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The Hound of Heaven
Read Francis Thompson' poem

The Hounds of Heaven represent an ancient spiritual and psychological metaphor. They represent unknown terrors which approach from the darkness. The Hounds of Heaven chase the fearful soul through the darkness of unknowing, marked only by their blazing eyes, slavering fangs, and rumbling growl. The Hounds of Heaven are recognized as deep archetypes and primordial metaphors by their power and their ability to invoke primitive emotions of terror and of being hunted. Even if you have never heard of the Hounds of Heaven, you will recognize them here, because they have been stalking the darkness of your mind all along. The Hounds of Heaven described here spring mostly from Christian mythology, but they are symbols considerably be more universal. The darker aspect of the Hound is contained in Cerebus, the three-headed dog that guards the underworld in ancient Mediterranean mythology. In ancient Chinese mythology, a guardian God dispels evil spirits by setting the Hounds of Heaven (called the Tian-gou) on them.

The poet Francis Thompson brings back one of the most well-known descriptions of the Hounds. His metaphorical epic, “The Hounds of Heaven,” describes the awakening of the Domini Canes, the Dogs of God. These hounds do the bidding of heaven, and hunt for the souls of men, who run from truth. Indeed, the Hounds of Heaven are messengers of Heaven, seeking to run down those who are lost. This is how Francis Thompson put it:
The poet describes a life of flight, a life-style of avoidance and forgetting, in which everyday choices reflect a denial of the unconscious. He describes the choice of many of us, which is to flee meaning and take refuge in unknowing. For many of us, it is better to be entertained, or seek pleasure, or even seek pain and unknowingness than to turn and face the naked meanings of our spiritual heritage. In this way the mind protects itself from the existential terror of life and mortality, and from the kind of flexibility which allows extraordinary lives to unfold. Tolkien described this way of life among the home-loving Hobbits of his Middle Earth, who preferred the comforts of home to having Adventures, which they describe as “nasty, uncomfortable things which make you late for dinner.”

Yet in Tolkien’s stories, the dark webs of destiny snatched some of those simple souls, transforming their lives with danger and hard choices. Indeed, it is with our choices that we identify ourselves. Tolkien’s hobbits were hounded by the dark servants of an evil overlord; the Hounds of Heaven fill a similar function, rooting us ordinary folk out of comfortable ordinary lives. Our response to them identifies and defines us, and measures the shape of our lives.

The Hounds are messengers, then, of a Heaven which sends for us. So why would messengers of heaven assume such a frightful face? Why are they avatars of terror? We fear the Hounds because we fear the change they demand of us; they are made of shadows because they came out of the shadow. Jung describes the Shadow as that aspect of your mind which harbors all that you have exiled from yourself, and all the potentialities that you have either rejected or failed to bear out in life. The shadow consists of everything that could have been. The exiled aspects of Self do not lie quietly, but cause unrest in the psyche. The dynamism between the known self (also called the ego, or persona) and the shadow bears the creative energies necessary for self-change. The Shadow is the leading edge of change and transformation. The Hounds of Heaven are its agents. The Hounds represent Heaven, but also that part of us that receives the will of Heaven.

Jung notes that the “behavior” of the shadow material depends on the conscious attitude towards it. When the Shadow is shunned and avoided, it agitates for attention, wreaking havoc within the personality if necessary in order to bring about necessary change. When the Shadow is actively engaged, then it’s energies become a gift to the well-being of the mind. It is the sacred duty of all individuals to become themselves, and to take account of what dwells even in the shadows. Completion of the sacred duty, all the myths tell us, result in sacred gifts.

We run from the Hounds of Heaven out of fear and avoidance of what they mean. It is easy to make a habit out of shying away from our own truths, large and small, in the interest of preserving our own world-views. C.S. Lewis said that he could not give advice on pursuing God, having never had that experience. 'It was the other way round; He was the hunter (or so it seemed to me) and I was the deer… '" If one were to turn and face the terrible Hounds of Heaven, they would be revealed not as vicious destroyers but bringers of life, ready to lead the soul back home.