The Moon in the Mirror: Prologue to a Brief History of the Soul
by Leonard George
Some Questions You Might Ask
Is the soul solid, like iron?
Or is it tender and breakable, like
the wings of a moth in the beak of the owl?
Who has it, and who doesn’t?
I keep looking around me.
The face of the moose is as sad
as the face of Jesus.
The swan opens her white wings slowly.
In the fall, the black bear carries leaves into the darkness.
One question leads to another.
Does it have a shape? Like an iceberg?
Like the eye of a hummingbird?
Does it have one lung, like the snake and the scallop?
Why should I have it, and not the anteater
who loves her children?
Why should I have it, and not the camel?
Come to think of it, what about the maple trees?
What about the blue iris?
What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight?
What about roses, and lemons, and their shining leaves?
What about the grass?
- Mary Oliver
SOME QUESTIONS YOU MIGHT ASK
BODY, SOUL, SPIRIT
MOON IN THE MIRROR
ARCHAIC TORSO OF APOLLO
There’s no such thing as an expert on the soul. Experts can skewer their topics with sharp definitions and bleed answers from their prey. "Now we will measure how solid you are." But the soul (a mist, a ghost, a will-o’-the-wisp) has always eluded capture.Because of this quality, Soul is disturbing - or invisible - to minds trained in objectivity. I'm a psychologist, an alleged expert in "psyche-logos" (literally "soul-words"). But modern psychology is scientific, objective, and we psychologists never even mention the soul either in mainstream academia or in conventional clinical practice.
And yet, I’m convinced that there's something vital in this topic. In some way the soul is central to being human, maybe even to being real. In our mechanical age some of the biggest bestsellers have been books like The Soul’s Code, Care of the Soul, Chicken Soup for the Soul. The modern soul strains to hear, beneath the thrum of the engines, a whisper from its world.
There are many ways to study the soul. One approach is to follow its footprints along the path of history – we can track the experiences, images and ideas of Soul through the centuries. Rather than a static definition, we get a dynamism more suited to its gossamer nature. You won’t find much of this chronology in recent soul-writings. The stylistic influence of C.G. Jung is great. Jung knew his history, but didn’t generally address his fields chronologically because he believed in archetypes - entities that are collective and in essence invariant across history. The temporal sequence of soul-material doesn’t matter if it all refers to an eternal object, a soul-archetype, any more than the order in which you pluck fruits from a tree affects the final contents of your basket. Archetypal psychologist James Hillman even suggested that a historical perspective violates the spirit of the topic: "An historical approach … would insult the a-historical method and work" (Hillman, Loose Ends, p.149).
If something is gained with the archetypal method, something is also lost – the sense of the life of an idea as it moves and changes through time and circumstance. You can visit a mountain peak by a harrowing climb or by a comfy helicopter, and your peak experience will depend somewhat on how you got there. So with Soul. If we clamber with the soul from its prehistoric stirrings up the grade of time to now, our understanding is enriched in a way not open to the "a-historical method".
The rest of this paper lays out a base camp for our climb through time. We will prepare ourselves for a history of the soul by first reviewing Soul in relation to its fellow travellers, Body and Spirit. Then we will consider four enduring themes of the soul: Presence; Depth; Imagination; and Destiny.
BODY, SOUL, SPIRIT
Soul’s career is entwined with Body and Spirit. Body, Soul, Spirit: in Greek, soma, psyche, pneuma; in Latin, corpus, anima, spiritus. Trying to see a consistent relationship between these terms over the ages will end in hallucination. No ancient literature concisely maps a "system" of body, soul and spirit. The three terms (in Greek) were brought together in the New Testament, and Christian theologians struggled to make an anthropology from their rather ambiguous usages, but they never achieved a consensus.
The demarcation of Body and Soul has often been blurry. The pharaonic Egyptians each had several souls (ba, ka, akh, etc.) that retained ties with the body even after death – hence the need for mummies. Soul and Spirit have been cast in overlapping or interchangeable forms. In the New Testament psyche occurs 57 times, and pneuma 274. But their likenesses and distinctions aren’t cleanly drawn any more than is the umbral dance of "Father", "Son" and "Holy Ghost".
At the archaic Greek roots of Western culture several soul-related terms are prominent, each linked with a bodily region. First there is psyche itself, associated with the head and the genitals (through which it was said to breathe). This soul is a life-force or vitality, the power of generation. The archaic psyche was not identified with conscious awareness; it was more like the "unconscious" of twentieth century analytical psychology. Psyche is the portal of occult knowledge, prophecy, visions. It can leave the body, in dreams and at death. After the body’s demise it retires to the underworld, where it persists as an eidolon or image of the person, no more conscious than a painted portrait. (This rather chilling and unhappy version of post-mortem survival poses a challenge to the simplistic theory that faith in an afterlife began as a consoling fantasy. What’s consoling about the survival of an eidolon?) In his earliest known guise, the god Hermes was a psyche of the universe. His symbol was a square pillar surmounted by a head and displaying an erect phallus. Hermes’ soul-connection remained stamped on one of his popular names: Psychopompos, "Guide of Souls".
Psyche shared the archaic Greek mind with an entity called thymos. Here is the centre of individual consciousness, where feelings, thoughts and ego arise. Thymos mingles with the breath and dwells in the chest around the heart (ker) and lungs (phrenes). Echoes of this soul and its somatic abode live on in language, mainly in psychiatry: "cyclothymia" (mood swings); "dysthymia" (unpleasant emotion); "phrenology" (the discredited practice of reading personality traits from the shape of the skull); "schizophrenia" (a major psychosis, literally "splitting of mind"). Placing consciousness in the chest seems strange to us "head-centred" moderns. But when you notice that most intense waking moments are emotionally arousing, felt as stirrings in the chest (ragged breathing, pounding heart), it is less odd.
The classical Western soul - the psyche as the immortal unified core of identity, individuality, thought and choice distinct from the body - evolved among Greek thinkers by the fifth century B.C. In effect, psyche swallowed thymos. This fusion of souls was associated with the rise in literacy in urban Greece. The probing attitude of the new philosophers and their writings ("The unexamined life is not worth living") punctured the notion that mimicking Homeric swashbucklers was an adequate way of life. This shift from the passionate to the dispassionate as the prime value of awareness was paralleled by a changed conscious focus from chest (nexus of raw emotion) to head (nexus of calm intellect). As reason became the paragon of self, so the head and its "inhabitant" psyche gained primacy. "Head-consciousness" may also have been boosted by the research of the sixth century B.C. Pythagorean Alcmaeon of Croton, the first anatomist, who discovered the optic tract connecting eyes and brain and deduced that sensations are fed to the brain from the sense organs. Therefore, it seemed, the brain / psyche is the seat of perception.
The Romans had a soul-duo like the old Greeks. The anima was equivalent to the archaic psyche; the animus matched the thymos. (Note the difference between this usage and that of many Jungians, for whom the "anima" is the soul-archetype for men, and the "animus" that for women.)
In some early Hebrew thought, Body and Soul can’t live apart: when the body dies, the soul goes to Sheol (the otherworld) and loses awareness; or, that which survives had never been conscious, like the archaic psyche. The fragmentary evidence points to a variety of lost Hebrew beliefs, and a range of souls like their Egyptian and archaic Greek neighbours. Mediaeval Jewish mysticism preserved a multi-soul. In the Zohar (the main Kabbalistic text, written in the thirteenth century A.D.) we find three souls per person. The nephesh is the animal-soul, closely tied to bodily energies. The neshamah is the transcendent soul, a spark of divinity that yearns to return to its heavenly home. The ruach is the breath-soul, intermediate to nephesh and neshamah. Nephesh is a throne for ruach, which is a throne for neshamah, which is a throne for God; or, the body is a burning wick, nephesh is the "obscure light" at the base of the flame, ruach is the whiteness, neshamah is the invisible heat at the top, ever rising. The Zohar teaches three fates of souls following death: the nephesh stays close to the body but roams around like a bereaved pet; the ruach heads for the Garden of Eden; the neshamah is released to God.
In the New Testament, psyche is the vehicle of salvation, that which God preserves for the righteous, utterly different from Body. It is linked with feelings, and with love. Pneuma is life-breath, the seat of emotion, will, vision, insight, and connection to the Divine. (The roles of Soul and Spirit are worked out in a fascinating manner by philosopher/magicians of the Italian Renaissance.)
The multiple soul was likely conceived in the Old Stone Age. It has lasted to this day: in a lecture I recently attended at Vancouver General Hospital, the well-known Qi-Gong teacher Dr. Stephen Aung noted an "exterior" and an "interior" soul that are united in the bladder. His descriptions of these souls matched the archaic psyche and thymos.
The classical unification of the soul and its split from the body grew in common belief into a radical divide: immortal soul as self, within body as garment or chariot or tomb. (An influential exception was Aristotle’s psyche as "the form of the body". For Aristotelians, Soul and Body are distinct only conceptually, not ontologically.)
The personal soul became broadly understood as a sort of object made of an immaterial substance, located in space like other objects. The notion of death as the "departure of the soul" from the body, and apparitions as "returned souls", are easily taken this way. But if the soul is an object, it must be evaluable like any other object. In our "objective" age we measure things, pinning them by numbers. While some have claimed to have weighed the soul, and even to have photographed it, Soul is officially banished by science for lack of evidence. As far as the empirical approach can tell us, there are no soul-objects. To appreciate Soul fully, both historically and personally, we must get beyond our habitual idea of the soul-object. It is just one point in the field of soul-meaning. The temptation to reify Soul is nothing new, and has long been combated by profound thinkers. For instance the great Neoplatonist Plotinus (205 – 270 A.D.) urged his audience not to consider the soul within the body, but rather the body within the soul. (As with Soul, Spirit can also congeal into an object.)
We need an alternative that gets us past the sticking-point of bodies, souls and spirits as objects in problematic relationship. Instead, foreign though it might feel at first, try considering these things as modes of experience or attitudes or ways of knowing.
What is "Body"? A body is what is experienced when we relate to something as an object; when we know it only from the outside, through our senses and their refinements (eyeglasses, stethoscopes, spectrometers, X-rays). We can relate to anyone or anything as bodies. When we do, we don’t feel that the body we meet, the object, has an "inner life" that corresponds and calls to our own interiority, our animation. When we’re with an object, only its external features touch and are touchable and we only relate to its usefulness. The bank teller is just a protoplasmic ATM. It’s a thing, not a person. A meat puppet.
What is "Soul"? A soul is what is experienced when we relate to something as if it has an inner life like we do. It now feels "animated". Meeting an ensouled being seems to recruit an organ inside us, a touching within, in addition to the contact of our regular senses. There is a resonance, a more holistic relating, as it includes outer and inner reality. When we relate in this way, soul to soul, the object of our relation is not just a thing, but a Presence: the brooding forest shadows; the mysterious being that haunts a Mark Rothko painting; the voice that cries inside the cello’s timbre; the angel we glimpse in our lover’s eye. And we lean to turn this Presence into a Person – we personify. We personify each other; we can personify storms and ladybugs and the entire cosmos, if we hail them as ensouled. The experience of a world-soul is long attested. Plato’s discussion of it in the Timaeus was seminal in the West, and ever since pagans and Christians have wondered how this anima mundi interlaces with the world-body, with human souls, and with God. But the experience itself is simple. It is the kiss of vast Presence, filling everything, behind everything.
What then is "Spirit"? A spirit is what we find when we knit together the Body and Soul experiences, the outer and the inner, when the largest, richest context of a thing is in the foreground of our relating to it. Spirit melds every edge of the Big Picture, revealing all dimensions and realms visible and veiled as a unity. In its most powerful forms the encounter with the spirited object is so intimate that it is not sensed as a Thing or even as a Presence, but as Self. A venerable image of Spirit is a wind or breath. When we are "inspired", we feel we’re immersed in this flow, even identified with it. In the Book of Genesis Adam is enlivened by God’s breath (ruach), and it remains our line to the holy Whole. Another spirit-motif is Light. Mystical wholeness can be felt as illumination, no ordinary brilliance but "the Light of the World" in Christian parlance.
Spirit is the experience of all-encompassing Truth; without it, Body and Soul are two solitudes. But too much accent on Spirit can pull us far from the unique features of bodies and souls into a zone of pure, clean abstraction. We then fall prey to the delusion that we can live up there without the piss and pain of our embodiment and ensoulment. This madness can be quite comforting. We become otherworldly. Plaster saints don’t need to breathe. Here Spirit suffocates itself. The Dalai Lama alludes to this "hyper-aerial" extreme of Spirit:
"Soul is at home in the deep, shaded valleys. Heavy torpid flowers saturated with black grow there. The rivers flow like warm syrup. They empty into huge oceans of soul. Spirit is a land of high, white peaks and glittering jewel-like lakes and flowers. Life is sparse and sounds travel great distances… Desolation is of the depths, as is brooding. At these heights, spirit leaves soul far behind." (quoted in Moore, Education of the Heart, p.34)
Of course there are equivalent dangers in obsession with Soul or Body. We can become lost in Thought, lost in Fantasy, or lost in Meat.
In sum: a body is an object experienced as a thing, an It, from the outside. A soul is an object met as a Presence, a You, from outside and inside, resonantly. A spirit is an object experienced as woven with everything else, as a node in a flow, an Us; most intensely as self, an I. Body, Soul and Spirit aren’t crisply split. They’re landmarks on a continuum of intimacy with the object of relating. Thistypology isn’t final or tidy, but it can help to open up our studies beyond the soul-object dead end. From this vantage a soul-object is actually an instance of Body-experience, or objectivity. (My arrangement of Body / Soul / Spirit is somewhat different than that of Hillman and Moore. From my limited viewpoint it looks like they give rather much of the traditional "connecting" function of Spirit to Soul, and view the abstracting property as more basic to Spirit than earlier expositors did. They have Soul integrating Body and Spirit; I have Spirit integrating Body and Soul. These are all procrustean games anyway, with many suppressed exceptions and reversals. It’s just a soul-conversation. Take it lightly.)
From this angle Soul and Spirit are neither affirmed nor rejected by the mind of science, because they aren’t its province. But from the objective standpoint an obvious question can arise: couldn’t the Soul / Spirit perspective be an illusion, a mistake? You can salute your grandfather clock as a presence, or fantasize a being in a bouquet, but that doesn’t mean there really is a "person" there, right? The only counter to this question is to raise a counter-question: do persons exist objectively anywhere? We can’t limn a solid person either scientifically or introspectively. We can find behaviours, cognitions, sensations – but no concrete, pointable self (what Buddhists call a "self of persons"). This absence hints that the experience of persons (other people and oneself) is not within the reach of scientific analysis. There is no rational basis for attributing personhood to anyone or anything; yet the only people I’ve ever met who didn’t personify themselves and others weren’t efficient scientists, but florid psychotics. Souls / Presences / Persons aren’t childish or primitive vestiges that can be judged and eradicated scientifically; the objective mind can’t judge Soul at all, because it’s a non-object. A non-object we can’t do without.
No wonder Soul is confusing - when we dig for a bedrock definition, we can’t find one. Semantic instability over time is a mark of living concepts, but there’s something intrinsic when it comes to the slipperiness of the soul. Here we’re in deep and murky waters. In fact the "depth" of Soul was noted at the origins, in pre-Socratic Greece. The philosopher Heraclitus:
"You would not find out the boundaries of psyche, even by travelling along every path: so deep (bathyn) a measure does it have." (Kirk, Raven & Schofield, The Pre-Socratic Philosophers, p. 203)
Soul belongs to a class of ideas that steers awareness to the source from which thoughts themselves spring. This source is vaster than any finite thought, so thoughts that draw your attention to it must open onto it. It’s as if the concept of Soul is a bucket that you want to fill with meaning, nicely contained. But when you look deep inside it, there’s no bottom; you’re led through, outside the container, outside all containers. It’s not that Soul is meaningless. If it was it would be impossible to trace through history. Rather, it’s generally played a role not so much fencing in, nailing down, as pointing at something.
There are other ideas in this class. The Catholic dogma of the Trinity is one. The Father begets the Son. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. What do "begetting" and "proceeding" mean? "Who cares?" is the modern answer. After centuries of semantic honing, theologians remained stumped by trinitarian dynamics. But if you’d care to enter the mindset of a serious mediaeval Christian, you could appreciate that the Trinity is a doorway into depth. When contemplating the mystery that arcs far past our ken, suddenly the bottom can fall out of this Trinity. And it also falls out of you. In Mahayana Buddhism, the notion of sunyata (Sanskrit variously translated as "emptiness", "plenum-void", "open dimension of Being") can play this trick too. The focus of Buddhist meditation on sunyata is technically known as a "non-affirming negative". That is, you’re searching for something that isn’t there at all – an inherently existent self. Your meditation object is an Absence that, if met directly, turns into a Presence like a glove turning inside out. And so do you. The Rinzai Zen assignment of koans or rationally insoluble puzzles is yet another route. Note that these systems aren’t irrational or nonconceptual - concepts are polished to great clarity, but it’s a clear pointing, not a precise defining, that is the aim.
All art has this deep quality. What’s the entire meaning of any poem or any painting or any music? We could say much, but who can assert they have drained a work of art? Soul and its stations are unfathomable. Us too.
The modern mind dubs imagination "mere". Imagining isn’t real, because the presences that populate it aren’t objects like bodies. It’s not that we don’t value imagining – we do admire creativity, and call creative persons "imaginative". But we cleave experience into a dualism of Real vs. Imaginary, with no intermediary space. Conventional thought has four slots for those who take imagined things as real: immature; gullible; hysterical; or mad. We indulge our children to a certain extent, permitting imaginary friends and fantasy games. But we’re worried if they haven’t built a firm wall between the real and the fancied by puberty.
Considered historically, the current Reality / Imagination dualism is quite strange. Most societies have envisaged a third domain: Real Imagination, imaginatio vera. This perspective divides the imaginal region itself into true and false, "mere" fancy or fantasy vs. entities viewed with the "eye of the soul" that are in some sense "real"; but real in a different way than objects seen with the eye of flesh. Psychosis and imaginal perception are thus distinguished - the former is a muddling of categories (percept and image), the latter entails a further discrimination (between fanciful image and imaginal object). From an angle that includes this extra parsing, the modern dualism is itself a madness that conflates two distinct forms of imaginative activity.
Soul has a special relationship with True Imagining. Things seen and heard with mind’s eye and ear constitute its home and native land. Imaginal geography is the landscape it navigates. If Soul is not an object, then this Soul-world is not in the objective matrix of space-time. Its monuments are "neither here nor there" as literal physical locations. Neither is it either "now" or "then"; it is as "in between", during the dreamtime or once-upon-a-time. In his poem "Halfway Down", the subtle A.A. Milne points to it:
"Halfway up the stairs
And isn’t down.
It isn’t in the nursery,
It isn’t in the town.
And all sorts of funny thoughts
Run round my head:
‘It isn’t really
It’s somewhere else
Trips in the soul-world are metaphorical rather than literal, as befits a non-objective locale. Siberian shamans went there to entreat gods and ghosts, riding a drum-beat or the soul of a sacrificed horse. At the height of the Roman Empire, the souls of ritual philosophers traversed it in the spirit vessel (ochema pneuma) all the way past the cosmos to the primordial One (Historian Ioan Couliano called this craft "the Platonic space shuttle").
The problem of sorting True Imagining from Fantasy is an ancient one, and no surefire solutions were ever found. This ambiguity caused many to fear the soul-world as a quagmire, and led the framers of the Scientific Revolution to pitch both kinds of imagination into the bog of Fantasy, eventually discarding Soul itself.
Is imaginatio vera of historical interest only? Or is there something in it for us? Consider the connectedness of things. A finding shared by every scientific discipline, from physics through biology and the social sciences: each human life is inseparable from its environment. And all environments are ultimately one – the universe. Every Hubble Space Telescope photo is in some sense a self-portrait. Science helps us to know our connectedness. But many of us don’t feel it very clearly. Some even complain that the coldness of science (as it is often presented and promoted, at any rate) makes them feel more severed from the cosmos. This isn’t a trivial problem, as a sense of conjunction with Something Larger (in whatever religious or philosophical guise) is a major bolster of well-being. But how to enhance it? There may be many paths. But I suggest that at bottom, that’s what True Imagining actually does. When we take certain forms of imagining seriously, greeting imaginal objects as ensouled, it links us to the rest of the universe on the inside. Our private inwardness starts to feel like a common inner world, the internal face of that outer world with which we are objectively commingled. And this, of course, is the embrace of Spirit, of Love. Could it be that the acts and institutions that soothe our rift from the Whole – religions, mythologies, alternative healing practices – are just devices for fixing attention seriously on imagined objects; and that that’s how and why they work?
"Mere" imagination? No. Rather, "mare" imagination, because your soul can ride it into the realm of spirits and Spirit. Or how about "mare imaginatio", mare being Latin for "sea". Imagination is a sea, deep and teeming.
This communion of soul with cosmos via imagination, this shared inner life, doesn't feed the sense of insignificance, of being lost in the immensity, that the scientific study of objective connectedness can. Instead we discover a conviction of our importance there. The drop of individuality doesn’t just dissolve into the ocean of Soul. The ocean flows into the drop. That is, Soul is traditionally the bearer of personal meaning. Each life is the unfoldment or tracing of a pattern; in other words, of a Destiny, a Fate.
This personal destiny is never completely shown. It is borne in a district of Soul past the outskirts of consciousness (cf. archaic psyche). The belief that one can fully know one’s fate is a narrowed view of Soul akin to that of the "soul-object". Here the reduction is a "soul-ego", an equation of the soul with the normal waking consciousness. But there are many, many denizens of Soul’s night that prowl outside the little spot brightened by ego’s campfire. One of them, it’s long been thought, carries your destiny. It is sensed in or behind certain moments in life, in curious affinities and urges.
Sometimes it flits through our dreams and visions. Here is what my father dreamed when he was four years old:
He was standing in a long line of people on an open plain beneath a star-flecked sky. One by one, the people passed through a gate into a tall silver tower. When his turn came, a man dressed in a white robe approached him and asked him to choose his destination. Looking up, my father’s eye was caught by an especially beautiful star. As he pointed at it he knew it would be his home.
I’m stirred by some parallels between this dream of a young boy in a blue-collar household in Toronto in 1914 and the Myth of Er recounted in the final chapter of Plato’s Republic. In the Myth, before its incarnation each soul selects its lot for the next life. This destiny is called a paradeigma, a pattern. Then the soul is led by its guardian to the three Fates, who weave this form into existence. At birth the soul forgets its paradigm, but it is preserved by the guardian.
The destiny-bearing aspect of the soul is almost everywhere personified. In hunter-gatherer societies the future shaman is beckoned by a spirit in childhood or adolescence, via an illness or dream, to live out the special shamanic fate. The Greeks referred to the destiny-soul as a daimon. This is the word Plato used for the guardian of the paradigm. In the Timaeus Plato wrote that the most sovereign part of the psyche is a daimon, and that our destiny is like the sprouting of a heavenly plant (an image maintained by the Syrian philosopher Iamblichus who compared the soul to a lotus). Socrates’ daimon would warn him against straying from his fated course. Heraclitus cryptically asserted that "ethos anthropoi daimon" – human character is a daimon. If we follow the daimon where it leads us, our paradeigma will bloom, accompanied by a satisfaction or conviction that we're "fulfilling our lot". The Greek word for a happy life: eudaimonia, "a life that is good for the daimon".
Among the Romans this daimon was known as the genius. Only much later, the Western ego-identity ingested its genius and learned to say things like "he / she is a genius". Originally, "he / she has a genius". Everyone does. The personified form endured in Arab cultures as the genie or jinn. And if you look at the biographies of "geniuses" they're filled with incidents of "vocation" (literally "calling"; and who shall I say is calling?), with ego-alien encounters.
In Christian context, daimon became demon. It is true, the daimonic elements of life can be unpleasant, even tragic or seemingly "evil", and the Christian view was that these things are laid on us as trials by bad spirits. But the split-off other half of the daimon became the guardian angel, our invisible partner responsible for the weird "good" intrusions into the ego-sphere.
Other images of the destiny-bearer: the soul’s twin, Fortuna, Fate, Lady Luck, Star of Destiny. The adventure of individual life isn’t lived alone, even in the apparent solitude of our minds. It’s a collaboration, an inside job. To relate to our "lot" fully, we must do so imaginally and personally. As Rilke said, "there is no place that does not see you". There is a quality to this hidden Watcher that doesn’t feel quite human; it's a wild intelligence, of Nature, and hence is so often portrayed with animal qualities. Jung’s own daimon, named Philemon, was a bearded old man – with wings. Mine is half-human at best.
And today, where have all the daimones gone? Maybe they haven't gone anywhere. Meetings with otherworld citizens persist, from ufonauts to spooks to sasquatches. Most of us dismiss such reports as "mere imagination". Some of us insist that paranormal entities are objective beings. But in light of the idea that imagination isn't always "mere", there is another possibility. Could these moments be understood as fractured contacts with our neglected daimones ? Perhaps the aliens are ego-aliens. We moderns have smashed our belief in the mirror of individual destiny, and these grotesques could be the glinting, distorting shards. If we accept that taking imagination seriously can transform us, linking the drop to the sea, it is suggestive that people feel deeply changed by uncanny encounters. Maybe they’ve met a Creature from Mare Imaginatio.
MOON IN THE MIRROR
What is the soul? It's like the moon, unseen in itself, glowing by light from elsewhere. It's like an image in a mirror, ungraspable. James Hillman:
"Soul appears as a factor independent of the events in which we are immersed. Though I cannot identify soul with anything else, I also can never grasp it by itself apart from other things perhaps because it is like a reflection in a flowing mirror, or like the moon which mediates only borrowed light. But just this peculiar and paradoxical intervening variable gives one the sense of having or being a soul." (Hillman, Revisioning Psychology, p.x)
Four themes recur in the awareness of the soul: Presence, Depth, Imagination and Destiny. Common blocks to appreciating the broad field of Soul: grasping Soul as an object; shrinking Soul to an ego; losing multiple perspectives, becoming lost in Body, Soul or Spirit.
Yet more features may be traced by plotting the soul, as idea and experience, across different eras, and through your personal life. This is your mission, should you decide to accept it.
Archaic Torso of Apollo
We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,
gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.
Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:
would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.
- Rainer Maria Rilke