Tag Archives: therapy

Politics as Soul Therapy

Daily, social-security-releated problems such as robberies, thefts, legitimate defenses or not, terrorist attacks, collapsing viaducts, etc. are said to have to be dealt with. We also  hear regular discussions about disorganization in hospitals (with episodes of malpractice) or in schools, immigration or the perception of “the other”, the one different from us, inconvenience in commuting and so on. Now, as any ordinary newscast is used to do, we introduce the political side by saying: “and now let’s move to politics”, as if politics was something completely different from what was said before. Different from environmental pollution, unemployment, lack of work or problems at work: different from the most delicate existential and ethical issues on the meaning of life and its end.

Nevertheless, as it often happens, it is precisely in the meaning of the term that the original and most authentically positive dimension is found: the term “Politics” comes from the Greek “Pólis”, “city”. Therefore, it implicitly alludes to “the government, the care, the caring and the preoccupation with the issues of the city” and by extension, to “the care, organization, and government of all areas and territorial bodies of coexistence (that includes localities, urban areas, cities, provinces, regions, nations, supranational realities)”.

For this reason, politics must be re-discovered in its original light, as a cure, here on earth, capable of restoring dignity, brightness and positivity to a dimension that too often is confused with its shadow: corruption, occult embezzlement, intrigue, profiteering and, or, with the support of political power: strategies – more or less legitimate – for the employment of top government bodies positions and public administration, exclusively motivated by party affiliation or with the party to which they belong as the sole reference factor, sometimes disregarding completely any meritocratic, competitive or individual ethical criterion; alliances between parties for the constitution of a parliament majority, the birth and disintegration of coalitions, the adoption or the derailing of legislative measures: the so-called ‘partitocracy’ (or party politics) and the connected phenomenon of partitocratic subdivision.

But politics isn’t necessarily power for power’s sake; not only this, indeed.

Politics is feminine, it is Soul, care, sensitivity, respect for plurality – of the different traditions, the different belonging, the individual stories – the plurality that the word “Politics” has in its root Poly (from the Greek Polius, “many”); it is rooted in many words, such as “polyfunctional”, “polycentric”, “polycultural”, always as an indication of plurality, diversity (of quality, not quantity) of what follows.

Politics as a cure for Anima Mundi, caring and concerning for the world in which we live, the local events as well as the national and international, inspired by the ancient idea of “Soul of the world” that connects everything.

In order to understand politics as the caring of the Anima Mundi[1] we are also solicited by the work of James Hillman, who in his “Politics of Beauty”[2] expresses himself as follows:


Where we are less able, what make us suffer more and in which we anesthetize ourselves, what we remove most – with earplugs, bolts, alcohol, electronics, hi-fi, coffee and shopping – is the world out there: Polis. We remove the psyche from the polis and we are unconscious to it: it’s the polis of the unconscious.

We have become hyper-conscious patients and analysts, very aware individuals, very subtly interiorized and very unconscious citizens… The world does not ask us to be believed in itself; the world just asks that we become aware of it, that we appreciate it and that we have attention and care for it.


Hillman emphasizes the importance of dealing with things concerning the external world with a psychological perspective, attention to detail and individuality; but not only  must we address to the so-called “inner world”, with its symbolic, semiotic and metaphorical language, as psychoanalysis has done too often in its history, a little bit guiltily since its birth[3], but rather turning with the prerogatives of this perspective to the exterior world, “real”, out there, the polis, the environment and the problems of coexistence.

And since this is the real field of politics, only by dealing with this can the citizens become more conscious; through it, the individual expresses himself and becomes a total being and the world becomes better.

A “psychoanalysis of the polis” seems to suggest Hillman (from these considerations came the idea and foundation of our Institute of Psychoanalysis of Politics, the first of its kind), where it is no longer just the individual and his inner world to be protagonists of the setting, but where “the world out there”, with its frantic and stressful rhythms, its ecological disasters (e.g. the invasion of microplastics in the seas and oceans, the persistence of an energy supply of activities still too much based on highly polluting fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, the main causes of global warming) and an urban environment made of artificial and polluting materials (concrete, asphalt, plastics, aluminum, efficient, functional and economical[4] as much as you want, but also very harmful for our physical and psychological health; materials that have deeply cut the healthy and vital relationship with the natural world made of wood, grass, green, trees, which in addition to casting us shadows, remove carbon dioxide to give us oxygen) becomes the protagonist of our experience.

The cornerstone of a pre-Socratic “Anima Mundi” idea returns.


The most important thing is that depression is a collective endemic disease and we feel it and think it’s just inside our brain. “In… my family, in my marriage, in my work, in my economy”… We have brought all this into a “me”. Instead, if there is an Anima Mundi, if there is a Soul of the World – and we are part of the Soul of the World – then what happens in the external Soul also happens to me and so I feel the extinction of the plants, animals, cultures, languages, customs, crafts, stories… They’re all disappearing. Of course, my soul necessarily feels a sensation of loss, of loneliness, of isolation, of mourning and nostalgia, and sadness too: it is the reflection in me of a matter of fact. And if I do not feel depressed, then I’m crazy! This is the real disease! I would be completely excluded from the reality of what is happening in the world, the ecological destruction.[5]


This is the reason why politics, also inspired by the fundamental Jungian conception of “collective unconscious” – the interview in which Jung himself declares that the “collective unconscious” is the idea that he considers perhaps most fruitful and that he feels most fond of -, can be seen as the alchemical art of healing, mixing, synthesizing the different principles (“Principia” as Paracelsus would say), Various ἀρχή, who find themselves acting, not infrequently in conflict and in reciprocal countertendency, in interior and individual life as well as in the events and situations of collective life. The motions, the mechanisms and the motives of the Soul and of physics are one, to know them as phenomena or noumena, interior or exterior, comes instead from different disciplinary perspectives, but they remain one thing only: knowledge of the Soul, Aletheia, Epistrophé.

Precisely for this reason and to realize this curative dimension of politics it becomes necessary also to know the mechanisms (and related failures) that regulate their life, to get an idea of what are the main “political psychopathologies” and possibly be able to identify some solution to answer therapeutically.

The first pathology probably resides in the disaffection with politics, in the emotional distance that is perceived with increasing evidence with respect to this dimension, seen more and more as “dirty”, the “psychic shadow” place of systematic deception and lying, where to become cleverer, even in defiance of every more ethically respectable rule of cohabitation, has become positive – to such perverse consequences led the “bad politics”! After all, the “good politics” was and still is paid at a high price, even with life itself, by those who become its interpreters.

This purulent rupture between subjectivity and politics, the art of dealing with the polis and the world, has produced the symptoms of electoral abstention – the percentage of citizens who vote and / or who trust in a party (emblematic, among many others, was the case of the latest regional elections in Emilia Romagna, where the percentage of voters was only 37.5% against the previous rounds that had seen a percentage of 70% and above; practically the last time voted half of those who usually went to the polls!).

This decline is not an isolated and occasional fruit, but has been repeated at all local and national administrative consultations in recent years; there is a progressive mistrust associated and coming from politics, a dimension of speaking without maintaining, of unreliability, irresponsibility, disloyalty – a progressive and very marked distancing of citizens from participatory processes, which is by no means casual; but strongly desired by the political class (leaders of parties, parliamentarians, regional and municipal councilors) who certainly do not want to question themselves in their role of representation and therefore do not intend to hazard a consultation of direct democracy (i.e. Referendum and Deliberative Assemblies, municipal or local, open to resident citizens and therefore not only consultative as the institute of the “debàt publique”), even with respect to the problems that affect citizens more directly and sentimentally, and that could be denied here, as well as in the positions taken, even in their role as protagonists in the press and mass media.

He who works in professional politics (in which, with the connected limit of two mandates, we would have nothing to object) does not want to lose the role and sinecures connected, it is understandable, but in doing so produces the negative, perverse, highly harmful symptoms mentioned above: the disaffection, the electoral absenteeism, the drastic decline in participation not only in decision-making processes, but also in active political life (in parties, movements, associations)… it is now understood that in these contexts those who make the voice bigger and bigger, he who has more ability to resist and be arrogant, aggressive and generally get also away with it… politics now is no longer, assuming it has ever been, a dimension for kind and sensitive souls.

The political framework, practically everywhere (even if in Italy we seem more apparent, but perhaps it is only because we live here), is based on a permanent conflict, “us or them”, where we are the citizens, spotless workers, honest and strenuous, but defeated (even to survive or live in dignity and they, “politicians or public administrators”, dishonest, shady, climbed to the bench with methods at least impervious, corrupt, “shadow incarnate”, object of every abject consideration already firstly, condemned even before any investigation as enriched unworthily and unfairly, economically as well as in the position and in social facilities, precisely by virtue of their status as politicians, elected to institutional positions).

This extremely purulent skirmish between “us and them”, between “beautiful and kind souls”, but impotent and “dirty souls, dirty, dishonest, liar and corrupt, hellish”, but powerful, is the cause of the most serious damage and poison in the social fabric, in the social cohesion and social coexistence: what is the polis if not a special and larger condominium?

The same duel, the harsh dyad, which is found in the permanent and vivid opposition between “Left” and “Right”, the two parts of the whole (psychologically the self = single part, party, against the Self = All, Self = State) that are in permanent conflict and skirmish, but that feed upon, or are the fruits of, a vision of politics as war, Polemos; actually, while psychiatry speaks of “bipolar disorder” as a disease to be treated, the politics of the second republic (second, not by chance, remember that the words “duality” and “duel” concearn and are directly derived from “Two”, the number of the conflict – in its positive meaning the Two translates into comparison, dialectics, ambivalence)  had even found in the so-called “bipolarism” or “bipolar system” (in the permanent and ideological opposition “right-of-cetre against center”, ample coalitions, containing anything and everything, and for this reason also a low coefficient of governability) the balm of good politics, that politics antithetical to consociationalism, to which in fact the first decades of republican life, especially since the eighties,  got us used to.

This permanent opposition becomes in political jargon that “crystallized opposition” to which we are now perniciously accustomed and that we mean, mistakenly, as a natural game, according to which, even if today we all see the sky clear, there will always be the part that plays the role of opposition that wants to differentiate forcefully – with a press note, through the spokesman on duty -, perhaps to say “if it’s clear, in two hours it will rain and it is the fault of the government”, or and even more, up to avoiding the obvious: “the sky is not clear”… so far we as know, the perceptual alteration capacity of a conflicting psyche arrives.

If a “situational opposition” is a right, prerogative and guarantee of democratic freedom and expression, the “permanent or crystallized opposition” is a pathology, the pathology of a war policy, inspired by the conflict, the sentence of the general and Prussian military theorist Karl von Clausevitz, according to whom war is nothing more than the continuation of political work by other means – and also vice versa, we are saying here – the symptom and product of the manichaean conflict between Good and Evil: perhaps an inevitable conflict in certain moments of life, but still a primordial conflict between the opposites.

The political vision as alchemy referred to above, aims to reconcile opposites in a framework that is not harmonic, certainly less based on the only taste of war and the acrimonious and permanent confrontation, dual, whose mechanism of “pendulum functionality”, years of center-left government, which are followed literally by years of center-right government, is sincerely banal and decidedly strenuous.

As a therapy to all this we propose to look at the Swiss political system, where the harmful mechanism of “crystallized opposition” does not exist, and it’s replaced by a special and higher level of political awareness, the result of centuries of direct democracy (i.e. Landsgemeinden, Referendum and popular petitions, all institutes that in Switzerland were born many centuries ago) that among other things has been able to produce the so-called “magic formula”, thanks to which for decades Switzerland has made the stability of government a characterizing element like in no other country (the Helvetic Confederation was also left unscathed by the two war conflicts world), where the parties of at least  a minimal representative parliamentary force, right and left, sit together around the same table of government, are in the same executive (not only together in parliament, that is, as it is conceived here by us) and where they dispute on individuals measures to be taken, but, precisely because of greater psychophysical proximity, standing next to the seats of government, much less harsh than commonplace among us.

The proximity in this sense is certainly a factor that reduces political tension; here instead it is often shaken by malevolent factors of personal confrontation between the leaders of the various political forces.

Also for this reason we propose to establish the new figure of the “Street Mayor”, equally as the first political-administrative reference for citizens – it would be up to that Mayor, with his/her office of collaborators, to interface with the departments and departments of the municipal administration, regional, national or otherwise, through its help and support; it is the office of the “mayor of the street” that then gives welcome and receives the new residents, who communicates the works needed to keep the road surfaces, sidewalks, the activation and maintenance of the underground services, the periodic cleaning of the roads (and any other communication necessary to the good management of street cohabitation); it is always this office that helps foreign citizens and the elderly in all the bureaucratic practices (definitively replacing the “Public Relations Offices”) and it would always be this office that becomes an essential point of reference for safety by setting up a voluntary service permanent, 24 hours a day (such as the voluntary service of public assistance, for example) of surveillance and vigilance of one’s own road that supports in a capillary, concrete and widespread way the task entrusted to the police.

Street therefore, the first reality just above the condominium and before the district and the district; these last realities perceptively already less identifiable by the citizens (perhaps Siena apart and as an exception, with its historical and always active “districts”); the street-path, as a basic administrative unit, much less large than the city, the provinces, the regions, the nations and the supranational realities like the European Union, which due to their large size are a sure factor of disaffection and detachment from politics.

The individual in these gigantic dimensions gets lost, becomes debased, is frustrated by the sense of loss of all decision-making power; he/she feels like a grain of sand on a beach, he/she feels he/she does not count for anything. Which, added to the feeling of the postal package serving the needs of the bureaucracy – and not vice versa, as it should be -, makes an explosive mixture of frustration, detachment, resentment, disaffection towards all political actors and towards politics itself, with consequent, very dangerous symptoms of non-participation, electoral abstention and populist indifference.

The psychopathologies of a harbinger  of “Gigantism” and “Titanism”, and not just the result of modern living stressed (stress has to do with the same etymology of the words  “stretch”, “fatigue”) and with anxiety, are curable, find therapies and remedy in the “small is beautiful”: the small size returns the politics to the beauty of attention to details, that Soul which being in the details makes beautiful, hospitable, functional and well-livable a place, a town, a city.

Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, was literally in love with the stones of the streets of central Florence, as many are the sanpietrini of Rome and many others of the labyrinthine alleys of our small villages, of that architecture inspired by the beauty and the sacred of the our villages, the beautiful little villages of central Italy, with their intimate rhythms, the true soul of my country and the authentic cornestone of Italy.

These elements make the “Soul of Places”[6], a harmonious union with the Genius Loci and able, in a well-administered locality, to give us Salus.

Huge realities such as hypermarkets, the United States of America, China, Russia, the European Union that in a period of evident gigantism did not want to lag behind – we prefer, as we have said and written elsewhere, the structure of “European Confederation”[7], certainly more responsive to combining the autonomy and the sovereignty of the single European nations, each with a history often stretching back centuries, with the strength of a center of supranational coordination (perhaps on precise and circumscribed areas and subjects and for example not on the quotas imposed to each State in the production in agriculture and in the agri-food sector, and only for the fact that what we eat and drink more tends to rely on a zero km supply chain, the better it is for health, otherwise for goods and services not perishable and in virtue of their exclusive quality, even if they are free, reciprocal, even if regulated, their exchange and their production) – are the fruits and symptoms of this historical period of gigantism.

But in the eschatology of the Greek myth of which Hesiod speaks, the giants and titans in the end are defeated, defeated by the anthromorphous Deities led by Zeus.

The small and medium wins and will win; there are also famous episodes of sinking of giants’ gigantic ships – the most recent, the Concordia, on the Island of Giglio -: among all those of the two ships called “Titanic” (usually we remember only one, but two ships with this name were touched by the same fate). The arrogance of the titanic, after the initial boldness, or precisely for this, sooner or later sinks and finds its Nemesis.

To replace the gigantic of the politics of big numbers (Macro): impersonal, collective, herd instinct, distant, frustrating, irritating, harbinger of depression and a sense of impotence, a policy that is administered by many finally trained (id est politically educated), periodically renewed in their offices, street by street, always in contact and communicative and operative exchange: this is the commitment that awaits us.

Naturally without renouncing that globality of the movements, of the business, of the world as we know it and perceive it, but positively compensating this perception of globality (gigantic) with an administration of small realities, attentive to small things.

These things, these remedies, these therapies and even before this attitude of taking care the world, with its wonders and its resources, are doing politics in the noblest and most elevated sense, which is an improvement, a response akin to the “soul making” that Hillman told us about.

Here, together with the first and most important solution, that of a “guaranteed work” by law (such as that of free health care and accessible in emergency for all, as also provided by our constitution and now acquired in our culture; “guaranteed work” must become too a universal, acquired right which, among other things, would fully and finally achieve Article 1 of the Italian Constitution), reside fundamental ingredients of involvement and participation capable of effectively counteracting those symptoms of “depersonalization”, “anesthetization”, “annihilation” caused by the nefarious politics, all inspired and aimed at Gigantism, the gigantic, the macro. We said of a “guaranteed job”, offered as a social deal (if you did not find a job, the State will provide one to you among the services that the administration needs) and paid naturally only in a basic (eg. € 500 for ten, twelve, hours of weekly work, a sort of universal civil service that for young people, among other things, should be mandatory). Having more will always be possible, in a direct and proportional relationship to one’s “professional individuation” and work and social skills.

This fact, together with the gradual disappearance of cash, to the creation of the figure of the “financial tutor” (among the Municipalities or Banks, quite another thing, much more meritorious, noble and more difficult than the operation of “private bankers” who manage the assets already in place) that helps entrepreneurs, professionals and individuals to recover, in a guaranteed way, from situations of financial difficulty, together with the abolition of rejection in the various grades of school in the age of obligation (replaced by the stay at school in the months of June and July for the recovery in the subjects in which the preparation is considered insufficient by the teachers) – the fundamental and irreplaceable psychological point remains that one of the 1970s must always go to class (except in exceptional cases, such as, for example, anticipating by a year the beginning of the elementary school cycle) with those of the ‘70s, with his peers, without suffering in childhood or adolescence the trauma of rejection!

The rejection trauma should be reserved for the higher grades of the training path, such as the University.

These concrete solutions, based on the analysis of the political pathologies that we have reported above, return to the Politics the capital “P”, the nobility of the healing dimension for the Soul and for the bodies, the Lucidity and Luminosity of the Divine which is realized here in this precious and sacred scenario that is our Earth.



[1] Institute for Psychoanalysis of Politics [it] www.confederati.org

[2] James Hillman, “Politica della bellezza”, ed. Moretti e Vitali, Bergamo.

[3] James Hillman, Michael Ventura, “We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy – And the World’s Getting Worse”, 1992.

[4] It is now widely demonstrated and not only in that ecopsychological key to which we refer in the text, that an economy dissociated from ecological knowledge – and after all the two words “eco-nomy” and “eco-logy”, lett. “The administration (nomìa, from the Greek Nomos = Administer) of the environment (eco)” and “eco-logy, “the study (logìa) of the environment (eco)”, do not coincidentally have the same root – is harmful and in the devastating medium and long term. Here we see as the highest Politics, far-sighted, not short-sighted or idiotic (the Greeks identified with a word that translated brings the English “idiot” precisely those who cannot see beyond the immediate), makes a positive difference in the care health and well-being (even economic in the long run) of populations, places, cities

[5] James Hillman, interview with Silvia Ronchey.

[6] James Hillman, Carlo Truppi, “L’anima dei luoghi”, ed. Rizzoli.

[7] On the idea of “European Confederation” instead of “European Union” cfr. Daniele Cardelli www.confederati.org

The Unconscious and the Island: Fragments of Research on the Self



Sometimes the ideas and insights, the feelings and emotions are born by a new and abnormal element, as a disturbance.

Among these, the word “emotion” shares the root with another word just as beautiful: it is the word “movement”.

I believe that life is often dotted and crossed by emotions and movements. Emotions are our emotions, are those shared with patients in the consulting room, with people important to us, through meetings with new faces and eyes. The movements, however, we can roughly categorize into two types: there are transverse movements, the ones that make us change jobs, make us change clothes or change cities. There are, then, the longitudinal movements, that make us be born, grow, learn, grow old, get sick, heal, die and, maybe, even reborn.

Through symbols and metaphors, but also through concrete facts, whether physical or psychological, in this article we will try to put through words the Journey of the person who, at some point in her life, feels that the land on which she lived with more or less security, the conscious, the consciousness, is only a small part, the surface of something much deeper, more complex, more unknown, but also, we believe, more fascinating, as it enables us, or forces us, to contact, to confront our most hidden parts, our Shadows.

One of the “key” inputs used in this article comes from the famous novel Journey to the Center of the Earth, written by Jules Verne in 1864; extracting from the plot components metaphorically more akin to philosophy, analytical psychology, but also to mythology, alchemy, etc., the most poignant and emerging psychic traits are two places, two physical moments in the work of the French writer, geographically very distant but geologically and psychically very next between them; two Volcanoes: the Icelandic Sneffels and the Italian Stromboli. From Sneffels, in fact, the three protagonists of Verne’s “Journey” had immersed themselves into the bowels of the Earth and, after many adventures and surprising discoveries, risen to the surface of the Planet through the chimney of Stromboli, which is a volcanic island, part of the archipelago of the Aeolian Islands, located near the northern coast of Sicily. Stromboli is a volcano whose explosive activity has been almost uninterrupted for about two thousand years.

At this point, for Italians is appropriate, even essential, a slight digression: Mediterranean people and Icelanders have a problem, or perhaps a greater opportunity than other peoples; occasionally, the underground, the unconscious, is felt, it makes its incessant restlessness manifest itself in the form of earthquakes, active volcanoes, or emerging and disappearing islands, and as we delude ourselves that our Being, our existence, is ended in the horizontality of the surface, something, at some point, makes us feel and discover the vertical dimension, which is no longer directed only upwards, towards Heaven, but is also directed towards the core of our Being, too. On this point, American psychoanalyst James Hillman spoke about a “feeling that there’s a reason why my person, which is unique and unrepeatable, is in the world, and that there are things that I have to devote beyond the daily life and at the daily life give its raison of existence (…)”.

Translating what has been written so far, the analytical path can be succinctly so symbolized: there is a moment in our life path in which we feel the need to understand and discover what lies beneath the surface of our daily and horizontal existence. This is, in the terminology of Carl Gustav Jung’s analytical psychology, the process of individuation, which was understood and sought already by alchemists long before modern psychoanalysis.

The central philosophical idea of alchemy claims that the first stage of the inner journey is the one in which the forces abandon the individual – the stage of decomposition, in Latin nigredo, in which there is a movement from an identified to a non-identified state; we can say that in this first step the ego offers himself to an initiatory death.

This stage is followed by one in which the individual, directed to the center of the earth, i.e. at the center of the Self, finds the roots of his own subjectivity: this is the albedo phase, without corporeality, full of its emptiness, according to the alchemists; at this stage the individual, although being a filled and present object, tests the paradoxical experiences of absence and emptiness. Just by facing and overcoming this stage, the human being can move up to a renewed light, towards individuation. This is the stage of rubedo, in which there is the materialization of the Spirit.

Similarly to the alchemists, Rabbi Dov Ber (or otherwise written Dov Baer), the main propagator of Hasidism, a current of Judaism founded in the eighteenth century, argued: “We have to think about ourselves as nothing, forgetting ourselves“, meaning that each thing, every thought, in order to transform itself, must venture into nothingness, renouncing itself; only by denying ourselves and annihilating ourselves we can transcend time: “He who arrives at the threshold of nothing, forget his own person and obtains a natural mind“.

The individual adult, the mature person, or at least the one that aims to become one (it’s never too late!), should prepare herself for the meeting with their dark spots, by means of comparison with their own Shadows (Greek ????, Latin umbra, Italian ombra), so as to begin the process of individuation. Consciousness, moreover, that constitutes our daily life, needs its counterpart, the unconscious, and one component cannot be separated from its counterpart, as though adhering to a universal law: Light and Darkness, Day and Night, Full and Empty, Male and Female, Good and Evil …

Contenting himself with living exclusively in the light of the sun, ignoring and disclaiming our less brilliant parts, exposes us to the risk of an incomplete existence, devoid of our more nuclear members, more genuine and more intimate, which, if not recognized and integrated into our lives, are likely to turn against us. Accomplishing this path requires a good deal of courage. C. G. Jung wrote: “Whoever goes towards oneself risks meeting with himself. The mirror does not flatter; it shows faithfully the one which is reflected in it, and that is the face that is never exposed to the world, for we veil it by means of the Person, the mask of the actor. But behind the mask there is the mirror from which the true face shines. This is the first test of courage to face on the inner way, a test just to deter, scared, most people. The encounter with oneself is indeed one of the most unpleasant experiences, from which we escape by projecting all that is negative onto the world around us. He who is in a position to see his Shadow and bear the knowledge has already completed a small part of the task: the personal unconscious has just emerged to the surface“.

Accepting our own Shadow, recognizing the personal unconscious, means dealing with the sense of one’s own limitations and taboos; we believe this to be the paradigmatic aspect of the work of the analyst: the couple patient/analyst, their differentiation of roles, expectations, skills, desires, needs, etc.; this acceptance determines us to face the uncertainty of the limit, peras in Greek, which is a psychic place about which man has asked over the centuries many questions, yet finding no clear and definitive answers. Aristotle, in his Metaphysics, defines the limit as the extreme end of all things, beyond which there is nothing of the thing, and on this side of which the whole thing stands.
According to Homer, “over” is the place where psyché lies when man abandons it, if he loses consciousness or dies: it [psyché], breathed its last breath, it reaches Hades, which is the place of the non-visible (Á-ides), where it will dwell as a vain shadow, in a state of overwhelming sadness.

The religious feeling, before being directed towards Heaven, elected its specific region in the underground, the lower world, from which flowed life and where the man returned after death, in search of the con-centration, memory and ecstasy: “Men die because they are not able to join the beginning with the end“. It has psychic consistency, then, to realize that the primitive mythology devotes so much attention to those more disruptive geological phenomena and more related to the subsoil, such as earthquakes and volcanic events, which aroused (and still create) terror and wonder that are basic elements of the sacrum and the supernatural. The supernatural, if it is ever universally recognized in the mountains, it is even more so if it comes from volcanoes. If the gods inhabit the peaks of the mountains, in the case of volcanoes their home is inside, that’s why the crater is considered the entrance to the other world, the passage from which to reach the Center where “(…) Archeus resides, the “servant of nature”, that Paracelsus also called Volcano, identifying it with the Adech, i.e. with the “great Man“.

In the mythology of the Mediterranean regions the Sicilian volcano Mount Etna, the largest in Europe, is the forge of Hephaestus, whereas for the Romans it is on Vulcano island (also belonging to the archipelago of the Aeolian Islands) that God forged thunderbolts for Jupiter and weapons for Mars. It is from the late Middle Ages that the word “volcano” has spread all over the planet to name the mountains made by fire. To finish this brief digression about the mythology of the Volcanoes, according to legend, Athena would force Enceladus (meaning “restrained voice”, “interior scream”) below the slopes of Mt. Etna, while another myth speaks about Zeus, who casts Mt. Etna against the monstrous Typhon, burying it, though some variations of the myth say that Typhon would be under the whole Sicily and, according to Pindar and Aeschylus, the area involved would be the entire volcanic Tyrrhenian region included from Etna to the Ischia island (located opposite the city of Naples), and this would explain, at least in terms of mythology, the correlation between the phenomena of Stromboli and Etna, which is flatly denied by geologists, whilst volcanologists have just recently expressed a symptomatic yes and no (e.g. Fumiciello R. & Billi A., 2003. “Etna e Isole Eolie: casualità o eventi connessi?” Sicurezza Civile, 3:8-11).

There are some phenomena, some psychic objects with which, during our lives, we are confronted almost daily and that, with their symbolic and archetypal mark and structure our way of life, we refer to; for example, darkness: it, when we are children, arouses our fears, our sense of vulnerability, but it contains as well an unspeakable, seductive value. It is in the darkness of the underground, in the unconscious, that we seek our less visible parts; sometimes they are, perhaps, less glorious and bright, they are our shadows, but they are that part of ours that is closest to the core of our Self, in which those components reside, sometimes surprising us, silently and subtly guiding our choices, our meetings, our fears, our desires, our work, our being-in-the-world; and here in the morning, awakening, a dream, just a stupid dream, predisposes us to a good mood or a bad mood or to looking for the lottery! It is not recent history, however: in ancient Greece there were some priests, followers of Asclepius (deity to whom was consecrated the science of medicine), who interpreted the dreams of people: the nightmares (incubi, in Italian), creating the so-called practice of incubation. The word comes from in-cubus, since the sleepers, after some rites of ablution and therefore “clean”, lay down on square stones at the center of temples dedicated to Aesculapius, in its Latin form. When they wake up, they must tell the dreams to the priests, so that they can interpret them, so as to give directions to the person or sometimes to the whole community. For the Romans, the incubus was a spirit responsible for the safekeeping of valuable assets buried under the ground, while in the Middle Ages the incubus assumed the guise of a monstrous spirit that surprised the women at night, oppressing their chest with his weight or abusing them. The square stone, therefore, had a significant and catalyst function.

The descent into the darkness of the underground, in the realm of the Dream, the unconscious, leads us to a place devoid of psychic temporality, comparable to what the alchemists called vas bene clausum or vas hermeticum, i.e. an isolated system and hermetically closed so as to protect the good and growing part of the living world and the psyche. Devoid of sunlight, conventions and social rhythms, any notion of time can be dilated to excess or be reduced to a quantity point.

Continuing with geometric symbolism, the search of the archetype of the Center is a primordial need for man because the point, along with the circle and the sphere, is a “natural” figure.

The first image that the child conceives about itself is a round image. The figure of the circle is rooted deeply in the mind because it regards the first mental learning tension of the bodily self and its borders. As soon as the child is able to draw on the paper a sign that goes beyond the simple doodle, the first creative expression that performs the baby is a circle and this is the result of a long, evolutionary internal and autobiographical process. To approximate to the core of the individual, we must do it so in a “naive” (ingenuo in Italian) way, that is to say so natural and free (from the Latin ingèenus, which indicated those who were born in the same place where they lived and that had therefore certain birth, unlike the slaves). To search for the Self so naively means to predispose oneself to an inner journey without intellectual superstructure, in which the natural component is higher than the cultural one; and the reason is simple: reason has the need to objectify at any cost, so as to put a separation between self and other-than-self, between the observer and the observed. In order for it to discover and know one’s Self, however, we must “be Self”.

Marius Schneider wrote in Kosmogonie: “in “normal” consciousness nature and human consciousness are not related, but as it is in man a more intimate conscience is forming, the world reveals the deep awareness as a supra-individual unit, in which man and nature live together and are intrinsically fused. Because man can experience the structure of the universe only in himself, he decides its structure from the essence of nature“.

Descent into Darkness exposes the abandonment of certain habits, certain rules and certain “safety” structures guaranteed by the Light of the surface, i.e. by the consciousness and the “concreteness” of the earth on which we live.

Venturing in the Dark, in the region of the unconscious, is similar to offering oneself a new perspective, a new “possibility of existence” or, in religious terms, a new grace; but this trip, this waiver, albeit transient, of solar Light, has inherent the risk of loss of control and the con-fusion of the limit: madness. This is a fundamental point in psychotherapy, because it repeats the essential theme of balance and aid that the therapist must offer to the patient so that he, the symbolic Being and as such a mediator between the earth and the sky, can find his own way, with prudence but also with courage, i.e. the necessary courage to overcome a particular impasse, the likely cause of illness or disorder.

The encounter between the patient and the therapist is like a contest in which the apparent balance between the ones is broken by the patient’s demand. The dynamic that occurs is similar to the contention of judo; the word “judo” is formed by the JU ideogram, which can be translated as “soft”; the character “DO” represents the student accompanied by the teacher, but philosophically it is translated as “path” or “way of improvement”. Judo, therefore, expresses the “way of gentleness”. The student, the patient, addresses the question, the “problem”, to the therapist, the “master”, who is waiting for the “attack”, expects the “disturbance”, the “noise”. The therapist is not opposed to the attack, but he welcomes it and supports it, leading it to the logical conclusion and freeing the patient from that which is most likely a false social assumption, namely the risk of alienating the person from one’s Self.

What envelops and confuses man are, often, the rules and social demands that often conflict with the feelings and individual instances. We believe that the task of the therapist is to permit reconciliation between the dictates coming from society and the search for identification, thus safeguarding the integrity of the person. An aphorism says that a good doctor is one who entertains the patient while nature cures him.

Resuming the thread of the metaphor which we used before, i.e. Verne’s novel: the Journey begins and ends on two volcanic islands, the cold Iceland of Sneffels and the hot Stromboli. The island, psychologically, is an extra-worldly environment, surrounded by the incessant restlessness of the liquid element that wraps and surrounds it, whilst for being able to reach the island it is necessary to deal with the water, which can be unpredictable and dangerous. It is impossible to come onto the island accidentally, because the island is an “exact” goal, the island is genius loci: the landing on the island is allowed to those who accept the risk or have the talent to get there, as long as they do not fall into hybris, arrogance: in alchemical terms, the access onto the island is allowed to those who are in the grace of God, because the Island is a témenos. The sacredness of the island, especially if it is volcanic, sanctifies the person that docks unharmed.

To dock on an island means abandoning a protected place to rely upon the sea-utero that surrounds and contains, on which, usually about the summit, there is a crater, the omphalos (ombelico in Italian), a term which in antiquity, as well as ‘navel’, distinguished a certain stone to which was attributed religious significance.

At the beginning of this text, we made a brief mention about the emergence and submergence of islands, about lands standing in the sea; we have, in the Mediterranean Sea, a very close and geologically recent example: Ferdinandea Island, off the coast of Sciacca (close to city of Agrigento), a little town located on the southern coast of Sicily, whose last emergence and disappearance is documented in 1831. The emergence of an island needs the participation of a fundamental key, it needs Fire, for it is by the combined action between the water and fire that the island can materialize itself, whose persistence in the superficial and aerial region and whose resistance, however, depends on the firmness of the bonds that must persist within the game of opposing forces exerted by the Wind, then from Air, and especially by the disruptive action of the sea-unconscious.

The geometric figure which can be associated with fire is the pyramid; Plato argued that the element of fire is marked by pyramids and that of all the solid figures contained the proper signs of fire, being their shape extremely pointed and with a minimum of a base; in addition, it seems certain that if a dead organic body is placed in a particular point inside the pyramid, which has precise proportions, the process of putrefaction freezes, allowing mummification, as if the fire inside of the pyramid could burn its temperaments (moods). In the pyramid there are just two specific principles including gender, i.e. the female, the four, the base, which mark the horizontality, i.e. the earth, the acceptance, complementary to the principle of three, i.e. the male, vertical, penetrating like a mountain. The uneven numbers, in the West and in the East, have always symbolized the male, while the even numbers recall the female: if we look at the Christian-Catholic dogma, the Trinity has male characteristics, apart from some rare interpretations, and just with the accession of the Virgin, sanctioned in 1950, and the subsequent formation of the Quaternary, the Trinity also includes a female component.

The Heart, thanks to the combined action of Water, Fire and Air, which was previously localized in the chthonic regions of Dream, erupts at the superficial region of awareness, changing its status from a magmatic, undifferentiated condition, to the solidity of the consistency of the lava emerged, materializing the island and, psychologically, making clear the conscience.

The emerging volcano-island, then, is the Self manifesting itself and that is opposed to what the psychoanalyst Erich Neumann called “psychic gravitation”, which is the centripetal tendency of the ego to return to the original unconscious psychic dislocation, and it is what happens to the Ferdinandea Island, which, failing to develop and strengthen the bonds necessary for its survival out of the water, is broken up and re-assimilated into the subterranean regions, the analogue of the unconscious.
The fire, along with water, comprises one of the most ancient and universal human symbols. In the cross itself, the horizontal line represents the water, the female principle, namely the surface, the descent and the depth, because the water penetrates by gravity through the rock; the vertical arm, however, is the masculine principle, namely fire, connected to rising, height and concentration. It is in the cross that the maximum energy concentrates, in the intersection of the two arms, that is, the punctum indivisibile (indivisible point), from which everything emanates and to which everything returns. Any attempt of separation or categorization leads us to the Centre, in this indivisible point where opposites, joining, coincide and form the identity. It is from the Centre, too, that the movement originates, symbolized by Man through the cross, with one of the oldest symbols of the graphic Indo-European culture, the swastika, an eastern representation of the solar disk, whose word seems to derive from an ancient Sanskrit formula of blessing, su asti, and this is the core of the mandala, the nature and origin of which cannot be treated in this article.

The volcano and the crater represent the sensitive point, the place of rupture, the portal through which the passage can take place, the communication between the underground, the unconscious, and the emerged regions, the consciousness. The crater, the summit or mouth of volcanoes, is the entrance gate to the kingdom of Hades and it is a place of transformation, of rebirth and enlightenment; to support the symbolism associated with the crater, we can connect to the sacrificial cup, that embodies the symbol of “Center of the World” or “Heart of the World”, in which the immortality elects his home. If we move from the ground up, we find that due to the peculiarities that Mercury has over other gods, he is the only god that is allowed to carry the souls in the opposite direction, taking them to Hades.

If we want to remain in the theme of Heaven, instead, an important astronomical discovery happened at Plato’s time. The planets – the Greek word meaning “wandering star” – had always been considered the celestial bodies that, unlike the others, wandered aimlessly. But a member of the Platonic Academy, Philip from Opunte, observed that the planets moved around the Earth with regular revolutions. Law and order ruled in the sky. An unprovable hypothesis was formulated, which nevertheless seemed convincing: the stars were animated and traveling along regular orbits by the will and judgment just because they were “visible gods“. In Timaeus, and likewise in the Phaedrus, Plato put his theory of the soul in relation with the stars: the soul comes from the heaven of the fixed stars, from the sphere of eternal things; from there it falls into that of changing things, until it comes to Earth, enters a body, from which it is delivered after death, in order to ascend again to the immortal stars.

In this short passage begins to emerge this “need” of man, already testified inter alia by Heraclitus (“the way up and the way down are one and the same“), to find a continuity, a junction between the underground, the Earth and Heaven. Many peoples, including Persians, believed that the sky was made of stone and they used the same term for the concepts of “heaven” and “stone”: Asman. There is a Greek word, akmon, which has the same origin and means both “heaven” as “anvil stone”. The fragments of the meteor falling to Earth led the first men to believe that the sky was made of stone. That’s why the ancient men imagined the universe as a giant cave and, consequently, the caves in which the followers of Mithra met to perform their rites, for example,, were regarded as reproductions of the cosmos.

At this point, we hypothesize that Journey to the Center of the Earth represents Man’s desire to return to the original and primordial center; in alchemical literature it is defined as “regressus ad uterum” (return to the womb), and the three explorers of Journey to the Center of the Earth will find a sea-utero at the end of their underground journey.

Jung writes: “In the myth of the hero, the purpose of the descent is universally characterized by the fact that in the danger zone (deep water, cave, forest, island, rock etc.) there is the ‘treasure hard to reach’ (jewel, virgin, elixir of life, victory over death etc.). The fear and resistance that every natural man feels when digging too deeply into himself, are ultimately the fear of the journey to Hades. If we try just resistance, the thing would not be so serious. In reality, however, from that psychic background, so just from that dark space, unknown, exudes an attraction, a fascination, which threatens to become even more overwhelming the deeper one penetrates in it“.

The vas (vase in English, vaso in Italian), the antrum formed by the crater from which you can access to Chthon, however, is also a cave; the cave, like all the archetypal objects, is naturally ambivalent: it is a place of change, and the change takes place as withdrawn, precluded at the uninitiated and protected from external light. It is a place of burial, which marks the end of life, but it is also a place of initiation and birth (in a cave or a grotto were born Jesus, Zeus and Mithra, and we can also remember the adventure of Jonah).

Now let’s try to do a little exercise chart: the overlap between the graphic representation of the cave and the mountain is the shaped of the symbol called the “Seal of Solomon”, whose figure, full of several symbolic references, condenses the meaning of the macrocosm: the triangle with the point at the top, which is a symbol for Aria and Fire, is the male principle; the one with the tip down, a symbol for Water and Earth, is the female principle. The hexagram thus formed and circumscribed form the Divine Principle, the androgynous being, the perfect balance. We find a drift into this principle in botany, where there exists a plant, the convallaria polygonatum, called “Seal of Solomon”, whose roots are used in white magic, placed at the four corners to protect the house from any evil influence.

Beyond the direct will of the grapple in the discovery of the unconscious, we believe that it is necessary to accommodate this sort of “gravitational captivation”, living it as an opportunity, rather than to suffer it: the opportunity to discover and re-acquaint oneself, making use of the image that not by chance we can associate with the concept of “idea”, inasmuch as “idea” and “image” have the same etymological origin, eidos and Eideo, which in Greek means “to see“. Hence also the Latin word “video” and the Greek word eidolon, idol, which means “image” too.

The most frequently proposed or celebrated appearance of what is defined as “postmodern condition” is its reliance upon the superficial image. In contemporary culture, we are surrounded by a fast flow of images that pile up in a succession of news, advertising and TV series in which it is no longer clear whether that image belongs to the so-called “reality” or not, in a semantic and iconic confusion that requires proper space-time placing, a translation and interpretation, until the short-circuit occurs, i.e. the paradox in which, according to research, it is discovered that approximately up to 11 years of age, most children are not fully aware that the images and verbal messages of advertising are constructed to lead us to the purchase of products.

Arguing about the image, we use the example of the photographic image: it predominates in the determination of the reality, especially for the urban contemporary psyche. This is so true that those images that start as a representation of reality, become representations without any “reality” behind them. According to French philosopher and sociologist Jean Baudrillard, the image, in the postmodern conception, can be summarized in four types:


1.The image is the reflection of a deeper reality

2.The image disguises and perverts a deeper reality

3.The image disguises the absence of a deeper reality

4.The image has no relationship with reality: it is a mere simulacrum, intending for simulacrum an appearance, an image that, contrary to the icon, does not refer to any reality lying under.


Here, then, what is the challenge and the opportunity that we believe may be contained in a search path toward the center, toward the Self: the chance to “take a look” beyond the superficial appearance, which is likely not to forward to a non-lying-under reality and confining ourselves to the illusion that “it’s all here,” opening, to those who want, a series of questions, one of which could be the following: “is that world, the unconscious world of each of us existing prior of our discovery, an a priori, or is it embodied just as a result of our investigation, which we call psychoanalysis”?

Life, existence, is much more than a series of behavioral patterns more or less tested – by others – to inspire us and on whose footprints we repeat something already done said, seen and thought. The uniqueness of our Being, however, is attested continuously by our unconscious through a lapsus, with premonitions, forgetfulness, or with dreams that every time, at every age, in every culture, never cease to frighten , inspire, amaze with their absolutely and absurd originality.

Why, then, this sense of horror that emerges in the stories of mermaids or in dreams of mermaids, which is never a pure horror but is almost always flavored, accompanied by a component that is unspeakably attractive? Why this discomfort? My interpretation is that their physical proximity to Man, as well as their mental one, leads these dis-human beings – but not too much – to makes us feel a certain commonality, an affinity that, in many dreams, result in a much greater terror than, say, a meeting with a monster-monster. The meeting with the Mermaid, but also with the Centaur, the Chimeras, forces us to accept our submerged parts, not human or not yet human, revealing how fragile may be the distance separating from reason, the logic, full consciousness and our Shadows, our instincts, our being animal.

Concluding, I would like to remark that the point of view inherent in this short article should be interpreted as an opportunity for trying to change perspective, to change the lenses with which we look at the world we live in, for becoming “world” ourselves too, daring, if it is the case, even to make choices that are less conservative and yet more sacred, both for us and for the universe. There is a Japanese short story about a farmer who, alone, cultivated his field on the hill above the village in which he lived; suddenly, watching the sea on the horizon, he saw that a huge tsunami wave was fast approaching the village. The farmer was shocked by what was going to happen; without wasting time, he did something seemingly absurd and seemingly antisocial: he set fire to all the fields close to his. The other farmers rushed to the village to save their harvest, but precisely at that moment they understand that, by means of an apparently criminal gesture, the farmer had saved their lives.

We believe that this very short story contains part of the meaning of the “journey” toward the center of our self, that is, if this journey is done with awareness, it is an opportunity to try to see things, life, our existence in a seemingly circular path, just as the three travelers of Jules Verne’s Journey to the center of the Earth do. As admirably summed up in an alchemical aphorism: “for those who are not on the path of knowledge, a tree is just a tree; for those who are on the path, a tree ceases to be a tree;, for those who have attained knowledge, a tree again becomes a tree“.