On the Anima Mundi | IDEAA IT

On the Anima Mundi


James Hillman

In place of the familiar notion of Psychic reality based on a system of private experiencing subjects and dead public objects, 1 want to advance a view prevalent in many cultures (called primitive and animistic by Western cultural anthropologists), which also returned for a short while in ours at its glory through Florence and Marsilio Ficino. I am referring to the world soul of Platonism, which means nothing less than the world ensouled.

Let us imagine the anima mundi as that particular soul spark, that seminal image, which offers itself through each thing in its visible form. Then anima mundi indicates the animated possibilities presented by each event as it is, its sensuous presentation as a face bespeaking its interior image-in short, its availability to imagination, its presence as a psychic reality. Not only animals and plants ensouled as in the Romantic vision, but soul is given with each thing, God-given things of nature and man-made things of the street.

The world comes with shapes, colors, atmospheres, textures—a display of self-presenting forms. All things show faces, the world not only a coded signature to be read for meaning, but a physiognomy to be faced. As expressive forms, things speak; they show the shape they are in. They announce themselves, bear witness to their presence: “Look, here we are.” They regard us beyond how we may regard them, our perspectives, what we intend with them, and how we dispose of them. This imaginative claim on attention bespeaks a world ensouled. More—our imaginative recognition, the childlike act of imagining the world, animates the world and returns it to soul.

Then we realize that what psychology has had to call projection is simply animation, as this thing or that spontaneously comes alive, arrests our attention, draws us to it. This sudden illumination of the thing does not, however, depend on its formal, aesthetic proportion which makes it “beautiful”; it depends rather upon the movements of the anima mundi animating her images and affecting our imagina tion. The soul of the thing corresponds or coalesces with ours. This insight that psychic reality appears in the expressive form or physiognomic quality of images allows psychology to escape from its entrapment in “experience.” Ficino releases psychology from the self-enclosures of Augustine, Descartes, and Kant, and their successors, often Freud and sometimes Jung. For centuries we have identified interiority with reflexive experience. Of course, things are dead, said the old psychology, because they do not experience (feelings, memories, intentions). They may be animated by our projections, but to imagine their projecting upon us and each other their ideas and demands, to regard them as storing memories or presenting their feeling characters in their sensate qualities-this is magical thinking. Because things do not experience, they have no subjectivity, no interiority, no depth. Depth psychology could go only to the intra- inter- in search of the interiority of soul.

Not only does this view kill things by viewing them as dead; it imprisons us in that tight little cell of – ego When psychic reality is equated with experience, then ego Becomes necessary to psychological logic. We have to invent an interior witness, an experiencer at the center of subjectivity-an we cannot imagine otherwise.

With things returned again to soul, their psychic reality given with the anima mundi, then their interiority and depth-and depth psychology too-depend not on their experiencing themselves or on their self-motivation but upon self-witness of another sort. An object bears witness to itself in the image it offers, and its depth lies in the complexities of this image. Its intentionality is substantive, given with its psychic reality, claiming but not requiring our witness. Each particular event, including individual humans with our invisible thoughts, feelings, and intentions, reveals a soul in its imaginative display. Our human subjectivity too appears in our display. Subjectivity here is freed from literalization in reflexive experience and its fictive subject, the ego. Instead, each object is a subject, and its self-reflection is its self-display, its radiance. Interiority, subjectivity, psychic depth-all out there, and so, too, psychopathology.

Hence, to call a business paranoid means to examine the way it presents itself in defensive postures, in systematizations and arcane codes, its delusional relations between its product and the speaking about its product, often necessitating gross distortions of the meanings of such words as good, honest, true, healthy, etc. To call a building catatonic or anorexic means to examine the way it presents itself, its behavioral display in its skinny, tall, rigid, bareboned structure, trimmed of fat, its glassy front and desexualized coldness and suppressed explosive rage, its hollow atrium interior sectioned by vertical shafts. To call consumption manic refers to instantaneity of satisfaction, rapid disposal, intolerance for interruption (flow-through consumption), the euphoria of buying without paying (credit cards), and the flight of ideas made visible and concrete in magazine and television advertising. To call agriculture addictive refers to its obsession with ever-higher yields, necessitating ever-more chemical energizers (pesticides, herbicides) at the expense of other life forms and to the exhaustion of agriculture’s earthen body. . . .

We have tried hitherto in depth psychology to regain the psyche of the world by subjectivist interpretations. The stalled car and blocked driveway became my energy problems; the gaping red construction site became the new operatio going on in my Adamic body. We could give subjectivity to the world of objects only by taking them into our interior subject, as if they were expressing our complaint. But that stalled car, whether in my dream or in my driveway, is still *a thing unable to fulfill its intention; it remains there, stuck, disordered, claiming attention for itself. The great wound in the red earth, whether in my dream or in my neighborhood, is still a site of wrenching upheaval, appealing for an aesthetic as much as a her- eneutic response. To interpret the world’s things as if they were our dreams deprives the world of its dream, its complaint. Although this move may have been a step toward recognizing the interiority of things, it finally fails because of the identification of interiority with only human subjective experience.

Attention to the qualities of things resurrects the old idea of notitia as 2 primary activity of the soul. Notitia refers to that capacity to form true notions of things from attentive noticing. It is the noticing on which knowledge depends. In depth psychology, notitia has been limited by our subjective view of psychic reality so that attention is refined mainly in regard to subjective states. This shows in our usual language of descriptions. When for instance 1 am asked, “How was the bus ride?” 1 respond, “Miserable, terrible, desperate.” But these words describe me, my feelings, my experience, not the bus ride which was bumpy, crowded, steamy, cramped, noxious, with long waits. Even if I noticed the bus and the trip, my language transferred this attention to notions about myself. The 1 has swallowed the bus, and my knowledge of the external world has become a subjective report of my feelings.

An aesthetic response does require these feelings but it cannot remain in them; it needs to move back to the image. And the way back to the bus ride necessitates words which notice its qualities. (Anima Mundi, 77-80, 85)

If God-given and man-made are an unnecessary, even false, opposition, then the city made by human hands is also natural in its own right. Surely, it is as natural to human beings to make burial grounds, marketplaces, political and social communities, and to erect structures for worship, education, protection, and celebration as it is for them to gather nuts and berries, trap animals, or hoe the soil. Cities belong to human nature; nature does not begin outside the city walls. Therefore, the city does not have to copy the green world in order to he beautiful, a habit which puts a premium on suburbia, each citizen with his private tree, turf, and Toro. Urban beauty would not draw its standards from approximation to wild nature, requiring potted trees and vine interiors, noisy artificial waterwalls that impede the natural flow of running conversation, and plastics that fake the look of leather and stone. Again, pop art in sculptural forms has revealed the simple, genuine givenness of plastic masses that do not imitate anything prior to themselves.

Second, if we can take back the experience of God-givenness from its location only in nature, then we might be able to find this experience elsewhere. The great cathedrals of Europe, for instance, were God-given and man-made both–and these were built at a time when the large outdoors was usually felt to be haunted by evil. The soul’s need for beauty was met mainly by urban events such as pageants, music, contests, and feasts centered around the huge cathedrals and their stalls. What we now turn to nature for-inspiration in the face of might and majesty, wonder over intricacy, rhythms, and detail-could as well appear in our constructions. Skyscrapers, power stations, airports, market halls, and hotels can be reimagined as structures for the soul to find beauty, rather than conceived merely as secular and cost-efficient service functions.

Third, the imitation of nature changes. We would imitate the process of nature rather than what the process has mode, the way of nature rather than the things of nature, naturans rather then naturata as the philosophers say. It would be less a matter of building a false river through a mall than of building a mall so it reminds of a draw, reflecting the actual way nature works this specific Texan geography. It would be less a matter of planting trees in a row along a sidewalk than of making the sidewalk itself meander organically as if it were itself growing along with irregular ramifications. We would remember nature in the way we construct so that nature echoes in the constructed object.

The majestic, descending torrent of the Fort Worth Water Garden hasn’t a single leaf, a single loose pebble: it is utterly unnatural-stone, cement, hidden piping plunked down into the usual downtown wasteland. Yet that construction completely overwhelms with the experience we expect from natural beauty-its wild adventure, its encompassing grandeur. The Henry Moore sculpture in the city hall plaza of Dallas is more natural than the trees around it, even though they are organic. The Moore piece remembers nature’s contours, skin, and volumes. The trees. however, are engineered according to a designer’s plans, enlarged plantings from in architectural-scale model. (Perhaps that is why they haven’t been able to grow since having been stuck down there five years ago.) The Moore sculpture does not imitate a great beast, a mother and brood, 2 group of bills-yet those echoes resonate within it. Children touch it, play around it. They ignore the unnatural trees.

The imitation of nature could then employ technical means as it has done for centuries in the arts. The garden, after all, is not nature but art; in fact, it is nature imitating art. The restitution of 2 natural environment would not require the literal transplantation of whole biospheres “parked” into set-aside preserves but would rather suggest miniature biospheres all through the city: hybrid dwarf shrubs, songbirds in cages, window boxes and vegetable plots, fishponds, insect vivaria, terraria. Botany and biology would be hon- represented on the stiff of city hall instead of serving only academia and servicing the drug industry. 1 am suggesting here the imitation of nature as a miniaturization of nature such as the Japanese practice. 1 am suggesting a reduction in the scale of awe from a romantic and sublime immersion in vastness to joy in pondering the particular.

Fourth, we would no longer let the National Park Service, the Sierra Club, or God take care of our need for beauty by protecting or fostering wilderness. We could come to a more psychological notion of wilderness following the definition inherent In the rules governing wilderness areas: enter and enjoy but make no mark. Disturb nothing, pollute nothing, leave no trace-if possible, not even a footprint.
This definition psychologically implies that wherever we tread with that attitude we are creating the experience of wilderness. When we move with senses acute, listening, watching, breathing in tune with the world about us, recognizing its priority and ourselves as guests, witnessing its “God-givetiness,” then we have made a wilderness area or moment. The restoration of the pristine starts in a fresh attitude toward what is, whatever and wherever it is….

Last, and this is most important to the psychologist practicing in America. There could be a profound shift in therapy of soul. Soul could be reclaimed from soulful places our there filled with God given beauty, as if soul were given to us automatically, by osmosis, when we stand beneath a redwood or hear the waves on the shore. Once we recognize, however, that the need for beauty must be met, but that scenic, physical nature is not the only place it can be met, we would take the soul back into our own hands, realizing that what happens with it is less given and more made-made through our work with it in the actual world by making that actual world reflect the soul’s need for beauty.


Without images, we tend to lose our way. This happens, for example, on freeways. Rectangular signs, uniform in size grid all painted green (or all painted brown at the airport) with numbers and letters, are not images, but magnified verbal concepts. We don’t know where we are except by means of an abstract process of reading and thinking, remembering and translating. All eyeballs and head. Lost is the bodily sense of orientation. We might even consume less gasoline-all those wrong turns-if our way through the city were landmarked by images like those of the old crossroads, the hangman’s tree, the sign of the red ox, the fountain.

The soul wants Its images, and when it doesn’t find them, it makes substitutes; billboards and graffiti, for instance. Even in East Germany avid China where ads are not allowed, slogans still are written large on walls and placards posted. Spontaneously, the human hand makes its mark, insisting on personalized messages, as human nature everywhere immediately chalks its initials on monuments.

These marks made in public places, called the defacing of monuments, actually put a face on in impersonal wall or oversized statue. The human hand seems to want to touch and leave its touch, even if by only obscene smears and ugly scrawls. So, let us make sure that the hand has its place in the city, not only by means of shops for artisans and displaying crafts, but also by animating and bringing culture to the walls and stones and spaces left bleakly untouched by the human hand. Surely, a city’s masterpieces of engineering form and architectural inspiration would not he despoiled by the presence of images that reflect the “soul” through the hand.

The last of these different ideas of soul that are reflected in a city is the notion of human relations. That is probably what comes first to your mind when you think of soul-the relations between human beings, at eye level in particular. When we think of the cities, our contact with them (with New York, for instance) is craning the neck upward. The rube tourist goes to New York sightseeing its wonders, and ends his vacation with a stiff neck. Yet, the eye-leve) relation between human beings is a fundamental part of soul in cities. The faces of things-their surfaces, their facings-how we read what meets us at eye level. How we see into each other, look at each others’ faces, read each other-that is how soul contact takes place. SO a city would need places for these eye-level human contacts. Places for meeting. A meeting is not only public meeting, it is meeting in public; people meeting each other. Pausing where it’s possible to have a moment of eye-level touching. If the city doesn’t have places for pausing, how is it possible to meet? Strolling, eating, talking, gossiping. Terribly important in city life are those places where gossip can take place. People stand by the water cooler and tell about what’s happening and that gossip is the very life of the city. We speak differently from behind a desk than we do in the coffee alcove. Who saw whom where, what, what’s new, what’s happening-here is some of the psychological life of the city. That grapevine of gossip.


We also need body places. Places where bodies see each other, meet each other, are in touch with each other, like the people who leave their offices in Paris and swim in the Seine River or have a lunch break in Zurich and swim in the lake, or skate. This emphasizes the relationship of body to the daily life of the city, bringing one’s physical body into the town. In other words, 1 am emphasizing the place of intimacy within a city, for intimacy is crucial to the soul. When we think of soul and soul connections, we think of intimacy and this has nothing to do with how big the city is or how tall the buildings are. There is always the possibility for corners, for pauses, for being together in broken-up interiors where intimacy is possible.

Let’s use, as an image of this aspect of soul in city, one of the main streets of Dallas: Lovers Lane. If you imagine a city as a place for lovers, then you may understand the idea I’m trying to express. 1 don’t believe love interferes with business or efficiency or tax base or retail sales or any of the rest-at all. 1 think a city is built on human relations, of people coming together, and it would increase, if anything, the very things that are desirable in a city. So, it is not a matter of splitting again into two things, that is, work and pleasure, city and soul, public daytime and private nighttime, because that cuts soul off from city. There have always been places built within the city where there is a break with the seeming purpose of the city. It is only recently, of course, that we think the purpose of cities is economica] or political. The purpose of the city from the beginning was something instinctual in human beings to build them: To want to be together, to imagine, talk, make, and exchange. One needs those, so-called marketplaces, places where the break can take place….

A city that neglects the soul’s welfare makes the soul search for its welfare in a degrading and concrete way, in the shadow of those same gleaming towers. Welfare, mainly an inner-city phenomenon, is not only an economic and social problem, it is predominantly a psychological problem. The soul that is uncared for-whether in personal or in community life-turns into an angry child. It assaults the city which has depersonalized it with a depersonalized rage, a violence against the very objects-storefronts, park monuments, public buildings-which stand for uniform soullessness. What city dwellers in their rage have in recent years chosen to attack, and chosen to defend (trees, old houses, and neighborhoods), is significant. Once the barbarians who, attacked civilization came from outside the walls. Today they spring from our own laps, raised in our own homes. The barbarian is that part of us to whom the city. does not speak, that soul in us who has not found a home in its environs. The frustration of this soul in face of the uniformity and impersonality of great walls and towers, destroys like 2 barbarian what it cannot comprehend, structures which represent the achievement of mind, the power of will, and the magnificence of spirit, but do not reflect the needs of soul. For our psychic health grid the well-being of our city, let us continue to find ways to make place for soul.

(“City and Soul,” 3-6)
The eighteenth century took care of this need of t he soul for indirection in a canny manner. Into the walking areas there were constructed what the common people called “ha ha’s”: surprising sunken fences, hidden hedges, boundary ditches which, when come upon suddenly, called forth a “h* ha,” stopping the progress of the walk, forcing the foot to turn and the mind to reflect. How strange this is to us today. Imagine, while walking from your parked car toward your visual objective, being blocked by an open culvert trench or a chain barrier that you had not previously perceived. Your “ha ha” would be fury-a public complaint, a lawsuit. When we walk today, it is mainly a walking with the eye. We want no mazes, no amazements. We have sacrificed the foot to the eye. Older cities often grew up around the traces of the feet: paths, corners and enclosures. crossings. These cities followed the inherent patterns of the feet rather than the planned designs of the eye.

Clearly, the automobile seems a further development of eye consciousness rather than foot consciousness. Despite an old word for the car, locomobile, its locomotion is a visual experience. Hence, walking on a highway because the car broke down is a horrifying, depersonalizing experience. Out there is revealed to the foot as burrs, weeds, holes, trash, and roaring leviathans at one’s back. Of course new cities have sidewalk problems since the foot is ignored. The streets soon become criminal regions: roll up the window, lock the door, don’t linger. Street crime begins psychologically in a walkless world; it begins on the drawing board of that planner who sees cities as collections of highrise buildings and convenience malls, with streets as mere efficient modes of access.

Development planners have radically affected our notions of cities, leading us to forget that cities spring up from below; they rise from their streets. Cities are streets, avenues of commerce and exchange, the low-country world of physical thronging, a congregation pounding the pavements in curiosity, surprise, and encounter, human life not above the melee but right in it. Cities depend on walking for their vitality….

What can we do? May a psychologist question proposals for malls without foot imagination, and may he raise doubts about underground tunnels for pedestrians, or recommend interesting downtown sidewalks rather than glassed-in walkways? May he propose things that are noticeable to the eye and ye ‘ t draw the foot into cxploration-like complexities, nooks, watercourses, levels, shifts of perspectives? It is surely not the psychologist who lays out the span between parking lot and building, for if he did it might be more a mode of encountering faces, with posters and paintings, places for pausing, rather than an eerie cement gray space to hurry through in fear, where place is remembered neither by eye nor foot but conceptually-a code-lettered stub clutched in the hand. Yes, 1 suppose the psychologist would build “ha ha’s” in the paths of progress, wanting every design for a street project to be imagined not only in terms of getting there, but also in terms of being there. (“Walking,” 4-6)

I want now to claim that the ceiling is the most neglected segment of our contemporary interior-interior in both architectural and psychological senses of the word. Whether oppressively close and ugly … or removed altogether in vaulting A-frames or atria to the roof, the ceiling is the unconsidered, the unconscious, presenting interiority without design, with no sense of inherent order.

What statements are these ceilings making? What are they saying about our psychic interiors? If looking up is that gesture of aspiration and orientation toward the higher order of the cosmos, an imagination opening toward the stars, our ceilings reflect an utterly .secular vision-short-sighted, utilitarian, unaesthetic. Our heads reach up and open into a meaningless and chaotic white space. The world above has merely a maintenance function, God the repairman called on when things break down. Curiously, however, the perspective from above still remains. Look at our usual blueprints, our usual models. They are drawn from above as floor plans; the view is down from the ceiling. The place from which the gods have fled is now where the planner sits. We must remember here that renewal of spirit occurs within an enclosed space, under some sort of ceiling. Ancient kings, as far back as the pharaohs, placed themselves under a canopy, a tent, a domewalls were incidental-and thereby the interior man, the soul, received renewed vitality. The ceiling did indeed refer to heaven, to ciel, as our popular and mistaken etymology of ceiling continues to insist.

For ceiling doesn’t come from ciel, French for “heaven, sky.” Covering the room, enclosing it, that feeling of interior designed space—that there is design to the interior, and this design renews the human spirit-is the true root of the word. It derives from celure, via Middle English (celynge, silynge, syling, and selure [celure] for “tapestry, canopy, hangings,” finally coming to ceil, meaning “to line with woodwork!’
Ceilings became white only during the Enlightenment, the eighteenth century, with the refinement of the plasterer’s art. Previously all the detail was exposed: joists, beams, the reverse of the floor above. Then the detail was enhanced by carving the bums, painting, gilding, stucco, plaster, so that looking up fed the imagination. The eye traversed an intriguing pattern of rhythmical and inherent relationships-where function (joists, floorboards) and beauty were inseparable. Ceilings emphasized design-and I do not mean only the magnificent ones painted to represent the heavens and the gods.

Inside the Latin root of the word itself (celum, caelatura, caelo) is the idea of design as burnishing, chiseling, engraving. The upper aspect of our interior space is an intricately fashioned and figured design. The ceiling is a place of images to which imagination turns its gaze to renew vitality. The true ceiling, then, as derived from the word is not a flat white rectangular space studded with incidental equipment, but a magnificent artifice of imagery. The ceiling up there corresponds with the richness of human imagination. It is this our heads can open into and find protection under.

Which brings us to the quality of light and ceiling fixtures. You all feel the difference when the overhead light is turned off and standing lamps, table lamps, go on. You know the kind of interior that emerges-like a Vuillard or a Bonnard room, an effect used in the movies to change the atmosphere toward intimacy and interiority. Single uniform brightness gives way to shadings of color, reflection, and the sense of nearness to the light within the reach of the hand-as to a candle or a fireplace. Overhead lighting belongs originally to large state halls, banquet rooms, exhibitions, factories, and markets, where very high ceilings and expansive floor plans demanded flooding of light from above. A splendor both marvelous and functional, indoors, yet lit as the sun-filled world. The light fixtures themselves became objects of awe. They have of course given way, in most cases, to what the maintenance crew can get at and clean up, as low-cost as possible.

Now we apply the same overhead lighting in the smallest cubicles with the lowest ceilings. We sit bathed in a merciless, shadowless enlightenment, democratically falling on all alike, straight down-a spotlight like that used to break criminals into confession, a brilliant clarity like for an anatomical dissection. The light does not group the furniture, encircle it. Instead, each thing is distinct, isolated from each other thing. Interiority is gone: the flickering feeling of the cave, lighting that makes this piece of room here different from that over there. The room receives the massive doses of illumination of summer outdoors: uniform, bright, cloudless. And timeless: it is always noon indoors. We cannot tell because of these ceiling lights what time of day it is, what the weather, what the season of the year.

Moreover, you do not want to raise your eyes, to look into fluorescent fixtures, at the bright bulb in the track can. You keep your head down-a depressive posture, outlook limited to the horizontal or the downward state. In such light what does the soul do with its shadows, where find interiority? Does the soul not shrink into even deeper personal interiors, into more darkness, so that we feet cut off, alienated, prey to the darkest of the dark: guilts, private sins, fears, and horror fantasies. 1 am suggesting some of our most oppressive psychological ills come out of the ceiling.

To conclude this psychoanalysis of the ceiling, a word on moldings. At the retreat of the Dallas Institute on Architecture and Poetry, Robert Sardello gave a remarkable, thought-provoking paper in which he examined the place of the right angle in the design
of modern cities. He pointed out that tile right angle is an abstract expression for the ancient archetypal directions of heaven and earth, sky god and earth mother, the vertical and horizontal dimensions reduced to a simple pair of intersecting lines, much like the tool used by carpenters, the square, the Greek word for which is norma (from which we have norms, normal, normalcy). The simple right angle normalizes our entire world from the grid plan of city plats to the graph paper on which we calculate and display the living curves of economic activity.

Modern Baulhaus design exposes this conjunction of father sky and another earth. The joint is laid bare. Moldings resolve the shock, the violence of their direct rectangular conjunction. Moldings provide a skirt, a curtain covering the exposed pornography, the crotch shot of ceiling joining wall in bare fluorescent light. Moldings are not merely a Victorian cover-up, a delicate discretion-they are an erotic moment in a room, a detail that softens the vertical, letting it come down gently through a series of ripples, heaven into earth, earth into heaven, the secular and the divine, not cut apart and placed at right conflicting purposes. a leap, a gap (as we often see a black line at the ceiling’s edge where the two directions have receded from each other, the Sheetrock not quite meeting, the taping and mud inadequate).

The problem of how to conclude a ceiling, its edge or end, was particularly a concern of Islamic builders, who had to set circular domes on square rooms. Squaring of the circle and circling of the square, the meeting of two worlds, gave rise to extraordinarily ornate corners rich with embellished moldings. Rich fantasies develop at the juncture where the ceiling descends into the living space of everyday….

My purpose with these physical details is to make a psychological point. 1 want to preserve and restore the simple gesture of looking upward. If our society suffers from failures of imagination, of leadership, of cohesive far-sighted perspectives, then we must attend to the places and moments where these interior faculties of the human mind begin. Remember the psalm: ” shall lift up mine eyes-from whence cometh my help.” That primordial gesture toward the upper dimension, that glance above ourselves, yet not lofty, spacey, and dizzy, may be where the first bits of interior change take place. This change of soul can take place inside our ordinary rooms.
(“Ceiling,” 79—82,84)end.

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