The Soul's Code

I was mesmerized by Chapter 1 of James Hillman’s, The Soul’s Code. I have always believed that there is more to the story in speaking about what defines an individual besides genetics and environment. There is that intangible piece that lives within the person that sort of explains how they know what they know. The blueprint that makes us each unique is not simply a recipe of amounts of this or that or a linear progression with one step forward and sometimes two steps back. It is different than that. I thought Hillman’s discussion of time was helpful to illuminate this very well. Our character exists all at once and is not necessarily built in a linear methodical way. Hillman states that "I am answerable to an innate image which I am filling out in my biography? (4). It is as though I already exist in total from the start and am not so much formed or become who I am as I fulfill my existence throughout my life or as Picasso stated "I don’t develop; I am? (6).

What thoughts do people have about Hillman’s "acorn theory?, the theory that we are born with defining image?

In reading Hillman’s thoughts on the "call? or "calling? that some people seem to be born with or that can seem come out of nowhere I was reminded of an example of this in my own life. When The Roe v. Wade decision came about it 1973 I was eight years old. As I heard about the case and the decision on the news I was struck by a thought so powerful that it shook me. I could not imagine a society without the basic freedom to choose legal abortion. I didn’t realize that abortion was illegal before this decision. I vowed at that moment that I would do everything in my power throughout my life to keep abortion safe, accessible, and legal for women. I have spent many years working with pro-choice organizations both in a volunteer and paid capacity to do exactly that.

Hillman speaks of callings or the idea of fate we experience as coming from daimons that exist within us. One of his examples of the daimon that lives within children particularly spoke to me. Hillman’s examples of children who seemed at times wise beyond their years reminded me of an interaction with my nephew who was eight years old at the time. Matthew was fooling around on the piano and though he never had a lesson was playing a melodious little tune. Then he hit a particular key and said "this note feels like winter?. What? This from a kid who plays video games and watches cartoons about 8 hours a day. Where did that come from? Matthew is an interesting kid. Sometimes I forget his age and think I am talking to a 40 year-old man whose mostly adult conversations are peppered with childlike references. At other times it is clear that he is a child but often he throws in an adult witticism.

Has anyone had an experience where they knew something absolutely or felt a "calling? in one absolutely in crystal clear moment without reservation? What experiences with "daimons? or guarding angels have people experienced? Do daimons express themselves differently in children and adults?

Hillman refers to some of the limitations of modern psychology when speaking about compensation theory. He states that "the roots of later superiorities are buried in earlier inferiorities? (22). This theory discounts the daimon and the genius that lives within as contributing to the success of extraordinary people. It implies that these people become extraordinary as a way to compensate for some negative characteristics. Therefore, their "extraordinariness? is based on an attempt to escape some shortcoming instead of in pursuit of fulfilling their destiny or fate. Hillman has more positive things to say about motivation theory as he aligns this with the acorn theory. He also makes the distinction here about the role of genius. The person is not the genius but the genius is part of the person. This distinction lifts a burden from extraordinary people. They can be viewed as possessing genius without having to live up the almost impossible task that being a genius entails. This reminds me of a talk that Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote Eat, Pray, Love gave on genius. She spoke of genius or the genie as something inside of the creative individual that is summoned at specific points in time to help inspire them.
The fact that the person is not the genius but that the genius exists within the person helps to lighten the burden the creative individual may feel to live up to the title of "genius?.

What do people think about the idea of genius and what makes a person extraordinary?

This reading is very rich and thought provoking. What are some other thoughts and observations that people have?


I like the idea that the person is not the genius, the genius is part of the person. I think a lot of extraordinary people define themselves mostly, if not entirely, on their extraordinary characteristic. On p. 4 in “The Soul’s Code,? Hillman says, “We bear from the start the image of a definite individual character, with some enduring traits. This… is about that power of character.? I think genius, or extraordinary talent, would be considered an enduring trait, and not the character as a whole. There is a difference between a characteristic and the individual character, and genius should merely be considered a characteristic of the character. Much of the power of an extraordinary trait, such as genius, lies within the way the person uses the talent. Genius wasted, or conversely, genius flaunted, could diminish the power the characteristic brings to the person as a whole.

Hillman’s Acorn Theory says that “Each life is formed by its unique image, an image that is the essence of life and calls it to destiny.? Elizabeth Gilbert’s comment on genius is interesting to me- I really enjoyed “Eat, Pray, Love,? and found it to be surprisingly educational. For those who have not read the book, Gilbert describes conversations with God that she had during a time of personal struggle, and how that support led her to travel to Italy, India and Indonesia in one year. Although others could not understand her need to leave the country to heal herself, Gilbert felt a calling to travel, and was lucky enough for her publisher to offer a book deal documenting the trip, which was also able to fund her trip. After reading Hillman’s description of daimons, I wonder if the calling that Gilbert felt to travel was actually the work of her daimon (or guardian angel) watching over her, and guiding her to the fate. Hillman also refers to providence, which is the feeling of being invisibly watched and watched over, which Gilbert refers to as her conversations with God. Hillman's idea in "The Soul's Code" is similar to Gilbert's, although Hillman presents it as a spirituality, and not necessarily tied as closely to a specific religion or God.

Thanks for bringing Elizabeth Gilbert up, Pat, it really made notice the connection between “Eat, Pray Love? and “The Soul’s Code.?

I enjoyed the acorn theory very much. (Although I will admit I had to read parts of it a few times) It aligns itself to my belief that we choose our parents and our life's path before we are born. Our life's calling is already in there and the path we choose to lead is necessary to get to it.

Hillman points out that we are "less damaged by the traumas of childhood than by the traumatic way we remember our childhood..." Have you ever known anyone who can't let go of the past wrongs? It can get tiring to listen to how they have been damaged. I have been guilty of it myself. But when you embrace your journey as the way to your true calling - how the paradigm can shift!

I have been pondering on the purpose for the readings this week. Although, I was unable to come to class the last couple of weeks due to a shoulder surgery, I have been attempting to keep up with the readings. I am going to respond to each of the readings but use the same first paragraph because the impact of the readings for me comes from the readings in totality not from one in particular.

In this article the key take away, and is part of the whole for me, was the connection between our conscious reasoning self and the possibility of "our self" existing for a greater period than this existence coupled with the drive to discover and follow a deeper meaning for our existence.

I have, like I hope many of you, have had the opportunity to know many extraordinary people in my short lifetime. From people who have achieved outstanding results in educational, business and community pursuits. For many years to me these people were extraordinary and they continue to be.

As well, over the years I have come to recognize another kind of extraordinary person. In fact, these people are probably more closely connected to the word, they are doing "extra" with the "ordinary", with less of the glitz or glamor attached. One of these people is my father. He is not a business or financial success and yet he is extraordinary, in that for the many, many people who know him, they know that if you need something done, or need some assistance, then he is the person to call upon.

Does this have something to do with his daimon, guardian angel, is this part of his character that developed over time, or is it his "calling" to understand others needs and feel a compelling need to give assistance? In the years I have known him and others like him, I am very comfortable with the idea that they have been this way for a long time and they are responding to something deeper within themselves.

Pat, I really enjoyed your take on this as discussion leader. Your questions and applications really got me thinking about what the acorn theory is. It actually took me a while to write this – not because of the length, but because I became increasingly skeptical about what appears to be a very simple philosophy.

Personally, I love the image of the acorn. They are so aesthetically pleasing in their beret-like caps and who doesn’t enjoy the completely random sounds they orchestrate with the tops of bird feeders, umbrellas, and the hood of my car? This is simply the birthing process of the oak, and, in reality, very few acorns will ever become extraordinary, mighty oaks. Though sad, this is consistent with the philosophy of the “daimon.? As I read it, there are limited supplies of the extraordinary acorn or daimon.

I enjoyed the Hillman reading as it was deeply thought-provoking, but I was troubled by the fundamental concept of the daimon. To me it felt like Hillman was suggesting an in-born, spiritualistic destiny that we are locked into, like living life unwittingly on automatic pilot. Clearly, Hillman recognizes that people do change, as in the examples of Ghandi and Rommel, but this is also just a part of their pre-destined daimon.

If you believe that your future is pre-determined, you also must accept that you cannot change your destiny. That is a challenging statement, yet isn’t it logical? And if this is true, why would you bother to do anything at all? Perhaps one of those acorns will have the leadership and intellect to lead us away from our current destructive course, but wouldn’t it be nice if the other acorns were motivated to lead as well? From my perspective, the acorn theory is too similar to the theory that leaders are born for me to accept.

The thought that distresses me most about this theory is that by its very faith-based nature the daimon can never be validated or invalidated. Your daimon can never be invalidated because your daimon is what you become. Arguing this concept is akin to arguing the validity of life after death. If you are a great leader who saves all humanity and life on our planet, then that was your daimon. If you are a child born with AIDS who lives three years and dies without family, care, or love, then that was your daimon. In my opinion, believing in pre-destiny or the daimon is about as useful as going to a fortune teller after you are dead. And of course you can’t debate whether you deserved your daimon because, well… you’re dead.

I also took issue with Hillman’s disdain for modern psychology and in particular his discrediting of Freud, Jung, and Adler. It felt to me like Hillman was rejecting a century’s worth of effort on individual and social development. As if psychology has had no impact on individuals and the betterment of self. Oops, a Hillman no-no - I used the word self! In reading this section, I had flashbacks of Tom Cruise attacking Matt Lauer on the Today Show regarding psychiatry as a scam and how only Tom understood it. Now I am wondering, perhaps Hillman is a Scientologist? That would fit with his philosophy.

In the film Lawrence of Arabia, when good or bad events occur, the tribal Arab characters often state “It is written,? to explain it away as an act of god and pre-destiny. At one point, in utter frustration to lead, T.E. Lawrence exclaims “Nothing is written!? Whether or not T.E. Lawrence actually said this, it is what I believe. Wouldn’t it have been ironic if Hillman had used Lawrence as an example of the daimon?

By contrast, I couldn’t agree more with the evolutionary concepts espoused by Csikszentmihalyi in “The Evolving Self.? I whole-heartedly concur with the statement that “the difference between will and might rests with us?(p.9). This indicates to me that there is hope, that we can direct our actions, and that we can change our outcomes.

I don’t mean to be so hard on Hillman. I really did enjoy the reading. I simply didn’t agree with his fundamentals. Perhaps it is not pre-destined that so many acorns do not take root. Perhaps it is simply natural selection, a lack of nurturing, or an unlucky plunge to the pavement.

I tried to post this on Monday but obviously the site wasn't working. If anyone is still interested, here it is!

Wow. So many great thoughts and directions the comments have taken to this article. When I started reading the Soul’s Code, I was immediately grabbed by the theory presented here. I had not heard of the acorn theory before and was immediately drawn in by this concept that our lives are more or less pre-determined before we are born.
I myself have not had that epiphany in life where I knew where my calling was or felt that I was being directed through life by a guardian or daimon. This fact made it hard for me to believe parts of the acorn theory, mainly that we are pre-destined before we are even here on earth. However, there were pieces of it that did get me thinking. Based on what I read, it seems even more apparent to me that traditional psychology and therapy that tries to solve your problems by looking into your past childhood experiences or even traditional medicine that medicates those who have conditions such as depression on attention deficit disorder is not the solution to these issues, and may hinder the soul’s destiny or desire to become something great.
I often try to be self-reflective and insightful on my life choices and to be something greater than I have been, but often don’t allow myself the time to or know how. I feel that if I am intentionally aware of my surroundings and pieces of the acorn theory that make my life what it is that I too may take advantage of the opportunities to recognize my genius, daimons, and be extraordinary in my own way.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs