Imaginal Love: The Meanings of Imagination in Henry Corbin & James Hillman by Tom Cheetham (Book Summary)

“Imaginal Love” by Tom Cheetham explores the meanings of imagination in the work of Henry Corbin and James Hilman. The book is a masterful synthesis of Corbin and Hillman’s work as well as an ode to the power of imagination. Cheetham argues that when our imaginative faculties wither we collapse into the pathology of fundamentalism. In other words, we get trapped by language and start taking things literally when in fact reality is far more mutable. A must-read for anyone interested in depth psychology and the wonders of imagination.  

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*All sentences in quotations are direct quotes from “Imaginal Love: The Meanings of Imagination in Henry Corbin and James Hillman” and are attributed to Tom Cheetham. Bold is added for skimmability. 


Who Was Henry Corbin?

Henry Corbin

  • Corbin was a mystic and a heretic and a radical boundary breaker within the Abrahamic tradition. As such he was able to straddle the boundaries that separate the great monotheisms and provide us with a synoptic view such as no one within the tradition had ever done.”
  • Corbin is spiritual to the core and yet he is no literalist idolator and helps us to see how we might be spiritual without constantly falling into idolatry.”
  • “He is teller of stories, and a destroyer of idols par excellence. And yet in his late attempt to control the interpretation of the meaning of the “imaginal” he shows traces of the very rigidity he spent his life combatting.”
  • “Corbin was a Platonist, and his theory of knowledge is “illuminationist.” All knowledge comes from above by means of a vision of, or union with the archetypes, the Platonic Forms.”
  • “Corbin at his best was always the champion of the heretic, the creative genius, the spiritual master who would not be bound by the constraints of institutionalized religion of any sort.” 

Corbin’s Vision:

  • “To experience Corbin’s vision, we have to imagine Reality as open. The fundamental metaphors become openness and light.”
  • “For anything whatever to be present, it has to be present to someone and it has to be regarded, looked at, in a mutual, personal relation.”
  • Person, Presence, and Imagination are the three interpenetrating attributes of the God beyond Being that Corbin reveals to us.”
  • “The persons to whom beings are present in the first instance are the angels—the angels of their being.”
  • “We all have an angel. Every being has an angel. This is necessary because God-beyond-Being cannot be known and cannot be encountered.”
  • The mysterious depths of that ultimate principle remain forever beyond our imagination and beyond encounter since that God provides the possibility of all imagination and encounter. What we can have and what we do get, are angels—absolutely essential intermediaries between Creation and the Ultimate Enigma.”
  • “If we take our stand with Corbin, the person is the first and final fact. Everything is personified, everything is personal. Not subjective and personal but entirely objective and personal. Not personal in the sense that everything refers to me.” 
  • “Corbin asks: What would a world without a Face, that is to say, without a “look” be? It would not be at all.” 
  • “An impersonal reality is utterly inconceivable. The materialist fantasy whereby reality is made up of matter and energy, aggregated in suitably complex arrangements that eventually give rise to life and consciousness and human beings is well embedded in the modern scientific imagination, but it makes no sense.
  • “Such a world is senseless in the same way that it is Faceless. It can have no look. To exist a being must be Present. And Presence is the fundamental attribute of the Person. This is why there must be Angels. They are the Faces of the inaccessible God. They guarantee the particularity and the concrete reality of the world.” 


Who Was James Hillman?

James Hillman

  • “James Hillman was a psychologist first and foremost, and no theologian. He was always the mercurial Trickster.” 
  • “Hillman’s imagination is intensely this-worldly, and profoundly concrete.” 
  • “James Hillman’s wide-ranging and fertile post-Jungian psychology is a powerful source of practically useful psychological knowledge. His contributions to the recovery of the extensive self and the soul of the world, the anima mundi, in which such a being lives are without parallel.” 
  • “He was suspicious of anything fixed and permanent. And he simply did not share Corbin’s feeling for a hierarchical cosmos. One of the most important aspects of Hillman’s work is his understanding of language.”
  • “Hillman’s life work can perhaps be read as an extended attack on ego psychology based on the revelation that psychology, the logos of soul, is not only a study of the human, but opens essentially onto the more-than-human surround in which we are embedded: is it the world soul, the anima mundi, that is the subject of this mode of knowing.” 

Hillman’s Vision:

  • “He expands on certain themes in Corbin’s work that Corbin himself was ill-equipped to develop. Hillman’s practice is about the imagining soul as a process and about undoing things.”
  • “Hillman says that the mode of imagining of the Spirit is literalism. Science, philosophy, and theology have traditionally been spiritual disciplines in this sense, and have tended to strive for a stable and universally valid Truth.” 
  • “James Hillman has long argued persuasively that the language of psychology is hopelessly inadequate to the task of describing, let alone explaining, psyche and human life, and that it is in myth and literature that we will find the models we need to understand ourselves.”
  • “We want perhaps not “complex” psychology in which the complex is seen as pathology, but a complex psychology where each complex is recognized as a constellation of distinct but related styles of imagining, and the pathology lies in getting stuck in only one. That was Hillman’s vision.” 


Comparing & Contrasting Corbin and Hillman’s Work

  • “Neither Corbin nor Hillman were systematic thinkers. Both ranged freely across academic and disciplinary boundaries, and the range and scope of the writings of each are vast. Hillman owes an enormous debt to Corbin. Their work overlaps in many fundamental respects, and so no easy comparison is possible.”
  • “Corbin was upset that Hillman and others were co-opting his terminology and applying it outside of the “precisely defined schema” provided by the masters of Iranian Islam.”
  • “For Corbin prayer is not a request for anything but the expression, as he says, of a mode of being—one which is open to mystery. But Corbin’s imagination and his prayer are directed vertically. Corbin is always seeing into another world, transcendent to this one. For him, imagination is sublimation.”
  • “For Corbin, Platonist and mystic, we are not trapped in history—history is in us.”
  • “Hillman “shared Corbin’s hatred of idolatry and fundamentalism. But his imagination does not move vertically, as Corbin’s always does.”
  • “He was fond of a phrase from Plotinus: “the motion of the soul is circular,” and he distrusted the otherworldly drive of the “spiritual” that animates so much of Corbin’s work.” 
  • For both Hillman and Corbin, the archetypes act as nodes of energy from which the endless varieties and glories of the world emanate and towards which we may return in search of the fountain of creativity from which all life derives.”
  • “Where Corbin is oriented unceasingly towards the Light, Hillman’s instincts drive him down towards the darkness.” 
  • “The one is a postmodern pagan American psychotherapist and culture critic. The other an eclectic, prodigious French scholar and mystical theologian, a heretic on the margins of the grand tradition of the great monotheisms.”
  • “They moved in very different worlds. What they share however is profoundly important: a passionate belief in the utterly central place of imagination in the fabric of reality and a commitment to the importance of the freedom of the individual human soul.” 
  • “Corbin’s chief fault lies in his relentless upward flight towards transcendence. He was, by all accounts, and by the evidence of his work, a mystic, with a remarkable ability to see into the beyond. This has its virtues, and I love his work. But most of us are not, and should not try to be mystics.” 
  • “Corbin helps us to see how to do that. But his vision needs grounding, and I find that in Hillman’s work, strange as that may seem to some.” 
  • “Hillman grounds Corbin’s work by driving home the distinction between the literal and the imaginal, and explaining to us that the literal is not to be confused with the concrete.” 
  • “Hillman says we need to practice Jung’s method with Corbin’s vision. To repeat: “active imagination … is for the sake of the images and where they can take us, their realization.” Corbin teaches that it is not your individuation that is at stake, but that of the Angel.”
  • “James Hillman was a harsh critic of “spirituality” and spiritual disciplines, but he revered Henry Corbin and his work and was perhaps his most important creative interpreter.He thought of Jung and Corbin as founding figures of equal rank for his own “archetypal psychology.””
  • “Hillman gives us some of the most effective concepts and vocabularies with which to enact and embody many aspects of Corbin’s great cosmology of the imagination, which refuses any chasm between psyche and world.”
  • “The traditions that Hillman and Corbin both claim, each in a more or less idiosyncratic way, are, broadly speaking, Platonic and Neoplatonic.” 
  • “Corbin represents certain aspects of the Christian and Islamic mystical traditions, both of which are intimately tied to aspects of Platonism, and Hillman, ever the pagan, bases much of his work directly on Greek thought from the pre-Socratics on, and on Renaissance humanism, which attempted to resurrect an ideal of the Platonic academy.” 


On Literal Truth & Fiction

  • “Literal truth is always false.”
  • “Poets and artists know this, as do the most creative of those in more seemingly literal pursuits.”
  • “It is hard to entirely dispel the common-sense idea that fiction is the opposite of truth. In reality, fiction is the only possible means of expressing the truth, and it is the ultimate praise to call Corbin a master dramatist.”
  • “The literal is always abstract—because reality is so much more than we can ever know or experience or imagine.” 
  • “Nothing stays put—everything real, embodied, concrete, ramifies, multiplies, sends out roots and shoots and explodes into images. There is no end to telling the stories of persons and things. Only the fictive is concrete.”  
  • “This is why belief is such a dangerous thing. Belief is to the literal as imagination is to the fictive. Belief wants to know; the imagination wants to hear more stories, to unfold the endless tale of reality.”  
  • “By placing the imagination at the center of creation we will come to understand that the desire to find a concrete solidity in which to anchor our sense of the reality of the world and of ourselves starts us on a dangerous path towards the fundamentalist literalism that is the underlying evil of all idolatries, and the root of madness.”


Literalism as Madness

Madness and mental illness stem from taking things literally. 

  • “What distinguishes between the normal, the neurotic and the psychotic? Both Freud and Jung give systematic, scientific explanations. But, says Hillman, Adler gives a hermeneutic explanation … madness is a matter of interpretation, a delusional poiesis—truly a mental disease, psychic disorder, an account of which cannot be put into objective terms.”
  • “What makes madness,” Hillman says, “is literalism.” And then the therapy, the cure for madness, is another hermeneutic strategy: If the progression from sanity towards mental illness is distinguished by degrees of literalism, then the therapeutic road from psychosis back to sanity is one of going back through the same hermeneutic passage—deliteralizing.
  • “We have to give up the paired literalisms of the individual ego and the ego psychology that attempts to cure it. We have to give up our attachment to psychology itself, to the literalism of psychotherapeutics.” 
  • “Literalism is the root of disembodiment and the meaninglessness of nihilism.”
  • “It might seem that the main question about pathology, especially psychopathology, is whether we can expect to ever escape it. Hillman thought not; Corbin thought yes, of course; Jung I am not so sure about.” 
  • “Undercutting our sense of the literal reality of things is not particularly easy. Our resistance to it is intimately and inextricably tied to that most radically intractable Complex that wants and needs to take things literally, that holds on tight to the world and wants to make everything solid, and ultimately mine: the Ego.” 


The Pathology of Fundamentalism

When our imaginative faculties atrophy fundamentalism is a likely result. 

  • “We can think of fundamentalism as a stifling, an asphyxiation, and constipation of the soul.
  • “A kind of excessive closure that originates in the normal and necessary boundaries that structure each and every one of us. It becomes pathological to the degree that it closes off the world and cramps and cripples our responsiveness, our abilities to think and feel and move in response to a manifold and changing surround.”
  • “It constricts and limits the range of options, it constrains our freedom and the creative potential that we have to interpret and experience the world. It is a pathology of our normal boundary conditions.”
  • “This common pathology has its roots in the powerful emotions that flow through most of us daily and that may peak in moments of anger and rigidity, defensiveness and fear, but if all goes well, then ebb naturally and disappear, leaving little overt damage in their wake.” 
  • “Fanaticism and extremism are our own impulsive and compulsive angers and passions raised to a higher pitch and given an architecture rendering them more coherent and more systematic.”
  • “Whatever the social and political context, idolatry, fundamentalism and literalism have in common a monotheism of consciousness that is grounded in a lack of imagination that is in turn based very often in pain and fear.”
  • “The past is perpetually unfinished. Corbin says: If the past were really what we believe it to be, that is, completed and closed, it would not be the grounds of such vehement discussions … [A]ll our acts of understanding are so many recommencements, re-iterations of events still unconcluded … While we believe that we are looking at what is past and unchangeable, we are in fact consummating our own future.”
  • “This vision of time as recurrent creation is incompatible with fundamentalism that must always posit the fixed and immutable passage of time. The past is Fact, the future is threat of Hell or promise of Heaven—all of it defined, constricted, and fixed by acts that happen once and forever.”
  • “Many of us really are fearful of letting go of our beliefs, our categories, our schemes for understanding things, for making sense of the world. It must be a rare person—a holy person I think—who can be so free as to cling to nothing at all.” 


The Idol vs The Icon

  • “What may be Hillman’s central insight derives directly from Corbin. It is his account of the difference between the literal and the imaginal. To understand it, begin with Corbin’s distinction between the idol and the icon, on which hangs his entire psycho-cosmology. The goal of incarnate life is to be in love with the world.”
  • “The world presents itself as composed of a range of idols and icons.”
  • “Idols are the literalist knots, the hard parts, the isolated, absolute and imperturbable mirages that are fixed in place by the monistic mind.
  • “Icons are all the beings in existence —where each thing exists as and in the infinite, as saturated,  and ever escaping the bounds of any experience or idea we have—we see icons when the world is dominated by water and fire.”
  • “A life “in sympathy with beings” is lived in love. But, Corbin warns us, this can go off wrong in two ways.” 
  • “You can love a being without perceiving its transcendence—then you experience it as opaque, static, and fixed. Then it becomes an idol, and you become an idolator, a fundamentalist.
  • Or, you can be so in love with transcendence itself that you ignore the present reality of the being through whom the transcendence must be manifested. Then the icon loses its grounding in the world. This is the trap of a disembodied Spirituality that attempts to transcend the world without ever living in it.”  
  • “Both of these mistakes occur with distressing regularity in the lives, and especially in the love lives of all of us.
  • “The first, when we mistake lust for love, and turn the Lover into an object; the second, when we are so dumbstruck by the aura of the Angel manifesting in a human being that we cannot see the concrete person through whom She shines.”
  • “In both cases Corbin tells us, we become incapable of real sympathy for the world, incarnate sympathy, requires a perpetual dance, a rhythmic call, and response between you and the others who share your world. It is a “con-spiracy,”and mutual breathing in and out.”
  • “In the Islamic doctrine of perpetual creation that Corbin relies on every being is at each instant simultaneously descending to earth and ascending to Heaven, and the friction this creates provides the light and the energy to keep all of Creation in existence.” 
  • “Idolatry is the futile and destructive attempt to grind it all to a halt and plunge us into darkness by severing the connection between transcendence and immanence, between the present moment and the eternal.”  
  • “In Henry Corbin’s terms, fundamentalism is the single-minded adherence to a Truth that has become solidified and opaque. He tells us that idolatry consists in immobilizing oneself before an idol because one sees it as opaque, because one is incapable of discerning in it the hidden invitation that it offers to go beyond it. 
  • Hence, the opposite of idolatry would not consist in breaking idols, in practicing a fierce iconoclasm aimed against every inner or external Image; it would rather consist in rendering the idol transparent to the light invested in it. In short, it means transmuting the idol into an icon.” 
  • The opposite of an idol is an icon, which is transparent to the light and life of the world and always leads beyond itself, opening into the plenitude and energy that lie at the heart of the creation.” 
  • “Corbin said all the world is one vast iconostasis—all the world is an icon. To understand this you cannot live in a world of abstractions and abstractedness. We all do, most of the time. But now and then we really pay attention and something subtle happens.” 


Language & Poetry  

  • “Language is constituted as a human system opposed to the “things themselves” that exist outside of human language. Knowledge, rather than being a result of union with what is the known becomes a result of a process of “reasoning” that depends upon coherence within language. Knowledge comes to “lack all immediacy.”” 
  • “Language is indeed central to human life and to the world in which we are embedded, but the particular language of philosophy can claim no special access to the Truth. No kind of language can.” 
  • “There is no clear distinction between the literal and the fictive. The real relation between language and the world is much more complex. What we have instead are styles of imagining and genres of thinking and writing. That includes science itself—which is, along with fundamentalist religion, one of the bastions of literalism in our time.” 
  • “What is crucial for any humane life is an ability to move among these styles in accordance with your desires and intentions and the demands of the world hand.”
  • “In order to do that, there has to be a space, a cosmos, in which all these styles coexist and in which you can learn to move with some assurance. There is only one world big enough: the world of what Corbin called the creative imagination, and that we might call the world of the fictive.” 
  • “Here imagination lies at the center of reality. In my experience, it is literature, poetry in particular, that can sensitize us to the changes in consciousness that the movements between these various styles of thought, sensation, and mood require.” 
  • Language is the ocean in which we live, for any operation in language is an operation in us, too.” 
  • “Since we live in language as fish live in water, Hillman can say “If I am neurotic I am neurotic in language.” Since language is a social phenomenon, the one-sidedness of neurotic language will generally reflect that of the culture.” 
  • “Many of us, if not most of us, tend to be literalists: there is no “as if” between our language and what it is meant to be conceiving. Our concepts become real things.” 
  • “Written literature is “the triumph of language over writing.” Writing was first used for control and domination. 
  • “Literary writing is a way of attempting to capture the poetry of the world.”
  • “It is the poets above all who can help us to heal ourselves because it is a disorder of language that has been the cause of our isolation.”
  • “Poetry is two elements which are suddenly in conflict—a spark between two elements. But it’s given very seldom, and you can’t look for it. It’s like if you look for inspiration.”
  • “The poets and the naturalists move so slowly—at the limits of attention to the iconic details of the world we are slowed in stunned amazement. This is one reason poets and mystics make such bad politicians—to do anything at all with the world you have to see it abstractly. The full reality of things is far too complex for any response beyond simply standing there and singing.”


Alchemical Language 

  • “Alchemical metaphors get right to the heart of the prima materia of emotional life in all its pain, confusion, density, and complexity. It provides a language and a method for an intense struggle with perception and emotion that can lead to the understanding of the complexes that structure and control the greater part of our intellectual and emotional life.” 
  • What is it that alchemical language offers that is better than concepts and abstractions? Hillman says “thing-words, image-words, craft-words. The five supposed sources of alchemy is each a technology. Each is a handwork physically grappling with sensate materials.”
  • “These sources are: metallurgy, the dyeing of fibers, embalming the dead, perfumery and cosmetics, and pharmacy. To these he importantly adds the preparation and cooking of foods. All of the operations are based in physical experience and all carried and still carry meanings about nature.”
  • “In contrast, the conceptual language of psychology is not only abstract, but it is imprecise. And “because of this imprecision … we have come to believe the soul itself is an ungraspable flux, whereas actually the psyche presents itself always in very specific behaviors, experiences and sensuous images.” 
  • “Yet the specificity and concreteness of alchemical imagery and language must not be confused with literalism and univocity of meaning
  • Alchemy leaves unilateral literalism completely. No term means only one thing. Every alchemical phenomenon is both material and psychological at the same time, else alchemy could not claim to be salvific of both the human soul and material nature. It is all metaphor … All analogy. All a poiesis of the hand.” 
  • “Alchemical language forces metaphor upon us. It requires the deliteralization of thought and language. It places the imagination at the center of reality.” 
  • “Dancers think and speak with their bodies. Painters think with paint. And the kind of thinking that is done with things is the kind of thinking that is done in alchemy.”
  • “The distinction between spiritual alchemy and what happens in art of all kinds, including the arts of language, is not very great.” 
  • If we understand our concepts only as potentially heuristic metaphors and not signs for substantive realities, then we might not need to leave the alchemical language at all.”
  • “Here is Hillman’s decisive insight. We must speak materially he says. That is the power of alchemy – it is a theory and a practice of the redemption of matter. It embraces a world view in which language has body, images have body, soul has body—and these bodies, subtle though they may be, are required if the world we think of as material is to have any body at all.” 
  • “The subtle bodies of language, soul, and image are required to counteract the abstractions of conceptual thought and of the spirit. 
  • “Concepts have to be both deliteralized and materialized. It is the literal that is abstract. The real world is far too rich, complex, and manifold to ever be encompassed by any literalism.” 
  • There is in fact no literal language—there is only language that we attempt to understand literally.”
  • “Hillman proposes not a literal return to alchemy but rather to an alchemical mode of speech and imagination. That is to say: to take seriously the rhetoric and style, the images and sentences of the dream and the daydream and the mood; to take seriously the feelings of the soul in its everydayness as well as in its extremities.” 
  • “Critical is the knowledge, foundational for alchemy, that all of these imaginings are material and embodied. Again: the literal is not the concrete. These are habitually confounded. The reality is quite the opposite. It is abstraction which is literal; the concrete is always imaginal. Only an abstraction can be so simple as to be understood literally. Concrete, immediate reality always exceeds the bounds of our possible knowledge—it is saturated with reality.”


The Concrete Vs The Abstract

“The categories I want to banish are the concrete and the abstract.” 

  • “According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word concrete refers to whatever is “available to the senses,” “actual, solid,” from the Latin concretus: “congealed, coagulated, solidified,” but it also means: embodied in matter, in practice, or in particular examples.
  • “Abstract comes from the Latin “to separate or draw away from” and means generally withdrawn, removed or separated from material objects, embodiment, practice or particular instances. Used in this sense it refers to ideas or concepts in contrast to things.” 
  • “By the sixteenth century the opposition between the two was fully developed. It presumes and mirrors one of the fundamental dichotomies that characterizes the Western rationalist world view—that between thought and things.” 
  • “Both thought and sensation are subsidiary modes of psychic function, both subsumed within the all-encompassing embrace of Imagination.”
  • “There are multiple styles and varieties of both thought and sensation, which differ among cultures, within cultures, among individuals, and even within each of us as we make our way through our lives.”
  • “Both of the categories we’re considering, the concrete and the abstract, structure how we respond to the world—there are concretizing and abstracting modes of engagement.”
  • “Both are useful in their own ways, but since they are elements of our psychic functioning, they have pathologies associated with them that can affect the range and style of our experience in ways that disrupt our lives.” 
  • “When we are standing out in the open, we can feel that there is an underlying pathology that affects both modes of imagining—the concretizing and the abstracting.”
  • “The pathology is a hypertrophy of the literalism that is the hallmark par excellence of the monistic, isolated mind. It’s not the “concrete” and the “abstract” that we need to eliminate—it’s the literal that has to go.” 
  • “The pathology set things up so that the concrete and the abstract are polar opposites. They are more usefully understood as identical. They collapse into one another and disappear.” 
  • “The literal is always abstract because it posits simplicity and permanence and nothing that exists exhibits either. And the abstract is literal for exactly the same reasons. Both are constructs of a mind seeking universality, unity, stability, and generality.”
  • “The literalist vision gives us a world where Things and Mind are independent and mediated by language as the bearer of “meanings” connecting the two parts of reality.”
  • “When we give up the notion of any literal reality we are free to feel the psychic nature of things and the thing-likeness of thoughts.”
  • “When we lose contact with the Imagination as the central principle of the cosmos, then we lose our experience of the forces in the world that keep everything flowing and alive. When that happens, things tend to get stuck, they stop moving and they die.”
  • “But if we imagine that Imagination lies at the heart of things we can understand the opposition between the concrete and the abstract as a contrast between two different styles of imagining.” 



The Inner Work of Alchemy (Feeling Emotions) 

“Alchemy cannot be taken literally and yet it provides a profound world of metaphors for the life of the psyche.” 

  • “The psychic and spiritual battles that alchemy describes are difficult and painful almost beyond description. The prima materia of the opus consists in a massa confusa of wild emotions—a powerful chaos of pain, shame, rage, fear, anger, hatred, and anguish. All of it must be contained in the vas bene clausum—a well-sealed vessel, and a veritable furnace. For the impossible rule of this work is “don’t repress; don’t act out”—the only allowable action is to stay sealed in the furnace and Imagine.”
  • In the heat at the heart of the great work the cooking occurs by means of a series of operations repeated over and over again in a seemingly endless process of psychosomatic stresses and transformations.” 
  • “The goal is to get some distance between the soul in the oven and the dominating and impersonal emotions that engulf her. The struggle is to discover that the all-consuming passions, whatever they are, are not inevitable responses to features of some stable, objective world but states of the psyche—and so, the world they arise in response to is not literal and objective, not permanent, not the Truth.” 
  • “This distancing is the difficult process of becoming conscious of a complex.”
  • “Any time there is strong affect, any time the passions rage, there is a complex at the center of the storm.” 
  • One goal of alchemy is to turn a world flooded with emotion into a diversified landscape differentiated and amplified by feeling.” 
  • The work often begins with dreams, because they are clearly not literal reality, but images of it.”
  • It is the stories we tell ourselves that make our lives miserable, but also it is through stories that we are healed.” 
  • “What Jung discovered is that the first thing you have to give up, or at least loosen considerably, in order to do active imagination at all, is that rational Judge who sits on his high bench and tells us what is real and what is “just in our imagination.” 
  • “When abstraction is dominant, feeling tends to be undeveloped. Abstraction is a defensive and isolating stance towards reality. It helps us hold people and things at a distance. It prevents interaction.” 
  • Thinking, which is often abstract (but need not be) tends to dominate at the expense of the other rational function, feeling. In a world of abstractions particulars disappear and are replaced by generality and classification.”
  • “When feeling is undeveloped, then the world is awash in emotions, which manifest the natural powers of the world undifferentiated by consciousness. Emotions are the un-felt energies of things.”
  • “We don’t feel them in Jung’s sense of the word—we identify with them.”
  • “Emotions are not private—they spill out all around us and manifest in our behavior and our relations with other people.” 
  • “Emotions obliterate space and time, and make fine distinctions and perceptions of particularity impossible.”
  • “Feeling or emotion is very much muddied by the fact that emotion and feeling are so closely allied that only rarely, if ever, are they wholly separate.” 
  • It is after all feeling that helps us to discriminate emotions!”
  • “When abstraction and emotion are in strong tension, the personality of the world also tends to polarize into Me and the Others.” 
  • “You can learn to feel your way into emotions. This is movement in liminal space—you are in them and letting them have part of you—but paying attention to them as though you were in some sense outside.” 


Making the Unconscious Conscious

  • “To pay attention to everything that is going on—that is the goal. It is in practice impossible—the vastness of the present moment prevents it. We ignore so very much.”
  • And we tend to ignore the same things all the time until they force themselves upon us.
  • “Our perceptions of reality are always partial, always limited, but also always creative by virtue of our participation in the essential ambiguity of things.”
  • We rarely really see or hear the people we meet—even those we are closest to. Perhaps even especially those we are closest to. What we see instead are what Jung called projections. Our own emotional reactions, moods and habitual patterns of feeling, thought and behavior obliterate the independent reality and the divine individuality of the other persons we encounter.” 
  • “Each of us lives in a world that is effectively one enormous spherical mirror, centered on ourselves. Once in a while something gets through, and it can be rather a shock.” 
  • “Learning to listen means getting yourself out of the way. I know of no other way of doing this than becoming conscious of complexes.” 
  • “How do we recognize we are in a complex? Extreme emotions are good place to start. They are starkly different from normal moods, and are generally over fairly quickly.”
  • “The boundaries in time, intensity, and mood are obvious.This is useful because the only way we know we are somewhere at all is by discovering that we are not some-where else. That is the chief importance of boundaries. The only way we know where we are is because of the experience of crossing boundaries.”
  • “The newborn baby has to find out that there is a difference between her body and her mother’s. That is the first boundary we all encounter and it produces the first consciousness—the ego complex.”
  • “The long, slow process of becoming conscious of a complex that has you in its grasp is based on the repeated crossing of such a boundary. Every time you have strong emotions you are in the grip of a complex.”
  • “Why does it take so long? Because the complex is unconscious: void, blank, an unknown unknown. The experience of it is shapeless, fleeting, vague, undefined.”
  • “As Jung said, you can’t understand anything psychological unless you have experienced it yourself, and the experience of unconsciousness that being in the grasp of a complex involves is particularly difficult to describe.”
  • “But becoming conscious of a complex does involve the recognition of the boundary crossing that occurs as you pass into and out of its influence.”
  • “Something has to take shape for consciousness to develop. You have to get an image.”
  • “An image is not a picture—it may have little or no visual component, and manifests as a psychosomatic event.” 
  • “When we are insensitive and unconscious, then we see the world as black and white—full of fundamentalist angels and demons. The more conscious and sensitive you become, the more complex and interesting the world and its inhabitants becomes—and the less likely the constellated complexes are to manifest as terrorists.”
  • “We need to conceive of the psyche ecologically in order to fully appreciate the wisdom of “psycho-diversity” and to make it possible for us to experience and value the richness and fecundity of the world.” 
  • “Hillman called this a “polytheism of consciousness” in contrast to the monotheism of consciousness that has permeated Western thought and culture for centuries.”


Soul-Making, Anima, Individuation & Salvation

What is Soul Making?

  • “This intensification of life, of the animate, is what Hillman calls “soul-making.” 
  • “This work is a difficult, imaginative activity that requires care, attention, effort, and skill. It is a craft that can be, must be, learned slowly, over the entire span of one’s life. There is no end to learning the ways of the soul. Soul-making is the supreme discipline.”
  • “Understanding what soul-making really means, grasping the implications for your life, requires the largest possible context. All doors must be open. A sufficiently deep and rich understanding of what Creation is leaves no choice—we are called to soul-making making by our very nature.”
  • “If you understand the range and scope of psycho-cosmology, then you are immediately called to soul-making. If you feel the depth, challenge, and beauty of soul-making, then you must have world enough to exercise it—the only world adequate is opened to us by the notion of psycho-cosmology.”
  • “The task of soul-making depends upon pathology and what we learn from it—the value that it has in our daily lives. And this is the thing that many therapies miss.” 
  • “We all want escape from our various madnesses and self-destructions, but the hard thing to learn is that the only real way to escape is to acknowledge and suffer through them—again and again—until we discover those aspects of ourselves and the world our maladies are trying to show us.”
  • “As Hillman puts it, “soul-making precedes self-individuating. Soul-making in this context becomes nothing more than the rather humiliating recognition of the anima archetype.””


What is the Anima?

  • “We never become conscious of anima herself, for she is the archetype of unconsciousness. This means that recognition of her effects is the starting place for all psychic work and for the recognition of the all-embracing nature of psyche.”
  • “The confrontation with the deep unconscious, with the autonomous soul itself, the anima, is the masterpiece. James Hillman has pointed out that analytical psychology sometimes tends to confuse the functions of anima and feeling. This is a disaster for human relations. The function of anima is to mediate unconsciousness. It is largely the function of feeling to mediate relationship. But before human relations can be freed of the unconsciousness of complexes, the recognition of the unconsciousness in all our dealings with the world must be brought to light.”
  • “Ego functions, within limits, are necessary and ad-mirable. It’s only when they hypertrophy that trouble arises. But one particularly intricate and difficult set of problems comes about, on Hillman’s account, when anima functions get mixed in with ego functions.”
  • “Anima connects us to the interiority of all our attachments, and the way in which she mediates is through images and the activities of the imagination.” 
  • “Anima is the “bridge to everything unknown” and when anima is the archetype governing relationship then the autonomy and unconsciousness of the forces governing the bond are stunning.” 
  • “She makes moods, distortions, illusions,” and is the greatest of all the disturbers of accurate feelings between persons. She produces an “intense sense of personal significance” and “swollen importance” that undermines the possibility of the feeling for the other that is necessary for the development of any real human relationship. As Hillman puts it: “If we want ‘to relate,’ then anima begone!”
  • One of the many effects of anima consciousness is that she makes us feel the “personality” of the personified cosmos we inhabit. She awakens both the anima humana, and the anima mundi: the human soul and the soul of the world.” 
  • “When this general sense of personality gets too dominant, then my personality hypertrophies, and everything revolves around me.” 
  • “I become needy and grasping and want the cosmos to be mine.”
  • “Experiences are blown out of proportion and become mine alone. My love is the greatest, my pain is the worst, my joy the most powerful, my anguish the deepest, my life the most significant—all of it special, unique, enormously important, blotting out everything and everyone else. 
  • “This, of course, is a completely unsustainable level of intensity and self-absorption, and so it collapses into despair and depression. Which are, of course, the worst despair and depression, because they are only mine.” 
  • “All this soaking in emotion, taking everything so personally, completely unbalances our relations with the multitude of other persons in the world, and blinds us to the subtle kinds of personification that fill the cosmos.”
  • “Through the anima we recognize the psychic nature of all experience. Then we struggle with the passions over and over again. Gradually they become less autonomous, less powerful and dominant. The possibilities begin to open for other forms of relationship based not on impersonal passions but on our own individual, human feelings. This slow reformation of the personality is well described by the alchemical process of solutio.” 
  • “The hard facts, fixed truths, and blind certainties of compulsion and fanaticism are melted by solutio.” 


Individuation & Salvation

  • “The really profound point is that we can distinguish between “personality,” the personal nature of the cosmos, and that pathological version of it that inheres in individuals when the ego gets tangled that way with anima.”
  • “There is an “impersonal” kind of personhood. True personhood, the kind we might aspire to, is egoless and strangely “impersonal,” free of the grasping neediness that makes us possessive, gives us that desire to make things mine. It is I think very much the goal of individuation as Jung thought of it, and certainly as Corbin thought of it. 
  • Meeting one’s angel corresponds to what Jung called individuation.”
  • “Individuation is never “mine”—it has nothing to do with that grasping “me” that always wants, always needs, is always empty and searching for something it will never find.”
  • “Individuation is entry into a personified world, an imaginal world where the person is the first and final fact, but where there are no “egos”—all true love is both egoless and personified.” 
  • “Hillman is suspicious of individuation entirely because he thinks it smacks of salvation, which he thinks isn’t possible, but that is another story.” 
  • “Buddha certainly thought that salvation, nirvana, was something like this freedom from attachment based on that needy me that arises when anima and ego tangle that way.”
  • “Jung has said more than once that it is when we feel most intensely unique that we are most like everyone else. We are truly unique, truly individual, when we are free, when we have forgotten ourselves and are open to the flow of things.” 
  • “This basic account suggests that the components in the psychic work of a human life are threefold: the encounter with the shadow, which Jung called the apprentice piece, the struggle with anima, which he thought of as the masterpiece, and both of these are in the service of the ultimate goal of letting go of the grasping ego. 
  • Salvation it seems to me is best understood, not as an escape from the world but rather as an intensification, an increase in our loving, our care, concern, and compassion that results from an increase in the depth and degree of our incarnation.”
  • “When I shrink, the world expands.”


The Power of Imagination and The Imaginal Realm 


  • “What makes imagination active is being able to move among styles of imagining in the great flux of metaphors, never stuck too long in any one mode. So we need to acknowledge the fact of our constant and unavoidable imagining by making it active, fluid and alive.”
  • “It seems that when the imagination withdraws from some areas of experience it may hypertrophy in others. Thus we find poets and artists with disastrous personal lives, or people who try to find solace in what we call escapism in literature or in the movies.”
  • “The imagination is a powerful solvent—it keeps things fluid and prevents the world from freezing up. 
  • “All of Creation is the Imagination of God. But we are created in the image of God and our Imagination is distinct from but continuous with the divine source.” 
  • “The central faculty of our human being is creative imagination, as it is the central driving force of all Creation, and this is how it manifests most powerfully in us: as a drive towards increasing the range and extent of our intimacy—it is a desire to love more widely, more fully, more intricately, more completely.”
  • And Corbin’s term “imaginal” serves that purpose. It evokes a realm that is not anchored in the ego or in things, but wholly open to the full range and variety of experience—I would say, to the Imagination.” 
  • “Entry into the imaginal signals not a change of place, but a change in your mode of being. Just as finding one’s “soul” is not the discovery of a thing but a deepening of experience, so entering the Imaginal involves a fundamental transformation in the condition of the world. It involves a kind of opening.” 
  • “The openings require a loosening of your attention and relaxing of your intentions—you have to stop grasping at the world. You have to come to feel that nothing is literal – nothing is only what it seems on the surface. Everything has depth, breadth, and extended reference.”
  • “Mostly what prevents our opening to the richness and complexity of the world is not intellectual hesitation or inadequate critical distinctions but a dysfunction and crippling of the emotions. It is, as Jung would have it, usually the feeling function that is out of order.”
  • “A phenomenological attitude serves to open us to all experience. We try to suspend all our our preconceptions of what is important and what counts as real. Everything is real; and we don’t know what is important.”
  • You can become extinct like a dead volcano by losing contact with imagination and being transformed into a dualist inhabiting the simple world of a literalist, a fundamentalist.” 
  • “For Ibn ‘Arabī spirit and body are not things but qualitative distinctions. The spiritual refers to that dimension that is luminous, alive, knowing, aware, and subtle. The bodily dimension lacks these things—it is dark, dead, unconscious, and heavy. The intermediate dimension of things, the dimension of the imagination and the soul is in between, neither wholly spiritual nor wholly material.” 
  • “At the heart of everything is the Imagination and I think that we cannot free the soul from fear or learn to open ourselves to the world in all its glory, complexity, and beauty unless we can free ourselves for the Imagination.” 
  • “How we think about people and things, how we speak of them, is not separable from how we experience them, how we feel them, how we interact with them. Our thoughts are not separate from our experience. They do not occur in the head. They are in the world. They are in our bodies. It is not easy to do, but changing your “mind” changes your “world” because your ”mind” is more than your mind.
  • “If you can bring to light your unconscious assumptions about things, you can alter your experience.”
  • “How do we prevent such rigidity and freezing of the imagination? How do we keep fluid, supple and alive to the realities surrounding us? We travel.”
  • “Travel doesn’t have to be travel in space, though that certainly can have a life-altering effect. You can study history and attempt time travel. You can talk to people who are very different from you. Really talk to them. You can read literature. You can read anything that is outside your comfort zone. You might even make a natural history museum in your room, where every treasure is a mystery, a precious journey away from home.” 
  • Everything is in between something and something else and that in betweenness is a boundary. Everything rides that boundary between itself and what is not itself—between itself and something Other—this is the source of the permanent ambiguity of the world.”
  • “We ask of the images instead: Where to they lead? What do they suggest? How do they look? Smell? Feel? Taste? Who after all are they? Who is appearing to me? What do they want? How can I best respond to this personified world that is opening to me?”