“Tributes to Soul-Making” (“The Hadean Perspective”)

Hades Presents His Cornucopia to Persephone, ca 450 – 400 BC

One of Mythfire’s favorite selections from psychologist James Hillman’s impressive oeuvre is all of five pages in length. Entitled Hades, Persephone, and a Psychology of Death, the passage can be found in “Dehumanizing or Soul-making,” the final chapter in Hillman’s Re-Visioning Psychology. As with Hillman’s three other modes of soul-making, this final mode of de-humanizing or soul-making is an attempt to force the reader outside of his or her usual ways of thinking and being. In no small part this is what Hillman is doing when he compares and contrasts our everyday (a.k.a. heroic) ego with what he calls the “imaginal ego” of the psyche or soul. The most recent Mythfire posts have in fact been appealing to our imaginal ego as it manifests through our inner dreamer, lover, and artist.

Given its name, it comes as no surprise that the imaginal ego uses images to communicate important ideas, energies, and experiences to us. Last week’s post was concerned with the way the soul’s different styles or types of loving were once imaged in the form and faces of Eros. The post prior to that more generally contrasted the image of our soul in an afterlife somewhere else with the image of the soul as a perspective which colors and deepens our experience of life now. (It is important to note that these two soul images do not necessarily contradict or negate each other.) Finally, the first blog on Clarence Clemonsdiscussed how the soul communicates in the form of images which give our life meaning and direction and when seen from a distance even a cohesive narrative, or personal myth.

Since Clemons’ passing, another well-known musician, Amy Winehouse, has also died, and like Clemons, Winehouse has been paid numerous tributes. One of these tributes arguably takes the form of a posthumous surge in sales of her music, a surge which seems to happen with some frequency after artists pass away. This surge is nothing less than the soul’s response to the loss of one of its soul-makers, i.e. the artist.  If this act were purely driven by our usual (rather than imaginal) ego concerns, this investment would be undertaken most likely in connection with some hope or fear rather than with the spontaneous feelings of loss, gratitude, and recognition which accompany these tributes. In other words, monetary value quite literally pays tribute to soul value — as it always has.

The ancient Greek soul imaged forth the idea of death, value, and riches via the form of Hades, the god of the underworld. Hillman goes to great lengths to show that centuries later Renaissance artists and thinkers also maintained a Hadean perspective on life and death which we sometimes overlook:

“I am suggesting that we misapprehend the Renaissance by seeing it as a turbulent tribute to Gods of love, light, life, and nature. I believe the God of the Renaissance and of all psychological renascences to be Hades, archetypal principle of the deepest aspect of the soul.”[1]

Because of the everyday prevalence and presence of death, people living in the Renaissance were very much aware of what Hillman calls “the question of final consequences [. . .], the underworld meaning in things, their deeper obscurities.” [2] In a longer quote quite apropos of Mythfire’s discussion of Clemons and Winehouse, Hillman continues:

“It is against this background that we must place also such major Renaissance concerns as reputation (fama); nobility, and dignity. They take on further significance when envisioned  within a psychology that bears death in mind. To consider fama merely as fame in our romantic sense puts Renaissance psychology into the inflated ego of the very important person or pop star. But when death gives the basic perspective, then magnificence, reputation, and nobility are tributes to soul, part of what can be done for it during the ego’s short hour on the stage. Then fame refers to the lasting worth of soul and psychology can afford to treat of the grand themes: perfection of grace, dignity of man, nobility of princes.”[3]

Certainly, any eulogy given at a memorial service pays tribute to the reputation, nobility, and dignity of the one who has left us. We recall humorous and touching stories of the recently departed. We put a photo or photos up front and center for all to see. All of these, stories, memories, photos, and more are images of the soul’s manifestation during “the ego’s short hour on the stage.”

No doubt, some services and tributes are smaller and more reserved while others are more colorful. A final observation from Hillman perhaps brings to mind this contrasting approach to paying tribute to soul at the same time that it suggests that there is more than one way to both understand soul and go about our own soul-making right here and now:

“With death in the background – and Hades is equally called Pluto, Riches, or Wealth-Giver – Renaissance magnificence celebrates the richness and marvellousness and exotic otherness of the soul and its far-flung imagination. How difficult for us in our northern tradition to consider soul together with fame and splendor! How maidenly pure, how wood-washed and bare has become our notion of soul!”[4]


Coda: Please take a moment and revisit this last quote while listening to the following “lasting treasure.”


Note: Some readers might understandably be puzzled over the above use of the word “imaginal” and want to link it with another word, namely “imaginary.” This would be incorrect. Imaginal is a creation of the soul; imaginary one of the ego.  Images which the soul uses to convey importance and significance are imaginal; the threatened ego’s need to defend itself against these same soul-generated images labels them “imaginary,” or made-up.  (Similarly, people who discuss such things are often labeled “imaginative” or something worse, whatever it takes for the dismissive ego to maintain its position of superiority.)


Next Tuesday: Ralph Waldo Emerson & Other Renaissance Men

[1] Hillman, James. Re-Visioning Psychology. New York: HarperPerennial, 1975: 206. The section under discussion runs from pgs. 205-210.

[2] Ibid., 205.

[3] Ibid., 205. In a recent interview on the TV show The View, pop star Lady Gaga paid tribute to Clarence Clemons in terms that are very much in keeping with soul-making as described in this and earlier posts: “[Clemons] really changes your life so quickly and it’s very…you don’t know why. You can’t explain it. But he just has this godly spirit about him. You feel like you’re in the presence of something so . . . significant.” This can be found at the 8:30 mark here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cAPkwGIgbsI. (Though also appearing as a note at the end of a prior Mythfire post, this statement from Lady Gaga was first learned of while preparing the present blog.)

[4] Ibid., 205.

This entry was posted in Archetypal Psychology, Art/Creativity, Culture, Depth Psychology, Myth, Tributes. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to “Tributes to Soul-Making” (“The Hadean Perspective”)

  1. david o'rose says:

    Eros and Thanatos are powerful individually, ecstatic together.

    This wonderful piece also made me anticipate the loss of James Hillman and his soulful contribution to mankind. Who will sing for him?

    And you, mythopoet, are a living treasure!

    Blessings, David

  2. Chris says:

    David, thanks so much for your very kind words. They are more apropos than you know: it was upon hearing that Hillman was “gravely ill” almost two months ago that I decided I wanted to write on Hades as a tribute to Hillman’s soul as much as to soul itself. Your intuition and/or feeling are reaffirmingly spot on. Thanks again, Chris

  3. Good post, thank you. It is great there is so much information available on line in regard to depth psychology. You and your readers are likely to find my resources page of interest, it’s full of free films on depth psychology and psychotherapy. Here’s the link: http://www.psychotherapysussex.co.uk/depthpsychologyresources/

    Warm wishes


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