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Insects in Dreams: James Hillman's "Going Bugs"

Trained as a Jungian analyst, the late James Hillman (1926–2011) often is described as one of America's most original thinkers. His numerous published works form the foundation for a new interpretation of archetypal psychology, which he called an attempt to "connect to the wider culture of Western Imagination beyond the consulting room" (Hillman 1983). His 1988 essay "Going Bugs" "re-imagines the bugs of our souls, explaining the importance of insects in our psychic ecology" (publisher's description). Here are some excerpts:

If the dream world is the return of the repressed (Freud), turning the face to us that we unconsciously turn to it (Jung), then it appears so stinging, buzzing and persecutory when our cultural consciousness treats our symptoms as vermin, our complexes as parasites. Yes, we want to rid ourselves of the underworld, using the nice white powder of destructive abstraction available from any pharmacy and/or physician, and in any session of ego-psychology. The source of the pharmacology fantasy and industry lies in the fear of going bugs. That we need an ecology movement, animal rights advocacy, and a world wildlife fund begins in our dreams.

Dreams show bugs have something to teach. They demonstrate the intentions of the natural mind, the undeviating faith of desire, and the urge to survive.

They bring the community consciousness of a swarm and hive, a Gemeinschaftsgefuehl, a cosmic sympathy, deeper than a social contract. They conjoin and enjoy the contrary elements of earth and air, show amazing capacities to conform and transform, and are resolute in their persistence to draw a dreamer out of the shelters of human habitation, the sheltering limits of human habits.

Our dreams recover what the world forgets. Forgotten pagan polytheism breeds in animal forms. In those animals are the ancient Gods: the Celtic horns and salmon, the Viking bears, the Egyptian pigs and river horses, crocodiles and cats, the Roman wolves and eagles, and Navaho be'gotcidi. The old Gods are still there in our dreams--those zoological cathedrals, where there is a mansion for the insects of Beelzebub and Mephistopheles. The animals may go on like Gods, alive and well and unforgotten, in the ikons of our dreams and in the vital obsessions of complexes and symptoms, the little bugs indestructible. Sing praise. Gaudeamus.


Hillman, James. 1983. Archetypal Psychology: A Brief Account. Dallas, Texas: Spring Publications.

Hillman, James. 1988. "Going Bugs." Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture, 1988. 40-72.

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