Culture, Correlations & Consciousness
The expanding astrological horizon
A essay-review by Gerry Goddard of
Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View.
Viking 2005 by Richard Tarnas.
It is ironic that astrology which reveals the resonant patterns of meaning linking mind and cosmos has until now, despite its long effective practice and vast store of knowledge, failed to establish a systematic methodology and to gather a body of evidence sufficient to command the serious attention of the larger intellectual community. Astrologers are frustratingly aware of being in possession of a useful tool, like Galileo's telescope, yet repeatedly compelled to encounter the established authority's refusal to look directly at the existing evidence. But more than possessing a mere tool, astrologers know—whether or not they articulate it—that they are privy to a cosmological vision that lies beyond the myopic horizon of the strictly objective and quantitative scientific eye.
Reaching across this contemporary paradigmatic divide, Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View by the eminent scholar and astrological researcher Richard Tarnas, now provides us with an empirical methodology and a richly packed store of compelling historical evidence for astrological synchrony. This solidly empirical study, rather than being quantitative and statistical, is a qualitative, nuanced, interpretative and richly detailed demonstration of astrological correlations throughout the course of history. Many in the astrological field who are familiar with Tarnas's seminal monograph on the planet Uranus, Prometheus the Awakener, and his eloquent and profound history of ideas, The Passion of the Western Mind, have long been anticipating this work which promises to forge beyond the cultural and cosmological boundary that has excluded astrology from the canon of established knowledge disciplines.
As it historically traces the archetypal dynamics of the collective mind in synchronic resonance with the outer planetary cycles, Tarnas's scholarly yet accessible work is both an ambitious contribution to the field of astrology itself and, beyond mere theory or subjective experience, a bold and decisive demonstration to the larger community that the cosmos which eventually 'died' through subsequent modern developments following the Copernican moment, once again reverberates with meaning. As Tarnas explains, it is the confirmation of the cosmological dimension as meaningful that provides the missing dimension of all new paradigm strategies:
Newton has been transcended, but not Copernicus....No amount of revisioning philosophy or psychology, science or religion, can forge a new world view without a radical shift at the cosmological level. As it now stands, our cosmic context does not support the attempted transformation of human vision.
Beyond endless philosophical argument, what better body of evidence could there be for the reenchantment of the cosmos than astrology?
This work promises to bridge the credibility gap, to end astrology's long eclipse, and to bring about a wider recognition of its validity. Perhaps even more importantly, through revealing the very architecture of the evolving collective psyche in resonance with a re-enchanted cosmos, Cosmos and Psyche constitutes nothing less than a call to a radically new paradigmatic orientation toward mind and cosmos, to a greater coherence beyond postmodern fragmentation, marking a profound cultural shift that is archetypally resonant to the cosmological shift that took place with the Copernican heliocentric discovery. We now stand at the threshold of a new way of understanding ourselves and our world which is both articulated and exemplified by this historically pivotal work. As an illuminating account of the collective psyche, Cosmos and Psyche brings so-called mundane astrology to another level, demonstrating the interface between the individual and the collective mind as conceived within a radically archetypal perspective that harks back to Plato and, in a more current psychological form, to Jung.
Readers of Passion will already be familiar with Tarnas's articulation of the participatory epistemology, that way of knowing in which “nature’s unfolding truth emerges only with the active participation of the human mind”, where psyche is a participant along with cosmos in the shaping and creation of what is. Within this psychological and philosophical framing, astrological correspondence is to be understood as the recognition by an "imaginative intelligence" of meaningful patterns formed through an "archetypally informed synchronicity", a process of knowledge which, rather than being concretely predictive, is archetypally predictive. While this work will be enriched by having read Passion, the opening chapters pick up Passion’s thread, contextualizing the astrological material so that readers unfamiliar with the earlier work are introduced effectively to Tarnas's particular vision and his overarching conception of the complex streams that have constituted the ambiguous development of the modern self.
The astrological configurations that Tarnas engages in his account are basic— sufficient to the purpose of breaking free of the boundaries that unfairly continue to isolate astrology from intellectual respectability at large. In keeping with astrological consensus, the author provides a lucid yet profound introduction to the relevant astrological principles. Reaching back to the axial age (500 years BCE, the seminal period of the founding of the great religions) and largely concentrating on the modern West (Renaissance to postmodernity), this work is an explication of history in relation to the major hard aspects—conjunction, opposition and squares—of a number of outer planetary combinations and configurations (involving Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto) chosen from an even larger body of research.
Through a penetrating analysis of the complex thematic character of a number of generally recognized significant historical moments and epochs, the reader witnesses how the peaks and valleys of the earthly course of human unfolding demonstrate a rhythmic concordance with the peaks and valleys of the planetary dance. Rather than concentrating on natal interpretations for conclusive evidence, the author's overiding commitment is to the explication of world transits since "there is one vast continuous chronology to look at —the ongoing biography, as it were, of the human community" which possesses a "particular historical character and cultural significance....well documented and more open to straightforward evaluation" than individual paradigm cases no matter how meaningful and compelling. But integrally woven into this richly detailed and fascinating historical account are references to relevant personal transits and to the planetarily synchronous historical contributions of numerous iconic figures who reflect and constitute the ethos of each period: Augustine, Galileo, Descartes, Shakespeare, Newton, Rousseau, Shelley, Schopenhauer, Marx, Melville, Nietzsche, Darwin, Lincoln, Whitman, James, Kafka, Freud, Joyce, Conrad, Einstein, Stravinsky, Jung, Hemingway, Chaplin, Hitler, Auden, Friedan and a host of other figures in both popular and high culture. Tarnas explores psycho-cosmic resonances not only within the social, political, cultural, artistic and scientific complexity of a particular historical period, including closer examination of several of its central players, but also across different periods of history linked through the patterns of their common astrological character be it revolutionary, creative, emancipatory, conservative or visionary—illustrating both synchronic and diachronic (across time) patterns of resonance.
The conjunctions, oppositions and squares of Uranus and Pluto correspond with those periods most intensily marked in which revolutionary upheavals and concentrations of new innovations and radical shifts occur including developments in civil rights, socialism and feminism. For example, the French revolution and the sixties are seen as especially paradigmatic, but several other periods such as the mid 1900's and the turn of the 20th century and earlier socio-political revolutionary periods are also unpacked in their full detail.
Historical times with a distinctly more conservative, reactionary, contractive and repressive character are extensively shown to correspond to the periodicities of Saturn and Pluto, the most starkly familiar to us being the 9/11 attack on the World Trade towers, the beginnings of the two world wars, the onset of the cold war and other political periods of extreme conservative reaction over the last several centuries.
Those periods clearly characterized by an expansive profusion and explosion of rich cultural and scientific breakthroughs, discoveries, new beginnings, creative brilliance, and expanded horizons are seen to correspond to the frequent periodicities of the Jupiter/Uranus cycle. Wave upon wave of illustrative examples include major person/events of the Enlightenment; scientific revelations involving Kepler and Galileo, Darwin and Wallace, Faraday, Mendel, Planck, Bohr, Heisenberg, Freud etc.; musical events of an expansive, exuberant and Promethean character including Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, Mozart's Jupiter symphony and Beethoven's Eroica; pivotal events in the history of the attainment of freedom and political events such as the beginnings of the American and French revolutions.
The more sustained yet less frequent periods of the Uranus/Neptune rhythm are characterized by profound cultural, philosophical and artistic paradigm shifts and awakenings, yet also with elements of confusion as established belief structures are being threatened. From the Axial age to the time of Socrates to the Italian Renaissance, to the Romantic period to the first two and the last two decades of the 20th Century, we encounter the same extensive profusion of sensitively interpreted information as in the other major sections of the work. The final section of the volume situates us in the present moment and looks ahead over the coming years through an archetypally conceived set of interpretations enhanced by our understanding of the historical manifestations of the outer planetary configurations.
Despite my obvious enthusiasm for this book the question must be asked, "How could Tarnas's evidence for astrological synchrony and his overarching cosmic-psycho-spiritual vision legitimately be refuted?" In order to attempt in good faith to refute this book, one would need the scholarship necessary to argue extensively against the characterization of the essentials of a certain period or event, against the interpretations of various works of art, or against the significance of numerous discoveries. One would have to be able to demonstrate convincingly—with thousands of counter examples—either how there are in fact no real historical peaks, or that the peaks which Tarnas identifies are questionably chosen simply to fit the theory, or that in each specified period in which relevant works and events are cited that there are just as many events and works of the same essential quality that can be found equally distributed across other times bearing no astro-archetypal resonance to them. A rejection based on anything less than such a meticulous scholarly counter-argument would be cavalier and intellectually disingenuous. While I believe that this work as a whole is largely immune to refutations of this sort, intellectually honest critique and interpretative differences promoting constructive dialogue in the field are entirely appropriate and even required by a work of this magnitude.
Certain off-the-top critical responses may also be anticipated; for example, the argument that the claim to astrological multivalence and the principle of indeterminism is simply an interpretative hedge so that ultimately 'anything can mean anything', or that the orbs are so wide with such a broad historical embrace that most 'fish' can be caught in their nets. As any astrologer knows, multivalence—the multiple inflections around a common thread within any complex holistic context—simply does not allow that 'anything can mean anything'; so the first argument has no logical grounds. The second point is based on an approach to individual birth chart analysis (using narrower orbs) taken by some astrologers; but the world-transit orbs given by Tarnas have been arrived at empirically and would need to be critiqued empirically. Finally, if the larger scientistic culture, feeling its very philosophical foundation threatened, chooses without serious scholarly critique to ignore or even denigrate this work, Tarnas's Cosmos and Psyche will still endure, even if somewhat obscured in its own time, as surely as De Revolutionibus endured to seed the eventual radical shifts that would constitute the modern period.
Upon first reading this work, I felt as though I were standing before the Great Pyramid, a testimony to the Pythagorean order of the earth and heavens, every stone precisely constructed—the work of mathematician, scientist, engineer. Yet the fact that it exists, and its very meaning, are creations, not of the scientific mind, but of the mind of a visionary and poet standing in sacred awe before the dome of the sky. For astrologers, this book is an absolute "must read", belonging on the shelf with the foremost classics in the field. The research that went into this substantial volume, the cultural and historical background and the skillful eye necessary to assemble the material in order to demonstrate the cosmic/earthly dance is nothing short of staggering. Its vast store of cultural/historical/astrological information will make it a permanent and valued reference work and source of inspiration for astrologers at every level of seriousness and expertise. And for that significant growing number of questing individuals outside astrology who are willing to read Cosmos and Psyche with an open-mind and examine its impressive and compelling evidence, a new self and a new world will open.