“Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a Soul?” It is with these words that the Romantic poet John Keats proposed, in a letter to his siblings, a “grander system of salvation” than the Christian religion, “a system of Spirit-creation” through which suffering can be addressed not in the afterlife but instead within the world. Frustrated by the religious rhetoric of his age that cast the world as an inevitable ‘vale of suffering,’ Keats insisted: “call the world if you Please ‘The vale of Soul-making,’” in which the experience of pain can be creatively transformed, allowing humans to form a “Soul or Intelligence destined to possess the sense of Identity.” By making our soul, we are able to find a greater and more harmonious sense of self in the world.
While ignored in religious discourse, and more evocative than technical in its description, Keats’ concept of soul-making has been taken up in the work of archetypal psychologist James Hillman. Attempting to restore to the discipline of psychology a concept of soul – the original Greek definition of ‘psyche’ – Hillman stressed in The Dream and the Underworld: “I call this work soul-making rather than analysis, psychotherapy, individuation. My emphasis is upon shaping, handling, and doing something with psychic stuff. It is a psychology of craft rather than a psychology of growth.” Writing in Religion & Literature, Walter L. Reed suggested that, like Hillman, Keats may have had a process of artistic craft in mind: “The problem of pain is answered for Keats not by the acquisition of immortality… but by an act of creation or poiesis.” Comparing Keats and Hillman’s views on soul-making to the theories of literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin – in which there is a strong functional homology between an author’s relation to the hero of their aesthetic work and the spirit’s relation to the soul – Reed opens up the possibility that there is more to soul-making than its completion in a creative act. Drawing on Keats, Hillman, and Bakhtin, as well as the mythopoetic work of Carl Jung’s Red Book and a variety of other poetic and spiritual writers, this paper attempts to examine the possibility that, like an aesthetically crafted hero, the soul is itself an artistic product, a creation of the symbolic imagination.
“How then are Souls to be made?” asked Keats. “How then are these sparks which are God to have identity given them-so as ever to possess a bliss peculiar to each one’s individual existence… but by the medium of a world like this?” In order to examine the artistic production of the soul, we must first say what such a thing is. Soul is a slippery concept that has been defined in a broad range of often-contradictory ways throughout history. For Keats, there is a distinction between the individual soul and the intelligence or spirit: “There may be intelligences or sparks of the divinity in millions-but they are not Souls till they acquire identities.” This layered understanding of the spiritual self, which also informs the writings of Hillman and Bakhtin, extends through Greek philosophy, Christian and Gnostic theologies, medieval alchemists like Jacob Boehme, and metaphysical poets such as William Blake. For these diverse thinkers and artists, the self contains an external, perishable body as well as the spirit – the eternal, essential intelligence or spark of divinity common to all life, which Reed described in the Christian tradition as “an aspect of divine being as well as human existence” – a duality against which stands the soul: “commonly considered the possession of an individual human being, his or her particular vital identity.”
Rather than reaffirm the old and problematic Cartesian dualism separating mind and matter, spirit and body stand in interactive relation to each other through the soul. As the alchemist Boehme stated in his Confessions: “The flesh marks the outward moving… The second moving in man is the astral… The third moving is generated between the astral and the outermost, and is called… the soul.” Blake expressed this more poetically in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: “Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that called Body is a portion of Soul discerned by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.” In this conception, soul can be seen as an interface or medium through which the internal spirit relates to the external world. Bakhtin discussed this relation between soul and spirit in aesthetic terms in his essay, “Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity”:
“The soul is an image of the totality of everything that has been actually experienced… the spirit is the totality of everything that has the validity of meaning… The soul experienced from within is spirit, and the spirit is extra-aesthetic… The spirit cannot be the bearer of a plot or storyline, for the spirit is not present.”
Soul then is the aesthetic medium through which experience is transformed into meaning, suffering transformed into bliss, common intelligence transformed into personal identity.
Being a medium, the soul operates through an aesthetic mode common to psychological experience. As Hillman commented upon his use of the term soul-making, “making is a term which reflects what the psyche itself does: it makes image. This image making is the first given of all psychic life.” According to Hillman, one of the Greek words for soul is eidola, meaning image: “we are speaking of images that are at the same time invisible. We are inside the imaginative mind.” Soul, then, works in and is made through the imagination. Jung summed this up when stating, “the wealth of the soul exists in images.” Avoiding the unscientific terminology of soul in his later psychological writings, Jung attempted to examine the imagistic nature of soul in his personal journals, collected in and recently published as The Red Book. Being a mythopoetic (literally, ‘myth-making,’ that is, a literary rather than philosophic-scientific) account of Jung’s own journey to find or make a soul, The Red Book continually and evocatively stresses that the soul is found in images, especially in archetypal symbolism. “Oh [my soul],” Jung declared, “that you must speak through me, that my speech and I are your symbol and expression!”
“Psychic images are not necessarily pictures and may not be like sense images at all,” Hillman clarified about the role of symbols in the imagination, “rather they are images as metaphors.” Symbols are not static, literalized images but are instead perceived as multivalent, dynamic, and autonomous forces working in the human imagination in a manner similar to belief in religious deities. As Jung stated:
“The symbol is the word… that one does not simply speak, but that rises out of the depths of the self as a word of power and great need and places itself unexpectedly on the tongue… Salvation [of the soul] is a long road that leads through many gates. These gates are symbols”
Keats’ “system of salvation” may thus be a system of artistic symbolization, in which, “the human species must have their carved Jupiter… their Christ their Oromanes and their Vishnu.” Keats stressed that such symbols serve a necessary function for soul-making. Hillman likewise spoke of the psyche as having a “natural polytheism,” while Blake wrote: “The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses… All deities reside in the human breast.”
This relation of gods to the individual psyche helps illuminate the lived experience of symbols in the imagination as autonomous and interpersonal. As the philosopher Gaston Bachelard, a key influence on the work of Hillman, said, “classical psychoanalysis has often treated its knowledge of symbols as if symbols were concepts… Such [an interpretive] method… disregards particularly the problem of imagination.” The role that symbols play should instead be viewed in light of the fact that, “the dynamic imagination is a primary reality.” For Bakhtin, the soul is “the properly empirical reality of inner life,” and it thus must be experienced, as in Hillman’s words, “like a mystery… as fully real.” Historian of religion Mircea Eliade often stressed that gods and other symbolic contents of mythology are not experienced as dead, textual concepts but as vitally real: “In such societies [where myth is the foundation of social life and culture] the myth is thought to express the absolute truth, because it narrates a sacred history.” Symbols, as expressions of the personal psyche, must also maintain this vital quality in order to be creatively effective for soul-making. Upon finding his own soul in The Red Book, Jung is surprised to learn that the soul is “a living and self-existing being… What I had previously called my soul was not at all my soul, but a dead system.”
Jung further spoke of the soul as something larger than and external to the individual psyche, leading to the development of his theory of archetypes: his soul was something that “did not exist through me, but through whom I existed.” Similarly, though “your soul is your own self in the spiritual world… the spiritual world is also an outer world…” in which one is surrounded by “thoughts and beings of thought that neither obey you nor belong to you.” A symbol is archetypal in that, though experienced personally, it exists autonomously from the self across individuals and cultures – a figure that “constantly recurs in the course of history and appears wherever creative fantasy is freely expressed.” Hillman concurred in Re-Visioning Psychology: “Man exists in the midst of psyche; it is not the other way around. Therefore, soul is not confined by man, and there is much of psyche that extends beyond the nature of man.” Though, as E.F. Edinger said in Anatomy of the Psyche, “the individual psyche is and must be a whole world within itself in order to stand over and against the outer world and fulfill its task of being a carrier or consciousness,” that psychic world of the soul also contains us. The symbolic soul is not just our own created identity, but also an entire imaginal reality, co-created by our cultures and by humanity at large.
“Individuation is a world-creating process,” said Ediger. In order to create an imaginal reality, the mythopoetic act of soul-making can be seen as akin to the aesthetic process of narrative ‘world-building.’ The symbols of the psyche can by read in terms of literary elements: characters, locations, and events. These elements are not externally determined but are drawn from the internal or subjective sense of reality. As Bakhtin said, “the principles of giving a form to the soul are the principles of giving a form to inner life from outside.”
As a personal interface between the essential self and the external world, the soul should first and foremost contain a representation of the self as a symbolic object – the ‘hero.’ As Reed explained about this form of representation in Bakhtin’s theory: “The hero exists on a different level of being from the author, but he is nevertheless involved in a dialogic relationship with the creative mind that has produced him,” an opposition that “embodies the opposition of spirit and soul.” Bakhtin stressed the point that “it is only when my life is set forth for another that I myself become its hero.” The soul, and its heroic representation, is other than the spirit or author; soul as an aesthetic object can only be created as a totality of meaning existing beyond the individual self, that is, as its symbol:
“To consolidate aesthetically… a lived experience must be purged of all undissolvable admixtures of meaning… these moments must be rendered immanent to the lived experience, must be gathered into a soul that is in principle finite and definitively completed… only this kind of concentrated soul is capable of becoming an aesthetically valid hero.”
Like the aesthetic hero, the host of archetypal characters found in the soul can be seen as both inherently other than but also reflections of the individual psyche. One of Jung’s major contributions to psychology was the concept of the archetypes: the psyche is expressed in a group of figures – self, shadow, anima, &c., which exist collectively but in personal relationship to each of us. As Jung examined only a few select figures in his scientific work, later psychologists seemed to feel that there are only a limited handful of archetypes, whereas in The Red Book, Jung suggested that the soul contains an infinite number of characters that transform into each other, taking on different roles and relations as needed by the psyche: “Haven’t you noticed that [the soul] has become multiple? …First she divided herself into a serpent and a bird, then into a father and mother, and then into Elijah and Salome.” Hillman reiterated this sense of multiplicity of the archetypes: “The endless variety of figures [in dreams] reflects the endlessness of the soul,” as well as the essential otherness of familiar figures: “The persons I engage with in dreams are neither representations (simulacra) of their living selves nor parts of myself. They are shadow images that fill archetypal roles.” The self or hero-soul actively engages or interacts with these characters, as Blake poetically demonstrated in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell when he (the poet’s heroic representation of himself) meets the same Elijah whom Jung converses with in The Red Book and then wrestles with the archetypal figure of an angel. For the poet, these symbolic archetypes are perceived as existentially real.
Just as Jung’s critical work focused on a handful of characters, so to did it underplay the importance of archetypal locations in the psyche: as Jung said, “I have avoided the place of my soul.” And yet, “you become a part of the manifold essence of the inner world through your soul. This inner world is truly infinite, in no way poorer than the outer one. Man lives in two worlds.” As Hillman pointed out about the symbolism found in dreams, “every dream has its psychical locality, where its images come into being. Images are somewhere.” Bakhtin stressed a similar aesthetic environment for the soul: “In art the object-world in which the hero’s soul lives and moves has the aesthetic validity of a surrounding world or environment of that soul.” In The Red Book, Jung mythopoetically arrived at “the place of the soul and found that this place was a hot desert.” In Jung’s narrative, this desert self can only be transformed into a garden through the cultivation of soul – a potent environmental symbol for the individuation or soul-making process.
The soul has landscapes, literally a ‘psychogeography.’ This is not a new idea, however, but can be seen in various cultures’ myths about the creation of the world from the body of a dead god – or in ancient Taoist alchemical manuscripts, like the Book of the Center, which claim: “The human body is the image of a country,” and, “when Lao Tzu died, his body was transformed into a landscape, the same landscape we find within ourselves.” According to Eliade in his study of the origins of alchemy, “the [Taoist alchemical] quest… was thus bound up with the search for distant mysterious islands where the ‘Immortals’ lived,” lands which are “to be found in the most secret recesses of the brain and belly.” In The Taoist Body, Karl Schipper pointed out that the Taoist alchemist saw the human body through a “symbolic vision… of the inner world”:
“The landscape of the head consists of a high mountain… around a central lake. The lake lies midway between the back of the skull and the point between the eyebrows… In the middle of the lake stands a palatial building… In front of this palace and the lake around it, lies a valley (the nose). The entrance to the valley is guarded by two towers (the ears).”
Like Jung’s journey through the desert landscape of his soul, the Taoist alchemist actively engaged with this internal landscape through meditative and physical practices, interacting with a symbolic environment peopled with mythological characters.
It is important to note that the characters and locations within the symbolic imagination are not passively encountered during the soul-making process – there is an active engagement with symbols through a series of archetypal processes or dramatic events. According to Hillman, “the logos of the soul, psychology, implies the act of traveling the soul’s labyrinth in which we can never go deep enough… It is an operation of penetrating, an insighting into depths that makes soul as it proceeds” Bachelard poetically expresses this process in terms of adventure: “A true poet… wants imagination to be a voyage… The true voyage of the imagination is the voyage to the land, to the very domain of the imaginary.” As Eliade notes, Jung discovered that the steps of this ‘journey of the soul’ map onto the stages of medieval alchemy: “The unconscious undergoes processes which express themselves in alchemical symbolism tending towards psychic results corresponding to the results of hermetic operations.” Or as Edinger explained, “many images from myth, religion, and folklore also gather around these symbolic operations, since they all come from the same source – the archetypal psyche… These central symbols of transformation make up the major content of all culture-products.”
As an artistic endeavor or ‘culture-product,’ soul-making thus follows a series of symbolic operations that can either be expressed alchemically-psychologically (as in individuation) or through the mythopoetic language of travel and adventure. Drawing on the rhetoric of heroism, Joseph Campbell examined various hero and quest mythologies in The Hero With a Thousand Faces in order to construct an overarching narrative structure that artists could also apply to the process of soul-making:
“The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separation – initiation – return… A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
For Campbell, the transformation of personal and cultural symbolism is at the heart of the heroic quest: “[The hero] and/or the world in which he finds himself suffers from a symbolic deficiency.” As the quest of the mythological hero is to restore meaning to the world, so does the psychological growth process of the individual center on the attempt to restore vital symbols to the creative imagination. Soul-making is the journey to discover and transform one’s inner reality.
In order to artistically make a soul, how are we first to recognize those symbols that are most expressive of our own psychic relationship to the world? While archetypal, such symbols are also felt to be intimately personal – individual experience grants certain characters, landscapes, and events more symbolic potency than others, a potency that Jung asserted that we recognize through “a peculiar emotional intensity: it is as though chords in us were struck that had never resounded before.” Though for Jung, “the symbol can neither be thought up nor found: it becomes… through willing attention,” the becoming of symbols must begin somewhere in individual experience. For Bachelard, these archetypal images were found in childhood reverie, which “remains at the center of the human psyche… That is where the childhood being weaves together the real and the imaginary, and lives in the fullness of the imagination.” The fantastic author Bruno Schulz, who drew on the symbolism of his own childhood for material for his fiction, strikingly summed up this relationship between childhood images, the creative imagination, and the artist’s soul:
“In childhood we arrive at certain images, images of crucial significance to us. They are like filaments in a solution around which the sense of the world crystallizes for us… Such images constitute a program, establish our soul’s fixed fund of capital… the rest of our life passes in the interpretation of those insights… These early images mark the boundaries of an artist’s creativity.”
Memory, then, and the remembering of childhood images, is crucial to soul-making. Hillman suggested that the ancient Greek “art of memory” presents a “complex [method] of soul-making.” According to Frances Yates in The Art of Memory, Aristotelian philosophy correlates imagination, memory, and soul: “‘Memory, [Aristotle states in De anima], belongs to the same part of the soul as the imagination, it is a collection of mental pictures from sense impressions.’” The art of memory works by imprinting “on the memory a series of loci or places,” – the memory palace – which are then filled with images that help memory “by arousing emotional affects through… striking and unusual images,” including incidents from childhood. While beyond the direct scope of this paper, one imagines the possibility of reverse-engineering the construction of a memory palace as a technique for recalling the symbols that were pivotal in the formation of the childhood psyche.
Another classic, psychological means of getting at personal symbolism is through the imagery of dreams. As Jung proclaimed in The Red Book, “you [the soul] announced yourself to me in advance in dreams… my dreams, are the speech of my soul.” Unlike the interpretive, critical approach to dreams favored by Freud and even Jung, Hillman insisted that “interpretation arises when we have lost touch with the images” – we must instead enter into the reality of such symbolism the way it is actually experienced in dreams. For Hillman, “dream-work [is] an activity, less of a censor than of a bricoleur… The imagination at night takes events out of life… removing more and more empirical trash of the personal world out of life and into psyche, thus allowing the imagination to shape new symbols through the ‘bricolage’ or recombination of daily impressions. As the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss explained about the art of bricolage in The Savage Mind: “The characteristic feature of mythical thought is that it expresses itself by means of a heterogeneous repertoire” – the limited cultural ‘givens’ that are collected and recombined for the purpose of cultural expression. The symbols in dreams can thus be collected into a cohesive soul: as Bakhtin asserted, in order to restore a unitary and meaningful sense of self from experience that “disintegrates into factually existent, senseless fragments of being,” artists must “assemble… the scattered pieces of [their] own givenness,” a givenness that Hillman suggested is realized in the rarified symbolism of dream images.
As the soul can be seen as a symbolic or mythopoetic world, one might also take an anthropological or cartographic approach to dreaming. Bachelard said, “we must take up residence in these dreams again to be convinced they were once ours. Afterward, we turn them into stories, into fables of a former time, adventures of another world.” Artists might thus draw maps of oneiric locations, catalogue the various dream entities found therein, or write stories organizing their symbolic events through the structure of alchemical symbolism or quest narratives. By tracing out the recurrent imagery of dreams, one not only learns which symbols are most potent in the psyche, but allows them to take on a richer, more meaningful imaginative life, the life of the soul.
As in alchemy where, according to Edinger, “the central image… is the idea of the opus… a sacred work,” the art of soul-making ultimately requires the construction of a work, a creative act that places the imagined soul outside of the individual, and thus able to be seen in its completed totality. In discussing the process of ‘active imagination’ in which therapeutic patients give free play to their fantasies, Jung suggested in “The Transcendent Function” that one method for dealing with imaginal psychic content is to transform it into an aesthetic product: “the material [obtained from fantasy] is continually varied and increased until a kind of condensation of motifs into more or less stereotypical symbols takes place. These stimulate the creative fantasy and serve chiefly as aesthetic motifs.” Through this process of shaping or crafting the symbolic content of the psyche, “one goes on dreaming the dream in greater detail in the waking state, and the initially incomprehensible, isolated event is integrated into the sphere of the total personality.”
And yet, as Eliade hinted about the alchemical arts, “‘to make’ something means knowing the magic formula which will allow it to be invented or to ‘make it appear’… the artisan is a connoisseur of secrets, a magician.” While memory, dreams, and active imagination can recall, recombine, and condense the psychic symbolism of archetypal characters, places, and events into aesthetic material for use in the art of soul-making, the methods and mediums through which this inner reality is transformed into a tangible cultural product reside in the abilities and needs of the individual artist. According to Reed, one can learn about the artistic process of soul-making through its display in the creative works of certain artists; Keats, for instance, “offers a symbolic enactment of the process [of soul-making] in his odes,” particularly in poems like “Ode to a Grecian Urn” that were produced by the poet “in the weeks immediately following his letter on soul-making.” This paper has suggested a similar display of the soul-making process in Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and in Jung’s The Red Book. Further scholarship might examine the poetic crafting of soul through archetypal symbolism in the angels of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies, the suffering Duende of Frederico Garcia Lorca’s In Search of Duende, or in the mythological bricolage of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land with its soul-seeking conclusion (echoing Bakhtin’s injunction to the artist to assemble the scattered pieces of the self into a soul): “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.”
As Jung remarked in “On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry”: “Whoever speaks in primordial images speaks with a thousand voices… he lifts the idea he is seeking to express out of the occasional… into the realm of the ever-enduring… That is the secret of great art, and its effect upon us.” The greatest and most lasting works of art, in which the fragments of culture and individuality have been shored against the ruining effects of suffering and impermanence, are those in which the artist has tapped into the deepest symbols of their psyche and set those images forth for the world to see. “If we could dredge up something forgotten not only by ourselves but by our whole generation of our entire civilization,” said Campbell, “we should become indeed the boon-bringer, the culture hero of the day.” Great art does not only display the process by which artists create their individual soul, but can also reveal to all who witness it the contents of their own souls, as well as the soul of the world.
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