Notes on Hillman workshop on Longevity (Saturn / Senex)

Notes from James Hillman's workshop given in Santa Barbara through Pacifica Graduate Institute, March 14-15, 1998

Christine Norstrand


There's a mistaken idea that suffering is redemptive in itself.  This is untrue and comes from Abramic traditions.  Only insofar as the idea exports to concepts of Justice. 

Numbers and Statistics

1996: 8x the number of people over 65 as in 1900, 31x the number over 85 in 1900

Clinical Education>

This is clinical education: education of the therapist before techniques.  Jung: Only go so far with a patient as you have gone yourself. 


unconscious believes about the elderly and growing old.  Only a biological machinery model links old with death.  Not true in disciplines such as architecture. 

Ageism in culture: how to spot a successful elder.  If a member of a conceptual class you will inescapably be caught in the qualities of that category.  An archetypal lens on the way we view phenomena.  New Age tries to substitute another lens. 

Saturn is the god.  Story of Aphrodite's birth.

Ways to think about longevity


Measurement, broaden life outward, down into descendents, backwards through life into history and culture, clan.  Our notion is trapped within the individual = isolation (Protestantism

Direct pipeline to god.  (me: Consider Durkheim). 


become free of personal identity and identity becomes free of that greedy bully called "me". 


secular melancholy without any connection to the gods or anything.  Depression door to melancholy door to beauty.  (Depression is its own solution from earlier writings).

Jung and eastern thought

  Effects of India's teachers on us is to wipe out our culture, our art, our differentiations -- even though that is not the intent.  What teachers from Asia do to western naive minds because we forget that we are 2000 year-old Christians, the innocence of the lambs.

anima/animus as goes on may be a case but it may not be a program.  (It's a schema.)

How do you renounce the instrument that renounces?  It has to let go of you.  Bigger than you are.


   This is how he grows, by being defeated decisively by ever-greater beings.

The will doesn't rule the personality

    This battle of life is with the will.  What do you hold onto and what do you let go of?  What holds onto you and lets go of you? 

Pathology: What is interfering or preventing "becoming what you are.  (and then he carries on how he's not Jungian)

"Usefulness" as measure of value

Henry Ford is the father of American Psychology:  unless something can be tied to use, we have no use for it.

Treatment of the Elderly

An ear has no age, can listen at any age.

His uncle:  "I already heard that story."  "I like telling it."

Things that seem to be destructions are change in biology, a reframing. 

Suicide and the Soul

Read afterthoughts from new edition:  Our task is soul-making, not life-preserving.  Should tend to the patient more widely than an autonomous singleton.  The polis.  Polis should participate in decisions to end life.  Kevorkian and such. Soul's affinity with death.  Doesn't follow that death is private and only a matter for the individual.  Anima mundi.  Take death out of the psychological closet of individualism.  Not to prevent suicide but to prevent lonely isolated suicide (that impacts the body politic).  Negative inflation

a heroic act in reverse (anomic suicide). 


Possession by archetype of individuality. 

Faces.  Personality in faces.  Old people are unlike each other.  Hair on faces.  Young psychologists and Freudian facial hair.  Jewish "face" is many faces. 

Shame.  Huge effect on social organization.  Older people anguished by.  Santayana and anecdote of mis-tipping in Italy and his regrets.  No possible reparation. 


No authentic elders in the culture.  The great difficulty:  I don't want to look older.  A problem of our thinking that age destroys beauty. 

Our older people have retirement but not social group roles, useless (Ford!).  So clinging to youth becomes more and more important. 

Lowering of elder status is not tribal/modern dichotomy but the value infrastructure of society.  Russia, Ireland value elders, Argentina, Israel do not. 

Dying.  Decline last 14 months, last 3 most rapid decline.  In that last 3 mo, 60% had mental clarity, 45% were rarely alone, and most had only minor pain.  Our fears are not justified by statistics. 

Elderly who live alone do by choice, not by abandonment.  More favored in Protestant cultures. 

Harper's Index:  Old receive 5x more aid than children.  Average net work is 85K. 

Heroes in classical world serve the gods.  Old people and service and well-being of the culture.  Different sort of hero (corporate) when the gods are dead. 

The Gods

Ezra Pound:  the gods are real, not names for psychological complexes.  Poets and writers spend the most time thinking about reality without a system to put it in. 

His personal past:  Inability to differentiate between individualism and alienation.  When anything collapses, what do I have to sustain me?  Question implies an social and political context that I did not recognize.  What does one have when all is lost and the soul is in extremis?  Only your images, the inner voices that come to you in your cell.  The individual center, the only sustaining base when all elseis gone. 

Protestant faith in heroic individualism.  Silent faith of Protestantism, in general as I understand it.  Pathology of culture against Pathology of the individual. 

Self and Selfhood

The interiorization of community. 

The still small voice, the unique voice prior to all contingencies. 

Imagination as a moral> force, it provides a community of beings who will not permit his betrayal of them.  Are you keeping your spirits alive?

My individual self was an actual society of imagination.  An illusion of a private individual self.  poeisis- making myth.


City and civilization.

City highest piece of art that humankind makes.  Ha! to the popular romanticizing of the hunter/gatherers. 

You find yourself by entering the crowd.  To improve yourself, you improve the city. 

Internalization of the hero into a personality cult of an individual self leaves the city without foundation and our psyche divided. 

These figures are living presences, not shared values.  They are non-human.  Further and further away from anthropocentrism. 

Something that keeps him going through that hell, not ideas but images.  Something important about "the idealized image".  Why does the psyche idealize?  What is the need of the ideal figure? Never mind that it collapses and then comes betrayal and disillusionment. That's part of the package.  To keep the ideals alive. 


Goes on about Hera and 3 faces.  She is also "the left one".  It is one of the faces, always present.  Not "part of a cycle". 

Psychology errs taking out of phenomenology of what's happened in the marriage and putting in context of childhood.

If being left is recognized as an archetypal fear, it comes with the package, a potential that's always there.  Shifts it from personal sense "he left me" to something that is inevitable in the relationship. 

Need mythical images to carry the weight of what happens to use in life.  Witches were young women like Joan of Arc.  Sexual energy.  Succubus.  We have witchified the old but don't see the witch in a young girl. 

Wants to get away from "we bring these values into the world" or that these are disembodied ideas.  We didn't bring these values into existence, they exist.

Prometheus myth, we had to separate from the gods, steal from the gods, trick the gods.  Costs.  Asserts man over the gods and the ways of the universe.  The Fall.  Gap between the divine world and the human world.  Ancestor not just physical blood, more Japanese concept of ancestor.

Find Ways of Linking to the Gods

Gary Snyder: Find that one small area that draws you to engagement. 

Lapis Philosophorum.  Big thing about the philosopher's stone and what it consists of.  Waxy, malleable.  Keep as you would keep sugar.  A soft stone that would float.  Oily, anointed with oil.  We think: to endure you must be hard and tough.  Softening in old age. 

His sister:  If anything's going to come and go, she's going to wind it up and make it come and go. 

Respect:  Use of first name is insulting, used for servants, lower class, Blacks, Jews, inferiors. 

Anticipation: Old people don't "look forward" to things.  No fantasy planning.  Another sense of time. 

The complexities of late life require a complex therapy.  Rich in amplifications. 

"As long as I am independent, I can have my identity".  You can have psychological identity, character, memories, images, values, without independence.  Telephone therapy, life review therapy, programmic therapies.  People in their 70's life review. 

trivializing the elderly, not allowing them to give back.  Urge for closure strong in older age.  Very deep issues never closed.  Marginalized, liminal people. 

Boomers growing old: what the old find valuable will be raised to be the value of the culture.  Kindness, compassion, interest.  Means a very profound refusal of economic thinking, against unregulated capitalistic enterprise (not "do anything you want and fuck the other guy"). 


forces us to slow things down, look in reflect.

Find something outside of myself, my personal life, my development to live for. In other words, what am I dying for?  Subject/object split

We are walking around in it. Objective reality is a vestige from another century where what is outside is the Cartesian extension of thought, matter.