Betrayal Part 1 (of 3) - by James Hillman

Who is James Hillman?

James Hillman, an American born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, became a Jungian analyst in Zürich in the 1950s, and went on to become the Director of Studies at the Jung Institute in Zürich. In 1975 Hillman wrote Re-Visioning Psychology which emphasized a psychology of soul through a long celebration of its historical champions (people like Marsilio Ficino, Giordano Bruno, and Giambattista Vico–lots of Italians and almost no Germans). In 1978 he moved back to the United States (Dallas) and started articulating some variations of the original Jungian psychology of the Self. It was to be a Mediterranean psychology for a change, a real olive-oil style soul psychology in staunch contrast with the Northern, holistic, self psychologies that had come before. Hillman especially looked to Greek religion for a polytheistic way of reading the psyche. That is, a way of living multiple-mindedly rather than single-mindedly, fragmentedly rather than holistically, archetypally rather than moralistically. Re-Visioning Psychology and several important Spring Journal articles have become the foundation of what is called archetypal psychology today. In the 1980s, Hillman moved to Thompson, Connecticut where he continues as the publisher and editor of Spring Publications

–from Spring Publications

Part 1

There is a Jewish story, an ordinary Jewish Joke. It runs like this: A father was teaching his little son to be less afraid, to have more courage, by having him jump down the stairs. He placed his boy on the second stair and said, “Jump, and I’ll catch you.” and the boy jumped. Then the father placed him on the third stair, saying “Jump, and I”ll catch you.” Though the boy was afraid, he trusted his father, did what he was told, and jumped into his father’s arms. Then the father put him on the next step, and the next step, each time telling him, Jump, and I’ll catch you, and each time the boy jumped and was caught by his father. And so this went on. Then the boy jumped from a very high step, just as before; but this time the father stepped back, and the boy fell flat on his face. As he picked himself up, bleeding and crying, the father said, “that will teach you: never trust a Jew, even if it’s your own father.”

This story–for all its questionable anti-Semitism–has more to it than that, especially since it’s more likely a Jewish story. I believe has something to say to our theme–betrayal. For example: Why must a boy be taught not to trust? And not to trust a Jew? And not to trust his own father? What is it mean to be betrayed by one’s father, or to be betrayed by someone close? What does it mean to a father, to a man, to betray someone who trusts him? To what end betrayal at all in psychological life? These are our questions.

We must try to make a beginning somewhere. I prefer in this case to make this beginning “In the beginning”, with the Bible, even though as a psychologist I may be trespassing on the grounds of theology. But even though a psychologist, I do not want to begin at the usual beginnings of psychologists, with that other theology, that other Eden: the infant and its mother.

Trust and betrayal were no issues for Adam, walking with God in the evenings. The image of the garden as the beginning of the human condition shows what we might call “primal trust”, or what Santayana has called “animal faith”, a fundamental belief–despite worry, fear, and doubt–that the ground underfoot is really there, that it will not give away at the next step, that the Sun will rise tomorrow and the sky not fall on our heads, and that God did truly make the world for man. This situation of primal trust, presented as the archetypal image of Eden, is repeated in individual lives of child and parent. As Adam in animal faith at the beginning trusts God, so does the boy at the beginning trust his father. In both, God and father is the paternal image: reliable, firm, stable, just, that Rock of Ages whose word is binding. This paternal image can also be expressed by the Logos concept, by the immutable power and sacredness of the masculine word.

But we are no longer in that garden. Eve put an end to that naked dignity. Since the expulsion, the Bible records a history of the trails of many sorts: Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Laban, Joseph sold by his brother’s and their father deceived, Pharaoh’s broken promises, calf worship behind Moses’ back, Saul, Samson, Job, God’s rages and the creation almost annulled–on and on, culminating in the central myth of our culture: the betrayal of Jesus.

Although we are no longer in that garden, we can return to it through any close relationship, for instance, love, friendship, analysis, where a situation of primal trust is reconstituted. This has been variously called the temenos, the analytical vessel, the mother-child symbiosis. Here, there is again the security of Eden. But the security–or at least the kind of temenos to which I refer–is masculine, given by the Logos, through the promise, the covenant, the word. It is not a primal trust of breasts, milk and skin warmth; it is similar but different, and I believe the point worth taking that we do not always have to go to mother for our models as the basics in human life.

In this security, based not on flesh but on word, primal trust has been reestablished and so the primal world can be exposed in safety–the weakness in darkness, the naked helplessness of Adam, the earliest man in ourselves. Here, we are somehow delivered over to our simplest nature, which contains the best and least in us, the million year old past and the seed ideas of the future.

The need for security within which one can expose one’s primal world, where one can deliver oneself up and not be destroyed, is basic and evident in analysis. This need for security may reflect needs for mothering, but from the paternal pattern within which we are talking, the need is for closeness with God, as Adam, Abraham, Moses, and the patriarchs knew.

What one longs for is not only to be contained in perfection by another who can never let one down. It goes beyond trust and betrayal by the other in a relationship. What one longs for is a situation where one is protected from one’s OWN treachery and ambivalence, one’s own Eve. In other words, primal trust in the paternal world means being in that garden with God and all things but Eve. The primeval world is pre-Eve’l, as it is also pre-evil. To be one with God in primal trust offers protection from one’s own ambivalence. One cannot ruin things, desire, deceive, seduce, tempt, cheat, blame, confuse, hide, flee, steal, lie, spoil the creation oneself through one’s own feminine nature, betray through one’s own left-handed unconsciousness in the treachery of the anima who is that source of evil in Eden and of ambivalence in every Adam since. We want a Logos security where the word is truth and it cannot be shaken.

Of course, a longing for primal trust, a longing to be at one with the old wise Self, where I and the father are one, without interference of the anima, is easily recognized as typical of the puer aeternus who stands behind all boyishness. He never wants to be sent down from Eden, for there he knows the name of everything in creation, there fruit grows on the trees and can be had for the picking, there is no toil, and long interesting discussions can be carried on in the cool of the evening.

Not only does he know; he expects to be known, totally, as If God’s omniscience is focused all upon him. This perfect knowledge, this sense of being wholly understood, affirmed, recognized, blessed for what one is, discovered to oneself and known to God, by God, in God repeats itself in every situation of primal trust, so that one feels only my best friend, my wife, my analyst truly understands me through and through. That they do not, that they misperceive and fail to recognize one’s essence (which must anyway be revealed through living and not concealed and turned in on itself), feels a bitter betrayal.

It would seem from the Biblical tale that God recognized that he is not help enough for man, that something other was needed more meet for man than God himself. Eve had to be created, evoked, pulled out of man himself, which then led to the break of primal trust by betrayal. Eden was over; life began.

This way of understanding the tale implies that the situation of primal trust is not viable for life. God and the creation were not enough for Adam; Eve was required, which means that betrayal is required. It would seem that the only way out of that garden was through betrayal and expulsion, as if the vessel of trust cannot be altered in any way except through betrayal. We are led to an essential truth about both trust and betrayal; they contain each other. You cannot have trust without the possibility of betrayal. It is the wife who betrays her husband, and the husband who cheats his wife; partners and friends deceive, the mistress uses her lover for power, the analyst discloses his patient’s secrets, the father lets his son fall. The promise made is not kept, the word given is broken, trust becomes treachery.

We are betrayed in the very same close relationships where primal trust is possible. We can be truly betrayed only where we truly trust–by brothers, lovers, wives, husbands, not by enemies, not by strangers. The greater the love and loyalty, the involvement and commitment, the greater the betrayal. Trust has in it the seed of betrayal; the serpent was in the garden from the beginning, just as Eve was pre-formed in the structure around Adam’s heart. Trust and the possibility of betrayal come into the world at the same moment. Wherever there’s trust in a union, the risk of betrayal becomes a real possibility. And betrayal, as a continual possibility to be lived with, belongs to trust just as doubt belongs to living faith.

If we take this tale as a model for the advance in life from the “beginning of things”, then it may be expected that primal trust will be broken if relationships are to advance; and, moreover, that the primal trust will not just be outgrown. There will be a crisis, a break characterized by betrayal, which according to the tail is the sine qua non for the expulsion from Eden into the “real” world of human consciousness and responsibility.

For we must be clear that to live or love only where one can trust, where there is security and containment, where one cannot be hurt or let down, where what is pledged in words is forever binding, means really to be out of harm’s way and so to be out of real life. And it does not matter what is this vessel of trust–analysis, marriage, church or law, any human relationship. Yes, I would even say relationship with the divine. Even here, primal trust would not seem to be what God wants. Look at Eden, look at Job, at Moses denied entrance to the Holy land, look at the newest destruction of his “chosen people” whose complete only trust was in him. [I am implying that Jewish primal trust in God was betrayed by the Nazi experience, requiring a thoroughgoing re-orientation of the Jewish attitude, of Jewish theology, in terms of anima, a recognition of the ambivalent feminine side of both God and of man.]

If one can give oneself assured that one will come out intact, maybe even enhanced, then what has been given? If one leaps were there are always arms to take one up, there is no real leap. All risk of ascent is annulled–but for the thrill of flying through the air, there is no difference between the second step, the seventh or the tenth, or 10,000 meters up. Primal trust lets the puer fly so high. Father and son are one. And all masculine virtues of skill, of calculated risk, of courage, are of no account: God or Dad will catch you at the bottom of the stairs. Above all, one cannot know beforehand. One cannot be told ahead of time “this time I won’t catch you”. To be forewarned is to be forearmed and either one won’t jump or one will jump half-heartedly, a pseudo risk. There comes that one time where in spite of a promise, life simply intervenes, the accident happens, and one falls flat. The broken promise is a breakthrough of life in the world of Logos security, where the order of everything can be depended upon, and the past guarantees the future. The broken promise or broken trust is at the same time a breakthrough onto another level of consciousness, and we shall turn to that next.

But first let us return to our story and our questions. The father has awakened consciousness, thrown the boy the garden, brutally, with pain. He has initiated his son. This initiation into a new consciousness of reality comes through betrayal, through the father’s failure and broken promise. The father willfully shifts from the ego’s essential commitment to stand by his word, not to bear false witness by lying to his son, to be responsible and reliable come what may. He shifts position deliberately allowing the dark side to manifest itself in and through him. So it is a betrayal with a moral. For our story is a moral tale, as are all good Jewish stories. It is not an existentialist fable describing an acte gratuit; nor is it a Zen legend leading to liberating enlightenment. It is a homily, a lesson, an instructive piece of life. The father demonstrates in his own person the possibility of betrayal in even the closest trust. He reveals his own treacherousness, stands before his son in naked humanity, presenting a truth about fatherhood and manhood; I , a father, a man, cannot be trusted. Man is treacherous. The word is not stronger than life.

And he also says, “Never trust a Jew,” so that the lesson goes yet one step further. He is implying that his fatherhood is patterned after Jaweh’s fatherhood, that a Jewish initiation means as well an initiation into an awareness of God’s nature, that most untrustworthy Lord who must be continually praised by Psalm and prayer as patient, reliable, just, and propitiated with epithets of stability–because he is so arbitrary, emotional, unpredictable. The father says, in short, I have betrayed you as all are betrayed in the treachery of life created by God. The boy’s initiation into life is the initiation into adult tragedy.

Continue reading: Go to Part 2

From the (out of print) collection Loose Ends by James Hillman ©1975 Spring Publications.

Comments (12 comments)

Marti Watterman / October 10th, 2009, 10:57 am / #1

The beginning "joke" Hillman gives us is thoroughly anti-semitic and disgusting. The story of a parent's betrayal of a child could be told without any reference to any specific group and be effective. Frankly, I wonder where the supposed "joke" came from? Why does Hillman suggest this is "an ordinary Jewish joke" ? I cannot personally imagine this being the case. If you have a "source" for the "joke", I'd like to see it.

Calm / December 11th, 2009, 11:13 pm / #2

How is this anti Semitic?

Emma Coutts / September 5th, 2012, 8:11 am / #3

Get over yourself! Hillman cannot be anti-semitic, he was a JEW!

Archaeon / February 19th, 2010, 7:51 pm / #4

FYI: Hillman is Jewish by birth and an iconoclast of all Abrahamic belief systems…

Celia / March 28th, 2011, 2:36 am / #5

Yes – I've heard this old Jewish story told, and never understood the meaning of it….. Hillman's interpretation helps…

jal / April 28th, 2011, 5:56 pm / #6

Anti-Semetic, Jewish; these are beside the point; it is a story about betrayal and what betrayal teaches the soul.

Freya / May 30th, 2011, 12:11 pm / #7

Read something truly worthwhile…and understand that to write about trust one has to be capable of it!

Read David Richo's DARING TO TRUST: Opening OUrselves to Real Love and Intimacy. Shambhala 2010

BlackSun / May 30th, 2011, 12:22 pm / #8

This is an article about *betrayal,* and we can only be betrayed by those whom we trust. Learning to trust will not stop the betrayal. I agree that we must learn to trust in order to live full lives, but it is vital to understand that this is a paradox: The potential for betrayal is *inherent* in the concept of trust, and that is the most important point made here by Hillman.

ET Nada / October 11th, 2011, 11:25 pm / #9

What you call "primal trust" is nothing whatsoever as Primal Trust truly is. There is never any, nor can there ever be betrayal or "otherness" to Primal Trust.

your reflection / March 7th, 2013, 8:40 pm / #10

Yo Marti, do your homework before you go slamming someone with amazing ideas. Perhaps it's time for a little refresher on your projections huh?

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