imaginal ego reality-coping ego

From letter to students for Therapeia 22.5: 09-10 July 2022.

Reimagining the Ego.

We began this study (of Hillman’s The Myth of Analysis, ch2) into the structures of psychology that were developed in the 19th century. That’s when the the odd bodies of being human, buried in what was now called ‘the unconscious’, were disinterred and labelled as ‘psychopathology’, which then required medical and psychological treatment. It is easy enough, with hindsight, to see the errors and hubris of thinking which dogged psychology through the 20th century, and which still dominate our current notions of psychological health. Names, even fancy Latin terms, neither explain the meaning or origin of these conditions, nor guide us in the prognosis and treatment of those who suffer.

Instead of getting rid of all the questionable nomina, Hillman suggests that the soul itself must have had some need to guide us into and through this process. If we investigate further, we might discover how such thinking is “part of the inherent phenomenology of the archetypes” (MoA p161), which was what the soul was urging us to realise. So we arrive at the understanding that a neglected aspect of the soul’s powers, the imaginal, had been overlooked and marginalised, in favour of those more ego-useful functions of reason and will. “Perhaps the phenomenon of the so-called unconscious.. are better conceived as twisted paths into memoria, as ways leading back into lost areas of the soul, its imagination, and its history.” (MoA p175). That led Hillman, following Jung, and borrowing the term from Corbin, to differentiates, within the ego structure, between a ‘reality-coping ego’ (MoA p184) aspect, driven by reason and will, and an ‘imaginal ego’, guided by the eternal memory. (MoA p184, ‘The imaginal ego is more discontinuous’; p185 ‘the adaptation is primarily to ‘psychic reality’; and p186, where ‘The dream ego is another name for the imaginal ego ‘). By this insight, we have restored our connection to what was once called memoria; and can understand why the soul wants this: “Through the imagination man has access to the Gods: through the memoria, the Gods enter our lives.” (MoA p180). No small achievement!

So far, so Theoria. The tricky part is the Praxis. Hillman tells us that ‘An imaginal ego.. means behaving imaginally.” (MoA 189), which is easier said. The key to the revisioning of psychopathology is intrinsically linked to mythology. “Myths.. represented universals.. myths could be applied to psychology.” (MoA p191). So we will need to radically re-examine what we mean by mythology. After that, we can understand how these new insights will alter our view of psychopathology, and support us in living psychologically. And religiously, since, by way of such seeing, “psychology reflects theology..” (MoA p196).