I’m cautious about a lot of words. — James Hillman
James Hillman died last week. You can read about it in the New York Times. The headline said, “Therapist in Men’s Movement,” a little like saying Jefferson’s main accomplishment was founding the University of Virginia.
James was a radiant light. That’s how it felt being around him—the sun was always out. Bly was in awe of him, of his mind, his thought, his brilliant writing.
Jung’s writing I often found impenetrable. I read him in translation, but still. Mostly, I didn’t get the news from Jung. I got it from people who read Jung and knew Jung and dwelled with the archetypal choir until its music permeated soul and body.
Such was James. Ideas leapt out of him. His sentences sprang clear and cold from the wellspring, and when you drank him you felt big medicine making shapes in your blood. He wove water.
“Something,” he once wrote, “Always has you in mind.”
“I dreamt someone gave me a dream helmet,” I said when I met him. “You wear it when you wake and your dreams re-play with crystalline clarity.”
“This is the psyche’s longing for perfection,” he said.
First there was Bly at the original men’s conferences, then Bly and Michael Meade, then Bly, Meade, and Hillman. Nobody screamed and beat his chest, that was some reporter’s lie.
“James will be showing his collection of anima slides tonight,” Bly said.
Anima slides? I pictured centerfolds.
At midnight James turned on the projector. Clouds. Bottles. Meandering rivers. The sea of his words was skin-warm, and I swam and understood beauty.
At those gatherings, mythology was real. Greek deities insisted on a place at the table next to Jehovah, an overwhelming banquet for a Jewish boy brought up on monotheism. One night I left the hall, off-kilter, and wandered outside among the redwoods. I ran into James.
“These Hellenic gods,” I said. “I feel their pull, but sometimes I feel self-conscious.”
“Sometimes I do too,” he said.
This didn’t make sense. James loved the old pagan gods. Then I knew something.
“You’re Jewish?” I said.
Later there was The Soul’s Code and evanescent, popular fame, Oprah fame. His real work, writing and thinking, went on. The real work, Rumi said, is done outside, by someone digging in the ground.
The last time I saw him, a year or two ago, he gave a presentation in the auditorium of our town library, that gathering place of angels. A man from my men’s group, a musician, joined him on stage. Afterward, we all had dinner in a rooftop restaurant at a nearby hotel. The table was large, and the wine and talk flowed late into the summer night. James’ gracious wife Margot smiled as we reminisced about the old days.
“What have you been up to?” James said.
“I’ve been reading Lincoln,” I said.
“Lincoln,” he said. Then he thought a while. “That was another time,” he said.
Margot sent out an email recently, knowing it was close to the end. One of the men read it to our group the other night, into a long, breathing silence. This is what she wrote:
The days are shifting now and James is drifting more and more into the space between the day world and the night world, beautifully pulling the two into one. He speaks in many languages, sometimes all through the night—he smiles and continues to be incredibly funny. He has concluded his work on the many projects that have been so important to him these many, many months.
I will, to the best of my ability, let you know when I must let you know. Right now, we are here in Thompson, watching the leaves fall from the trees. It is very beautiful.
Get a mentor. It beats school. You don’t need to spend a lot of time with a mentor. You don’t even need to have met. Yeats was a mentor to Bly, and Yeats died before Bly was a poet. I’m so steeped in Lincoln that I think of him that way. And James.
The thing about mentors is, they go with you.
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:
Just Between Us. A journalist who heard Hillman speak a couple of times never forgot him.
In the 1950s James Hillman studied with Jung. For ten years he was director of studies at the Jung Institute in Zurich. These three interviews reveal the range in his thinking:
Does something have you in mind? Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)
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