My winter reading: James Hillman’s classic The Soul’s Code – In Search of Character and Calling (Random House, New York, 1996).
Hillman reminds us that according to Plato and his Myth of Er, the soul of each of us is allocated a daimon, or soul guide, before we are born. This this comes part and parcel with extras: our physical bodies, our parents, and the place and circumstances into which we are born. Although this was our soul’s choice, upon birth we have forgotten it. And so during our lifetimes, we are driven by daimon to reconnect with our choices and reawaken to our calling. This can come to us in any number of ways. Although it may be possible to temporarily defer our calling, or even to only partially live it out, it’s never possible to completely avoid it for if there is one of which we can be certain, daimon can never successfully be ignored.
That’s just the point.
In modern western medical circles, soul – or destiny – or daimon – is ignored. It doesn’t fit nicely into existing personality and psychological theories. Although Hillman doesn’t say explicitly why this might be the case, he seems to suggest fear plays a large part. Is it not frightening to a civilisation such as our own, a civilisation that has lost touch with its own divinity, to suggest there is something driving us that is beyond our intellectual, physical, and/or scientific grasp?
Hillman is quick to remind us this doesn’t mean we’ll find the fix to this conundrum by going to church. Instead, we need to go back to Aristotle, Plato, and Plotinus. Least you think that our western civilisation has grown beyond these ancient Hellenistic foundations, take a philosophy course or two and think again. For the reality as presented by these ancients is that we each are here on earth for a reason and until that reason is fulfilled, here on earth is where we will remain. Have you ever had a close call with death – maybe inattentively ready to step off the kerb and be hit by a passing taxi-cab – only to have a complete stranger pop out from nowhere and pull you back from the brink? I have and I now know why.
This does not mean that demon is always ‘good’. As Hillman points out, there can be an ‘evil’ or less fortunate aspect to daimon. More on this later, but for the time being consider how other societies and cultures have viewed the concept of daimon – i.e. Guardian Angel (Christian), Lady Luck or Fortuna (ancient Roman), genie or jinn (Middle Eastern), ka or ba (Egypt) and animal and totem spirits (American Indian).
But for the most part, daimon is here to look out for us, to ensure that we are OK. Imagine how much more satisfying would be our lives if we could think of ourselves as fundamentally being cared for like this rather than standing alone up against the cold, harsh world? If we were to accept this point of view, we would necessarily need to jettison one of our of our most treasured western motifs – that of the self-made hero. What a trade-off, right? Well, according to Hillman, we can still be heroes – albeit of a different type – at least we can be if we listen to daimon. This will be a lot easier if we are both curious about ourselves in our world and unwilling to succumb to being wedged into the statistically convenient psychological slot.
One by one, Hillman debunks a variety of well-known psychological theories demonstrating how much more beneficially daimon would operate instead. He uses a variety of fascinating case studies including that of Eleanor Roosevelt. Well-worth reading but sadly, I’ve got neither time nor space to relate them all to you here and now.
(to be continued)