DURING THE SEVENTIES AND EIGHTIES my longtime friend, a painter, lived in Greece, on the island of Crete. In 1981, when spring beckoned after a long, dark New York City winter, I scraped together the money to visit her there for the first time.
My friend lived with her Greek husband, a musician from Athens, in an old stone house painted robin's egg blue in a village outside the port city of Chania, 25 miles from the western edge of the island. Though none of us had much money, we ate royally on produce from the garden augmented occasionally by fresh catch from local fishermen and always with excellent cheap local wine decanted into a liter bottle from a barrel at the grocer's.
My friend's house had no indoor plumbing, no hot water, no electricity. Mail was rare, phone service was conducted from a pay phone over open boxes of salted sardines at the corner store, and email had yet to be invented. Which for me was all for the good. I was relieved to be far away from home and the unrelenting demand to make "life decisions." Spring on the island - scents of lavender and rosemary, the startling blue Sea of Crete - was ecstatic.
Another joy was that I'd brought just the right book with me. Before leaving New York, my forage through a book bin on upper Broadway yielded a paperback of James Hillman's Re-Visioning Psychology, a book the author claimed was about "soul-making." I'd never heard of Hillman, but there were Greek gods on the cover, which augured well.
Decades later, I would have the honor of meeting and hosting James Hillman several times at the literary series I curate for the Los Angeles Public Library. But in the wake of Hillman's death this past fall, at the age of 85, it's the memory of that first, intense encounter with his work on that trip to Crete that re-asserts itself with such insistence.
What better place than Crete to read about archetypal patterns or, in Hillman's words, "Gods affecting our styles of consciousness." Europa swam back to Crete after being mounted by Zeus in the form of a bull; royal dolphins leap blue waves on murals in the royal palace at Knossos, where King Minos threw Theseus into the labyrinth to face the Minotaur. We were all familiar with the bare-breasted Minoan goddess, a wriggling snake held aloft in each of her fists. What interested Hillman was Greek myth not as religion, but as a psychic, imaginal world.
On Crete, I read Hillman and wrestled with his ideas on the patio of the blue house while my friend painted still lifes in her studio. Hillman exhorted the reader to "recall the angel aspect of the word, recognizing words as independent carriers of soul between people." In each word was the etymon, the hidden truth ...read more