This Talk of Soul: What Does It Mean?

In a review originally published in Round Table Review, Mary Stamper considers the impact of The Logos of the Soul, a little-known work by the late Jungian analyst Evangelos Christou (our thanks to Dolores Brien for her editorial - and detective - work on this essay).

The soul, what it is and what it means, is as much a question in our time for psychology as it has been for theology. This is due in large measure to the work of C.G. Jung and more recently to the influence of James Hillman’s archetypal psychology, which is sometimes referred to, incorrectly or not, as “soul psychology.” Two books by Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul and Soul Mates, have helped to make concern for the soul from a psychological perspective even more widespread. In his book The Soul’s Logical Life, Wolfgang Giegerich locates soul at the very center of Jungian psychology. But what exactly is meant psychologically by “soul?” Although it has many associations for us, from the sentimental to the sublime, it is frustratingly difficult, perhaps impossible, to define. In this article, the author gives us a closer look at how James Hillman and Thomas Moore have employed this term in their work. But to do this, she says, we need to look first at the work of a little-known Jungian analyst, Evangelos Christou.  -- Dolores Brien

James Hillman, along with his followers, claims to have "shifted the focus of Jung's psychology from individuation to 'soul-making.''' How does one "make soul"? What exactly is this soul that is being made? The archetypal psychologists themselves prefer to elaborate on the soul's manifestations rather than on what it is. Definitions taken from theology only lead us astray. Hillman's writings frequently sing the praises of the poets and the ancients for their exquisite understanding of soul, yet we don’t, in turning to them, find much clarity. Perhaps that is because, says Hillman, "the soul is a deliberately ambiguous concept." Even Thomas Moore, who has done such a marvelous job of illuminating Hillman's ideas, resists conceptualizing the term soul:

It is impossible to define precisely what the soul is. Definition is an intellectual enterprise anyway: the soul prefers to imagine. We know intuitively that soul has to do with genuineness and depth, as when we say certain music has soul or a remarkable person is soulful. When you look closely at the image of soulfulness, you see that it is tied to life in all its particulars—good food, satisfying conversation, genuine friends, and experiences that stay in the memory and touch the heart. Soul is revealed in attachment, love, and community, as well as in retreat on behalf of inner communing and intimacy. (Care of the Soul, xi-xii)

Reading  this, one feels an instinctive and emotional connection to what Moore is talking about, yet something remains unsatisfied. He told us with what soul has to do and where it is revealed, but what is it? How is one to distinguish it from other revelations?   

What does the word soul mean when used in archetypal psychology? In exploring this question, it should be stated, from the outset, that Hillman does not consider the soul of theology to be wholly equivalent or wholly dissimilar to the soul of psychology. This is evident from his frequent references to St. Augustine, not only to distinguish the psychological soul from the theological one but for theological insights that help bolster his own ideas about soul.

To begin I will construct a conceptual skeleton from the work of the little-known Jungian analyst Evangelos Christou. Then I will flesh out the skeleton with more familiar works by Jung, Hillman, and others. In my discussions of Hillman's writings, I do not wish to overlook the fact that archetypal psychology began with Jung and that many of Hillman's oft-repeated remarks can be traced directly or indirectly back to Jung.

Evangelos Christou was a student of Wittgenstein and an analyst trained in Zurich. He was convinced that in order for psychology to be truly respected, not only must a definition of soul be spelled out, but also a logic, a set of first principles by which the soul operates, would have to be put forth. This logic would then become the basis for a set of procedures and conventions to be followed by psychologists when studying, speaking about, and treating the soul. Christou unfortunately died in 1956, at barely thirty-four years of age, but he left behind a manuscript that, under the editorship of James Hillman, was published posthumously as The Logos of the Soul.  (Spring Publications, 1976)  In the following passage from his introduction, Hillman explains the problem:

The failure of psychotherapy to make clear its legitimacy has resulted in psychologies which are bastard sciences and degenerate philosophies. Psychotherapy has attempted to support its pedigree by appropriating logics unsuited for investigating its area. As these borrowed methods fail one by one, psychotherapy seems more and more dubious—neither good physics, good philosophy, nor good religion. Psychotherapists suffer from not being able to communicate about their area of reality in a scientific manner. (Hillman, Introduction to The Logos of the Soul)

The passion with which Christou writes throughout the book reveals a man who felt he had a mission to lay down what he believed were the conventions necessary to make psychology a field in its own right and not just a branch of the social sciences or of medicine or philosophy or religion and not a hybrid conglomeration of fragments of those disciplines. Psychology as a science must emerge from the point of view of its subject—soul.

Christou begins in familiar territory, showing that body and mind each represent different orders of reality and explaining how each goes about forming its particular perspective. Then he proceeds by processes of elimination and analogy to distinguish a third order of reality that is equal to neither that of the body nor that of the mind, nor to the sum of the two. This third reality is that created by the soul.   

The reality of the body is constructed from sense perceptions, which include emotions and physical sensations. What are accepted as "facts" are limited to what can be observed through the five senses and their mechanical extensions. Sensory reality exists in two dimensions: a public one and a private one. Public reality is observable by multiple parties, while private reality is, as the term implies, known only to the experiencing party. Sense impressions confirm that the particular reality which we say is "of body" exists; we have not, however, defined body. Science, as we tend to practice it, relies almost exclusively on sense data and particularly that of the publicly observable sort. In fact, public observability is a criterion for drawing a scientific conclusion. Because science also sees itself as the great revealer of truth, greater "reality status" is awarded to sense data in general and publicly observable sense data in particular. In Christou's opinion, this is to the detriment of psychology, for the soul, as we shall see later on, does not construct its reality out of literal sense impressions, and it cannot be observed only by the physical senses, yet it is no less real. And psychology's business is to study soul.

Mind, on the other hand, builds its notion of reality via conception—the creation of ideas. Christou includes in this category mathematical propositions and conceptual formulation of wishes, motives, and intentions. Ideas allow us to separate ourselves from physical "facts." Without this idea-forming capacity, we would be puppets whose strings would be worked by our sense impressions. The existence of a conception affirms to us the reality of "mind" without our actually defining what "mind" is. In a world bent on sequential logic, where things have to have creators or causes, it is necessary to posit that conceptions come from somewhere. Mind is the name that we give to that somewhere from whence ideas come. It is a symbol for the conception function. Conceptions, like sense perceptions, can be public or private, and greater "reality value" is, likewise in this perspective, given to ideas that can be arrived at by more than one person. Philosophy is mind distilled to a very high degree.

A few more words about private reality. As we have seen above, some private realities are of a conceptual nature, which Christou calls mentoid, others belong to the realm of physical perception which he calls physoid, and still others fit in neither category. Examples of private realities that are neither physoid nor mentoid are dreams, hallucinations, and visions. Christou calls these psychoid and frequently refers to these private realities as an intermediate world. (Note that the world of the soul itself and also the closely related concept of "imagination" are sometimes referred to as "intermediate" in the writings of those associated with the archetypal school.)

Now it is quite plain to us, however oblivious of it science and philosophy may be, that the life experience cannot be sufficiently represented by either the bodily perspective or the conceptual one and not even by an aggregate of the two, even when both public and private aspects are considered. That is left out is what Christou calls the psychological experience. While admitting to the "stickiness" of the term, he feels it is the best one for the purpose. And the soul is seen analogically as the seat of psychological experience, just as the body is the seat of sense perception and the mind that of conception. "Soul" will never be defined beyond this, for it, like "mind", is not an ontological reality, but a term created to fill a logical need. Both are therefore best seen as symbols standing for the unknown origin of a function.

What then, is “psychological experience”? It seems impossible to define it concisely, and Christou doesn't really does come up with a good definition of it. However, after many analogies and processes of elimination, one gets a sense of what he means by it.

Psychology is neither about the body and its functions nor is it about ideas and their interrelations and contents. . . Psychology concerns it-self primarily with the soul. . . [T]he soul is not as transcendental, nor as biological, as either metaphysics or science would have us believe. On the one hand it is about life, about how people think, feel, behave, their problems and their ways, not about the organs and functions with which they do this. On the other hand, it is also about spirit and the meaning of life to people and the meanings are not exhausted by a history of ideas. (Christou, The Logos of the Soul, 30)

So the soul is not about that aspect of ourselves that forms conceptualizations or about that aspect that receives sense perceptions. He further states that the soul is also not about the private mentoid, physoid, or psychoid worlds either. Christou further whittles away at the problem by making the following analogical distinction:

The distinction between psychical states and psychological experience which is analogous to the distinction between a physical object and its sense data, a proposition and the sentence expressing it, is nowhere made in modern psychology. (Logos of the Soul, 34)

This is a tricky distinction to verbalize, and, in fact, he takes several chapters of analogy, examples, and logical gyrations to clarify it. In short, psychical state is a very general term that means what it sounds like it means—a state of mind, regardless of how it was arrived at. Any psychical state then can be input to a psychological experience. Moreover, no psychical state is guaranteed to result in psychological experience. Furthermore, the fact that something has been psychologically experienced can be expressed through the mind, the body, or the private psychoid world.

According to this point of view, a person with a very rich fantasy life may be very poor in actual value of psychological experience, and it would not be amiss to say that he has a poor or weak soul; conversely, a rich and deep soul may lead a very poor fantasy life. Alternatively, a person who has led a most active outer life and has had great success and much adventure need not necessarily be considered as psychologically rich in corresponding values: the quality and depth of his soul life may not have kept up with his outer activities. Furthermore, a person who has spent his life in a cell may have enriched and deepened his soul and this would not mean moreover that he has spent his time accumulating fantasies or writing learned treatises. (Logos of the Soul, 50-51)

Christou connects his thought concerning multiple orders of experience to Jung's. He quotes Jung: "But we experience various effects: from 'outside' by way of the senses, from 'inside' by way of fantasy." It is Jung's experience by way of fantasy that we are interested in here, for this is our psychological experience. A sense experience or mental experience can be re-experienced psychologically via fantasy. Another reference Christou makes to Jung—"For the important thing is not to interpret and understand the fantasies, but primarily to experience them"—is proclaimed by Christou to be very much in support of his own thoughts, but the connection is very tenuously expressed. Why Christou approved of this statement so highly can probably be derived from other relevant excerpts from Jung:

It often happens that the patient is quite satisfied with merely registering a dream or fantasy, especially if he has pretensions to aestheticism...  Others try to understand with their brains only... That they should also have a feeling-relationship to the contents of the unconscious seems strange to them or even ridiculous. Intellectual understanding and aestheticism both produce the deceptive, treacherous sense of liberation and superiority which is liable to collapse if feeling intervenes. Feeling always binds one to the reality and meaning of symbolic contents, and these in turn impose binding standards of ethical behavior from which aestheticism and intellectualism are only too ready to emancipate themselves. (CW 16,493)

The meaning and value of these fantasies are revealed only through their integration into the personality as a whole—that is to say, at the moment when one is confronted not only with what they mean, but also with their moral demands.

Where the principle of creative formulation predominates... This tendency leads to the aesthetic problem of artistic formulation. Where... the principle of understanding predominates... there is an intense struggle to understand the meaning of the unconscious product... The danger of the aesthetic tendency is overvaluation of the formal or ‘artistic’ worth of the fantasy productions... The danger of wanting to understand the meaning is overvaluation of the content, which is subjected to intellectual analysis and interpretation, so the essentially symbolic character is lost…What is lacking…is its meaning and value for the subject. (CW 8  173-176)

If one assumes consistency between these passages from Jung and the ones quoted by Christou, one can conclude that there is a type of “experience” that is more than a mere encounter and not at all a conceptual interpretation, and that there is a type of “meaning” that is different from the mere elucidation of a concept. Perhaps it could be said that to experience something psychologically is to come to terms with its subjective implications, to meet it on a feeling level, to be drawn into confrontation with it so much so that one feels no choice but to admit that one now sees some aspect of oneself more clearly. Thomas Moore associates soul with genuineness, with one’s true nature. This further helps to delineate what we are looking for, because it says that it is not sufficient to enter merely into an intellectualizing analysis in terms of some conceptual system; here one is up to one’s neck in blood, sweat, and tears, not explanations.

An additional word or two about the passages from Jung quoted above. Jung distinguishes between intellectual understanding, aesthetic experience, and the subjective meaning. He also distinguishes between the realization of subjective meaning of something and the moral demands made by it. It is my belief that Christou’s “psychological experience” is equivalent to Jung’s realization of subjective meaning, but does not include Jung’s moral and ethical requirements. Psychological experience comes first, and one may or may not convert it into Jung’s famous ethical/moral obligations.

The connection between soul and subjectivity seems to be confirmed in Christou’s discussion of why the supposedly scientific principle of separating the observer from the observed does not work well in psychology. Psychological experience, he says, cannot be separated from the experiencing subject and “is observable only if the observer has participated in the event, that is to say, has registered the event as experientially meaningful to him.” For one to stand outside and impartial and to “observe” the psychological experience of another and to conceptually reduce it to or interpret it as a series of cognitive moves or stimulus response patterns  distorts the soul’s viewpoint. The soul is by definition subjective. Contrary to what modern science would prescribe as the correct way to observe a phenomenon, detached and uninvolved, Christou says that a psychological phenomenon of the soul, can only be observed by attachment and involvement and that the only true observer of a psychological phenomenon can be the experiencer. Subjectivity is so implicit in the psychological experience that the experience is its own description; it cannot be adequately described in any so-called objective language. This, I suspect, is partly why some find Hillman’s writings so difficult; he attempts, through the common medium of the English language, to describe the soul’s purely subjective meanderings; to speak for it. The job is made doubly difficult because the soul itself doesn’t really operate verbally. It, as Thomas Moore says, prefers to imagine. Images are the soul’s “native language.”

Imagining the Soul

Now, against the backdrop of Christou and Jung, let us look at what James Hillman, the founder of the archetypal school, has to say about soul.

. . .[W]e are not dealing with something that can be defined; and therefore soul is really not a concept, but a symbol. Symbols, as we know, are not completely under our control, so that we are not able to use the word in an unambiguous way, even though we take it to refer to that unknown human factor which makes meaning possible, which turns events into experiences, and which is communicated in love. The soul is a deliberately ambiguous concept resisting all definition in the same manner as do all ultimate symbols  which provide the root metaphors for the systems of human thought. “Matter” and “nature” and “energy” have ultimately the same ambiguity; so too have “life,” “health”, “justice” and “God,” which provide the symbolic sources for the points of view we have already seen. (Hillman, Suicide and the Soul, 46-47.)

Clearly, there is no contradiction with Christou in this passage. Soul again is not an ontological entity, but a symbol for the place from which meaning grows. The soul is a “root metaphor” here in Hillman’s humanities-influenced language and a “first principle” in Christou’s more philosophical style.

By soul I mean, first of all, a perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint toward things rather than a thing in itself. This perspective is reflective; it mediates events and makes differences between ourselves and everything that happens. Between us and events, between the doer and the deed, there is a reflective moment—and soul-making mean differentiating this middle ground . . .First, “soul” refers to the deepening of events into experiences; second, the significance soul makes possible, whether in love or in religious concern, derives from its special relation with death. And third, by “soul” I mean the imaginative possibilities of our natures, the experiencing through reflective speculation, dream, image, and fantasy—that mode which recognizes all realities as primarily symbolic or metaphorical. (Hillman, Re-visioning Psychology, x.)

This excerpt goes a long way toward fleshing out Christou’s conceptual scaffolding. Soul is a distinct way of viewing things, parallel to the way body and mind are distinct points of view. The reflective moment of which Hillman speaks can be unconscious, hence to make soul is to make conscious the contents of these reflections, which can only be subjective. Soul-making is to differentiate one’s subjectivity. The symbolic or metaphorical viewpoint is what Jung says frees us from “bondage to the nothing but,” what Christou says differentiates between the mere registration of an event and having a psychological experience of it, and what Hillman says is the antidote to the cardinal sin of literalism.

Here Hillman brings up one of the most puzzling themes in archetypal psychology, namely this relation between soul and death. Here death is meant as a metaphor, not as the literal, physical event. For some evidence that this can be the case, we can refer to his  Dream and the Underworld. To reach soul, says Hillman, we must put aside the “shoulds” and “have-tos” of our everyday life, which is imaged as the dayworld or the upperworld. By a parallel analogy, soul then becomes the nightworld or the underworld. The underworld is traditionally connected with death. Then by a more or less mathematical substitution (quite common in Hillman’s writing), death and soul become connected in all further writing, with the assumption made that we all know why.

When I use the word death and bring it into connection with dreams, I run the risk of being misunderstood grossly, since death to us tends to mean exclusively gross death—physical, literal death. . .That love and death could be metaphorical is difficult to understand. . . Death is not the background to dreamwork, but soul is. Soul, if immortal, has more to it than dying, and so dreams cannot be limited to attendance upon death. The psychic perspective is  focused not only on death or about dying. Rather, it is a consciousness that stands on its own legs only when we have put our dayworld notions to sleep. Death is the most profoundly radical way of expressing this shift in consciousness (Hillman, Dream and the Underworld, 64-66)

The “dayworld” notions that are put to sleep or that die include, Hillman tells us in another context, “naïve realism, naturalism and literal understanding.” This means the death of the notion that things appear to the soul in the same way that they appear in  everyday contexts, that soul understands things in the same way that our egos do.

The last point made about soul, that it refers to the imaginative possibility in our nature, is a Pandora’s box. The obvious question that comes to mind, “What are imagination, fantasy, and image?” It is this aspect of Jung’s work that the archetypal school has amplified so vigorously. It seems safe to say that all of Jung’s ideas on fantasy and imagination apply here as well. Hillman says that he follows Jung quite closely with respect to fantasy. As for the relationship between soul and imagination, Edward Casey, in his book, Imagining: A Phenomenological Study, says “imagining is the moving agent of soul, its main motor and primary possibilizer.”

Very often, it sounds as if an equivalence is being set up between soul-making and imagining—that to imagine is to make soul. However, this turns out not to be exactly the case. Through the use of metaphor, things get tangled up. In fact, while all soul-making is imagining or the crafting of images, all imagining is not necessarily soul-making. Imagination does not always have to be used in the service of the soul or for soul-making purposes.

This crafting [of images] can take place in the concrete modes of the artisan, a work of the hands, and with the morality of the hands. And it can take place in sophisticated elaborations of reflection, religion, relationships, social action, so long as these activities are imagined from the perspective of soul, soul as uppermost concern. (Italics mine.)

In other words, only when imagination is recognized as an engagement at the borders of the human and a work in relationships with mythic dominants can this articulation of images be considered a psycho-poesis (David Miller) or soul-making. (Hillman, Archetypal Psychology, 27.)

But here is a dilemma: from where does imagination arise? From the soul itself?  From somewhere else? Can anyone really say? If imagination arises from soul, if as Jung said, “image is psyche,” how can imagination be used in a way that is not in the service of the soul—that is not soul-making? Can the soul work against itself? In the following discussion of multiplicity, we take up this question.

Soul and Multiplicity

Here it is necessary to avoid trouble before it starts. Soul is ultimately seen on two levels. One is the individual level, where we can speak of an internal multiplicity, where the so-called “heroic” ego is only one of the voices, only one of a person’s many subjectivities, (hence the phrase “relativization of the ego”). The other is the external multiplicity or world soul, which is the old notion that whatever occurs in the inner world of the individual human being is replicated in parallel form among the masses. This latter idea has been developed by the archetypalists as the anima mundi and will not be discussed in detail here. I mention it because it is impossible not to hint at it in this discussion.

Christou sees soul as a unifying principle. He chides the sciences and humanities for proclaiming themselves all to be equally valid expressions of one larger reality and then attempting to give voice to that reality using the language of whatever discipline is the voice-giver. Such an attempt at unification, he says, overlooks two things. First, any such unifying principle presupposes that the unifying principle, such as the soul, has is own language and is not borrowing the language of one of the subcategories, here the sciences and humanities. Second, he says that the unifying principle does not only connect preexisting viewpoints (is posterior), but in fact exists prior to those viewpoints. Science, philosophy, and mathematics, therefore, all represent different colored glasses through which the soul sees things. Hillman sometimes calls these different colored glasses fantasies (“the fantasy of science,” “the fantasy of opposites”).

There are many academic departments, as there are many faculties within the human soul. Our house has many mansions and even more windows; we perceive from a multiplicity of perspectives, ethical, political, poetic. But the psychological perspective is supreme and prior because the psyche is prior and must appear within every human undertaking. The psychological viewpoint does not encroach upon other fields, for it is there to begin with, even if most disciplines invent methods that pretend to keep it out.

[P]sychology inherently assumes superiority over other disciplines, because  the psyche of which it is the advocate does indeed come before any of is compartmental activities, departmentalized into arts, sciences, or trades. These departments are each reflections of one or another face of the psyche. In this sense, they each reflect psychic premises at the foundation of their viewpoints and their knowledge. But psychology cannot be one department among others, since the psyche is not a separate branch of knowledge. The soul is less an object of knowledge than it is a way of knowing the object, a way of  knowing knowledge itself. (Hillman, Revisioning Psychology, 130-131.)

Christou tells us that all psychical states (and viewpoints are psychical states) can be experienced psychologically. To “know knowledge,” that is, to be conscious of the “psychic premises at the foundation” of our various systems of knowledge is to experience them psychologically or to make soul of them. There is no escaping soul. There is psychological meaning in everything, whether we talk mathematics or music, biology, or belly dancing. To “make soul” is to discover that meaning in the viewpoint; it is to uncover the psychic premises behind the viewpoint. This is what Hillman means with his repeated admonishments that one must find out what something (anything) means to one’s soul.

This notion that soul comes first and out of soul comes all viewpoints is also why it can be said that we are “in psyche” or “in soul” (here, the terms soul and psyche are interchangeable) rather than the more conventional notion that psyche is in us. Indeed the focus of the soul-making of archetypal psychology is the differentiation and development of the internal multiplicity. The various inner personalities are to be deepened, developed, and individuated within imaginal space.

Now, here is the dilemma. If soul is prior and ego is relativized to one voice among any in the internal multiplicity, ego must be part of soul as well. How then can there be any use of imagination that is not soul-making? If ego is seen as a symbol for a part of the soul that sometimes speaks too loudly and acts to oppress the inner multiplicity and also as a symbol for the one unified, consistent point of view that arises when the inner multiple voices are squelched, then it is clear that imagination could be used in the service of the ego. This use of imagination would not be considered soul-making. Imagination, however, that is soul-making could be considered a sort of psychological “affirmative action” an advocate for the unheard voices of the psychic “many.”

Is the term “soul” useful?

It seems that the term soul is, in fact, a very meaningful and useful distinction. It isolates an aspect of reality that is distinctly different from physical and conceptual realities and that must therefore be treated as having a unique identity and no ever be automatically assumed identical to the other two viewpoints.

It also seems that the difficulties people often experience with reading the writings of the archetypal school are, in part, due to the fact that it is our ego doing the reading, and, that we seek conceptualizations in terms of how our ego sees things. The archetypal school does not often conceptualize in these terms. It tries to conceptualize instead, from the point of view of the soul, or more accurately, from what the ego imagines to be the point of view of the soul. And the complexity still increases because these conceptualizations are expressed not in typical conceptual language but in a metaphorical blend of logic and poetry that leaves many readers scratching their heads. It isn’t really poetry, and although it sounds intellectual, it certainly can’t be read like a textbook. Familiar old words are used in new and creative ways. Even familiar Jungian concepts are verbalize in such a way that they are not always easily recognizable.

The unfortunate result is that much of it is inaccessible to many people. Without a background in Jung, the task is even more bewildering. But should writers representing the archetypal school change their style? No, absolutely not. That would be to lose some extraordinary expression. It helps some to read Hillman’s work in chronological order because he does actually define things, but tends to do it only once. All subsequent writing seems to be based upon conventions laid down earlier. A knowledge of Jung, particularly his writings on fantasy and on the general notion of archetypal energy, as well as some familiarity with mythology, is useful. Also needed are auxiliary works that explain how certain words are being used and how some of the points of view have been derived.

Hillman’s resistance to nailing things down reminds me of an old adage: “He who knows, does not tell, and he who tells, does not know.” When things get “nailed down,” their potential to stimulate imagination is curbed. The life is drained from the original imaginal notion. But without some form of  “nailing down” some of the most creative writing in the field will remain the best kept secret of the few, “the knowers “who do not tell.


This article appeared originally in  two parts in The Round Table Review, V. 2, No. 2  1994 and in V. 2, No. 3, 1995.

Mary Stamper is a computer/programmer analyst and has led seminars on the work of Hillman and Christou.