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Uranus, Prometheus
or just plain Herschel?

(a response to Robert Chandler's reply to Richard Tarnas)

by Gerry Goddard

What's in a name? Surely, Uranus by any other name would inspire or misbehave the same! In Uranus and Prometheus (AJ vol. 38, no. 1), Robert Chandler certainly doesn't think so, loyally defending the name Uranus (from the Greek god Ouranos), against Richard Tarnas who argues that the myth of Prometheus rather than that of Ouranos captures the essence of the planet. In his monograph linking Uranus to an impressive list of inspired and 'break-through' geniuses who he claims paradigmatically embody the Promethean archetype, Richard Tarnas writes:
"Although Uranus's meaning is so well established in astrological circles that its name has come to be synonymous with the character of its actual manifestations rather than with its mythological namesake, I believe that recognition of the archetypal identity of the astrological Uranus with the mythic Prometheus can radically expand and deepen our understanding of this planet's meaning. Knowing the name of something of course, liberates the knower." (my italics.) (Tarnas 95, p 114)
Although Robert Chandler questions Tarnas' substitution of Prometheus for Ouranos as most adequately reflecting the Uranus archetype, they seem to agree as to the importance of getting the precise and 'correct' name. In a tellingly non-Uranian manner, Chandler insists that we are compelled to stay within the confines of the name that was synchronistically and 'magically' chosen! ("Surely the names assigned the new planets are something given to us once and for all, unalterable, like an omen?" [Chandler p.10]) Rather than being an open discussion of myth to investigate and illuminate the complex nature of an astrological archetype, the discussion begins to sound like an argument reminiscent of the scholastic disputes concerning the 'true name' of God.

Given the multidimensional, relativistic, interpenetrating, ambiguous, and polyvalent character of myth and archetype, I feel the mythic characters and stories are best approached as springboards or guiding hypotheses for empirical, intellectual, and intuitive investigation rather than being seen as hand-in-glove correspondences. Although I am persuaded that the figure of Prometheus (at least as the principle is defined by Tarnas: "...the pre-eminent mythic personification of rebellion, revolution, technological and cultural innovation, and the striving for freedom and change." [Tarnas 95, p 51]) more adequately captures the Uranus archetype than Ouranos, I acknowledge that the myth of Ouranos also illuminates something of the Uranus archetype, and therefore the synchronicity of its naming still stands. ( Nevertheless, Tarnas' argument that the name 'Uranus' was simply a logical inference -- since Ouranos was the father of Kronos who was the father of Zeus -- remains persuasive).

In addition to the conservative fiat that we are bound to the original synchronous naming, Chandler makes the claim for the symbolic adequacy of Ouranos based on a an account of the myth of original separation of sky and earth and on a most interesting imaginative interpretation of the Uranus discovery chart plus allusions to the French revolution, the element Uranium, etc. While acknowledging that there is a case establishing some archetypal resonance between the planet and the mythological Ouranos and since I am not qualified to engage this debate at the mythic level, I wish to concern myself with critiquing certain of Chandler's statements on the basis of 'non-mythic' logic and key perspectival differences that underlie his difficulties with Tarnas' claims.

Trivializing the Inner Planets or Undervaluing Uranus?

The rest of Chandler's case seems to be based on two main points: One, that Tarnas is usurping or duplicating the meaning and status of the traditional planetary pantheon in that his definition of Prometheus includes dimensions already symbolized by the traditional planets. And two, that the Prometheus myth simply does not apply to Uranus, i.e. that Uranus in its nature is not Promethean. Chandler accepts to some degree the consensus view of the planet's meaning acknowledging that Tarnas's personages truly demonstrate Uranian characteristics, but not particularly Promethean ones. But his argument is based on conceiving of Uranus in a rather negative light; that is, embracing the "lesser" characteristics of the planet without including the "higher" ones describing it as a planet of "revolution, alienation, dissociation and splitting." (Chandler, p. 13) But it remains unclear on the face of it whether Chandler's problem is with Tarnas' definition of the Promethean principle itself, with his string of adjectives that define the planet Uranus, or with the alleged correspondence between the planetary meaning (as Tarnas defines it) and the meaning of the Promethean myth itself (as Chandler would understand it).

Concerning Chandler's first point, while I agree that in relation to the asteroids, hypothetical planets and the trans-Saturnians, the unfortunate tendency to duplicate meaning (with a consequent 'trivialization') indeed exists, I do not see that this is what Tarnas is doing or that what he is doing cannot be adequately accounted for. One example of an alleged usurped planetary function is that of Jupiter, the principle of freedom (among other things). But Jupiter symbolizes an expressive freedom within certain parameters, within the prevailing paradigm, (a horizontal and translational freedom) whereas Uranus symbolizes the urge for freedom from the paradigm, a breaking through into a new or different paradigm, an evolutionary (vertical) development or transformation. These are two related though distinct senses of 'freedom'. In contrast to Chandler's more negative definition, Tarnas' stressing of the Promethean nature of Uranus does tend to centralize the more evolutionary, positive or Jupiterian side of the planet (though he also acknowledges its 'lesser' characteristics) but this does not constitute a duplication of the meaning and function of Jupiter! If in fact Tarnas actually is defining Uranus in a way that usurps the meaning of the traditional planets, then he would be committing a category error. The transSaturnians stand in a meta-relationship to the traditional pantheon since they are not standard psychological functions but higher principles in relation to which the visible planets are called to develop, evolve and transform upward. For example, considering Uranus in its intellectual mode, the planet does not replace the thinking function Mercury -- Uranus is not another thinking function -- but potentially 'pulls' it toward a 'higher' or more complex level of functioning. As Tarnas puts it;

"It was as if each Uranus aspect reflected the "liberation" of a specific archetypal impulse -- Prometheus liberating the Mercury impulse of ideas and language and communication, for example, or freeing the Venus impulse of art and beauty and love, or liberating the Mars impulse of assertiveness and militant aggression. Conversely, those same archetypes could be understood as the specific channels through which the Promethean impulse of creative innovation, rebellion, unpredictability, and individualism was particularly expressed." ( Tarnas 95 p 68-69)
It is clearly indicated from this passage that he is not caught in this category error. The more pathological characteristics attributed to Uranus ("...sociopathic rebelliousness, compulsive risk-taking and stealing, pathological political extremism and iconoclasm..." [Tarnas 95 p 108] ) represent the incapacity to incorporate and integrate the higher Uranian dimension within the normal structures -- i.e. the traditional planets.

By arguing that Tarnas' Prometheus usurps the traditional planetary functions, Chandler is in effect acknowledging the complex and composite nature of mythic figures (at least in the case of Prometheus, unless he would argue that Tarnas' concept of Prometheus itself is inaccurate); but if planetary archetypes do in fact correspond in some sense to mythic stories, then they must be likewise complex and composite. But if they are, then it seems odd to insist (by Chandler or Tarnas) that there is one and only one possible archetypal story corresponding with Uranus! That the realm of the collective unconscious has been accessed and mythically mapped by ancient imagination and psychic intuition and that the planets have deep archetypal and symbolic meaning in relation to the same dimensions of existence, is generally beyond dispute. But beyond the degree to which the symbols historically evolved together, it is unlikely that there would be exact one-to-one correspondences between the symbol sets. (I am acknowledging here that Tarnas' Prometheus is not an exact fit either, even though more adequate.)

Concerning the second point, Chandler's rejection of Tarnas' positive and evolutionary understanding of Uranus and his own insistence on its essentially divisive character (for him, Descartes, the favorite whipping boy of romantics, is quintessentially Uranian) actually indicates a crucial fundamental paradigm difference. For Chandler, rather than bringing fire to humanity, the Uranian types have "split apart the earthly and the celestial, the human and the divine, the rational and the spiritual." (Chandler, p.14) On one level, this issue pivots around the question of whether the very Uranian rise of modern science, rational-empirical philosophy, and technology -- the Enlightenment project -- is to be seen as an unfortunate disenchantment of the world, an error that we must reject in order to re-awaken to an original Unity state or whether it is to be seen as an admittedly difficult yet major developmental step within an overarching evolutionary development of human consciousness. From a reading of The Passion of the Western Mind, Tarnas' larger philosophical evolutionary context becomes clear. Operating as a fundamental dialectical process that has propelled the development of Western culture, the Promethean impulse, "restless, heroic, rebellious and revolutionary, individualistic and innovative, eternally seeking freedom, autonomy, change and the new" dynamically engages the Saturnian impulse which is "conservative, stabilizing, controlling, dominating, that which seeks to sustain, order, contain and repress." (Tarnas 91, p 492n)

Within such a dialectical view, Uranus is indeed the principle of separation and distinction. It is called 'differentiation', an essential feature of any real evolutionary development, complexification and growth. In psychological terms, the differentiation of self and world, mind and body, constitutes the foundation of the "mental-ego" that in the view of certain transpersonal psychologists like Ken Wilber, necessarily precedes any higher level of self realization, self actualization or transcendent unity. Of course, integration must follow differentiation. As one planet in a complex whole, Uranus cannot represent the whole picture -- it obviously needs the other planets for balance and integration as Tarnas himself points out.

"...when the psyche is dominated by Prometheus with no integration of Saturn....Promethean energy then tends to be embodied in compulsive and unintelligent forms: rebellious in ineffective ways, stubbornly eccentric or nonconformist, unreliable and undisciplined, constantly proclaiming new ideas with neither substantial basis nor lasting value....Prometheus needs a structure for his revolution, and Saturn is that structure." (Tarnas 95, p112)
The fire is stolen from the gods through an act of courageous defiance in the name of a higher ideal, but thankfully what humanity does with that gift has not been exactly prescribed. Bringing fire to humanity does not preclude the negative so pointing out the negative qualities of Uranus (or casting its qualities in a negative light) does not repudiate its Promethean characteristics. Stark "higher truths" can burn and destroy! Differentiation does sometimes become fragmentation and division, intellectual perspicacity does sometimes result in 'existential' accounts of reality (just to refer to those Uranian spokespersons of the Twentieth century condition such as Sartre, Kafka, and Beckett who could not in Chandler's view possibly be reflecting any 'higher' level of truth).

Looked at from an historical and psychological perspective, the question becomes whether Uranus is to be understood to symbolize only the overly rationalistic and dualistic level evident through the modernist and positivistic period that is now legitimately being challenged by new paradigm thinkers or whether the left brain, dualistic and mechanistic paradigm, more or less contemporary with Uranus' discovery, is to be seen as one necessary stage of a larger movement that is still unfolding, a process in which Uranus continues to play a central role in various -- not just rational-scientific -- cultural dimensions. In the latter view, Uranus is now functioning as the critic of what was then Uranian but has now become Saturnian. It is necessary to point out that the "Enlightenment" also gave birth to the distinctly Uranian concepts of equality, freedom, justice and human rights, crucial issues and higher human values that have continued to evolve up to the present time. As Uranus freed the individual from the tyranny of collectivity and hierarchical authority, it must free us now from the crystallizations of rampant alienated egocentricity and technological enslavement.

The discovery of Uranus and the development of the modern ego.

I am intrigued by Chandler's beautifully poetic interpretation of the Uranus discovery chart in terms of the myth of Ouranos. I am not prepared to offer any such counter interpretation in terms of the myth of Prometheus. But just as the myth of Ouranos can be imaginatively projected upon the discovery chart, the story of the planet Uranus, conceived in developmental and evolutionary terms, can also be discerned there. Nevertheless, in a strictly logical sense, the nature of Uranus "in-itself," cannot be pictured in the discovery chart because it is not a birth chart -- Uranus is not the entity at the centre being pictured by the planetary map! Rather, the discovery chart depicts the meaning and structure of human consciousness in relation to the sudden emergence (into consciousness) of the Uranus archetype. It has only been through an observing and understanding of Uranus independent of the discovery chart (and to a large degree independent of myth) that we can discern its impact and significance in relation to the human condition from that time to the present.

For democracy, equality, and human rights to become manifest in the world a new structure of individuality needed to be born. This was the modern ego, independent and cosmocentric, wresting power, significance, and value away from authority, tradition, elites, the rule of faith, and unconscious collectivity. Attuning to a higher level of cosmic meaning and value, the individual is called to struggle against and wrest power away from traditional authority -- to question and challenge intellectually, morally and even politically. The discovery of Uranus coincided most closely with two important events, the American revolution and the publication of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. The American and French revolutions were the natural outgrowth of the new concepts of equality, democracy and human rights (Locke, Rousseau, Voltaire) culturally linked to the modern epistemological emphasis on the subject, concepts which exalted the individual above authority and tradition. Yet coming at the end of the Eighteenth century, Kant's Critique ushered in a radical new concept of individuality where, rather than being a passive observer of the world, the subject is in some sense its responsible creator (the Kantian categories and the moral imperative). Yet reflecting the paradoxical nature of Uranian truth, the individual ego now invested with such 'cosmic power,' rather than experiencing inflation, is in the very process toppled from its egocentric confidence within an absolute and rationally determined world, to be eventually reduced to the status of our contemporary alienated 'postmodern' ego now awaiting a new Uranian rebirth (i.e. with a little help from Neptune and Pluto).

Imaging the Discovery Chart

Now to allow my own imagination to play upon the symbols of the discovery chart: The Sun, as focal planet of the critical T-square involving Uranus, symbolizes the potential birth of the modern individualistic ego, the challenge to differentiate itself from the undifferentiated sea of collectivity (Pisces). It is being born from the dialectical tension of Saturn in Sagittarius (religious authority and tradition, and on another level, even the new rational/scientific authority) and Uranus in Gemini, the mental awakener, challenging and questioning the status quo and setting the stage for the Idealist and Romantic reactions to come. The conservative and progressive poles are held in dynamic and developmental tension whether in the social/cultural and political world or in the world of science and technology demanding that the Sun (the individual) awaken to his true nature. The Sun as ruler of the Midheaven suggests that authority is coming more and more to lie in the individual while its trine to Jupiter becomes a symbol of the individual's quest for freedom, self expansion, and the search for a greater truth. The conjunction of Saturn and Mars symbolizes the power invested in the patriarchal structures being challenged by Uranus while the still rather unformed and disempowered Piscean Sun, still structured and contained by Saturn/Mars, now finds an ally in his struggle -- though a Uranian ally that demands that the solar individual grow up and take his power! The tension between Uranus and Mars was currently being played out by the American revolution (and soon by the French revolution) proclaiming the rights of the common man against traditional authority. Thus Uranus per se does not symbolize concrete revolution; rather, the dialectic of Uranus and Mars brings the new truth and value into being by a necessary counterforce against the social/political entrenchment of 'unjust' Saturnian authority.

Since the Moon and Venus are unintegrated through any major aspects to Uranus or the other planets, the essential action is in the dimension of power, assertion and the masculine with a marginalizing of the feminine. Yet at the same time the Moon and Venus are angular symbolizing a powerful feminine matrix (horizon/meridian) supporting the action. At one level, here is the transition to the Romantic era with its emphasis on the feminine principle. But the feminine will eventually come into its own as the establishment of the individualistic and rational ego along with the collective commitment to democracy and human rights is taken to its ultimate conclusion through the Uranian rise of feminism which involves an individualistic re-definition of traditional Lunar femininity (Moon conj. Asc.). The Moon conjunct ascendant also symbolizes the power of the instincts in direct focus and reminds us that Uranus engages passion and powerful feelings (moral indignation) and not simply a cold and detached intellectuality! Instinctual collectivity (Moon) is being challenged along with the actual power structures (Saturn/Mars) and it is the growth challenge of any planet conjunct the ascendant to find an independent and individualistic mode of self expression.

Mercury, the seat of the intellect, disposits and makes a creative quintile to Uranus and a very wide trine to Saturn offering an integration of Saturn and Uranus as reason and science (rationalism and empiricism); or in Kantian terms, an attempted reconciliation of the objective world and the epistemological participation of the subject. Strongly connected to Neptune and Pluto, Mercury is inspired, eager and indomitable in Aries, ferreting out secrets of the cosmos and the collective unconscious (it also rules the 8th house) that await it in the unknown form of the yet-to-be-discovered Neptune (opposition) and Pluto (sextile).

Sky god, Titan or Ordinary Mortal?

But heck, having said all this, maybe we could have avoided the whole question of which myth is the correct one by just settling for the name Herschel in the first place! That would have neutralized the field and left us free to investigate the planet's nature without mythic preconceptions that just cloud the air of pure reason and understanding. But come to think of it, choosing the prosaic name Herschel with such a motive in mind would have been significant too. And the fact that he was an amateur (though distinguished in another field) and did not belong to the professional elite would have been a further synchronicity! We just can't escape it! Imagine, Herschel, the planet of the ordinary man, the maverick, the creative power of self reliant genius independent of traditional elites, expanding the conscious horizons of humanity!


Chandler, Robert. Uranus and Prometheus. The Astrological Journal, vol. 38, no. 1. Jan./Feb. 96

Tarnas, Richard. Prometheus the Awakener, Woodstock, Spring Pubs., 1995.

Tarnas, Richard. The Passion of the Western Mind. N.Y., Ballantine, 1991.