An Astrological Testament

An Astrological Testament: Thoughts of a Classically Educated Autodidact on the Meaning of Astrology and the Role of Astrologer

   The following essay is intended for those who would grace me with the distinct and uniquely humbling honor of entrusting me with astrological consultation. I do not take the practice of this most sacred and ancient of the human spiritual arts lightly, but rather I recognize the weighty responsibility with which I am entrusted when a client seeks out my astrological interpretations. In the last few decades, and especially so since the turn of the millennium, nearly every human being has lived through a time which may probably come to known as Great Unraveling. The impact of the Great Unraveling and its responsibility for dissolving the metaphysical underpinnings of global civilization, especially in the West, cannot be understated. Religious people of a more socially conservative bent feel more defensive, if not directly threatened, than ever as the traditional Christian churches have been experiencing a sharp fall in the numbers of their congregations. Likewise, modernist liberals have been facing embattlement as public trust and major institutions buckle under the negative impacts of widening socio-economic inequality; public support for science has been eroding and the collective political will to solve major problems has rarely appeared more enervated.

 

The Great Unraveling has seen the birth of the postmodern perspective, which has defined much recent academic scholarship especially in the humanities. The postmodern perspective has also raised awareness about the consequences of modern industrial society’s destruction of Nature and the corresponding alienation of human beings from the natural world. The raising of awareness has not been accompanied by a significant evolution of consciousness and the attending social transformation needed to reintegrate the human person into the Planetary Age which is now dawning upon all of us, whether we wish it to appear or not. For most people, the rise of awareness has coincided with a decided de-centering and de-worlding. And knowing how much human beings need to have a home in the world, discovering how we might know our place in the world requires the deep cultivation of a more careful attention, a more rigorous effort, and a holistically compassionate and mindful spiritual discipline.

Therefore, I embark upon the path of the stargazer in this era—defined as it is simultaneously by humankind’s wondrous Digital Age technological achievements and by the pervasive cultural ennui resulting from our collective alienation from both Nature and the Divine—with great caution and only after a lifetime devoted to learning. For nearly thirty years, books have been my constant companion in providing me with inspiration, illumination, and outlets for my active inner imagination. My books, which include numerous titles covering ancient civilizations, the great religions, the Western classics, history, and the great scientific discoveries which have formed our world; are my most prized possessions. My extensive library continually offers me both a respite from the exhausting disorientation created by the breakneck pace of 21st century daily life as well as an anchor in the great stories and myths from whose wisdom comes the foundation for all the values every seeker most truly desires. Likewise, the wild beauty of nocturnal celestial lights accompanying the Moon, the incandescent glow of the noonday Sun, and the chaotic vicissitudes of both sudden storms and changing seasons also have invited me to deeper contemplation of the mysteries of the Cosmos. Additionally, I have extensive academic training. First, I obtained B.A. in Political Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Subsequently, I received a Master’s in Sociology from the New School for Social Research before moving on to attend Columbia University to study climatology. However, my overriding intellectual inclination reflects an eclectic set of interests that easily span the narrow siloed boundaries constructed by the contemporary university. My peripatetic intellectual excursions, however, are manifestations of a profound disenchantment with the contemporary social production of knowledge from within immense spiritual void created by the tenor of today’s neoliberal politics and culture. The great late 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was deeply affected by the early yawning metaphysical void and psychic unmooring from the systematic desacralisation[1] and reductionism dwelling in the shadow of Western cultural, political, and economic dominance. This phenomenon Nietzsche had dubbed more than a century before the start of my own earthly journey as the “Death of God” has similarly exerted its haunting affect on me in a very poignant manner. For the era beginning in the mid-1980s through the mid-2010s that has circumscribed my life has witnessed the wholesale disintegration of the very foundations of the Western project responsible for legitimating today’s globalized civilization. The “Death of God,” which for the sensitive and tormented Nietzsche was still but a faint premonition for many, now has taken center stage in the cultural drama of our age.

The “Death of God” is not just the ending of the hegemony of the orthodox Christian churches, the social mores that those religious institutions inculcated to society, and the ending of the privileged position of the broader Western Judeo-Christian cosmology. More than that, the “Death of God” represents the collective loss of confidence in the ability of the old religious cosmology to provide anchoring in a rapidly transforming world flooded with not only new information but also emergent, partial narratives that have yet to crystallize into new cosmologies. Perhaps the “Death of God” was foreordained when the Copernican cosmology dethroned the Earth from the center of the Cosmos and replaced the Ptolemaic world-picture with a heliocentric world-picture. The geocentric worldview of the Ptolemaic cosmology, which has parallels in most of the world’s spiritual and mythological traditions, embedded people within a Cosmos brimming with meaning. The boundary between the Individual Self and the depth of the Cosmos was highly permeable. Unfortunately, the Self living within that pre-Copernican Cosmos had to dwell within a deterministic world subject to the whim of Fates and the dictates of God(s) dwelling within the starry heavens. The Copernican universe hurled the Self from out of the bosom of the anchored Earth into deep nether regions of space. The Self, empowered by reason and technology, began to find new horizons of freedom to pursue true self-discovery and embark on what the great Swiss secular mystic and psychiatrist Carl G. Jung termed the process of psychic individuation. But, as the boundaries of the known limits of space have continually receded even in the face of efforts to demarcate the contours of the Cosmos; the Self has experienced the pain of the Psyche’s isolation in a very lonely universe. The receding of belief in orthodox Christianity has left the ill-equipped materialistic sciences with the task of uttering metaphysical pronouncements. The great German Idealist philosopher Friedrich Schelling, as if chiding the foolhardy scientific materialists of our own time, questions their premature confidence in the scientific epistemology[2] in some of his earliest philosophical musings:

“Far from it being true that man and his activity make the world comprehensible, he is himself the most incomprehensible of all, and drives me relentlessly to the view of the accursedness of all being, a view manifested in so many painful signs in ancient and modern times. It is precisely man who drives me to the final despairing question: Why is there something? Why not nothing?”[3]

Following the paradigm-breaking work of the brilliant astrologer and historian of philosophy Richard Tarnas, the narrative history of the Western world and its philosophy is one of heroic struggle and an:

“impulse to forge an autonomous rational human self by separating it from the primordial nature. The fundamental religious, scientific, and philosophical perspectives of Western culture have all been affected by this decisive masculinity—beginning four millennia ago with the great patriarchal nomadic conquests in Greece and the Levant over the ancient matrifocal cultures, and visible in the West’s patriarchal religion from Judaism, its rationalist philosophy from [Classical] Greece, its objectivist [materialist] science from modern Europe.”[4]

Fealty to the ennobling instincts driving the Western project, especially as that project has been so conceived since the Enlightenment of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, which in turn followed upon the post-Copernican Scientific Revolution; has come at great cost even in the midst of its Promethean technological achievements. The supremely rational modern human being of our time who fully embodies the Cartesian dictum cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”) has isolated him/herself by appropriating all conscious intelligence in the Cosmos. Thus, as a result man (and I mean ‘man’ to signify the masculine inflection of the contemporary spiritual crisis now confronting the world):

“faces the existential crisis of being a solitary and mortal conscious ego thrown into an ultimately meaningless and unknowable universe…living in a world that has come to be shaped in such a way that it precisely matches his worldview—i.e., in a man-made environment that is increasingly mechanized, atomized, soulless, and self-destructive.”[5]

The resolution to the existential crisis felt in this moment by so many at this juncture of the ongoing Great Unraveling can only come through a re-integration of what has been lost, a preservation of what is best, and the conscious union of these two processes with an embrace of a new future in a cosmology yet to be born. No longer do we need the heroes who peel back the mysteries of Nature through mastery of Measure and Number as the angel told Descartes in the famous dream he recounted from his travel through Ülm. No longer do we need cowboys to subdue wild beasts, to domesticate wild Nature, or to conquer aboriginal peoples in the service of some grand Imperial project. Rather, the world needs individual people who awaken to who they truly are: the Self who is here on this Earth to connect with others, to grow, and to deepen his/her consciousness. Though the time will once again arrive for humanity to venture out into deep space to discover and inhabit new planets on some distant stars, the new frontier requires not astronauts but psychonauts.[6] In other words, each of us—both for our personal fulfillment and for the collective healing of Nature and Her wounds—must embrace Jung’s exhortation to understand “that the discovery of the unconscious means an enormous spiritual task, which must be accomplished if we wish to preserve our civilization.”[7] Astrology, both rigorously open to the great paradoxical mystery of the depths of meaning within the planetary and Zodiacal archetypes combined with the multiplicity of manifestations of these archetypal patterns in the lives of individuals, offers much assistance in this task of inner discovery.

For no less a giant than Carl Jung himself approvingly agrees with the Swiss Renaissance polymath Paracelsus that the characteristic alchemical vision uniting with astrology, as the two classical manifestations of the collective unconscious at work, should transform into:

“the spectacle of the ‘interior firmament’ and its stars. [Paracelsus] beholds the darksome psyche as a star-strewn night sky, whose planets and fixed constellations represent the archetypes in all their luminosity and numinosity. The starry vault of heaven is in truth the open book of cosmic projection, in which are reflected the mythologems, i.e. the archetypes.”[8]

The relationship between the Zodiac constellations and the planets, not being of the type of linear cause-and-effect so exalted within the practice of mainstream materialistic science, fits more within the Jungian concept of synchronicity. Whereas ancient courtier astrologers and tabloid Sun sign horoscope authors have given the false impression that astrological divination demonstrates a one-to-one correspondence between planetary alignments and life events in the personal horoscope, Jung recognized that this erroneous view held fundamental misconceptions about the nature of causality in relation to human perception. Jung’s concept of synchronicity, developed in close collaboration with the pioneering quantum physicist Wolfgang Pauli, corrects these misconceptions.[9] Jung relates the story of treating a young female patient bedeviled by an exaggerated rationalism (animus inflation) who tells of a dream where she receives a golden scarab. (See Figure 1 below)

jung-gold-scarab1

Figure 1–Golden Scarab Pendant

Just then as the woman was in the middle of recounting her dream and with Jung’s back faced the window, a gentle tapping on the window caught Jung’s attention. Jung turned around to see a beetle tapping against the windowpane. He then opened the window and caught the beetle as it flew inside; amazingly, the beetle was a member of the European species most closely related to the golden scarab of Egyptian lore the woman had seen in her dream. The young woman’s recounting of her dream certainly cannot be shown to have caused the beetle to come to the window; but, instead the acausal co-occurrence of the two events signaled a psychic affinity between the woman’s seeking of an interpretation of her dream from Jung and the external environment providing a synchronic “answer” to the woman. In other words, the inner facts of the woman’s dream about the scarab beetle appear to mysteriously speak in dialogue with the outer facts of the beetle’s appearance at Jung’s window. In this dialogue between the inner and outer, the progression of linear time no longer matters even as the question of the nature of time as phenomenon gains ascendancy. For Carl Jung’s student Marie-Luise von Franz the observation of synchronicities essentially requires watching:

“both areas of reality, the physical and the psychic, and to notice that at the moment when one had these and these thoughts or these and these dreams and such outer physical events happened, i.e., there was a complex of physical and psychological events. Though causal thinking also poses the problem of time in some form because of the before and after [i.e. time’s linear progression], the problem of time is much more central in the synchronistic way of thinking because there it is the key moment [in time] which is the uniting fact, the focal point for the observation of this [constellated] complex of events.”[10]

This particular story about the scarab beetle, which is one of many Jung witnessed and also incidentally one of his favorite of just such episodes, also holds archetypal significance beyond what Jung recalled of this episode. The scarab beetle possessed great archetypal significance for the ancient Egyptians. Ancient Egyptian mythology links the scarab beetle to Khepri, one of the four major incarnational forms of the sun god Ra. The name Khepri is derived from the ancient Egyptian word kheper, which translates into “to become transformed.” The scarab beetle’s emergence from the ground pushing a ball of dung became linked with the mythical god-form of Khepri appearing at dawn to push the Sun across the sky. The symbol of the scarab beetle became associated with the miraculous reappearance of the Sun after it had disappeared into the metaphorical underworld of night, and stone scarab statues were often erected in sun temple complexes, most famously at Tarnak. That the Sun would emerge each dawn just as the scarab beetle would emerge from the ground heralded the continuing process of transformation that would continue on even after death. The mystery of the scarab and its connection with the diurnal travel across the sky from the vantage point of Earth from Egyptian mythology is closely connected with the three major symbols of the Zodiac sign Scorpio most prevalent in Greco-Roman mythology—the scorpion, the eagle, and the Phoenix. Of these three, the mystery of the Phoenix dying in its fire and then rising again from its own ashes symbolizes the same process for which the scarab’s journey from the Earth pushing its dung ball also stands. Returning to the woman’s dream, the deeper archetypal meaning—also a core archetype within the Zodiac in the sign of Scorpio—of the appearance of the scarab beetle is the wider Cosmos trying to inform the woman’s psyche of the need to put away her excessive rationalism and to die to it so that she may be transformed and made emotionally more whole.

Such synchronicity as revealed through archetypes as the famous scarab story highlights the importance of human free will. Knowledge of these synchronicities, which are especially enriched through a careful and sophisticated engagement with the astrological tradition, enhances the person’s ability to consciously access the infinite depths of symbolic meaning available in the planetary and Zodiacal archetypes. As such, the way in which a person has manifested these archetypal configurations in the past is never subject to absolute predetermination and neither are present nor future manifestations similarly constrained. To take an example from my own chart; my natal Sun forms a hard opposition to my natal Saturn. This opposition in a natal chart suggests difficulty consciously reconciling oneself to limits imposed by authority of many kinds, but particularly the limits imposed by institutions. Now, this strong opposition can manifest in many ways throughout life; as it shows that one infinitely deep symbol can have infinitely many ways of manifesting itself. For some, this Sun-Saturn hard opposition can manifest in a life of extreme and violent rebellion displayed through wanton criminality. For others, this Sun-Saturn opposition can be devoted to a lifetime of political and social revolutionary causes. Still yet for others, this Sun-Saturn opposition can be devoted to a lifetime of dedication to social reform, improvement, and mild eccentricity. And in my case, I have shown no compunction towards direct, violent, or destabilizing relationships with authority and major institutions. I have no criminal history nor do I have revolutionary aspirations. Similarly, neither am I the committed social reformer nor the eccentric activist type. I identify strongly with being something of an eccentric, and I routinely have suffered from major anxiety in my relations to social institutions. While I never misbehaved as a youngster at school, I often chafed at rules and instinctively questioned authority. Those persons and institutions who garnered my respect received my loyalty; those who failed to garner this respect gave me major anxiety and often provoked me to enter periods of profound depression. My Saturn return which took place between two and three years ago represented a profoundly traumatic time of major relationship difficulties and profound self-questioning of my place in the social fabric. As I have begun the process of recovering from the devastation that my Saturn return represented for me, I have gained new wisdom and appreciation for intentionally approaching the unique manifestations of the Sun-Saturn dynamic within my own life.

In conclusion, the way I practice astrology via the lens of archetypal astrology foundationally rests upon both the synchronous character of the universe and the mind (incidentally, this is also the ontological and cosmological significance of the many discoveries of quantum mechanics). Astrology is about constructing unique personalized meaning for the client beginning with the natal chart and deepening this co-construction of meaning through engagement with the whole person as we progress to go through transits and composite charts. In so doing, the goal is to maximize the potential for personal and spiritual growth so that the client can achieve the most authentic transformation and liberation. I hope my discussions about the collapsing metaphysical foundations of contemporary society, the introduction to astrology using archetypal cosmology as a foundation, the explication of synchronicity and its parallels to a deep engagement with astrological divination that preserves and enhances the client’s understanding of the Self, and an initial reflection on an important astrological pattern having great autobiographical significance for myself inspire you along your spiritual journey. Finally, I hope you will grant me the supreme honor, in confidence and privacy, to share your life’s journey with me and allow me to help you see what light the great celestial archetypal mysteries of the Heavens may have to offer you.

[1] Desacralisation: the process of removing the religious or sacred status and/or significance from something

[2] Epistemology: A systematic theory of knowledge with regard to knowledge’s methods, validity, and scope.

[3] Snow, D. E. (2006). Schelling and the End of Idealism. (W. Desmond, Ed.) Albany, NY: SUNY Press. Pages 1, 180. As quoted from Snow’s translation of the German text; (1927). Schelling, F. J. W. Werke, Die Weltalter. (Vol. 13). (M. Schröter, Ed.). Munich, Germany: C. H. Beck. Page 7.

[4] Tarnas, R. (2010). The Passion of the Western Mind (Second ed.). London, UK: Pimlico. Pages 393-394.

[5] Tarnas, R. (2010). The Passion of the Western Mind (Second ed.). London, UK: Pimlico. Pages 393-394.

[6] McKenna, T. (1988). Vision Plants: The Transpersonal Challenge . Lecture Audio Recording. International Transpersonal Conference.   San Francisco, CA. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCjcgB158Kg.

[7] Jung, C. G. (1992). C.G Jung Letters, Vol. 1: 1906-1950 (Re-Issue edition ed.). (G. Adler, A. Jaffé, Eds., & R. Hull, Trans.) Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

[8] Jung, C. G. (1969). On The Nature of the Psyche. In H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, & W. McGuire (Eds.), The Collected Works of C.G. Jung (Bollingen Series): The Structures and Dynamics of the Psyche (R. Hull, Trans., Second ed., Vol. 8, p. 392). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

[9] Jung, C. (1969). Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle. In C. Jung, H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, & W. McGuire (Eds.), The Collected Works of C.G. Jung (Bollingen Series) (R. Hull, Trans., Vol. 8, p. 843). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

[10] von Franz, M.-L. (1980). On Divination and Synchronicity: The Psychology of Meaningful Chance Studies in Jungian Psychology. (D. Sharp, Ed.) Toronto, Canada: Inner City Books. Page 9.

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