Thomas Moore is a former Catholic monk and a practising therapist. The twin themes of religious sensibility and a close concern for the convoluted problems of living life are dealt with very elegantly here. He is certainly unorthodox in his religious views, and he shares his mentor and colleague James Hillman’s professional self-deprecation, in never missing a chance to point out how people might save themselves the often pointless bother of seeing a therapist. Both religion and therapy (in the widest sense) are shown by Moore’s approach to them to be at their best when in service to “soul”.
I have to say, even as someone who’s happily entertained the notion of reclaiming the swastika as a pre-Nazi sacred symbol, and who prefers lugging the baggage of the word “psychedelic” to the rather precious neologism “entheogen”, the effort on the part of Hillman, Moore, and others to reclaim the archaic, Greek, Neoplatonic sense of the word “soul” seemed at first to be a futile uphill struggle. Yet, as Hillman points out, black music has injected much life back into this word that has suffered—like so much—at the hands of theological literalism. And the more I read on the subject, the more the word seems like a natural candidate for resurrection. Or rather, through it we might resurrect ourselves, our soul.
Moore edited Blue Fire, the excellent selected writings of James Hillman, and his thorough appreciation for Hillman’s work is evident on every page here. Essentially it’s an attempt to bring the current of modern psychology that Hillman represents—a post-Jungian appreciation for the soul’s complexities, a journey through the neurotic symptoms of modern life that points toward a kind of Renaissance polytheism—to a mass audience. Hillman scored a bestseller with The Soul’s Code, but he seems too fundamentally allied to the complexities of his subject (which is of course what’s great about him) to write this kind of hugely accessible work that slips easily onto the “Self-Help” shelves.
It’s to Moore’s great credit that he sneaks in much that’s modestly subversive onto these shelves. His chapters on narcissism and jealousy are especially astute, and everywhere there are gently trenchant observations from his therapeutic practice. It’s good to see the ideas of people such as Marsilio Ficino, Paracelsus, and of course Carl Jung, brought to a popular audience with such confident, simple intelligence.