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The Soul’s Code, by James Hillman

March 11th, 2008 · No Comments · Astrology, Book Review, Karma

As astrologers, we’re often portrayed as oddballs, out on the fringe of the healing arts professions. Unconsciously or not, this has given some of us a collective insecurity complex, such that we’re left clinging to the hem of society’s skirt, crying for attention like some little kid in need of a hug.

Little wonder that, when the least evidence of our legitimacy arises, we embrace it with all the fervor of a re-born Christian who hears the Messiah is coming to town. Last time this happened was in the 70s, when French statisticians Michel and Francoise Gauquelin turned up significant evidence that angular planets had a bearing on professions. Since then, we’ve had little more than our faith to keep us going.

Today there is, if not a Messiah, at least a kindred voice on the scene – James Hillman, Jungian psychologist, scholar, and author of twenty-plus books, one of which should be required reading for all astrologers. The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling was first published in 1996, and since reprinted in a trade paperback version. The copyright page lists its library catalogue headings as: (1) Individuality, (2) Individuality in children, (3) Fate and fatalism, and (4) Gifted persons.

Hillman’s central thesis, illustrated by several biographical sketches, is that remarkable people, ranging from serial killers to renowned artists, are born, not made. This flies in the face of conventional psychological wisdom which says that either genetics or parental upbringing is the greatest determinant of what a person makes of themselves. To the contrary, Hillman asserts “neither nature nor nurture” dictates the outcome of a life. Rather, it is an innate quality possessed by each person, a spark of individuality that, like a master code for a person’s life, determines the direction of his destiny.

Hillman employs the Greek term daimon for the notions of guardian angel, spirit, or soul, all of which imply an over-arching intelligence guiding the course of life. This is the “soul’s code”. Thanks to the daimon, the adult’s true fate is already known to the child, and this knowledge guides the child unerringly, despite all the obstacles imposed by parental and societal norms, in the inevitable direction of its fate.

A child’s daimon can’t be reduced to either parents or genes. Each soul chose its parents to be born from, and the genes through which it could grow. It is not controlled or developed by us; we are fated to become the image it has conceived of us before we were born.

Hillman’s “acorn theory” suggests that in each small child there is a tight bundle of compressed future-self, the acorn practically exploding with its furious desperation to grow into its “oak-ness”. Plant an acorn in a corn field, and it will produce an oak, not a corn stalk. Let mother encourage or discourage, it makes no matter, the child knows where it’s going and will have its way in time. The daimon is in the driver’s seat.

Readers with an appreciation for astrology might well wonder whether the “soul’s code” could be a reference to the birth chart. Although Hillman never gives his readers an explicit nod in this direction, his occasional allusions to astrology encourage us to believe he’s familiar with its basic principles and practices. He is perhaps even sympathetic when he says, “There is in each of us a longing to see beyond what our usual sight tells us. A revelation of the invisible in an intelligible form leads us to the astrologer.”

The Soul’s Code is about one’s calling, fate, character and innate image, notions encapsulated in the term daimon. Hillman’s acorn theory suggests that “each person bears a uniqueness that asks to be lived and that is already present before it can be lived.” Doesn’t this sound remarkably like karma?

In Sanskrit, the planets are called grahas, those which have the power to seize. In the birth chart, planets are forces for both the divine and the demonic, and their respective conditions determine which way the balance tips. Hitler was seized by his daimon from an early age. Indeed, his whole life appeared to have been mapped out for him to such an extent that he himself commented: “I go the way Providence dictates for me with all the assurance of a sleepwalker.”

As Hillman notes, the old Greeks said of their gods: “They ask for little, only that they not be forgotten.” And in practice, this is why many Vedic astrologers, prior to an astrological analysis or consultation, invoke the navagraha (nine planets) via a brief mantra, thus honoring the planetary deities in the birth chart, within whose chakra we read the soul’s heart and purpose.

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