Therefore, it seems to me that it is not in diversity that we get meaning, beauty and truth but in agreements and conscensus. I am not defending the dominant fantasy here but to point out that domination is itself a fantansy when imagined as the result of the effort and tyranny of one. Domination occurs by majority. So we should always ask what is the alternative to the dominant view. Why is it dominant? Why this rather than other views? etc…

Hillman-- “And with the departing dominant unitary fantasy would go as well its dominant emotion: loneliness”

I do have this book at home waiting for me to open it and read it. I will eventually and perhaps then I will see better what he means. I cannot say now why loneliness is believed by him to be the chief emotion–it seems contrary to my experience and written history. But I hope my post gives you an antagonistic view rather than flattery and agreement.

Xanderman

I don’t want to seem offensive but I do not understand his logic:

The soul as a seed or potentialfor “I” needs to grow. It grows from being allowed to consciously witness and experience from the perspective of wholeness. The opposite of conscious affirmation is imagination that chooses sides and governed by duality. I cannot see how this imagination can be considered freedom in other than a subjective sensse.

Perhaps the difference is one of semantics. He considers the ego our soul and I draw a sharp distinction between them. I associate the soul with our essence or what we are born with. Ego is the controlling factor of our acquired personality. From this point of view I can see his concern for dignity which is an aspect of our personality.

Does he define consciousness? Consciousness witnesses plurality it doesn’t deny it. Associative thought and the illusion of ourselves as unified “I” denies consciousness though is often referred to as consciousness. A person’s life is largely unconscious so naturally we lack knowledge of what is often called the unconscious which is actually closer to consciousness.

Egotism results from imagination. We live in chaos. Where are thoughts, emotions, and sensations should provide a complete coordinated conscious experience of external life, they are actually in conflict. This inner conflict is rationalized through imagination. The habitual patterns of this imagination create this corrupt ego that calls itself “I”.

Its not a matter of hedonism. I was suggesting that egotism denies our appreciation of objective human purpose associated with man’s conscious evolution; it denies the attraction of “The pearl of great worth.” I believe there is a karmic cost to this denial.

Omar,

(This reply is quite incomplete, but I am quite pressed for time at the moment. Please accept what I can give for now.)

Here is a little bit more from Hillman enrich these ideas:

The term “psyche” is synonymous with “soul” in Hillman’s work. This whole idea of polytheistic psychology is derived from depth psychology.

The “dissociability” Hill amn talks about involves

I hope that helps a bit.

Xander

I wonder if Hillman sees the irony in a dichotomous denial of monotheism in favor of polytheism. He contradicts his own perspective that there are multiple perspectives, each equally correct in its own way (but not that nasty monotheism). If he were to hold more true to his perspectivist/polytheistic leanings he would say that both monotheism and polytheism are correct in some sense (for example in the Christian trinity).

Hi Xan,

Why is it assumed that it is particularly the ‘egocentric psyche with its one eye fixed on wholes and unities’?

Surely it is the unselfish psyche in possession of a socially oriented eye that is likely to be the one, ‘fixed on wholes and unities,’ no?

peter

Xan, I must reiterate that I like Hillman but I do have some misgivings about his depth motives, which include an ax to grind in respect to capitalism. In an interview he gave to Scott London in 1998, he attacks capitalism relentlessly. Sure, there is much to criticize but so too is there with other economic philosophies, like communism, which I have not seen equally touched in his interview.
It could be that because he is american and that is what he knows, that is what he jousts with, but this does not excuse his lack of moderation and balance in his diagnosis of our condition. The very fact that he wants to render a diagnosis on the entirety of humanity, too, reveals a tyrant.
I do agree that Freudians have spent too much time in preserving the memory of Freud and often try to link all psychosis to the individual. Yet, often it is but the individual.
What he wants to do is far more ambitious. He says that he opposes psychotherapy because:
“It makes every problem a subjective, inner problem. And that is not where problems come from.”
Were I by him, I would ask:“How do you know that that is not where they come from? Data, research into all possible cases, in which case you are God, or because you rather it be so? He continues:
“They come from the enviroments, the cities, the economy, the racism.”
THis is funny because earlier he speaks of psychology having become trivial and banal egocentric pursuit rather “than an exploration of the mysteries of human nature.” But instead of revealing to us the mysteries of human nature, he lists what is outside of a human being–the enviroment, cities, the economy, racism.
True, we should deny any psychology that is as he explains:
“Psychotherapy turns it all on you: You are the one who is wrong”
But that does not mean that the complete opposite is true either and that cities and architecture are to blame for whatever we deem as undesirable. Further, his overemphasis on society is decadent, to borrow Nietzsche, and proposes that we must have society change for us to be sane. In that he is Marxist, absolving the psychosis to affirm a future society, which may be brought on by force or waited for patiently. We can’t fix ourselves until we fix society! That is the rallying cry of the rebel and the guillotine he releases upon his own reason.
This continues and is revealing in this interview troublesome thoughts that may explain the re-visioning, or revolution Hillman needs:
“I’ve found that contemporary psychology enrages me with it’s simplistic ideas of human life, and also it’s emptiness. In the cosmology that is behing psychology, there is no reason for anyone to be here or do anything. We are driven by the results of the Big Bang, billions of years ago, which eventually produced human beings and so on. But me? I’m an accident-- a result – therefore a victim.”
Just when I though he would reveal to me more about this human nature he alluded to earlier we return to this phobia of what lies outside of our subjective-- society, upbringing, cities, capitalism…the Big Bang? And in all of this is a victim mentality, as if impersonal things, like society are out to get him, or that their existence makes him a victim or that what is the case reneders him powerless. He does not touch upon the concepts of our nature, a nature that cares little for what has happened billions of years ago. We are absurd machines who will imagine meaning, will create meaning, as he too tries. Because psychology depressed him he has created a religion within psychology. That said, he has not added anything to the Big Bang (for example), which is still absurd, but has brought unity within himself and that is my entire post above. Now he is, in his mind, not a victim, even if in reality he is but stardust and God’s body continues to decompose.
In the end, his views are radical but come, from a pessimistic, overly pessimistic view of our station to-day and an overly optimistic view in our prospects for the future:
" Economics is a slave driver. No one has free time; no one has any leisure. The whole (so much for ‘partly’) is under terrible pressure and fraught with worry. It’s hard to get out of the box. That’s the dominant situation all over the world.”
A true Marxist could not have said it better.

I think the original oral myths in the bible before that guy YHWH became such a central character of belief, was that of Elohim. Elohim as you may or may not know translates roughly to gods. many gods. etc.

If you compare the passages dealing solely with Elohim vs those dealing solely with YHWH, it is a very, very different tone.

Capitalism, is a system that doesn’t drive us forward spiritually. Communism and other commune type living has that capability, if the participants are willing. Otherwise you’ll get what we got when communism becamse big. Russia, China, Korea, Vietnam. And now France. One need only look at the mis-steps of the French leadership to see where communism can go wrong.

“Capitalism, is a system that doesn’t drive us forward spiritually. Communism and other commune type living has that capability, if the participants are willing. Otherwise you’ll get what we got when communism becamse big. Russia, China, Korea, Vietnam. And now France. One need only look at the mis-steps of the French leadership to see where communism can go wrong.”

Capitalism has it’s genious in being limited in scope. Why should an economic system become a religion? And what happens when the realities of human nature confront the principles of such swollen systems? Terror. Capitalism is better because it does not require perfection of the world, such as religion will do, as well as communism. If it was possible for one country to be compleatly isolated and independent, maybe communism could strive but what Marx already knew is that in economic competition, communism would fail to compete with capitalism and therefore it could not begin properly until the proletariat, or canon foder, rose in all the nations. This either/or fate proved it’s undoing.
Now, my point is here that religious economic systems become acceptable in utopian visions, which see the comming of heaven or the comming of heaven on earth. But in both, be it Stalinism or christianity, the failure of that utopia to decend upon the earth transforms the gentle nature of the rebellion, by trying to expedite it’s arrival by conversion of apostates.

well. You are slightly mistaken, we don’t live in a “pure” capitalistic society. If we did the drive to monopolistic power would eventually cause capitalism to eat itself. (hell it might already look at the walmart syndrome.)

I do agree that capitalism in general wasn’t made to solve human problems. That in itself is my problem with it.

and needs to be in social science under it’s own topic, your drifting from Xanderman’s topic.

I may be presenting his ideas poorly. He is not just matching up monotheism versus polytheism, it’s a bit different. It is a matter of [monotheistic psychology] differentiated from [polytheistic psychology]. How do we approach the soul? Do we approach the soul as if it were one thing, and wherever it presents anything other than one thing then do work against that separation?
Or do we approach the soul as if it were many things and accept all the many things that it is? Also looking away from this body, does the world have one soul or many souls?

Let me add this quote about this very matter:

It’s good that Hillman is not getting “caught up in a choice between two styles of religion”. Neither monotheism nor polytheism should be emphasized to the exclusion of the other. The one and the many are mutually dependent in philosophy. The one, to be of any interest, must have some internal structure, some concept of many. And the many, to be comprehensible, must be in some sense one.

Hillman’s quote applies here. It’s not one or the other, it’s both. The soul is a unity with an internal structure.