Here I want to summarize a 286 page book that has influenced me enormously – The Soul’s Code, In Search of Character and Calling, by James Hillman.
Hillman was a maverick Jungian analyst, founding his thinking on that of Carl Jung. Hillman’s hypothesis about our human condition he calls “The Acorn Theory.” “The acorn theory …claims that each life is formed by its unique image, an image that is the essence of that life and calls it to a destiny. As the force of fate, this image acts as a personal daimon, an accompanying guide who remembers your calling.” P.39. …each person bears a uniqueness that asks to be lived and that is already present before it can be lived.” P.6
“… is already present before it can be lived” – in the same way that the oak tree is already present in the acorn. From the beginning, everything in the acorn calls it to become not only an oak tree, but a specific oak tree. Before we were born, our soul selected an image or pattern; perhaps general or specific learnings or gifts that would be possible in this particular lifetime. The image itself is the soul-companion, the daimon that guides us here through our life. The daimon remembers what belongs to our image and tries to keep us on track to do/be what we came here for.
The word daimon is Greek and much of Hillman’s ideas come from Plato and other Greek thinkers. The Romans called it genius and the Roman Catholics call it your guardian angel. I must admit this is confusing, as the daimon is called an “image” we are born with, yet the power of the daimon seems beyond our conscious control and affects us like an outer force that accompanies us. Perhaps “destiny” is a similar (Greek) word – something we can neither fight nor do we need to try to fight. The daimon will keep us on track! Trust, then, of “how things go” is a proper relation with our lives.
Free will is still functioning, but here’s an example I made myself to understand free will and destiny: A particular acorn is buried by a squirrel; later a human happens to place a sign over the buried acorn. Nevertheless, it grows. It bumps against the signpost and decides to grow to the left or the right. It comes up around the signpost and now is in better or lesser sunlight then it might have been had it chosen the other direction. Nevertheless, in the current conditions it continues to try to grow up into the particular oak that is the image calling it forth.
The image calling it forth: this is the cause of Why We Are The Way We Are! Hillman totally rejects all the current psychological theories: My mother didn’t X, my father always y’d, my teachers never z’d. The criminal was bullied as a child. Over time, genetics caused A. Poverty caused B. An accident caused C. No, No. Hillman gives fascinating examples one after another of famous people we know whose lives deny all these theories. Causation does not function from the past; there is a future – the image of the particular Oak tree – that is the real cause of everything. In philosophy, it’s called the “final” cause: the goal pulls us toward it. Other experiences affect us, but the final cause keeps pulling us towards what we came for.
Here we might think of “odd” things about ourselves: Why did you always feel interested in X? When you heard certain words, music, stories, a spark would jump up in you while not in others. For example, as a Catholic child I heard the stories of Jesus and the images of God the Father over and over, but whenever I heard reference to “The Holy Spirit” something jumped up in me. “What is that – the Holy Spirit?” I would wonder. “They say it will bring you wisdom and courage. Why don’t they talk more about the Holy Spirit?” Over many years I stumbled forward learning about the Still Small Voice inside me that I can trust, that guides me in my best interests, that is available through my intuitions at any moment I need it.
The most obvious way the acorn theory (and also that of Carl Jung) differs from most other theories about human nature is that it looks at life from “before and after”, from an eternal view – that we are most basically eternal spirits here for awhile learning and growing and being creative. In this way the acorn theory fits very well with modern physics, which is getting stranger and stranger… Quantum mechanics/physics is seeing everything as “consciousness”, expanding into ever larger units, and the Universe seems to be endlessly expanding. Are we consciousness and parts of larger units of consciousness, expanding by trying out new ideas? Growth, creativity, seem to be the primary pulse of All. I would add that in our experience we find some ideas are more successful than others: “pain and suffering” guide us to conclude that some ideas are more creative, productive, pleasing than others. We naturally look for ways to live that please us more – and that is important! I was raised with some unhealthy ideas that in some strange way suffering is good, “God loves us when we suffer silently,” we show how we love X by suffering, etc. This is very contrary to Nature and not healthy. Suffering should guide us towards finding a way out of it, i.e. towards change, towards growth.
One more important aspect of our acorn: it must grow down before it can grow up. When a soul is born into this world, it first must learn how to manipulate in a body, how to speak a language, how to relate to people around it, etc. We have many images in religions of reaching upward for the skies, of getting ahead of ourselves by letting go of all desires, living less and less fully here and now. We are here to be here. There’s no need to fear physical experience, nor the desires that arise in us which may actually be our daimon guiding us! The more we try to get rid of what attracts us, the stronger “Fate” must work to keep us on track with the image that pulls us forward.
In 286 fascinating pages full of clarifying stories, Hillman examines this possible view of human life in greater detail. For example, how to explain Hitler and other horrible people? What if we don’t succeed in what our soul intended? What about people who die in childhood? I hope you might be tempted to read this book. I may write more on it in the future. James Hillman sees our lives as starting with a unique and beautiful image, and it is always trying to carry us forward to live out what we came for. We can trust our lives! But – watch for “guidance”…