April 26, 2014

COSMOS and PSYCHE: Intimations of a New World View ( 2006) Richard Tarnas, Plume edition.

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During key moments of my life, I have often felt the need to acknowledge something momentous and awe-inspiring in astrology, sending messages to us from unseen forces.We just had to decode it, if only we could read the signs. It is hard not to notice that this month, April 2014, we are at a pivotal moment, poised between two eclipses and locked in a Cardinal Grand Cross that people might be feeling the internal tug-of-war, urging dramatic change in our lives.  

Astrology is enigmatic, yet everyday; obvious, yet maddeningly elusive: untouchable, yet at the same time prostituted everywhere as a common superstition. It is not easy to understand in depth, yet is incredibly easy to simplify into a stock set of character types, and ridicule the true riches it has to offer. The debate over the legitimacy of astrology has raged for centuries; it has been labelled 'quackery' by the  so called 'real' custodians of knowledge;  and it has been vilified by the Church as a form of black magic, yet also pursued in secret by more than a few world leaders (Reagan famously consulted an astrologer) seeking to bargain with fate. 

Umberto Stanucci (image)
That a natal birth chart could offer a snapshot of the interplay of archetypes in our character - read ‘personality DNA’ - has long been a source of fascination. How could that be so? Yet, ask yourself how many of your best friends happen to have the same sign, or element? How many of the  events in your life tied in with sextiles, oppositions, squares and transits of the heavyweight planets? Why should any of this even be true once, let alone repeatedly and with a staggering exactitude if there’s no substance to it? The trouble is it takes a lifetime to track such patterns. Yet tracking them really can provide some eye opening insights into the uniqueness of the patterning of a single life. After reading Tarnas' Cosmos and Psyche (2006) I felt prompted to put a few words together on this puzzle written in the stars.

How to begin about this cornucopia of ideas? I'm inclined to agree with a reviewer, Mary Hynes, who said "This is the closest my head has been to exploding while reading a book". It blows the mind open, gently yet relentlessly.  Tarnas’s style is methodical and assured and his range is staggering.By reading it, vast chasms appear to expertly illustrated with new relevance and you cannot but feel more expanded in scale and panoramic breadth of vision. It transports the reader to an elevated, but intricately woven insider’s viewpoint that adroitly illuminates all that we (thought) we knew about  history and culture and then turns all that on its head.  If the Passion of the Western Mind (1991) was Tarnas’ Ulysees then Cosmos and Psyche is most definitely his Finnegan’s Wake; the first, charted the conscious ideas that have shaped the Western world view; the second, is attempted map, no less, of the unconscious mind of the entire universe - at least thus far.

You might think that this book is difficult to read, but just like the multiple and repeated cycles that appear like motifs in a symphony, the writing is expertly controlled. It flows well for 544 pages of dense information, allowing for much previewing, subtle iteration, layering of themes and accumulation of impact, building up to Wagnerian crescendos worthy of 

such a Titanic subject. The wealth of cultural, scientific, historical and literary knowledge in any one person is in itself astonishing- putting aside that Tarnas is a Harvard Professor of Psychology and Philosophy - but in addition to this there is the accumulation of 30 years of careful study of astrology. This is no mere sun-sign coffee table trivia, but the deepest, most profoundly psychological and penetrating set of insights into how planets align with historic processes, leaving their unmistakable stamp upon events. It is rare that such a book comes along and dares to describe the ‘whole’ picture and at the same time revolutionise our previously limited ideas of history and our intimate place within its inexorable, archetypal evolution. 

It starts by saying we have not been served well by the loss of meaning to the modern era.  Tarnas points to a schism in our understanding of the universe, especially in the modern era. Meaning has become divorced from the world we live in. It often seems random, soulless, impersonal, where we are just cogs in arbitrary mechanical wheels. Shamans however, still understand that we are intimately connected to the ‘anima mundi’ or world soul, and astrology may just provide that vital missing link. Yet, until now it did not seem possible to rejoin ancient hermetic philosophies with a stark, random, god less, postmodernist universe which offers no shape or pattern to our lives. 

Tarnas scrupulously delineates set of correlations and alignments that match
up with not just significant turning points in the lives of great leaders, writers, artists and scientists, but also with eras of  both turmoil and distinctive progress. This process is not bat-hits-ball Newtonian mechanics, with a simplistic, deterministic, linear causal relationship of material, external forces upon events upon the Earth. The key players are the more recently discovered and less visible outer planets: Saturn, Uranus - which Tarnas defines more correctly as Prometheus- Neptune, and Pluto, which is defined by Tarnas more accurately as Dionysus. Rob Brezsny, who was astrologer for the Village Voice, has cited Tarnas’ book as “the definitive  astrology book of the 21st century -  probably the 20th too.” Daniel Pinchbeck  says that Tarnas has "staked his success and academic reputation on this radical thesis," for example on the idea that from 2006 to 2020 we are experiencing a further period of revolutionary/innovative and radical energy, just as in the 1960s, when Uranus (Prometheus) and Pluto (Dionysus) were in alignment, which - surprise, surprise- also happened to be in alignment during 1797-1789- the French revolution. Even Lennon noted that Love and Peace were not just restricted to the 1960s. 

Tarnas is careful to emphasise that it works more subtlely as archetypal and dynamic energies that unfold and express themselves in diverse ways, depending on the circumstances. The same planetary influence  can manifest quite differently, multiplying the possibilities and permutations. C.G. Jung talked of the need to discern ‘symbolic patterning’ in events, which is a skill that requires development for most of us. All 'synchronicity' suggests is that two things occurring together have a meaning, and are not just happenstance. Knowledge of the positions of planets in our natal charts, and of the transits and progressions,the alliance with our own inner archetypes can allow us to have a more creative approach to cyclical shifts and changes occurring now and over the next decade. You can obtain your chart from Cafe Astrology. It is work taking the time to study. 

Tarnas’s grand breathtaking sweep of history/science/events is interlinked with the movements of planets. It underscores the old esoteric proverb ‘as above, so below’ of the Hermetic Philosophers. We ourselves are living out these archetypal patterns. The planets are not stuck out in space somewhere, but are alive in our own psyches as living dramas. He recognised that the extraordinary changes during the 1960s aligned closely with the only conjunction of Uranus (Prometheus) and Pluto (Dionysus) of the 20th century. The precision of these alignments can be mapped across centuries to evidence common traits - e.g for the Pluto Uranus transits, revolution and  radical, cathartic transformation which are associated with those planets. This leads to the sense that a design is at work, awakening new strands in human behaviour, and how these developments work themselves out in history, aligns rather too neatly with the aspects and transits for other explanations to carry weight equal Tarnas' proposition. Our current social and cultural transformations in the second decade of the 21st century are an echo and final fruition of what erupted in the 1960s, and should give us clues into what may continue to develop. This suggests that the predictive power of astrology comes from understanding larger cycles, rather than merely 'seeing' the future. The impulse for radical change is still certainly on the cards, as we have witnessed in the past few years, in the growth of feminism, the overthrow of corrupt governments, the redress of social justice, progress for gay rights, eco-activism and technological advancements that exhibit increased global consciousness.

In short there is a grandeur that inevitably emerges from this new 'world view,' this illuminated understanding that astrology and history are thoroughly enmeshed. We have shifted from the old heliocentric model too, and the spiral dynamic view of the universe is gaining force. The universe can no longer be 'flat' or even 'round' but a vortex, and one of many in a multi-verse. Tarnas' does not touch on that, but his approach is delightfully cross-disciplinary in that it has managed to join quite a few dots across previously divided fields of study, from depth psychology (which was itself considered pseudo science only a hundred years ago) to astrology, from science to art, to make the previously fragmented picture we had of the world ‘whole’ again. 

© Kieron Devlin, 2014
all rights reserved




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