Anima Mundi, the World Soul
Anima Mundi - World Soul: Wooing nature for Her physical and transcendent secrets
Submission - Alchemy Journal; March 2009 issue (Vol.10 No.1)
ANIMA MUNDI: Soul-Filled World
By Iona Miller
“God redeems humanity, but nature needs to be redeemed by human alchemists, who are able to induce the process of transformation, which alone is capable of liberating the light imprisoned in physical creation.” ~Stephan Hoeller, Sufi Journal, Issue 67, Autumn 2005
"Let us imagine the anima mundi neither above the world encircling it as a divine and remote emanation of spirit, a world of powers, archetypes, and principles transcendent to things, nor within the material world as its unifying panpsychic life-principle. Rather let us imagine the anima mundi as that particular soul-spark, the seminal image, which offers itself through each thing in its visible form. Then anima mundi indicates the animated possibilities presented by each event, as it is, its sensuous presentation as face bespeaking its interior image--in short, its availability to imagination, its presence as a psychic reality. Not only animals and plants ensouled as in the Romantic vision, but soul is given with each thing; God-given things of nature and man-made things of the street." ~James Hillman, “Anima Mundi,” Spring, 1982
NUMINOUS & LUMINOUS PSYCHE
Anima Mundi, the feminine principle or mode of Being was historically considered the "soul of the world," the fertility of human, animal and plant life. Renaissance philosopher Giordano Bruno said the World Soul “illumines the universe and directs nature in producing her species in the right way.” She is the magical world of creative mystery.
Our geocentric understanding of ourselves has expanded to the realization that we are an intrinsic part of Cosmos. The Universe is also literally within us. No longer limited merely to our planet, Anima Mundi is the personification of the whole natural world – the Universe. This light, the dynamic reality of the energy field, is within us as within everything. Embodied nature is the link between the archetypal and formative worlds, the hyperdimensional matrix of eternal patterns with sacred proportions and unique manifestations. She is also infinite potential, the possibility of bringing creative ideas to birth, to manifestation.
In the deepest sense, she is the universal wave function, the unmanifest ground of our being, spacetime and the radiant light of virtual photon fluctuation, which underlies all matter and manifestation. Kabbalist Azriel of Gerona claimed "faith" meant entering into a relationship with one's "nothingness" and the "unknown" of the infinite, the ultimate ‘yin’ of non-existence that is the mother of all form.
In ancient times Anima Mundi declared her impenetrable mystery by reiterating that "I am Isis; no man has lifted my veil." This Muse of superconsciousness is bathed in the Light and concealed by it. Thus she alludes to herself as dazzling Solitaire in her virgin nature, that sense of wholeness within oneself, which is the Feminine source of wisdom, magic and meaning.
The natural light of the soul is illumination, embodied in the pineal light of the “spirit molecule,” DMT. Likewise, alchemists seek the divine spark, the light hidden in matter. To work creatively in the world, the Light of Nature needs to be released through inner alchemy. Our own light or divine spark is part of the light of the World Soul, so we can understand the mysteries of creation and the secrets of nature. The tools of inner transformation help Anima Mundi reveal her divine light.
Whether called Isis, Shakti, Maya, Shekinah, Sophia, Demeter/Persephone, Mary, Great Mother, White Goddess or any cultural variant, Anima Mundi is the universal animating principle, the upwelling spring of the creative Imagination, the dynamic flow of imagery, pattern, and form. She is personified internally as a soul guide or Initiatrix and externally embodied as the Soror Mystica. Glimpsing inspiring inner workings of our soul helps us realign our lives, our hopes and our dreams.
ANCIENT & CONTEMPORARY MODELS
Spiritual alchemy has long been informed by depth psychology. Carl Jung’s work in this area is well-known. Less known is that of the main proponent of archetypal psychology, James Hillman who places Anima Mundi as center of his psychological theory. This archetype of the psyche is inherent in the prima materia. It fosters the return of psychological subjectivity to the outer.
Alchemy works in just this projective, animated manner with a deeper level of participation. Phenomenology is the art of dissolution, a natural alchemy, learning how to see again, a way of being in the world between thinking and perceiving. In this aesthetic paradigm, Hillman asserts that images derive autonomy and operate according to their own will, similar to gods.
Gods and goddesses are an intrinsic part of Hillman's archetypal psychology, as they are in alchemy. In mythical perception, gods, metals, plants, minerals, animals, scents, colors, planets and more correspond with one another through the Doctrine of Signatures. Different forms share the same essential nature.
The symbolic nature of metals is the skeleton of spiritual alchemy. The word ‘metal’ means ‘search,’ strongly suggesting the nature of our alchemical work. We don’t seek a natural metal but the virtual metal, it’s essence. The lunar metal of Anima is silver and the white earth (albedo). Jung said, “Earth and moon coincide in the albedo.” (CW14, para. 154)
Silver is washed into veins in faultlines in the earth, and we can take advantage of the analogous process in our psyche. It takes place in that egoic illusion called “mine.” We can mine our own psychic faultlines. Silver is found in lead-silver vein mineralizations, sometimes with gold and zinc. Silver, the seed of the moon in the earth, is refined from the dross of lead-silver concentrate into the silvered mirror of the mind. Solutions emerge from our puzzlement. Reflection gives shape to the imaginal.
MINING THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON
Insights can tarnish, losing their shiny clarity. Just as silver is prone to blackening, this phase of the Great Work can be derailed by Saturn’s depression, the destructive illusion of separation. But the depression is the mine. Albedo emerges from blackness, transpersonal release, and emotional relief from the nigredo of personal identity. But the urge to white is not an escape from black – a whitewash -- since there is no soul without body.
Each object or body is also an imaginal image. We can extract silver moments from our leaden body – motions and emotions that regulate the neurochemistry of the body. Alchemical silver can be mined for many rich metaphorical associations (aha moments), just as silver requires polishing for reflection. Friction leads to clarified reflection. Shame is washed away.
Without shadow, whiteness becomes blankness. Shadow that is built into psyche’s body becomes transparent. Shadow is built into the nature of whiteness, as all colors unite disappearing into white. The world becomes an alchemical dream – the terra alba of anima inspiration.
Imaging itself is a mode of mining silver, psychical facts and essences, sometimes by speculation, resonance and artful listening. We may temporarily become a bit of a “lunatic” in the transmutative process The mysterium coniunctionis is moon-madness combined with solar brilliance.
It takes intense heat, intense introspection in the depths, to refine our inert nature. Then the luminous consciousness of the worked on soul arises. Dissolved by desire from its old ground for fusion in the dissolution of gender, anima no longer is exclusively feminine. Passive fantasy becomes transcendent active imagination, revealing the images within nature, the secret heart of nature.
IT IS BUT IT ISN’T
Virtual places, phenomena, and experiences can be just as “real” as material perceptions. The brain responds to the virtuality as if there is no neurological difference between imaginal and externally stimulated imagery. In this sense, imagination is reality. We perceive the sensate world through the non-linear imaginal world, its enfolded imaginal potential.
Anima Mundi embodies the pandemonium of all forms in external and internal perceptions. She bridges our perceptions of the world by stimulating the imaginative faculty. Yet, being attached to materialistic images is not the same as being attached to Mater, matter and earth.
As alchemists, we have to build a relationship with the very essence of the world. Being in soul is a continuous intentional process. The Astral Light is synonymous with the alchemical Anima Mundi. Jung’s idea of the Collective Unconscious as the treasure house of fluctuating imagery is a modern description. This light represents the immanence of the world-soul. She dwells in us and we are enlivened by her Being.
Aristotle conceptualized soul as the form, or essence of any living thing, not a distinct substance from the body it inhabits. Only possession of soul (of a specific kind) makes an organism an organism. The notion of a body without a soul, or of a soul in the wrong kind of body, is completely unintelligible. Soul mediates between mind and body, idea and matter, actualities and the Beyond.
James Hillman (1975) observes that soul, “refers to the deepening of events into experiences; second the significance of soul, whether in love or religious concern, derives from its special relationship with death. And third…the imaginative possibility in our natures, the experiencing through reflective speculation, dream, image, fantasy—that mode which recognizes all realities as primarily symbolic or metaphorical.”
Paracelsus thought the soul was beyond the individual, beyond our control. Plotinus saw all individuals as one soul. Gerhard Dorn said the third degree of the alchemical coniunctio, the most mature phase of individuation, is the personal realization of communion with an original unitary reality. Grounded intuition of a centered sphere of soul opens a microcosm that mirrors the Cosmic macrocosm: "As Above, So Below.”
We need a new cultural proving ground, a new paradigm for the energetic potential of the bodymind and the culture for which it is the ground. In our culture, the body and our fantasies about it have come to represent the lost Feminine element of deep interior processes.
We have lost touch with our primal femininity, the animating principle (nature, body, instinct). We have become estranged from the body through the mechanistic mind/body split, which is also non-relativistic. We talk a good game about 'wholeness' but don't really connect as much as nostalgically yearn for it.
Spontaneous imagery soulfully joins spirit and body. It doesn’t solve our troubles (pathologies) nor "save" our souls. Direct engagement, meditatio, with images for soul-making deepens us through personal experience.
No longer divided against thinking, imagination becomes the ground of certainty. Direct knowledge, gnosis, is demanded by the silvered mind so the soul can understand itself. Conjunctions come when we no longer focus on opposites or meaningful coincidences or conjunction. Imagination is as elusive as the goal of the alchemical process itself.
Through illumined senses we can see through the nature of apparent reality for ourselves, if we but try. Things become transparent, shine and speak. Signs echo within us. Then we develop our own philosophy, apart from consensus. When it comes to questions of speculation on the unknown, we can either accept what others have said, or look for ourselves, perhaps even into delusional lunacy.
The wounded-healer typically passes through a period of madness. Is it avoidable? Perhaps only by educating the psyche with alchemical training, giving it a silvered voice and attentive ear to avoid clinical literalism, paranoid delusion, vitrification, and dissociation. Even then, there is no guarantee lunacy can be avoided.
Anima Mundi is NowHere…the very spirit of life, the ethereal angel of our destiny, the animated archetypal ground and individually the radiant subtle body. More than just the life-spirit, the sacred field body is a natural force, the cosmic energic principle of primordial Consciousness, implicate order – the essence of being and sacred embodiment.
Primordial mankind saw everything as saturated with meaning, both human and cosmic. We, too, can see ourselves as full participants with the interior life of the natural world and cosmos. Not only signs and symbols can be read in the multidimensional environment, the metaphorical nature of symptoms – ours and the world’s – can be discerned. Fantasies open to one another in resonance, recognition, insight, and astonishment.
Alchemy is a poetry-science whose language and experimentation has a naturally therapeutic value. This poetic art and science of experientially reclaiming this relationship and worldview raises conscious recognition of anima mundi. Let the images come into your body. Tuned responses receptively embrace the image. This art is not separate from life, but is infused with life. The substance of the insubstantial is what makes psyche matter. And it is an intrinsic part of alchemical method.
Ancient philosophers proclaimed the world soul, a pure ethereal spirit, is diffused throughout all nature. The notion of soul as imaginative possibility, in relation to the archai or root metaphors, is what Hillman has termed the “poetic basis of mind.” Whitening into psychic reality is embodiment of spirit and inspiriting of body, eliminating oppositional tension.
In alchemy, Anima Mundi acts as the soul-guide to our heights and depths. Beauty is simply manifestation, the display of phenomena, the appearance of the anima mundi. Union with her is consciousness of our primal existential self, and our deepest ecological self, right down to the virtuality of the Void – the primordial field.
Beneath the alienation from nature, which our culture has created, lies a deep resource we can tap which is fundamental wisdom about the unity of life. We are embedded within that seamless fabric of Cosmos, the Feminine source of wisdom. The importance of the present depends on its effect in the realization of a specific future. An experience is important if it suggests or fulfills visionary sight.
Anima Mundi is the secret powers of nature. We need those powers to heal and transform. The intentional use of imagination and image building is a foundation of mysticism. This wisdom is deep ecology, which reveals the way of living in balance through intuition. She is the dark of the Void and the natural Light of the Soul--illumination. She bridges our perceptions of the world by stimulating the imaginative faculty.
Alchemy is a meditation science and art that purposefully cultivates a human relationship with Anima Mundi. To experience psychic reality means to be in soul, in the realm of the imagination, as if interacting with its inhabitants and locales. Inner visionary experience, be it wrathful or beatific, is an expression of soul. Through images the unconscious affects our worldview, health and relationships. Imagination not only conditions our reality, it is our reality. Soul is the middle world between gross materiality and the spiritual world.
This is a psychological approach to art and life--giving voice to soul, living life as art. It means the return of a subjective feminine eye on reality. It means the enlivening of our bodies and the world of nature with imagination. When we see soul as the background of all phenomena, we become aware of the animating principle and direct relationship with Her. The point is not to dissect her soul, but celebrate her body.
LIGHT OF THE SOUL
The soul generates images unceasingly, purposefully ordering our lives. Artists are able to capture and express some of that ceaseless flow. The soul lives on images and metaphor, especially epistemological metaphors--how we know what we know. These images form the basis of our consciousness. All we can know comes through images, through our multi-sensory perceptions. So, this soul always stays close to the body, close to corporeality, to what "matters."
Physical reality becomes psychic and psyche becomes real. It "matters." The difference between soul and external things no longer matters. Inner and Outer worlds are real. They are One World. Image, metaphor and symbol bridge the abyss between matter and spirit. They are integrated with feeling, mind, and imagination through wonder and awe. We can see soul in all natural objects. We can notice our fantasies constantly conditioning our experience of reality.
When spirit as energy and matter as form are in balance, the body becomes the living "Temple of the Spirit." A sense of immortality deepens the sacred dimension of life. Soul’s immortality is sensed in direct experience of non-spatial, non-temporal, nonlocal, four-dimensional reality. Real alchemical work is for the sake of the whole of which we are a microcosm.
Hillman J. (1977). Re-Visioning Psychology. New York: Harper Perennial.
Hillman, James (1980). “Silver and the White Earth, Part I.” Spring, 1980, 21-48.
Hillman, J. (1981). “Silver and the White Earth, Part II.” Spring, 1981, 21-66.
Hillman J. (1982). “Anima Mundi: The Return of the Soul to the World.” Spring, 1982, 71-93.
Hillman, J. (1985). Anima: An Anatomy of a Personified Notion. Dallas: Spring Publications.
Jung, C. G. (1963). Mysterium Coniunctionis. Collected Works, Vol. 14. Princeton N. J.: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C.G. (1968) Psychology and Alchemy. Collected Works, Vol. 12. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press.
Iona Miller is a nonfiction writer for the academic and popular press, hypnotherapist (ACHE) and multimedia artist. Her work is an omnisensory fusion highlighting the effects of doctrines from religion, science, psychology, and the arts. She is co-author of THE MODERN ALCHEMIST (Phanes), MAGICAL & RITUAL USE OF PERFUMES (Destiny) and many alchemy articles available at spiritualalchemy.iwarp.com. Her homepage is ionamiller2008.iwarp.com
Anima Mundi, 24x36, by Iona Miller from Psychogenesis