Hillman: Mythology and Therapy

James Hillman explains why we need to reconnect with our ‘outer’ soul and stop psychology from becoming a trivialised and banal industry

Hillman1James Hillman studied with the great Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung in the 1950s and later became the first director of studies at the Jung Institute in Zurich. After returning to the United States in 1980, he taught at Yale, Syracuse and the universities of Chicago and Dallas. He also became editor of Spring Publications, a small Texas publisher devoted to the work of contemporary psychologists, as well as writing some twenty books of his own.

As one of the key proponents of archetypal psychology — a school of thought aimed at “re-visioning” or “re-imagining” psychology — Hillman argued that the therapy business needs to evolve beyond reductionist “nature” and “nurture” theories of human development. Over a period of almost five decades — until his death in October 2011 — he wrote, taught and lectured about the need to get therapy out of the consulting room and into the real world. Conventional psychology has lost touch with what he called “the soul’s code.” Overrun with “psychological seminars on how to clean closets or withhold orgasms,” psychology has become reduced to “a trivialized, banal, egocentric pursuit, rather than an exploration of the mysteries of human nature,” he wrote.

Key points:

  • ‘The Image of an emotion tells us more about that emotion than the emotion itself.’
  • ‘Myth is all about us, on every street corner.’
  • ‘The solutions to the problem of Thebes present the problem of Thebes.’
  • ‘The simplistic Apollonian solutions to America’s disease are part of the disease itself.’
  • ‘Certitude is the concrete engagement with life and it precedes all the principles and theories and interpretations or the truth that we find for the certitude.’
  • ‘We live myth before we declare it to be myth.’
  • ‘We are being Lived by powers we pretend we understand.’
  • ‘Imagination is the reproductive or creative activity of the mind in general.’
  • ‘Our dreams exist prior to our thinking.’
  • ‘The Ego is a Myth. I’ve never met one, anywhere.’
  • ‘Whatever we call ‘reality’ is a phantasy that has got stubborn and blocked, and become obscured to the fact of the flow of psychic energy in it.’
  • ‘We need to let the phenomena speak, whether they are facts or devils.’
  • ‘Why is Mars coupled with Venus? Why does the Military have such extraordinary rituals of Beauty? Because it keeps Mars from being a raging fanatic brute.’
  • ‘The Heroic tends to have a Tragic ending.’
  • ‘The gods live in the polis.’
  • ‘Psychology is afraid of the soul.’
  • ‘The gods have returned as diseases.’
  • ‘The physical deterioration of the body allows for the development of Character. Ageing doesn’t happen by accident. Why does this deterioration happen? Is it the decay of a machine, of a tree rotting? Or is there something happening in the soul of the person that needs this kind of deterioration for some other kinds of thing to come forward?’


 James Hillman is the author of Re-Visioning Psychology, A Blue Fire, The Soul’s Code, and The Dream and the Underworld.

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