Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Dream and the Underworld

Book Review: The Dream and the Underworld – by James Hillman (Harper Colophon Books, 1979) 

The late James Hillman was a pioneer of depth psychology. This is one of his earlier books, much of it written between 1972 and 1977. It is not easy to follow at times as here he offers a more contemplative delving into the structure of dreams and underworld mythology. At the end of the book he notes that this was intentional, not having the book lead to developing analytical principals in dealing with the underworld or shadow side of things. One of his main ideas is that the underworld needs to be explored on its own terms and so he favors developing an underworld perspective of things, since trying to explain things in “dayworld” terminology and analysis is often ineffective.

In much of this book, Hillman explores metaphors. He notes Freud’s metaphor of the dream as the royal road to the unconscious. Hillman tries a different approach. Rather than seeing dreams as repression (Freud) or compensation (Jung), he sees dreams as being related to the soul and death. He sees dreams as emerging from archetypal realms and ideas. It is a reversal or reversion idea, going against the grain of culture – from logos to mythos rather than from mythos to logos. He talks about “reversion through likeness, resemblance” as a way to approach events of the psyche through archetypes. He sees this as a shift in perspective to make a bridge to the dream world of shadowy images, the underworld. He takes the idea from Aristotle, who noted: “The most skillful interpreter of dreams is he who has the faculty of observing resemblances.” 

Freud thought that the nonsensical content of dreams could be interpreted. Hillman criticizes Freud’s rather intuitive and obvious idea that dreams are built from the “residues of the day,” or our memory traces. Is dream merely the rearrangement of these dayworld residues in light of the needs of sexuality and sleep? Freud saw it thus, as a kind of compromise between dayworld and nightworld. Through interpretation of dreams the dream is brought back into the rationality of dayworld, which Hillman thinks weakens its usefulness. Thus to interpret a dream is to see it not from its own perspective but from another, much removed and with different laws. To interpret a dream is to translate it from its native nightworld language into the vastly different dayworld language and much is inevitably ‘lost in translation.’ Even so, the Freudian goal is to reclaim the dream so ego can conquer id. Jungians accept that – ego conquering id or making the unconscious conscious – even though dreams often resist interpretation. However, for Jungians interpretation is symbolic rather than literal. According to Hillman both Freudians and Jungians agree that:

the dream requires translation into waking-language either to extend waking-consciousnesses’ domain {Freud} or to serve nature’s demand for the more broadened and balanced quality of consciousness {Jung}.”

Hillman’s style is an attempt not to bring the dream into the dayworld but to understand it in its nightworld contexts of images, resemblances, correspondences. Dayworld thought in contrast is literal, comparative, proceeds by processional steps, and is imbued with contrary opposites. Freud, taking a cue from Fechner, a previous dream researcher, came to think that nightworld has its own geography, different from dayworld. Hillman suggests that underworld lore helps to define that geography. According to Freud, repressed images are kept in this ‘psychological underworld.’ We know of it only through dreams, suffering, and hypnosis, and occasionally through the classic Freudian ‘slips’ where we slip through the cracks of consciousness into the unconscious like the cracks in the earth that are the traditional entrances to the underworld – (a metaphor-pun there). The id of the unconscious knows not morality nor time but is a kind of residue of the ego. The timeless nature of the underworld in lore also suggests a ‘place’ of residues. Freud’s ego signifies “reason and circumspection.” He saw the ego as like the hero in the underworld resorting to “tricks” to fulfill the quest. He referred to ‘denizens of the underworld’ as “instinctual cathexes seeking discharges – that, in our view, is all the id contains.” ‘Residual idea-energy’ is maybe another way to say it. His idea there is not too unlike the Indian Vedanta and Buddhist notions of samskaras and vasana (habit-energy), also equated to ‘karmic prana.’ Id can only ‘communicate’ through the ego that descends like a Homeric hero into the underworld. Freud’s own early description of his therapy through talking was done with therapist and patient not looking at one another, faces averted, not unlike ancient Greek offerings to the dead were done while averting one’s face. Orpheus looked back and paid the price. Euphemism or substitution is a way to cover anxiety. Hillman says that Freud, Jung, and Fechner all had midlife breakdowns of a sort as one form of access to the underworld. Freud also had cocaine, hypnosis, and hysteria therapy. Through study of his own dreams Freud created his own personal underworld mythos. Freud psycho-analyzed himself, ie. made his own descent into the underworld as did Fechner and Jung. Thus, psychology from these roots (psychoanalysis) has a strong mythological component. Myth and psychology are often intertwined.

“Myth lives vividly in our symptoms and fantasies and in our conceptual systems.” “Mythology is a psychology of antiquity. Psychology is a mythology of modernity.”

Both involve the relationships between humans and ‘more-than-humans’ – myth with gods and spirits and psychology with fields, drives, instincts, complexes. Zurich psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler first referred to psychoanalysis as depth psychology. Thus rather than taking things apart as in analysis the focus was on exploring them in depth. Indeed the naming is even metaphorical. Aristotle said that Heraclitus took soul as his archon, his first principle, so in a sense he was the first depth psychologist. His statement, “Nature loves to hide” is referent to the mostly hidden realm of the psyche. The urge for psychological understanding, says Hillman, is akin the Freud’s ‘death drive’ and what Plato called the desire for Hades.

Hades is invisible, hidden. The Greeks had no altars to Hades in the upperworld and very few iconic representations of him. Encounters with him were often violent or violating  (Perspephone’s rape). His name was rarely used. He overlapped with Thanatos, the god of death. Hillman says Hades is not an absence but a hidden presence. Metaphorically, the hidden and death and darkness all overlap. Both Hermes and Hades don the helmet of invisibility which keeps them underworldly. Hades is brother to Zeus and sometimes equated to Zeus chthonios. Hillman sees this brotherhood as evidence that dayworld and nightworld are the same but the perspectives are different.

Homer had it that Hypnos and Thanatos, sleep and death, were brothers. They are the sons of Night. Her brood also includes Old Age, Envy, Strife, Doom, Lamentation, Destiny, Deceit, and Dreams. In Orphic mythology sleep is the brother of both death and forgetting. In Vedic myth dreams come from the realm of Yama, lord of death. The place of Eros is less certain. Some see him as part of the ‘brood of the night.’ Hesiod described him as a first principle. Freud noted that dreams protect sleep. He called Eros the architect of dreams and that by fulfilling erotic wishes he protected sleep. Hillman sees dreams as inherently mixed with existential introspective depression.

Hillman thinks it is important to distinguish underworld and underground, chthon and ge’. Ge refers more to Earth Mother but chthon also includes male deities like Hermes, Dionysus, and Zeus. Thus chthonic does not refer specifically to female and not to agriculture and fertility. Ge is a world ‘of the earth’ while chthon is a realm below the earth. These two (or three as fertility involves both above earth and in earth) realms often merge in epithet and cult. He calls the whole complex Demeter-Ge-chthon. The underworld is ‘subterranean,’ below the earth. The Egyptians had it that the underworld was upside down, that gravity was somehow reversed and people walked upside down, and this wreaked havoc on digestion, their excrement came out of their mouth! Hekate was also associated with dream interpretation. She is also equated with Nyx (night). Hillman makes the comment that the underworld spirits of the dead were thought to be plural – in Ancient Egypt a dead human could take multiple forms simultaneously in the underworld, perhaps not unlike how we seem to change form in dreams. The dead and shades are without body, blood, and bone and yet seem to seek vitality, or zoe. Dionysus has been equated with Hades and shares aspects of the underworld and yet also exemplifies vitality. Psyche is underworld, says Hillman. Psyche is place where there is existence without body and form and vitality. Freud approached his own death with stoic fascination. We can see death and the underworld from a psychological perspective or we can, as he did there, see psychology from the perspective of the underworld. Oddly, he notes that suicide rates among psychiatrists were/are amazingly high. Hades comes from the depths to rape the maiden. She/we are taken from dayworld into nightworld, by depression, pathology, mental illness. Hekate witnessed the abduction as she can “see” through the dark.

Hermes was the bringer of dreams, the messenger with free underworld access. The underworld is populated with images and shadows. Jung said that images are the self-perception of instinct. Hillman says,

“Our blind instinctual life may be self-reflected by means of imagining …”

It is a mirroring but one where we lose our 3D form and vitality and long to rediscover it. Thus, there is a feeling of loss. But there is also gain, of the underworld perspective. Hades is also Pluto, “void-of-day” with his horn of plenty, his cornucopia of understanding. Hillman points out that psychic images are images as metaphors. Dreaming is imagining but the images are not ‘chosen’ consciously but unconsciously. The images were also called shadows. In Greece and Rome funerals were held at night. Lucian, in his The Descent into Hades, said that our shadows always accompany us and that the dead are prosecuted by their own shadows. Many people are ‘shadowed’ by guilt. Hillman suggests that from the underworld perspective it is perhaps better to say that our shadows cast us rather than us casting shadows.

The gods swore their oaths on the River Styx, which means “hateful.” Her children are zeal, victory, force, and strength. According to Freud these are the means for the ego to sustain itself through struggle. He said that hatred uses the ego to destroy pain. Hatred and her children are thus what drives our heroic and moral activities.

Dream persons are not the persons depicted, say both Hillman and Jung. A dream-brother or dream-father does not represent dayworld brother or father, but rather aspects of one’s psyche. They do not represent oneself directly but aspects, or masks – archetypes. He says elsewhere that they are not part of one’s personality. Thus he distinguishes psyche and personality, although the so-called masks of personality may relate to these masks of the underworld.

Hillman talks about the names and epithets of gods as signifying their mythologies:

“Part of the name is its etymon, its hidden truth buried in its root. The search for the roots of words, the etymological fantasy, is one of the basic rituals of the imaginative tradition, because it seeks to recover an image within a word or to reattach a word to a name of a thing, an action, a place, or a person.”

By naming our dream characters we can better work with them. They become epithets. The Egyptian underworld soul, the Ba, was interchangeable with the name. Dream characters may be our personality masks.

Hillman laments that our modern culture has scant underworld characters, ancestor worship, initiatory mysteries, or death metaphors. He proposes depth psychology as a means to regain them. Our underworld persona-complex is the soul, the patient of psychotherapy. Hillman concedes that maintaining an underworld perspective is difficult and unnatural. He sees depth psychology in a fashion as a resurrection of the dead, “the recall of life of so much forgotten and buried in each of us.” The id is the chthonic psyche, he says. Our culture has neglected death and it has become deeply buried within.

Hillman details what he calls three barriers to our recognizing and reclaiming the underworld as psyche: materialism, oppositionalism, and Christianism. His argument about materialism which he defines as related to terra mater, or the great Mother Earth goddess, is that it kind of gets in the way of the underworld. “As long as the archetypal mother dominates our psychology, we cannot help but see dreams from her perspective or read the dream’s message as corresponding with her concerns.” He seems to equate this materialism barrier to Freud’s view of the psyche as a ‘place’ where ego is projected. He says that depth psychology can be provide the main function of religion: “connecting the individual by means of practical ritual with the realm of death.” Going beyond the materialistic barrier means thoroughly distinguishing the ground (material aspects ruled by the archetypal mother) from the underground realm of the shades of the dead.

The oppositionalism barrier has to do with our habit of thinking in terms of opposites. This kind of metaphysical dualism is inherent to us, he says, and the best we can do is be aware of it. This book even relies on it as in distinguishing nightworld-underworld and dayworld-upperworld perspectives. He sees Jungian psychology as especially oppositional and gives Jungian examples like introvert/extravert, individual/collective, conscious/unconscious, eros/logos, ego/self, and anima/animus. He notes that Jung’s opposites are not exclusive of one another, not either/or, and for example anima can contain animus. They can be antagonistic and complementary at the same time. Jung and others utilized the statement of Heraclitus, “The way up and the way down are one and the same.” One might even call Jungian methods oppositional therapy. Freud saw dreams as wish-fulfillment but Jung saw them as compensation. “Because it is a compensation, a dream is always partial, one-sided, unbalanced.” Thus according to Jung dreams are incomplete and can be completed, balanced by the ego or dayworld context. It is Jungian dream analysis that does the compensating and this is often done through opposition to the dream content and figures. The same procedure is used in allopathic medicine, treating symptoms by balancing imbalances. Hillman notes that death is the ultimate opponent and we know that opponent will prevail in vanquishing life. Regulation or restoration of balance is the death of imbalance. There are hidden connections between opposites. This is Jung’s alchemical psychology. The underworld perspective, however, demands that the ego and dayworld methods are ineffective. We cannot see the soul without experiencing it. Hillman even states that overcoming opposites can be a mystical experience. Jung and others posited that only things that are similar can be opposite. Thus opposition becomes “an extreme metaphor, a radical way of saying one thing as though it were two violently differing things in sharp war with itself…”

The barrier of Christianism refers to the Western Christian perspective. He suggests that through Christ’s efforts the mythical descent to the underworld was no longer required since he conquered death. The underworld, death, Thanatos, was thus ‘satanized’ and became hell, a place where the evil and immoral are punished. “Christianism’s defeat of the underworld is also a “loss of soul.” By implication, dreams are lost too. He observes that dreams play no role in the New Testament and are rarely mentioned. Only occasional reappearance of the underworld occurs in the visions of John. Christianism denies the underworld and yet psychotherapy utilizes it so that psychotherapy and Christianism are at odds.

Dream interpretation from Freud onward makes assumptions that Hillman finds hard to fathom. Jung noted that dreams interpret themselves and “dream the myth onwards.” Hermes as psychopomp was traditionally the bringer of dreams.

He notes that later Freudians saw the dreamwork as Freud called it as a means to “regress and displace a person through symbolizations into the “maternal vagina and archaic uterine waters of fetal sleep.” Hillman says this method of taking the ego over the bridge into the dream should be reversed – instead of translating the dream into ego-language we need to translate the ego into dream-language. Gestalt psychology uses a technique of role identification. For instance one’s relative in a dream may represent some personal capacity of oneself. However, he notes, this is similar to Jung’s symbolic methods and ends up merely exalting the ego. Dream persons are not gods and spirits, nor oneself, but somewhere in between. They are in between personal and archetypal. The Gestalt technique is the depth psychology technique of subjectivizing, often called taking back projections.

“Here precisely is the inconsistency in most dream interpretation: all figures are taken on the subjective level, but the ego remains on the objective level.”

The “I” in the dream, the dream-ego, is erroneously taken as objective, he says. The ego in the dream becomes an ‘imaginal ego,’ subjective like the dayworld ego. The dayworld ego and imaginal/dream ego become like twins or the brothers Zeus and Hades. The dream ego does not belong to “me” as normally conceived, but to the psyche. This idea is hard to grasp, he says, because it is hard to let go of the dayworld “me.” Perhaps the “me” of the psyche is different from the “me” of this dayworld because we are in some ways inseparable from the realm we inhabit.

How ‘soul’ is conceived is paramount. Pre-technological animistic ideas of soul are often dualistic. He mentions the Ka and Ba of Egypt and the hun and p’o of China. This dualistic soul observation derives from a Scandinavian ethnology school (Paulson, Arbman, Hultkrantz), he notes. There are various terms for the two like body-soul and psyche-soul and they are similar to the ego and dream-ego (imaginal ego) discussed here. During a dream, says Hillman each ego becomes more like the other – life-soul and image-soul lose some of their boundaries. The dream-ego is the shade of the dayworld-ego and yet as ego (since it is conditioned by dayworld ego) it seems out of place in the underworld. Again he cautions that it is important to interpret dreams from an underworld perspective rather than the Jungian hero myth where messages from the unconscious are being recovered.

“In brief: a dream tells you where you are, not what to do; or by placing you where you are, it tells you what you are doing.”

There is often no rhyme or reason to dreams and thus to the way the soul moves during sleep which was often called “wandering” or soul separating from body, by more animistic peoples. This separation implies that there is a different perspective.

Hercules became mad in the underworld, wounding Hades himself. Hercules represented the life instinct in the realm of the death instinct, said Freud. Hillman puts it this way:

“Rather than die to metaphor, we kill literally; refusing the need to die, we attack death itself.”

Thus the Herculean ego is confused and knows not how to behave in the underworld. He is, unlike other heroes, an enemy of death. Hillman says that ego psychology is the modern form of the hero cult. He suggests dreaming not as compensation but as initiation. Initiation into the mystery cults required simulated and symbolic death. He also suggests that the villain in dream is not Hades but the heroic ego. Hermes tells Hercules his sword is of no use in the underworld of shades, images. He notes many therapies that deal with aggression: EST, controlled shouting, behavior therapy, Rolfing, Reichian therapy, and oriental martial arts training. The heroic ego sees the imaginal as literal and lacks the metaphorical understanding required. He suggests that the herculean-ego aversion to death was taken on in Christianity as fear of demons, spirits, and the dead – reclassifying them as evil. The psychologist is perhaps tutoring the patient like Hermes tutors Hercules in the underworld, teaching him how to dream and how to die. Freud said the dream ‘protects sleep.’ Jung described the relations between dream figures and complexes. The Jungian critique of Freud’s ‘wish-fulfillment’ focuses only on the wish part (dreams are not wishes) and not on the fulfillment part.

Hillman describes a narcissistic interpretation of dream-work:

the images made in dreams fulfill the desire of instinct. Narcissus’s desire was fulfilled by the image of the body experienced in reflection. It wanted nothing else.”  

Another piece of a quote here is perhaps useful:

“… dreams are astoundingly un-understandable.”

He notes that the healing cults of Asclepius utilized dream but not dream interpretation, implying to Hillman that interpretation can ‘kill’ dreams when they are perhaps better left alive. Deriving messages from dreams falsifies their ambiguity, he says. Part of a dream’s ‘statement’ is how it appears: clear, vague, opaque, etc. They may come in styles or genres. The psyche is always in motion and this contributes to the ambiguity of dreams. Ambiguity implies duplicity (either/or, or other opposites?- irony he says) Hillman states:

“If dreams are the teachers of the waking-ego, this duplicity is the essential instruction they impart.

The dream is more a tinkered together handy-work than a constructed moral lesson. Freud noted that as id expression the dream is concerned with love and death (Thanateros). Thus dreams involve both creative and destructive, formative and deformative impulses. Dreams can be analyzed without being interpreted. They can be examined without deriving some definitive meaning. The dream often evokes another duplicity: fear and desire. Here he gives another fragment from Heraclitus, who took ‘soul’ as the root of all:

When we are alive our souls are dead and buried in us, but when we die, our souls come to life again and live.”

Dreaming puts us in touch with the dead in our own dream-world version of the underworld, suggested Heraclitus:

“The soul has its own logos, which grows according to its needs.”

In contrast, he noted, the thinking faculty is common to all. We may actually have our own ‘reality tunnels’ but there is much in common and more in agreement than in our personalized dream worlds. Bachelard (and Freud too) noted that dream imagery arises from the plasticity of the imagination. Hillman notes repeatedly that dreaming is ‘soul-making,’ it molds the imaginal ‘stuff’ of the soul. It is a process of shaping rather than analysis. However, it is not mere stuff but stuff previously shaped to varying levels. Thus Jung’s alchemical approach – a means of transforming or shaping matter into something more refined.

Neurologists have confirmed that we have unconscious knowledge. We discern and regulate biologically without being conscious of doing it in many ways. Plato referred to something called ‘deeper meaning,” or hyponoia, which Hillman thinks is equivalent to Freud’s latencies.
Dream-work involves destruction (of attachments). He reminds that the Queen of the Underworld is Persephone, whose name means “bringer of destruction.”

In a chapter called Praxis, he apologizes that he has stepped away from the underworld perspective in order to satisfy the reader with some possible symbolisms. Black in dreams represents the shadow, said Jung, and Thanatos. Egyptian underworld figures were black. Sickness in a dream, often interpreted as a soul in need of healing, may also represent putrefaction, natural decomposition into the realm of death. He mentions depictions of Frau Holle, Frau Werlte, and Huldren with hollow backs rotting with worms and snakes. Animals have generally been interpreted as parts of our animal, beastly nature. Hillman prefers to see them as gods. Dogs are prominent in underworld mythology: the dog of Hecate, Cerebros of Hades, and Anubis. Horses lead Hades chariot. Pigs are sacred to Demeter. Serpents are by nature chthonic. Black animals were sacrificed to chthonic deities. Jungians see spiders as weavers of maya and mandala. Many cultures believe that animals carry departed human souls, birds in particular.

Bodies of water to Jungians represent death to the soul but death as the underworld is the soul’s natural dwelling place. “… the image-soul’s delight is the ego-soul’s dread.” Again Heraclitus:

“To souls it is death to become water; to water, it is death to become earth. From earth comes water, and from water, soul.”

Remembering and forgetting in dreams may be analyzed in light of the Orphic Lethe, she who represents dreams, sleep, death, and forgetfulness. The mere idea of forgetfulness suggests that which is hidden, the unconscious. Lethe and Mnemosyne may be reversed from an underworld perspective, said Karl Kerenyi. By forgetting the dayworld we remember the nightworld. Hillman suggests that dreaming itself may be a process of forgetting.

The common dream theme of being late in an image-world void of time is often one of anxiety, perhaps the anxiety of the awkwardness of ego out of its element. Time was also mythologized as the ‘hours,’ (Horae) or transformed into space as the regions that Ra traveled through in his ship through the night.

Jung saw roundness, the mandala, as indicative of the self, particularly the integrated self, or wholeness. There is also a confining aspect to circle symbolism: the wheel of time, the wheel of cyclic existence (samsara), the circular rings of slavery and confinement, boundary, etc.

Not uncommon psychopathic dream figures are considered to be permanent residents of the underworld. Psychopathy itself certainly seems underworldly as there is remorseless amorality and a timeless self-centeredness. Deception, sadism, perversion, incest, and other social and moral taboos sometimes appear in dreams. We should not, of course, take these to be literal. The psyche seems to be immune to morality. Of course, one might develop habits that are kind and benevolent that may appear in dreams or even cultivated in lucid dreams. Even Freud warned against assigning morality to dreams:

Psychical reality is a particular form of existence not to be confused with material reality.”

Plato noted that the souls of Hades are incurable. In order to learn from the underworld we must be willing to learn from its psychopathic denizens. Psychopathy has been an enigma for psychoanalysts, especially those intent on curing the incurable. He suggests looking to the ‘death drive’ rather than to morality.

Ice in dreams he suggests as the cold, icy hatred attributed to the River Styx. In the fashion of ‘like cures like’ the icy coldness of our own nature may be required to navigate it. Dead souls were thought to be very cold, refrigerated. The underworld is thought to be cold in many cultures in contrast to the Christian hell.

Ceremonial eating in dreams is explored. Hades was also called “the hospitable.” Pluto has a cornucopia. Offering food for the dead and eating with ancestors is widely practiced and may reach back to Paleolithic times. Rites of feeding souls returning from the underworld are common. In Egypt there are depictions of corpses being given food by the Ba. Hillman suggests that eating in dreams may represent the nourishing of the psyche by its images.

Revelry in dreams is explored. Types of music for both banning and awakening demons of the dead include drums, bells, chimes, and high-pitched fifes. Carnival pageantry has been associated with the dead. The circus is perhaps another. The topsy-turvy upside-down-ness and social reversal of carnival and circus suggests a reversion to the underworld of symbolic imagery. He suggests an archetype of death as a masked dancer. There is an old song that says “everyone must dance” and it refers to death as that dance.  

Doors and gates in dreams is next. An epithet of Hades was “he who closes the door.” A threshold separates two kinds of consciousness. Hermes dwells at thresholds and borderlines, where his herms were built. For Hermetic consciousness there is no threshold for he can travel unimpeded through different worlds. Gates are experienced in dreams, he notes, also when we are awakening from them as we wrestle at the threshold between sleep and wake-ness. Failing to recall dreams is perhaps bringing them too quickly to the Herculean, the ego. Techniques for increasing dream recall include remaining still upon waking so as to not make the transition too quickly which can lead to losing the dream. In myth Hercules captured Cerebros, the dog-guardian of the threshold. In a sense we do this when we wake and take our dreams with us into the upperworld.

The section on dreams of mud and diarrhea notes that some descriptions of the underworld are of a place that is damp and mushy with fecal matter. Plato said it was muddy. Aristophanes and Kerenyi said it was swampy. Diarrhea is similar to death in that once it’s ready to happen it is unstoppable. Shitting has all of its implications – Freudian anality, Jungian alchemical creativity, etc. and possibly more – but then he talks about the ‘crap about shit,’ all the myriad ideas of what shit signifies.

“As residue of residues, feces suggests an essence permanently present and continually forming anew. Its appearance in dreams reflects an underworld to which we daily bend in homage, never to be rid of.”

Seeing is the most common sense in dreams, says statistics. Rarely do we hear, taste, and touch, and apparently smell is the rarest dream-sense. Yet Heraclitus noted that souls in Hades perceive by smelling. Some cultures consider smells and smoke as food to spirits. Images and beings without bodies were generally considered to be vaporous. Gods were said to be able to discern burnt offerings to them by sense of smell. Dung and smoke share a similar etymology in Greek. The devil is known by his smell – sulfurous? Shit, smoke, and decomposition all involve changing states of matter.

Underworlds in various cultures typically have a geography. It is a ‘deep’ place. Hillman sees the psyche as crowded, confining, and somewhat suffocating. He thinks that the stories of dreams do not really matter but how things occur, set, setting, and what aspects of the psyche are on the dream-stage are what matters. Scenes and masks matter more than stories. We become like Persephone, the Maiden Queen of the Dead, in a bodiless world where the mask-king Hades or Hades-Dionysus rules.

Early reactions were that Freud was both shocking and unpopular. Jung was thought to be overly complex and intellectually demanding. Despite their great efforts to unravel the psyche Hillman sees it in a certain sense as unknowable. He suggests that developing a consistent perspective of the underworld is more important than coherent psychological theory. The underworld is a mythic place where only the psyche matters.

He mentions a kind of love or eros where we sense that dreams and dream-work are wholesome, perhaps of a Platonic imaginary sort. We may feel comfortable with our images and exploring them.

While therapy and remembering may reconstitute the ego, “forgetting is the underworld procedure …” Freud and Jung tried to develop principles of mythology while Hillman attempts to explore mythology on its own terms. Hillman favors imagining over interpreting. He suggests that we and therapists connect life to dreams rather than connecting dreams to life. His theme of reversing the normal process is to make underworld imagery the primary concern rather than a means to an end. Our human condition is incurable in some ways so perhaps we can really only explore it as it is.

This is a difficult but very important work.

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