Gyrus interviews Harpur

My old mate Gyrus just posted his interview with the excellent Fortean hermeticist Patrick Harpur, author of Daemonic Reality and Mercurius (the latter of which he also reviews).

Here’s a snippet:

Gyrus: The threefold division of ‘body, soul & spirit’, as opposed to the dualistic mind/body model so common in our culture, seems central to your work. Could you sketch it briefly, and discuss how you feel “soul” has come to be distorted, misunderstood, or lost?

Patrick: You’ve started with the hardest possible question! I’ve just jotted down 14 ways in which the word ’soul’ can be used, and there are many more. It’s impossible to define. But this flaw is also its strength. Like ‘God’, it’s a portmanteau word, ‘empty’ in itself, yet taking on meaning in different contexts and in relation to other things.

Soul in relation to body likes to personify itself as Jung’s anima, for instance, or as the personal daimon whom Plato describes in his myth of the geezer called Er who returns from the dead at the end of The Republic. It’s different from soul in relation to spirit, which is where I prefer to use the word as the Neoplatonists used it. For them, soul was a whole realm intermediate between the spiritual or intelligible world (nous) and our own familiar sensory, material world. It was Anima Mundi, the Soul of the World, wherein dwell the daimons who link us, as Socrates remarked, to the gods.

However, this all-pervading collective realm was paradoxical: it could also manifest individually, as individual souls—in other words, as us. Since the chief faculty of soul is not reason but imagination, it likes to imagine itself in many different ways, cutting its cloth to suit the times. Thus it re-imagines itself now as Imagination itself—a powerful autonomous realm beloved of the Romantics whence all the myths come—now as Jung’s collective unconscious. It supplies the root metaphor for such modern re-inventions as the earth-spirit Gaia and Sheldrake’s morphogenetic field.

But, in another sense, soul and spirit can be thought of as symbols of the two main perspectives through which we view the world—the two perspectives which create the world we see. We experience them as a tension within ourselves between the spiritual longing for Oneness, unity, purity, light, transcendence etc. and the imaginative need to recognise Manyness, multiplicity, labyrinthine entanglement, darkness, immanence etc. It’s because, historically—ever since the Enlightenment—Western culture has emphasised the preeminence of ‘masculine’ upward-striving Apollonian reason and science that I have tried to emphasise the neglected ’soul’ perspective which is dark, moon-struck, downward-spiralling and Hermetic or Dionysian—the Affirmative way of the artist, as the medieval mystics might have put it, instead of their own Negative way, which disdains and seeks to overcome the images and myths which soul, willy-nilly, besieges us with and which we find so hard to free ourselves from in spiritual disciplines. The great ascents of the spirit into rareified mountain realms where the One dwells in blinding light can be read as a disastrous neglect, even repression, of the Nekiya—the underworld journey of the soul whose course is tortuous and mazy, moving towards darkness and death. That’s why, as far as any sort of gnosis goes, I prefer the soul’s way, death and resurrection, the painful initiatory dismembering of the shaman, to the rather unsexed and anodyne rebirth system of ’spiritual’ paths.

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