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The Soul's Code: In Search of Character and Calling

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  5,053 ratings  ·  198 reviews
Plato and the Greeks called it "daimon," the Romans "genius," the Christians "guardian angel." Today we use the terms heart, spirit, and soul. To James Hillman, the acknowledged intellectual source for Thomas Moore's bestselling sensation Care of the Soul, it is the central and guiding force of his utterly compelling "acorn theory" in which each life is formed by a unique ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published October 1st 1997 by Grand Central Publishing (first published August 13th 1996)
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Lorri Coburn
Jan 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
I was going to contact Dr. James Hillman and thank him for his wonderful book, and found that he died this past summer. I wish I would have read this book 20 years ago. It echoes many sentiments I have felt about my psychotherapy clients, the ones who were labeled "crazy" when they were simply following their soul's calling. Hillman draws on Jungian archetypal therapy to explain what he calls the acorn theory. We all have an acorn that demands to become an oak, regardless of convention. When tha ...more
Jun 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite-books
This is the book that I love giving away to my friends because I believe everybody should read it (I gave so many and still dont have my own copy). Contary to Western culture that believe we are product of genes/family or Eastern culture that says we are pre-destined by Karma, Hillman somehow combines them into one and thinks we are born with certain purpose and will achieve what we are meant to do in life one way or another - every individual holds a potential inside himself just like acorn hol ...more
Martin Rowe
Jun 06, 2013 rated it liked it
This was my second time reading the book (the first was probably when it first came out, some 15 years ago). As always, Hillman (whom I knew quite well) is contrarian and pungently critical of conventional psychotherapy and psychology. Hillman is in search of something more archaic and anarchic—a deeper, mythopoetic, and uncanny sense of calling and character that propels and compels us into and along our life's journey. Hillman's wide reading—especially from ancient Greek and Roman sources and ...more
Jul 08, 2009 rated it did not like it
I've tried valiantly to get into this book, but just haven't. I don't know if I ever will. Fascinated as I am about psychology, I can't help but want Hillman to get to the point already. His thesis about a daimon guiding our lives and leading us to our best destiny works well in hindsight and for explaining the lives of famous people (Josephine Baker, Judy Garland, Henry Ford) but as far as I've read, Hillman gives little insight into how lesser mortals can listen better to their own daimon and ...more
John Pienta
Sep 26, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
James Hillman's The Soul's Code was the first book I read while actively disliking. In fact I disliked most of the book. His work was sloppy and disorganized and his attitude pretentious. The narrative assumed the doubtless truth of his "Acorn theory" which, is a convoluted presentation of fate guiding us into a particular destiny. He set out an entire chapter which claims to explain how this is not the same as fate and wandered off in the middle of his arguments, failing to distinguish at a bas ...more
Feb 10, 2011 rated it it was ok
I give this sloppily written book two stars instead of one because I think Hillman's central idea is important. Many a physician and pharmacist would be wise to at least entertain this notion that there is more life than our luck-of-the-draw genes and environment. Perhaps we are who we are for some kind of reason, and we might even have souls or callings or daimons. Unfortunately, reading Hillman's book won't make said healthcare professionals perceive these ideas as any less wishy-washy. He ove ...more
The Elves
Feb 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A friend of ours...
dear Unique Individuals,
... was taking a psychology class at Sonoma State University in which one of Hillman's books was required reading. When the day for discussion of the book arrived one of the students jumped up, ripped pages from his book, threw the book to the floor and stomped on it in frustration, hysterically crying out, "No one should be allowed to write like this". Needless to say, that made us somewhat hesitant when we began reading this book, however, what we fou
Robin Billings
Aug 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
James Hillman offers observations on the human experience and the nature of the mind that stands outside of the mainstream of American psychology, refreshingly so, with its current emphasis upon reducing all our experience to biological processes, whether it be sociobiology, neuropsychology, cognitive-behavioral, or applied behavior analysis. All these orientations are based upon an unquestioned epistomological assumption that the material reality is the only reality, since it is what science ha ...more
Jan 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Once, I don't remember where, when I travelled a lot, I met a friendly stranger at a bar, and in the course of our innocuous conversation he mentioned that he has always tried to believe-- particularly when he felt powerless or overly-stressed-- that before his birth, he had deliberately chosen this time period to exist in. I've never remembered that guy's name, but I've never forgotten about his fascinating belief. It may sound impossible to you, but I promise you that, when life is trying, it ...more
Feb 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Soul's Code is one of the best books I've read in a long time. Using Plato's Myth of Er as a backdrop, Hillman skillfully applies Platonic reasoning to the problem of purpose and destiny. Rather than approaching destiny as a secondary concern of the human pursuit, Hillman elevates it to a place of unequaled parallel.

Hillman's ideas are personified in what he calls the acorn theory. The basic tenet of this theory "…holds that each person bears a uniqueness that asks to be lived and that is a
Feb 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book challenged the part of me that is partial to existential philosophy. In this book James Hillman presents his acorn theory of human development. Other terms for the acorn are image, character, fate, calling, daimon, soul, or destiny. Everyone is born with a defining image— we embody our soul. This is not to be confused with fatalism. He is not undermining free will. Or is he? He skirts around the issue as only a genius psychologist could…. to focus on free will is to miss his point.

Jan 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
Hillman's acorn theory, exposed in this book, is a rejuvenation of Heraclitus' dictum "ethos anthropoi daimon" (normally rendered into "Character is fate") and its later embodiments, such as Plato's myth of the daimon calling for a body to incarnate after passing through the hands of the Fates and Necessity, Plotinus' postillae and commentaries, Romans' "homo faber fortunae suae", Ficino's ideas on souls, and so on and on. The echo of the oraculus of Apollo ("know yourself") lives on and inspire ...more
Katja Vartiainen
I found this book quite refreshing, and amusing. I may not agree with it completely. The concept is not new, tough, they have in India, in some 'philosophies' the idea of 'svadharma', which translates into this book, the 'acorn theory'.

The author gives famous examples, which becomes a bit tedious, and brings out the question what about everyone else?And he answers this question later, almost in the end. Frankly, this part could have been in the beginning, and then he could give the more extreme
Nov 22, 2012 rated it it was ok
Interesting concept, but I could barely start the book, let alone try to finish it. The style and content was completely ethereal. I mean that in several connotations. First, the book is so spiritual/philosophical in nature that it loses all possibility of practical application. Secondly, there seems to be no real substance. Lots of words, but little content. Nothing to indicate how to use this theory or any suggestions on how to be proactive in one's life. ...more
Jun 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I don't agree with everything he says, but I was fascinated by the idea of the current you and the eternal you. Give ya hope, if current you is kind of a nerdhole. ...more
Eric Ryniker
Apr 15, 2018 rated it liked it
This was tantalizing, frustrating, confusing, but never dull. Frankly, I don't know how to rate it because it would be like rating a conversation you had with a very interesting person that left you a bit confused and excited. I have a feeling my regard for this book will grow with time and a few months of reflection. I should probably read up on my Plotinus.

I read this book on the recommendation of a psych professor I know. It is also important to note that I am not trained in psychology, thoug
Soren Kerk
very much like the idea that there is a something between and around nature and nurture. Yes. That's me! for you, it's you.

lots of examples in this book - little narratives of famous people's lives and their daemons
Jerry Williams
Jun 23, 2017 rated it liked it
I wouldn't recommend reading this at the same time as other books, you're going to need to devote your undivided attention too this book. ...more
Lynette Lark
Aug 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Follow your spirit guide's gut, and keep your children safe from do-gooders who think your child should be medicated. ...more
Jun 18, 2021 rated it liked it
An excellent and interesting book that analyzes the concept of "the acorn" or soul. There are many parallels to the Daimon or Genius of Socrates etc. which can be found in virtually all mystic traditions. This book is valuable and the insights are great. For the premise and the theory I'd grant it a four star review - however where it suffers a bit is in Hillman's presentation. There are many more examples for each point used than are necessary and it begins to border on tedium. The author could ...more
Lisa King
Mar 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A wealth of information on 'acorn theory'.
Will definitely be re-reading this one.
Aug 07, 2018 rated it liked it
I am disturbed to discover that, for centuries, Plato's Republic has been used to teach privileged, white people (those who were indoctrinated with a classical education) that they are, indeed, a higher class of people than everyone else on the planet. There is much to chew on in Hillman's suppositions, as presented in this book. I feel that the meat of this book is in Chapter 9, discussing the difference between Fate and Fatalism and exploring Plato's Greek idea of fate in more detail. Chapter ...more
With the many voices speaking about 'purpose' & "jumping in" regarding living your best life, James Hillman surmised that there are those who are achieving their destinies from a place of 'predestination,' a passion ingrained in them or their personality/deeper self. Hillman mentions many celebrities (etc.) that have always known (on a deeper level) what they wanted (not insinuating they didn't have to work or apply themselves), yet none - to not many - had thought about it possibly being a 'phe ...more
Johanna Hilla
Sep 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
“The acorn pushes beyond the edge; its principal passion is realization. The calling demands untrammeled freedom of pursuit, a freedom “life on arrival,” and this freedom cannot be guaranteed by society.” 273

Hillman does not give it to you easily, but once you make it to the end the journey seems well worth it. One of those books that you read, and only after putting it down you realize how much impact it actually had on you. The message is powerful:

You cannot blame your parents.

You cannot blam
Emma Ligia
Jul 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
The main idea is important. There is more to us than genes and environment but that is all I can say I like about this book. It is composed of tales of famous people and it is quite boring for someone who isn't into this kind of reading. I struggled to finish it because it kept saying the same thing in different ways without bringing evidence or different ideas. Most of the people presented in the book I don't even know and I fought boredom while reading it. Some passages were downright tedious, ...more
Lauren Tom
Sep 15, 2019 rated it liked it
For some reason I decided to reread this book for the second time. I tried going through it thoroughly, paying very close attention to all the details and Hillman's argument in general. I started getting into it - wow this makes so much sense, wow look at all the wrong roads that mainstream psychology has gone down - but then I realized that I still wasn't feeling it.

Hillman can be brilliant sometimes. Or maybe it's that he just seems to venture where no one dares go. A trickster-like figure, if
Jun 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
More a philosophical exploration than a psychology book, The Soul's Code asserts that the whole is more than the sum of its parts; that its not just nature and nurture /genes and environment, but also 'something else', that urges one to actualize the blue-print or image of who they are to be, whatever they are to be, good, bad or seemingly 'mediocre'-although Hillman makes the case that there really is no mediocre soul. Very original work, albeit a little dense at times. This is not a self-help ...more
Kir 'Bear'
Aug 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
James did a really wonderful job of inventing a psychology that is neither therapeutic nor exclusive. I really, really appreciate James' work, but I think you have to have already shown an affinity for psychoanalysis and integral theory type stuff otherwise it would be too niche and probably not your cuppa. ...more
Jan 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psych
If you like Hillman and/or depth psychology, you'll enjoy this book. I read this a couple years ago and it stimulated the nature/nurture debate in my own mind (again!) I also like the way Hillman used the biographies of historical figures to weave his theoretical discourse.

Sep 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Very heaving reading but very insightful. The writer actually helped me along the way by perhaps showing me some interesting things about myself. If you're in for a blizzard, this might be the book for you! ...more
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Awakenings Book Club: Halfway Through! 3 7 Aug 17, 2021 12:08AM  

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James Hillman was an American psychologist. He served in the US Navy Hospital Corps from 1944 to 1946, after which he attended the Sorbonne in Paris, studying English Literature, and Trinity College, Dublin, graduating with a degree in mental and moral science in 1950.
In 1959, he received his PhD from the University of Zurich, as well as his analyst's diploma from the C.G. Jung Institute and foun

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“ find your genius by looking in the mirror of your life. Your visible image shows your inner truth, so when you're estimating others, what you see is what you get. It therefore becomes critically important to see generously, or you will get only what you see; to see sharply, so that you discern the mix of traits rather than a generalized lump; and to see deeply into dark shadows, or else you will be deceived.” 45 likes
“Recognize the call as a prime fact of human existence; (b) align life with it; (c) find the common sense to realize that accidents, including the heartache and the natural shocks the flesh is heir to, belong to the pattern of the image, are necessary to it, and help fulfill it. A calling may be postponed, avoided, intermittently missed. It may also possess you completely. Whatever; eventually it will out. It makes its claim. The daimon does not go away.” 8 likes
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