Art as the Mirror of All Nature, Matthaus Merian the Elder, 1617. Numerous Jungians have used this engraving as an image of “Anima Mundi,” the World Soul.
Last summer, after writing on soul and soul loss, I said I’d have more to say about these subjects, but I was stymied by an underlying assumption that such a weighty subject requires a weighty post, or realistically, weighty tomes, such as the writings of Jung and Hillman, who took soul and psyche (they used the terms interchangeably) as their central concern.
Google on “soul,” and you get two billion hits. “Soul loss” returns 213 million. Soul has been a central concern of humans and their ancestors for millennia. The earliest known burial with evidence of rites “that one might characterize as religious”(1), is a 300,000 year old Neanderthal tomb!
So how do you begin to talk about soul in a blog post?
Eventually, two realizations emerged.
The first was that if blogging doesn’t support weighty tomes, it is perfect for writing notes, a valid and necessary form.
The second, and even more important realization was that no one needs to be introduced to the concept of soul, for they already have one. I’m pretty sure that everyone reading this post has an idea of soul – it’s one of those terms like “angel” or “demon” – even those who don’t believe in angels or souls or demons have an idea of what it is that they don’t believe in.
So I figure I pretty much get to do what I usually do here – “think out loud,” in this case on the notion of soul, without any expectation that my ideas may or should match anyone else’s, though I suspect we think alike about many things connected to soul ( True or False – The music of B.B. King has soul? ).
I’m speaking of something in each of us, something we feel but cannot define, which carries supreme importance and value. No matter how badly I may have screwed up this day, this month, this year, this life, if I am in touch Soul, there remains something precious within something within me of value. Soul carries a sense of what’s holy. According to James Hillman, soul is intimately connected with love, religion, beauty, and mortality.
I take the position of Jung and Hillman, that soul, aka psyche, resides in the imaginal world, between the physical realm, which is apparent, and the spiritual, which is beyond our senses and ordinary conceptions. Jung said, “The psyche creates reality every day.” Hillman added, “To be in soul is to experience the fantasy in all realities and the basic reality of fantasy.” (2)
Soul carries meaning and purpose and keeps us energized when we’re on the right path. It is present at moments of great beauty, joy, or loss, and is always a part of any “peak experience.”
T.S. Eliot said:
I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.
So this is what I am going to reflect on here for a while, and we will see where it goes. The obvious question is “Why now?”
I suspect the answer has to do with the belief of many indigenous cultures, that soul can be lost by individuals and groups, but that it also has the possibility of being retrieved. Enough said…