To write these Friday essays I try to stay in the image that inspires them. That image underneath today's essay looks through both the notion of growth and the attitude of awareness toward imagination whose poetic language in metonymy and metaphor, from reasons point of view casts inferior light. At the outset there are three things that come together particular to doing this essay series on the unhappy hero. First, there is the growing awareness of all this to-do around the benefits to cultural well-being now prompting the development and promulgation of happiness psychology. Secondly, and along with the hype in the news about this way of doing psychology, there is the simultaneous release of the movie, Pan’s Labyrinth. It is a most dark and unseemly less-than-happy myth-logical movie. Lastly, there is my awareness of the increasingly popular and growing interest in the hero archetype and the story of the hero’s journey. Campbell thought there was so much written retelling the hero myth because this archetype often reveals to us what is most worth living. What is most worth living, he thought, is most worth writing about.
I am taking this thought at its word. There seems some truth to it not to mention the hero theme has become so popular that primary and secondary education across America continues to employ Joseph Campbell’s ideas regarding the hero’s journey in its teaching of myth and mythic thinking in the classroom. What catches my eye with the release of the current movie considers again the notion of the soul’s high adventure.
The soul’s venture according to Platonic and Christic imagination is into world. Its journey is away from an inhuman status in transcendent mystery downward. By divine necessity a psychic life puts itself down literally. Soul becomes imaginal light.
I can re-picture it this way. Soul enters the world slipping into spaces where the world between spirit and nature cracks apart. This is an imaginal space called līmen. Into liminal space and along the horizon where sunset leapt away and light vanished, having followed, soul-life is thrown back upon its self reflection darkly. No one awaits in nothing where someone is to meet within her own absence-space herself again. Psychic life will go on from here and try repeatedly to picture through what it is compelled to imitate yet finds nowhere. In all its trying lives an innate resemblance that it does not yet know it is. The logical but unconscious gesture mediates its own impulse responsive to divine life. But, it is seeing through a glass darkly. Divine life shines through such resemblance a soul-countenance we once had before we were born. At least, it should.
The story of how soul comes to be in the world is called the soul’s adventure. The soul’s adventure is a metaphor. Here is the crucial thing to remember about metaphors. There is a difference between the use of metaphors as symbols pointing to things which are invisibles in psychic resemblances and the actual experience of the experiences in these resemblances poetic language mimes to satisfy. A poem is a call calling into presence here and now the soul’s code.
The actual psychic experience an individual will have may be likened to the relation a seed has to a plant or an acorn, a tree. The seed is to the plant something not yet developed but by way of its own impulse what the plant is to become. This reality expresses beforehand the relationship between two very real but different existent existences within one world.
Whereas the relationship is one of contiguity the pattern expresses such relation in metonym. A metonymy can be likened to James Hillman’s notion of the daemon in The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling. It is that to which the seed is metaphorical; to en-soul soul must die to itself thereby letting itself become fully self-fulfilled throughout the psychic nature of the plant. This mysterious and paradoxical way of seeing in its special relationship to death and love is what James Hillman calls the soul’s code. Campbell’s metaphor is the call. The call in the image in the seed is the soul’s code to what the soul’s high adventure will be.
Today it appears the heroic adventure may challenge us to take a look at ourselves in our relations more deeply. Our living world expresses subjectivity by way of the shades in the depths of deadly things that surround us on all sides. Archetypal psychology suggests we are to do this in a kind of non-ordinary or imaginal way. We are to mythologize our pathologies it says. This imaginal way means we are to mythologize by way of images within imagination’s depths and soul’s pathos and not merely the individual and collective ego’s dominant reality construct.
The impersonal language of the unconscious and the personal depth adventure furthers us to contemplate again and again an age-old psychological problem: how teach in totality and to the individual the diverse relationship each has to themselves, their culture and the cosmos in spite of or on account of this breach in the status of soul that makes thinking in images unreal, untrue and of less than legitimate value? Like our ancestors of old, the best way to remember the wisdom thing living psyche carries is still to tell a story.
Pan’s Labyrinth (P.L.) tells a true fairy tale in the sense that the tale is dark and the ending ambiguous. The lines between both the nature of our happiness and our unhappiness are blurred. P.L. makes us aware from the beginning its woven grace pictures on two levels a way that intensely matters to the matter in what is real.
One can think of these two levels as reasonable mind and imaginable mind or spiritual mind and psychological mind or rational mind and irrational mind or conscious mind and unconscious mind. Just now I am thinking of these two levels the way they appear in the movie as a world above and a world below. This mythic image is mimetic of something. I get that sense when I see the final underworld scene where the celestial body, the king’s heavenly throne appears fully contained within the earthly psyche of Ofelia’s imaginal life.
In our psychological descent through the movie I notice two grades of initiation. One journey we take with Ofelia is to the root of the tree that sits at the entrance into the underworld of nature’s psyche. The other descent is into the underworld depth that is our own psyche’s nature. Here Ofelia is to steal a knife from the table of the Pale Man. But once there, the real encounter is with the one forbidden thing the Pale Man sits there and guards. The forbidden thing is what we really are coming to experience. The soul falls, as Hillman says, into the mess of the world. (43)
Through and throughout this space of the fall the forgotten will reknit the tear in our own psyches and from there existents will go on to unravel from within themselves self-ing specificities about what our own dark eros may want. What we each will have come to relive we each knew once and have forgotten. That is the story we are told as the movie begins and also the one retold where the story and we happily take leave. What each existent non existence (soul) within ourselves will have revealed to each of us will have also revivified the timeless story of the soul’s venture into world.
I have one final thought as I turn away from focus on nightmares in psychic adventures. The journey of the hero, I mean the mythologizing nature designating the ground of the adventure, and particularly the one made popular by George Lucas in the last year of Campbell’s life with the filming of Star Wars, is very much a fantasy of ascent, a fantasy of ‘growth’, an image of growing ‘up’ .(see endnote) But Pan’s Labyrinth provides another direction to soul’s growth. The soul’s journey is also growing down.
This tells me psychic life revises its own mythic claims; the heroic adventure now challenges the colonizing claim consciousness insists and exerts over the irrational ground. The heroine low in the soul's high adventure may now show by way of the image-making function central to the mind's eye and thought lodged in the depths of psyche, imaginal life is more necessary and contributes an equally bright -albeit different kind of light- to psychologically complex thinking. The soul's venture into world is to see the world face to face and to then express the level of depth to which such claim may still be experienced and is important to express and to understand, to live and to believe. That says to me poetic thought may be that language most valuable to expressing in the human experience what is most worth living.
See The Soul’s Code
Ch2 pp 41-62 for J.H. ’s turning of this image in re-visioning psychological growth. Also click link for an interview with James Hillman regarding The Soul’s Code