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Beyond Individuation: Radical Plurality of the Psyche

James Hillman in Re-Visioning Psychology suggests that polytheism is a better model for psychology than monotheism, because the idea of one God creates in us the fantasy that we can become one Self. He reflects the Wise Fool’s perspective as he argues for the acceptance of the great diversity of potential ways of being and behaving alive within each of us.

Hillman calls on psychology to “see through its main convictions and assumptions” and thus “dissolve the literal belief in persons by repersonifying them into metaphors.” “Then personality,” he continues, “may be imagined in a new way: that I am an impersonal person, a metaphor enacting multiple personifications, mimetic to changes in the heart that are my fate, and that this Soul which projects me has archetypal depths that are alien, inhuman and impersonal. My so-called personality is a persona through which Soul speaks.”

Hillman speaks of the “personified archetypes as Gods,” in a polytheistic tradition, who “present themselves each as a guiding spirit (spiritus rector) with ethical positions, instinctual reactions, modes of thought and speech, and claims upon feeling. These persons, by governing my complexes, govern my life.”

Except for brief, transcendent moments of unity, each one of us lives with inner plurality—plurality that is usually not even integrated. Indeed, we generally are capable of living with such inner plurality because we repress knowledge of the parts of us that do not fit our images of ourselves. Or, we engage in self-improvement projects to try to get them to fit. Yet it is part of the human condition that we will experience some radical plurality in our lives: different parts of ourselves, for instance, will want different things. The Fool teaches us to stop denying that this is so and learn to enjoy it.

— Carol S. Pearson, Awakening The Heroes Within

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