Apocalypse Now: How Do We "Speak" Psychology?

My notes on James Hillman's Benefit Lecture for the Joseph Campbell & Maria Gimbutas Library at Pacifica Graduate Institute, given in Santa Barbara on March 4, 1999

Language: The psyche is yearing for expression and imagination.

New title for lecture: How do we be psychology, how do you keep the the psychological view of things? How do you stay psychological?

Everybody in our age is psychological. We focus on the ills of ours age. Everyone is in therapy whether they are or not. We’ve been doing therapy for 100 years and are more intent than ever on it.


Hillman says he produces his kind of psychology in such arenas as this lecture. Removes the psyche from the oppression of its unthought ideas. The ideas we have and don’t know we have, have us.

Hillman is in the business of uncovering repression, or "raising consciousness as it’s called in California".

He is a doctor of psychology – his step from private to public practice is not idiosyncratic but necessary to the therapeutic process. It’s a therapy of the world, not us each individually.

Psychology as a discipline still practices as if it is in the 15th / 16th century, fantasy of an inner and outer world, a subject – object dichotomy à la Descartes. This worldview sees the outside as nonliving objective matter, inside is thought and feeling. The more that psychology focuses on inner, the more it perpetuates this Cartesian fallacy that postulates no extension of self. That the world itself is without Eros but all power is the prejudice of Psychology vs. the world. The idea that we lose sensitivity, flair, and touch when we begin to deal with the world.

Can one stay psychological and be engaged with the world? The absence of soul from the world, Descartes’ soulless world that is just there for us to use and abuse as we wish - objective. The millennial soul of the world is revealing the apocalypse, a word that itself means revelation.

What if the messes and dysfunctions are where myth (or world myth) in action appears most personally. One method of doing therapy: See the mess as myth.

Y2K, the Apocalyptic Myth

The Apocalypse is the moment when the veils are lifted. Revelation is a radical millennia catastrophe, literalized as Y2K. Four horses appear: Red, White Black, and the Pale Horse. Death and Hades Image, the Pale Horseman – these millennia is right around the corner and these images are here already. Millennia is both a literal and mythical event, literalized in the calendar but mythological beyond all calendars. Hence, the Y2K apocalypse fantasy.

Keats tells us the world is a place for soulmaking. The Cartesian world is condemend as a place of not god, but material world. But the world is where we engage these myths. Right now, the four horsemen are among us.

The transition to a new time period means no millennial change can occur without the four horsemen. These are issues that threaten the soul of psychology and make it different to stay psychological. We are dealing with something of cosmological importance.

White Horse and Rider

Jesus, Light, Clean, Good, and the fundamental force that works to literalize and kill. Conquer the soul in the spirit of the whiter, cleaner, purer, and better.

Red Horse and Rider


The second horse brings war, but war against all. The spirit of competition, backed by the economics of the industrial revolution, a worldview of Daniel Dennett and Dawkins. Predatory survival. New Genetics. The Free Enterprise System (gone mad). Psychology itself is oppressed by the entire managed care red rider.

Black Horse and Rider


The Black Horseman carries a scale. He weighs things in terms of coins, of economics. He is a mythical and invisible demon who is out to destroy the world and will do so by means of economics.

Pale Horse and Rider

Revelation 6:8 And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.

This horseman is more difficult to see than the others. He can join with Hades, who is always invisible. The horseman brings death, famine, and pestilence. We don’t see, don’t want to see, are fixing, accommodating, handling things. The pale rider of Denial, Forrest Gump style – ignorance of horror, ignorance of compexity, "have another chocolate". A reach for serenity – "Serenity", (which is the most popular name for boats in the USA). What Serenity really is? Serenity is famine and pestilence. Robs us of our individuality, each a pale rider of denial.

How can we stay psychological? We will succumb to these riders because they run the apocalyptic show. A mythical power in white, transcendant, reductionist, in pale niceness. Red in power and competition. Black in economics. And Pale in denial. We can’t step out of this paradigm, we’re in its bag – but we can push the envelope.

Pushing the Envelope


Jung says, in essence, to stick to the image. Relax your interpretations and transference and stick to the psyche as it happens, as it shows itself. The psyche displays itself in films, and behavior, and other things – a fantasy-making activity that cannot be suppressed, except perhaps by the pharmaceutical industry. Trapped in a cell or a routine, still the psyche imagines. As such, we cannot define the psyche, but we can know it by its images. Be phenomenological, study what’s true and there, not its etiology. Try not to reach for meaning, but focus on phenomenon, on the image, the behavior, the clearing throat, and so on.

The image is alive. One image takes on our life, is an icon, you watch it, hear it, for its own sake. Not what it means. You treat it ritually, even devotionally. You allow the image its own phenomenal life. We are naturalists of its phenomena. What will it do? Images are living things with their own life, consciousness, we need to back off to see what it will do.

The image moves us out of the small self. We become more and more impressed by it, it is ego-defeating, disempowering, and the power shifts to it. Images take away from what is personal into history and culture. Come with their own memories, not our own.

The image takes us beyond the personal and beyond the human into eternalities that affect human life. Sexuality, dying, the struggle for food and shelter.


The psychological idea of the world in layers goes back to Mendelson and Kant. The deepest level was feeling and to go deep, we still believe, we must go to feeling. The Christian bias of the last 2000 years has it that Love is the deepest feeling. But you don’t have to follow this way of thinking. Pantheist and Pagan psyche: Soul is in service to many gods. No single emotion; such as Love, can be deeper, by definition, than any other. Fear, anger, thoughts, these are all strong.

Hillman objects to the idea of depth being defined by feeling only – there are also deep thoughts, ideas, insights, acts of courage and generosity, deep impressions, seas, forests. Depth is not simply love and feeling.

What is the depth we adhere to, in order to stay psychological? Depth evokes and makes present those eternalities that both nourish and destroy human lives. Compare Greek tragedies, myths, Bible stores, unvarnished fairy tales. The bottomless darkening and enlightening both.

Deep goes beyond the personal – obsessive devotion, rich humor, insight, radication implication. To stay deeply psychological, have an ear for the eternalities that plague each life, sexuality, dying, struggle for food and shelter, inadequalicies of the human body, perpetual recurrence of the world "god", the desperate need for Beauty. Eternals, not internals (complaints and trials), not externals (trivialities).


The four horsemen are both psychology and story. In the Soul’s Code, I tell our civilization’s version. At the end of Plato’s Republic, the Myth of Er. Er fell in battle, and saw what the death was like. He met his daimon, a living image or pattern. The daimon guides us here and believe we came empty into this life. The daimon is the carrier of your destiny.

Later, Plotinus tells how the soul elects its parents and circumstances and just that place suited to its necessity. One’s circumstances are the soul’s own choice. I don’t understand it because I’ve forgotten it. I don’t remember that I have a daimon or soul. The soul picked just the family it needed. Parents, situation, and economic circumstances are needed by the soul.

Our apocalyptic vision tells a tale of four horsemen but there is fifth factor – destiny. Beyond the four horsemen is your daimon and your destiny, that wants you to be here, determining the pattern of your aging and calls you to a destiny. It is a worldwide story that presumes a cosmology, a world soul. Psychology in the US practices without a cosmology. In the US, we get up for economic reasons, or for one the other horsemen. We believe, at the core, that we are accident or the predatory carrier of a selfish gene.

A myth doesn’t ground you in truth; it opens your heart to seeing some connection with your needed place in the world. Truth is a ring of truth¸ that grounds with your experience.

The Myth of Er – each of us is meant to be here. Therapy attempts to reconnect you with your character, calling, destiny. The pathology is the sign of connection to the daimon. Staying psychological means hearing the daimon’s prompting – who may also appear in the outside world in things. The daimon is the primary and only therapist of the soul. The images hold you and keep you, they are the keepers of depth.


I have focused tonight on three words: image, depth, and destiny. But I’d like to leave you with a fourth: uniqueness. To be unique is to be better than uniform. William James, the father of Psychology, argues for our own "eachness". Each image is unique, each destiny is unique.

Our calling is to uniqueness – to give, as much as we can, to go beyond self to our self irreplaceable. To a calling of the employment in which Providence has places us, to make the employment our vocation. "Bear your uniqueness in such a way that makes your annihilation an injustice" – not thereby to be saved, or created, or even good, but at least you are you.