When we come to contemplate the question as to what Astrology can and cannot do we might immediately start with the problematic question of causation, both on a simple and a complex level. Do the stars or planets literally have causal effect on the nature of our being?
Plotinus, in his “Are the Stars Causes?” section of the Enneads, is clear that belief in simplistic causation involving the stars or planets involves a naïve assumption that their character is capricious like some Greek or Roman god. He asserts that this is an unnecessary pathetic fallacy, an attempt of the existentially lonely mankind to bruise the surface of the night sky with infantile demands that it somehow look and act like a human life:
“It is absurd to think that the particular grouping under which a star passes can modify either its character or its earthward influences. And can we imagine it altered by its own progression as it rises, stands at centre, declines? Exultant when at centre; dejected or enfeebled in declension; some raging as they rise and growing benign as they set, while declension brings out the best in one among them; surely this cannot be?”
Essentially it cannot be. Those who argue Astrology has no place in rational human thinking have a point here – that the nature of the attempt to humanise the heavens as having character motivations, exalted or weakened stances in their own terms, is obviously some kind of human projection. Whether this is an inherently meaningless projection is a more complex issue, which we’ll set aside for another time. Another critique of astrology comes with the fact that the shapes of animals in the Zodiac and the great Constellations do not exist in linear form. Indeed many of the stars that are seemingly in the shape of an archer or a winged horse are being pieced together by ignoring huge swathes of space that really lie between them, i.e. they do not in any real sense literally have the shape of said animal or item. And this is one good reason why Astrology has no place inside a rational universe, certainly not the mechanistic universe as conceived at present by a humanity that is truly disenchanted, and less connected to nature and cosmos than perhaps at any other time in history.
It is as this point in our thinking that we have to question the nature of our collective disenchantment. And in this, we have come to a central part of what Astrology CAN do, which is to answer the question, “Is this universe enchanted?” Astrology’s inherent answer to this question places a sense of meaning and participation at the direct forefront of our experience of being alive and potentially raises the art-science of astrology to a living symbolism that includes us within the creation.
In a simple Newtonian universe, astrology would work as the heavens worked - like clockwork. But in the twentieth century we shattered Newton’s timepiece just as we split the very atomic structure on which it was built. And as we teetered on the brink of killing ourselves we saw that the machine was broken. Unconsciously, mankind at large and even the intelligentsia has struggled to keep up with the implications of this change. This is a multi-faceted problem for the machine age, but it also creates a legacy that marginalises the symbolic arts.
As science closed the door on imaginative possibility, Astrology, with all its complexity and subtlety was effectively tossed in the trash, alongside parapsychology, mysticism and the New Age. Whilst there may indeed be cause to dismiss much in these categories, what has been repressed and marginalised here may actually hold the key to understanding some of our finer qualities and complexities, including our search for meaning.
The question of meaning is surely a central one when we come to Astrology as a ‘verb’, as an active process (in its doing or its not doing). Victor Frankl observed, in the concentration camp in which he was interred, that those who lost their sense of meaning were only then one step from death. He based his considerable body of work after surviving the Holocaust emphasizing the central modern human problem as one’s sense of meaning.
People are led to Astrology because their search for meaning burns like a fierce jewel in their gut. People are desperate for a sense of personal and collective vision and they seek out Astrology and its many and varied practitioners because they wish to benefit from a vision that includes a connection to the cosmos.
In his seminal work Cosmos and Psyche, Richard Tarnas develops a grand vision and projects it onto the backdrop of history in order to prove his thesis, that the “primal world is ensouled.” Just as our personal history is an expression of our personal unconscious so too our collective story, our history, is an expression and representation of the collective unconscious, and the universe itself.
James Hillman has argued in his series of learned, poetic, and occasionally obscure but passionate texts, for an archetypal vision, a new kind of seeing. In Thoughts of the Heart he sees much of the pain or struggle of modernity and the issues raised by the 20th century Depth Psychology Movement as an inevitable consequence of our obscured vision:
“Of course I am lonely, unrelated and my existence throwaway. Of course therapy must focus on relations rather than on contents, substantialities, things that matter, because connection becomes the main work of therapy when the world is dead: ego psychology is inevitable, for the patient must find ways to connect the psyche of dream and feeling to the dead world so as to reanimate it. What stress, what effort it takes to live in a cemetery; what terrible need for willpower. So of course I fall prey to ideologies and cults that relieve the burden of this subjectivity. Of course I am in desperate narcissistic need, not because I have been neglected or still neglect my inmost subjectivity, but because the world without soul can never offer intimacy, never return my glance, never look at me with appeal, with gratitude, nor relieve the essential isolation of my subjectivity.”
In order to live fully humanity must turn again to life, and leave the cemetery of our projections, finding a bridge to a more visionary life. As we embrace the archetypal perspective we are essentially opening also to the perennial philosophy, for the great hermetic and spiritual traditions of the world have preserved the truth of the radical nature of Being.
Astrology is a part of the perennial philosophy, an aspect of the visionary life. From this perspective then, the natal chart becomes a perfect representation of the harmony of the spheres, a perfect correspondence to the individual karma and potential born within one moment in the life of the universe.
Astrology in its deepest expression can open up a sympathetic resonance to one’s karma and one’s potentiality, waiting to be born. The birth chart does not cause this karma, it instead offers a harmonic resonance and expression of it, a true correspondence with the life potential (As Above, So Below). In this vision, Psyche (or Soul) is in touch with Cosmos (or the Soul of the World). Indeed they are dancing together, in a timeless synthesis, a deathless joy:
“…the soul of the individual can never advance beyond the soul of the world, because they are inseparable, the one always implicating the other. Any alteration in the human psyche resonates with a change in the psyche of the world.” -Hillman.
This subject leads on to many other questions and potentials. In the study of astrology I come from - Evolutionary Astrology - we can see that the living letters of the evolutionary axis in the natal chart reveal the nature of prior life experience and the kind of life the Soul has manifested in order to learn. This knowledge then opens up enormous potential to relate to one’s on-going journey of finding meaning in life as the Soul manifests through time perhaps via the framework of prior lives, or even more fantastic, as the expression of a multidimensional on-going reality in which everything co-exists.
In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle leads the reader towards the empowerment of the present moment, from where we are always actually experiencing consciousness. Dr. David Hawkins once made the rather beautiful addition to Tolle’s message that is not just the power of Now, but rather the power of Always. In each moment we can awake to the awareness that this is The Everything, and sense the abundance of the Divine, knowing that the full light of the universe is radiating throughout all time and space.
Moments of awareness as these are, for the average person (myself included) few and far between. Still it is from this vision of a light-infused creation that astrology emerges as an alphabet of potential, a symbolic treasure for people to engage with the nature of who they are and their real purpose.
As we utilize astrology to unlock the mystery of meaning, we must also heed the warnings raised by Hillman. People still projecting “the cemetery” onto the world are desperate and needy and they too easily turn to idols and gurus, some of whom offer people back to themselves and their true potential and some who do not. Astrology is a gift, a tool and a symbol, it can help you find the way back to yourself. It cannot, and Astrologers certainly should not, do it for you.
This Cosmos of ours is a participatory one and we are all invited to take part.
“The stars are like letters which inscribe themselves at every moment in the sky…Everything in the world is full of signs…All events are co-ordinated…All things depend on each other, as has been said, ‘Everything breathes together.’” - Plotinus quoted by Richard Tarnas.