Though James Hillman had an ongoing personal interest in natal astrology, I have found few explicit mentions of it in his writings. Here is my favorite thus far, from The Soul’s Code:
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. (Hillman, 1996)
What I am seeking in Hillman’s work is not so much his astrological references as his writings on images, which I explore for insights relevant to archetypal astrology. What comes through in his attunement to the archetypal is a domain as intimate as a dream, in which the imagination does its work of image play. I find threads in Hillman’s writing with significant implications for natal astrology. The acorn theory is the most comprehensive of these, from The Soul’s Code:
The acorn theory proposes, and I will bring evidence for, the claim that you and I and every single person is born with a defining image. Individuality resides in a formal cause – to use old philosophical language going back to Aristotle. (Hillman, 1996)
This is a succinct statement of a philosophical ground that seems as fundamental to astrology as it is to his acorn theory. He describes the image a person is born with as defining the life, showing this through biographical accounts. I have been guided in my own work by Hillman’s statements on the topic of images. In his most recently published collection, From Types to Images, he describes in more detail the distinct features of an image:
…an image is nothing more than a complex depiction in any medium that is precisely qualified by a specific context, mood, and scene.
By context I mean the psychological entanglement within a mood and scene. I could call this entanglement ‘resonance,’ ‘implication,’ or ‘depth.’ … Entangled in an image is its implication whose depth amplifies into the wide world. (Hillman, 2019)
Even though many of the images Hillman writes about are from dreams, these statements encompass also the “defining image” of a life; that is, its acorn. The astrological study of a nativity, unlike a dream, doesn’t readily provide an image; even so, I believe that the acorn can be actively imagined. I’ve drawn on Hillman’s thoughts about images to discover creative principles for my study of archetypal astrology.
Again, in From Types to Images, he describes the phenomena of images:
… I do want to suggest the peculiarity in an image. Images, you know, are very odd arrangements. They are heightened intensified moments.
All the events of an image occur together. Simultaneity contrasts with the sequential reading of narrative in which events follow one after the other. (Hillman, 2019)
How does one learn to see the defining image a person is born with? In The Soul’s Code, Hillman offers several instances of famous individuals such as the Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. I was delighted to find that Hillman chose to write about Bergman and was moved to compose a brief tribute myself.
On Bergman’s influence, director Martin Scorsese commented: “If you were alive in the 50s and the 60s and of a certain age, a teenager on your way to becoming an adult, and you wanted to make movies, I don’t see how you couldn’t be influenced by Bergman. …It’s impossible to overestimate the effect that those films had on people. It’s not that Bergman was the first film artist to confront serious themes. It’s that he worked in a symbolic and an emotional language that was serious and accessible.”Scorsese on Bergman
In The Soul’s Code, Bergman’s childhood eccentricity is illustrated in his description of a pivotal episode:
At the age of 7 he was taken to the circus, an event that “drove me into a state of feverish excitement.” The crucial moment came when he saw “a young woman dressed in white, riding around on a huge black stallion. I was overcome with love for this young woman. She was included in my fantasy games and I called her Esmeralda. Under an oath of secrecy, I confided in the boy called Nisse who sat next to me at school. I told him that my parents had sold me to Schumann’s Circus and I was soon to be taken away from home and school to be trained as an acrobat, together with Esmeralda, who was considered the most beautiful woman in the world. The next day my fantasy was revealed and desecrated…”
This fantasied love ended in heartbreak when teachers and parents heard about Ingmar’s secret, leading to severe disciplinary measures. In Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Quasimodo loves a Gypsy girl named Esmeralda. Whether young Bergman really meant to name his own fantasy lover after her, he could resonate with the hunchback’s helpless infatuation, and bemoan with him the cruelty of the world. This sounds like a Saturn-Venus story for any age or era.
I focus on two planetary aspect events near Bergman’s birth on 14 July 1918. Venus’ sextile to Saturn in Leo perfects (is exact) on 11 July, and the next day, Mercury conjoins Neptune in Leo. The Venus-Saturn sextile reveals a contrast akin to the story of Beauty and the Beast. And in young Ingmar’s story, Beauty is the acrobatic Esmeralda, who performs atop a great black stallion in the circus. Mercury with Neptune gives a sense of searching for what is unknown but compelling, embracing the mysterious object of this fascination, even declaring undying love and loyalty. It hardly matters how much fabrication is needed to maintain the illusion.
In The Soul’s Code, Hillman quotes from another of Bergman’s childhood memories, which begins with another black horse, from the golden age of cinema:
“More than anything else, I longed for a cinematograph. The year before, I had been to the cinema for the first time and seeing a film about a horse. I think it was called Black Beauty. To me, it was the beginning. I was overcome with a fever that has never left me…”
After considering Jung’s and Hillman’s thoughts on the creative imagination, I believe these aspects can be treated as facets of an image that has yet to show itself. This is imagining what happens when the images of these two aspects are juxtaposed, in the context of the native’s life.