The Book of James Hillman


(1926 – 2011)

In A Blue Fire (Harper Perennial, New York, 1991) being a selection of his writings introduced and edited by his younger colleague Thomas More, the latter introduces the Chapter entitled Love’s Tortuous Enchantments this way:

The centering of psychology on love, affirmed as a fundamental principle in Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, and made into a primary motive in humanistic psychologies, in Hillman is absolute …. Desire, longing, attachment, intensity, endurance, receptivity ~ these qualities of soul in league with erotic demands of fate are prized in Hillman’s writings.

More continues, Finally, Hillman depicts the human person as Transparent Man …. In love the person is always the fool, emptied of prudence, his desires evident to the world, his transgressions revealed to all. especially himself … Hillman places this foolish logic of love over the logics of health, normalcy, adjustment, success, happiness and good communication. He recommends a therapy of love.

And so to Hillman himself:

Reflective insights may arrive like the lotus from the still centre of the lake of meditation, while created insights come at the roar and tender edge of confrontation, at the borderlines where we are most sensitive and exposed—and curiously, most alone. To meet you, I must risk myself as I am. The naked human is challenged. It would be safer reflecting alone than confronting you. And even the favorite dictum of reflective psychology which has consciousness rather than love at its main goal—“Know Thyself”, will be insufficient for creative psychology. Not “Know thyself” through reflection, but “Reveal thyself”, which is the same as the commandment to love since, nowhere are we more revealed than in our loving….

Now our image of the goal changes: not Enlightened Man, who sees, the seer, but Transparent Man, who is seen and seen through, foolish, who has nothing left to hide, who has become transparent through self acceptance; his soul is loved, wholly, existential; he is just what he is….

It is impossible reflectively to know thyself; only the last reflection of an obituary may tell the truth, and only God knows our real names. We are always behind with our reflections—too late after the event; or we are in the midst, where we can only see through a glass deeply.

Just stop for a moment and you’ll realize you are happy just being. I think it is the pursuit that screws us up. If we drop the pursuit it is right here.

… you find your genius by looking in the mirror of your life. Your visible image shows your inner truth, so when you are estimating others, what you see is what you get. It therefore becomes critically important to see generously, or you will only get what you see; to see sharply, so that you discern the mix of traits rather than a generalized lump; and to see deeply into dark shadows, or else you will be deceived.

There is a secret love hiding in each problem.

It’s very hard to know what wisdom is.

If you are still being hurt by an event that happened to you at twelve, it is the thought that is hurting you now.

The desert is not in Egypt; it is everywhere once we desert the heart.

Of all of psychology’s sins, the most mortal is the neglect of beauty….Neglect of beauty neglects the Goddess.

… if we have learned anything from the …[psychological] …  rituals of the past seventy years, it is just this; we cannot go it alone, The opus of the soul needs intimate connection, not only to individuate, but simply to live. For this we need relationships of the profoundest kind through which we can realize ourselves, where self-realization is possible … and where Eros may move freely –whether it be in analysis, in marriage and family, or between lovers or friends.

The soul builds its endurance, through hopelessness and depression ... [which] … is essential to the tragic sense of life. It moistens the dry soul, and dries the wet … it reminds of death … The true revolution begins in the individual who can be true to his or her depression…

Look, when you get depressed, it belongs to you and you can’t help but feel it thoroughly (unless you take pills or go into a manic defence), but you don’t have to be identified with the mood. You can live your day in a depressed style. Things slow down, there is a lot of sadness. You can’t see over the horizon. But you can notice all this, recognize it and go on… You can find ways of talking from it, seeing the world through it, connecting to people without covering it…. depression lets you live down at the bottom. And to live down at the bottom means giving up the Christian thing about resurrection and light at the end of the tunnel. No hope, no despair. That message of hope only makes hopelessness darker. It’s the greatest instigator of the pharmaceutical industry ever!

Hitherto, the world had been permeated with invisibilities, a condition that Christianity called paganism. When the invisible foresake the actual world …. then the world tears you apart. Isn’t that the simple lesson taught by the withering and the collapse of tribal cultures once they are robbed of their spirits in exchange for goods? The co-presence of visible and invisible sustains life. We come to recognize the overriding importance of the invisible only when it deserts …. The great task of a life-sustaining culture, then, is to keep the invisibles attached, the gods smiling and pleased: to invite them to remain by propitiations and rituals; by singing and dancing, smudging and chanting; by anniversaries and remembrances; by great doctrines such as the Incarnation and by little intuitive gestures – such as touching wood or fingering beads … dice on the dashboard; or by quietly laying a flower on a polished stone …. Myths keep their daemonic realm invisibly present.

Lastly, and in a modern version of the ancient Taoist philosopher, Chuang Tzu’s musing that he didn’t know if the butterfly was in him, or he was in the butterfly, Hillman once said:

I can no longer be sure whether the psyche is in me or whether I’m in the psyche.

Footnote: As what More calls “A naturalist of the phenomenon of love ” Hillman also studied betrayal ~ which, given its significance in human relationships, I have chosen to present as a separate Subject on this web-site i.e. What is Betrayal?