Sunday, January 06, 2008

Kali Xronia

Kali Xronia (καλη χρονια: literally "good year") is the Greek way of saying "Happy New Year". I'm adding it to the French and English from Salim Mansur's first Toronto Sun missive for 2008.

Bonne année. Welcome to the New Year.

Take a deep breath, savour the moment and be an adult in a world awash in a rising tide of bigotry and the noise of political drivel pouring forth from our media as news.

Being adult means being a realist.

It means looking at the world as it is and recognizing that the fundamental attributes of human nature reflected in politics remain mostly unchanged from the age, for instance, of Thucydides some 25 centuries ago when he chronicled the Peloponnesian War that consumed the city-states of Hellas or ancient Greece.

from Salim Mansur: Let's all get real in 2008

Now, it can readily be added that the "fundamental attributes of human nature" as seen through the lenses of psychology and religion cannot have changed much either in those 2,500 years. The Greeks at the time followed a polytheistic religion, one that is now regarded as having little more than literary value. At least one modern psychologist, James Hillman,would urge us to return to this original Greek vision much as Mansur seeks to remind us of the great values of that original Athenian political experiment.

Nicolas-André Monsiau (1754 - 1837): The Olympians @ wikimedia commons

James Hillman is an heir to Carl Jung's analytical psychology but he became discontent with what he perceived as a monotheistic bias in Jung's portrayal of the psyche. He proposed and elaborated a polytheistic psychology that supports and validates the multi-faceted style of personality rather than seeing it as an incomplete phase within a process toward unity or wholeness.

A good online description of Hillman's opus is available as Marc Fonda's dissertation titled Examining the New Polytheism: A Critical Assessment of the Concepts of Self and Gender in Archetypal Psychology from which I provide the following excerpt:

One of the most important aspects of a polytheistic paradigm for psychology is the implication for the sacred. The re-sacralization of our means of speaking about the human condition and the physical world are well served by polytheism. There is a felt need in the de-souled, excessively rational and material contemporary world to find a kind of meaning that is analogous to the sacred, as opposed to the mere exchange of information. For Hillman, religions are not defined by the presence of Gods and Goddesses, but rather in terms of observances or the binding of events to one or many instances of numinosity, of that which moves the soul. For all the questions this definition of religion brings up, we must understand that Hillman is not so concerned whether monotheism or polytheism is better or worse (an opposition inherent in the monotheistic bias). Rather it is a question whether

Polytheistic psychology has room for the preferential enactment of any particular myth in a style of life....And [this suggests that] even the myths may change in a life, and the soul serve in its time many Gods. Polytheistic psychology would not suspend the commandment to have "no other Gods before me," but would extend that commandment for each mode of consciousness....No one model would be "before" another, since in polytheism the possibilities of existence are not jealous to the point of excluding each other.

[from James Hillman: "Psychology: Monotheistic or Polytheistic?" (Spring 1971, New York: Spring Publications, 1971)]

To Hillman, polytheism offers a style of consciousness that disallows the strict separation of psychology and religion. As I see it, Hillman's polytheistic psychology can help repudiate other separations such as the mind from the body, rationalism from unconsciousness, self from the other, the animated and unanimated. Hillman believes that the two, religion and psychology, are assumed by one another. Indeed, with the soul as the root metaphor of a polytheistic psychology, religious concerns are automatically acknowledged. That is, if analysis leads one to the "dark center" from which it is difficult to make the distinction between the unconscious and God, then it is impossible for the therapist to not be involved with religious problems.

from Marc Fonda: Polytheism as an Alternate Paradigm for Psychology

For ease of reference, here are the Biblical and Koranic passages that most clearly assert the monotheistic position, followed by typical (and comparable) monotheistic statements from Rumi and Jung:

And God spake all these words, saying,

I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Exodus 20:1-3 KJV

And say: Praise be to Allah, Who hath not taken unto Himself a son, and Who hath no partner in the Sovereignty, nor hath He any protecting friend through dependence. And magnify Him with all magnificence.

Koran 17:111 Pickthall

Your intelligence is split into a hundred busy tasks,
in thousands of desires, in large and small things.
You must unite these scattered parts with love and
become as sweet as Samarkand and Damascus.
Once you are unified, grain by grain, then you can be
stamped with the royal seal.

Rumi: Masnavi IV: 3288-90
trans Muriel Maufroy via dar-al-masnavi

The more one becomes aware of the contents of the personal unconscious, the more is revealed of the rich layer of images and motifs that comprise the collective unconscious. This has the effect of enlarging the personality.
In this way there arises a consciousness which is no longer imprisoned in the petty, oversensitive, personal world of the ego, but participates freely in the wider world of objective interests. This widened consciousness is no longer that touchy, egotistical bundle of personal wishes, fears, hopes, and ambitions which always has to be compensated or corrected by unconscious counter-tendencies; instead, it is a function of relationship to the world of objects, bringing the individual into absolute, binding, and indissoluble communion with the world at large.[Jung: "The Function of the Unconscious," CW 7, par. 275.]

from Daryl Sharp: Jung Lexicon: A Primer of Terms & Concepts (1991) available @ NYAAP (The New York Association for Analytical Psychology)


The archetype of wholeness and the regulating center of the psyche; a transpersonal power that transcends the ego.

As an empirical concept, the self designates the whole range of psychic phenomena in man. It expresses the unity of the personality as a whole. But in so far as the total personality, on account of its unconscious component, can be only in part conscious, the concept of the self is, in part, only potentially empirical and is to that extent a postulate. In other words, it encompasses both the experienceable and the inexperienceable (or the not yet experienced). . . . It is a transcendental concept, for it presupposes the existence of unconscious factors on empirical grounds and thus characterizes an entity that can be described only in part.[Jung: "Definitions," CW 6, par. 789.]

The self is not only the centre, but also the whole circumference which embraces both conscious and unconscious; it is the centre of this totality, just as the ego is the centre of consciousness. [Jung: "Introduction," CW 12, par. 44.]

Like any archetype, the essential nature of the self is unknowable, but its manifestations are the content of myth and legend.
The self appears in dreams, myths, and fairytales in the figure of the "supraordinate personality," such as a king, hero, prophet, saviour, etc., or in the form of a totality symbol, such as the circle, square, quadratura circuli, cross, etc. [...][Jung: "Definitions," CW 6, par. 790.]


Experiences of the self possess a numinosity characteristic of religious revelations. Hence Jung believed there was no essential difference between the self as an experiential, psychological reality and the traditional concept of a supreme deity.
It might equally be called the "God within us."[Jung: "The Mana-Personality," CW 7, par. 399.

from Daryl Sharp: Jung Lexicon @ NYAAP [my emphasis]

On a final note, the above image of the Olympian pantheon is not strictly true to the original Greek polytheism since the gods and goddesses appear together. This is not characteristic of ancient Greek art where each deity was given its solitary due much as Hillman asks that we interpret the divine command against "other gods before me". At any moment we serve a particular deity, be it a God of War (Ares) or a Goddess of Love (Aphrodite), a God of Nature (Dionysus) or a Goddess of Civilization and Culture (Athena). When the god/dess is well served, the moment takes on the quality of eternity and nothing is removed if a different god/dess is served in the next moment of time. Yes, there is a unity in that shared quality of eternity and divinity but the plurality of the gods and the unique contribution of each must also be given its due. Ironically, unless we are completely open to that continuous flow of service from one god to another, unless we fully acknowledge the sovereignty of each god in turn, then we will fail to gather together those grains of our being that, together, make us whole.

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