What you see is what you get

From letter to students, Therapeia 2023.1 : 21-22 January 2023

Believing is Seeing: History and Herstory.

New Year usually arrives young and optimistic. And trudges away at the end of that cycle somewhat cynical and skew. And often none the wiser. The end is in the beginning.

Part 3 of James Hillman’s seminal Myth of Analysis is titled ‘On Psychological Femininity’. He opens the chapter with, “First.. showing how history has resulted in a distortion of psychological values. Then.. aiming to reveal the archetypal background of the idea of female inferiority.. we come to myths which hold out hope for rectifying our perspectives for the sake of the soul.”

We have spent 2020 and 2021 on part 1 of MoA, exploring Eros, and the role that love and suffering plays in psychological creativity. We detoured into Thymos, Psyche, and Hillman’s ‘The Great Mother’ essay, which redefines relationships. 2022 patiently examined part 2 of MoA, deepened our understanding of psychological language, reclaimed the Imaginal Ego, the distortions of memoria, and concluded that the development of ‘soul’ is more valuable than an emphasis on ‘self’. We ended last year with two courses devoted to fate and freedom, attuning our knowledge of Ananke, the personification of Necessity.

The Therapeia course for 2023 proposes the steady investigation of part 3 of MoA, in 7 weekends throughout the year. Of course we want to get to ‘the good stuff’, and deepen our insights into the Dionysian and what this implies for the condition of the soul in the 21st century. Yet we will need to proceed respectfully and with caution, if we are to avoid the precarious potholes of easy memes and lazy thinking about the integration of masculine and feminine structures of consciousness. Otherwise we will find ourselves in the ditches of the woke and naïve ideologies of literalised images of androgyny, and miss the meaning for the psyche. And, critically, for an embodied life.

Immediately, in the second paragraph of part 3, Hillman refers to Jung’s paragraphs appended to his 1938 ‘Mother Archetype’ essay. ‘The Assumption of Mary.. elevated the Christian version of the feminine principle to a radically new position.’

In the West, there are direct links between the strivings to reconcile masculine and feminine, in post-Renaissance Alchemy, with its emphasis on conjunctio, the Reformation, 19th century science, the Assumption of Mary by papal encyclical in 1950, and the last few decades of Gender studies and nascent non-binary urges. It’s been a journey of hundreds of years and we have not yet arrived. The Near and Far East, with Kabbalistic ideas of the intrinsic embrace of abstract Keter with bodily Malchut, with Greek notions of various metamorphoses and hermaphrodites, the Taoist union of Yin and Yang, and the Hindu notion of eternal Nirvana at one with time-bound Samsara, have less ideological difficulties. Yet they all remain just as constrained in actual practice. Woman was still perceived, and treated, as inferior, no matter the theory.

And in the wings is waiting the way forward. It has been waiting all along, for consciousness to catch up with dreaming. What was accessible, at considerable risk, to only the subversive few, wants to appear on a public stage. Perhaps. ‘The stone which the builders rejected’ might indeed be the cornerstone, but it will likely be rejected again, for the difficulty of depth, and against the allure of being an influencer on social media. The superficial body is not the surface where true beauty is on display.

So that’s where we start the year. Shining our darkness into the light.