A Spiritual Perspective on Astrology
Health warning. This article will probably only be of interest to those readers with a deep interest in astrology and/or Jungian psychology. But please don’t let that put you off if you feel intrigued enough to continue.
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This is the first chapter in part 2 (chapter 9 overall) of my book about astrology Homage to Patric Walker. The earlier chapters are available on Medium. To put what follows into context, and for links, please see the Introduction, or the bottom of this page on my website.
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In order to put my side of the argument, I am going to create a composite view, in effect a summary of everything I have said in part 1, from the two disciplines of quantum physics and Analytical (Jungian) Psychology:
All things which appear as opposites — therefore fragmented, separate — in the psychoid world are a unity at some higher level of existence. This level is called by Carl Jung, following various traditions, the Unus Mundus, literally ‘one world’, which in this context would be better expressed as ‘the world where all is one’. He has written extensively about the opposites from a psychological angle, although they also exist in the material realm, for example in the dual wave/particle nature of light. When measured — that is to say, pinned down in space and time — an electron appears either as particle or wave; physicists believe, however, that its real nature (that is to say, before it enters human consciousness by being observed) is to be both particle and wave simultaneously. This also seems to be true of mind and matter, which appear to us as opposites, yet at a deeper level seem to emanate from a common source — in scientific language quantum processes, in psychological language the archetypes (1). The material world appears logical and based on laws of cause and effect, yet the processes which give rise to it are completely opposite — quantum mechanics defy all known laws of causality, and the archetypes are described as existing outside space-time.
There is therefore a boundary which keeps us within the space-time universe (2). This is expressed psychologically by saying that the archetypes are unknowable in themselves (they can only be inferred from their effects), and physically through the impossibility of travelling faster than the speed of light, and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle (which states that it is impossible to know objectively the underlying ‘true’ state of the universe, because when we try to observe it, we can only ever know one of the relevant measurements — for example, the position of a particle rather than velocity, or vice versa).
What is beyond this boundary?
Since this question takes us to a level that we cannot observe, it is easy to dismiss it as metaphysical, therefore unanswerable. An obvious hypothesis would be God, or some other similar term, since whatever name you wish to call the ultimate mystery has always been by definition beyond the laws which limit us. So the archetypal quantum world, as the boundary between our psychoid universe and any higher levels of existence would have to be the point of entry of any supernatural (divine) creative power into our world. (Jung describes the archetypes as the mediators of the Unus Mundus.) In order for two apparently irreconcilable levels to communicate some unusual means are necessary. I believe that some psi phenomena and synchronistic events are examples of the boundary being crossed, but not everyone has experienced them. A better example would perhaps therefore be the emergence of symbols, which are manifested by the archetypes and can be perceived by everyone - even if they do not necessarily appreciate their importance - yet point to a transcendent reality (3).
This boundary is fundamental to the astrological debate, for Astrology is concerned with the emergence of a (divine) creative power into the psychoid universe, and expresses itself in symbolic language.
Of everything that I have said the two key concepts crucial to an acceptance of Astrology are that of the Self, and synchronicity; from my standpoint, it is hard to see how Astrology could operate without them.
a) The Self exists outside our universe at, or ‘close to’, the level of the archetypes; it is the primary archetype, better the totality of the archetypes (4). It is like the God Janus, facing in two directions simultaneously. When looking at us it reveals itself as a hidden intelligence, expressing itself most obviously through dreams, psi phenomena and synchronistic events, pointing to a hidden unity of the world, and by implication the universe. When looking away from us it is the microcosm of the ultimate cosmic Self (5). The Self is the basic subject-matter of Astrology.
b) Synchronicity is a principle which shows that the inner world of the psyche and the outer world of matter can be united in meaning. Both of them can be organized by a source which transcends them both (6). Astrology can be seen as giving specific examples of this meaningful connection, and if it is true, as one particular manifestation of synchronicity.
Does Astrology operate at this boundary?
The answer to this question is: we cannot say with certainty. What can be said is that, if Astrology is true, this is the level at which it is likely to operate. In this context it is interesting to note how quantum physicists and Jungians sometimes use language which sounds like that of astrologers, when they are describing the operation of the archetypal quantum world, in particular the Self and synchronicity. For example, physicist Danah Zohar, when referring to the apparent instantaneous communication between particles that I discussed in chapter 5, says that “two events can be related across time in a way that ensures they will always act ‘in tune’, and any attempt to set up a cause-and-effect relationship between them is useless”. She then adds: “Such synchronous behaviour is the basis of all quantum mechanical relationship, lending a very modern note of support to the pre-Socratic notion of the ‘oneness of Being’ ”. Later she states: “The kind of quantum relationship, which creates something new by drawing together things that were initially separate and individual, is very important…” (7). Both these statements sound like Astrology, and could have been made by any astrologer who does not subscribe to a physical explanation. The second sounds especially like Dennis Elwell, whose work will be discussed in a later chapter.
The Jungian writer who makes the most explicit statements of this type is Ira Progoff. Talking of the Self, he says:
- “As this integration (of consciousness and the unconscious) encompasses the psyche in its largest aspect, drawing the personal factors of the psyche into macrocosmic connections, this unity involves the Self as a whole in its double aspect as the primary ground of psychic realities and also as the reflector of the cosmos in man”.
- “(The Self) involves something that can best be spoken of as a nonphysical continuum by means of which the correspondences within the cosmos, the microcosm and the macrocosm, come together to form patterns, at once transcendant and immanent, and constellating situations that draw physical as well as psychological phenomena into their field. The patterns of events that then emerge appear as ‘confluences’ that spread the framework of their pattern across a given moment of time… Within the pattern of the moment… these events always correspond to each other in some meaningful way, and in order to understand them it is necessary to perceive the essential meaningfulness of their relationship, which involves the interior orderedness within the pattern of correspondences. When this is comprehended, events that cannot otherwise be understood in terms of their causal connections reveal their nature as synchronistic phenomena, that is, as individual parts of a pattern constellated across time and centered around an archetypal factor that draws other factors of all kinds into its ‘atmosphere’ ” (8).
In these passages he is discussing synchronicity:
- “The role of the archetypes (is)… as a factor of inner cohesion and integration. While the pattern existing in the universe at any moment of time is so vast in its contents that it is diffuse, the archetypes are the factors within the psyche of man that draw the relevant contents together in terms of their meaningfulness to the human being. In the synchronistic view of the universe, the archetypes play a mediating role. It is via the archetypes that the encompassing pattern that traverses a moment of time is cohered and separated into minor patterns that relate to the life of the individual person” (pp134–5).
- “In its existential aspect, Synchronicity provides a means by which we can perceive and experience the correlations between the large patterns of the universe and the destiny of the individual. The medium for this is the depth of the psyche, and the vehicle for it is the archetypes when these are experienced at the deep psychoid ground of the Self. In this sense Synchronicity helps us perceive the movement of life in the universe as that moment is reflected in the life of human beings” (pp148–9).
- “At each moment throughout the universe, a pattern of being (his italics) prevails in which all the monads (9), or individual beings, are interlocked with each other, each reflecting unconsciously in themselves (latently and very seldom articulately) the entirety of the pattern that contains them. Each of these patterns represents the condition of ‘harmony’ or ‘Tao’ as constellated throughout the universe at a given moment” (p115).
It seems hard to believe, but he is not talking about Astrology, merely the Self manifesting itself through the principle of synchronicity. This is also what Aniela Jaffé is talking about here. She begins by echoing Progoff: “The self (10), being individual and unique, is made manifest in the individuation process of the individual. But the self is also universal and eternal…”
…but then moves the discussion onto a new level:
- “…and under this aspect it is made manifest in a process we can only call the individuation of mankind. It is a collective process that takes the form of a gradual extension and differentiation of consciousness over the millennia”.
- “Personal individuation is not separate from collective individuation, since the spirit of the age realises itself in the individual and the specific, time-bound God-image is constellated in his unconscious as an image of totality, the self” (11).
Here she is very close to the language of Astrology, and is clearly referring to the same themes that I was developing in Chapter 8, those of national and planetary personality, and also the idea that the individuation process of one person can be a microcosm of them.
Here, discussing the writings of Paul Tillich, she specifically refers to this boundary that I have been discussing: “(Man) is anchored in the unconscious and penetrates with his consciousness ever deeper into this hidden realm of the numinous. On its side, the divine order unfolds in the reverse direction. Though it is eternal, infinite, inapprehensible, it pours as the ‘Word of God’ out of transcendental reality into the restricted, history-bound life of man. Correspondingly, the unconscious is funnelled into consciousness and is experienced in the form of numinous archetypal contents and figures, moreover the transcendental archetype of the self is realised in man and his life” (p87).
From my spiritual perspective, it is not possible to take the argument further than the passages I have just quoted. I have outlined (in part 1) the theoretical foundation stones that Astrology would require, and have built on top of them an edifice which has as its top-floor these quotes from Progoff and Jaffé, who are precisely describing the principle of Astrology even if it is not mentioned by name. For them, as for me, the Self operates in an astrological way.
This seems to be the appropriate point, therefore, for me to make a statement as to how I think natal Astrology might work:
There is an ultimate transcendent principle, which might be called God, but which here, because that term is so ambiguous and emotionally loaded in the West, I will call The One. The physical cosmos is one manifestation among others of this principle — in Western theological language this is called the immanence of God. Each human being is a microcosm of the transcendent One, a broken piece of the hologram which is the Divine, so to speak. However, because at the level of the material universe The One is constantly changing, and because various pieces of a hologram may have different forms even though they all contain the bigger picture, new, limited ‘variations’ of the Divine are not only possible but a reality. When a human being is born, because of the microcosm/macrocosm principle, there is a correspondence between the inner and the outer Brahman in its temporary manifestation. A picture of this correspondence can be recorded in the astrological birth-chart, thus allowing all human beings to have a distinct, recognisable personality, despite sharing an identical spiritual nature, in that the pattern of the cosmos is never repeated exactly (12).
This is not ‘truth’. It is a hypothesis in that it is provisional, having been created out of ideas that are merely a possible explanation for Astrology. It will remain a hypothesis, since it includes speculations about the nature of reality beyond our space-time universe. I suggest, however, that it is consistent with the most successful ideas of modern science, and a spiritual tradition stretching back thousands of years. From the psychological angle people have either had subjective experiences of the Self and of synchronicity, whether in analysis or in their daily lives, or they have not; such things cannot be proved. To me they are as real as statements like 2+2=4, or ‘the sky is blue’; to others they will seem like bizarre, mystical concepts, totally removed from their lives. With regard to quantum physics most people have neither the mathematical vocabulary to understand, nor the necessary expertise and access to the equipment to perform the experiments. We have to take the scientists’ conclusions on trust, but they do seem to be in remarkable agreement about the results they have achieved and their implications for our understanding of the world (13) — they sometimes disagree only as to how the results should be interpreted from a more metaphysical perspective.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, and politics. All these articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here).
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(1) Compare Aniela Jaffé: “The paradoxical, psychoid archetype has ‘ordered’ itself: it appears here as a psychic image, there as a physical, material, external fact… Part of the archetype is still in the unconscious, hence the relativity of space and time characteristic of processes outside or beyond consciousness. But another part of it has broken through into consciousness, hence its originally unknowable psychoid unity splits into opposites that can now be recognised, into psychic and physical parallel events”. (The Myth of Meaning, Penguin, 1975, p152)
(2) Although I have called it a boundary, which suggests some kind of line, it is also possible to see this place of transition as a hole. See Marie-Louise Von Franz: On Divination and Synchronicity, Inner City, 1980, pp107–111.
(3) Compare Aniela Jaffé: “The ‘eternal’ aspect of the self is concretised in the imagery of the unconscious by impersonal symbols — geometrical or stereometric figures…, by numbers or groups of numbers, by light and cosmic phenomena, sacred objects, or else by abstractions. The ‘unique’ individual aspect is represented rather by sublime, even divine, figures of the same sex with quite definite features, more rarely by an inner voice” (as footnote 1, p84).
(4) Compare Ira Progoff: “The Self may be understood as the essence and aim and the living process by which the psyche lives out its inner nature. As such the self can never be contained by the ego or by any of the specific archetypes. Rather it contains them in a way that is not limited by space or time. The way the Self contains the various contents of the psyche is in a kind of ‘atmosphere’ ”. (Jung, Synchronicity and Human Destiny, Julian Press, 1973, p91)
(5) Compare Progoff: “On one level, the Self is an evolutionary concept, emerging from nature and providing the ground of reality that underlies the development of the human individual as a member of the species…. The second level… is more ontological than empirical…. It is here the ultimate reality of being. The Self conceived in this larger sense is the equivalent of Leibniz’s ‘pre-established harmony’ or of the Tao. It is the encompassing unity in which and by means of which the macrocosm and the microcosm participate in each other, and specifically by which the ultimate realities of the universe are expressed and reflected in the life of the human individual”. (As footnote 4, p112, his italics)
(6) Cf. Jaffé: “In successful moments a part of the self is actualised as a union of inside and outside”. (as 1, p79)
(7) The Quantum Self, Flamingo, 1991, p21, p82
(8) as footnote (4), p91, p92
(9) a term used in the philosophy of Leibniz, and in esoteric traditions, for example Theosophy
(10) Jaffé chooses not to use the upper case S in the Self. She is, however, referring to the same concept.
(11) as footnote (1), p112
(12) Compare these two quotations from Dane Rudhyar:
- “…every individual person is a relatively independent organic whole in which a multitude of forces dynamically interact according to an original and originating pattern which establishes its life-purpose and its basic relation to all other wholes in the universe. This organic whole — the individual person — is essentially no different from the almost infinitely greater and vaster organized Whole, which we call the universe. Indeed the individual person constitutes one particular aspect of the universal Whole, focused at a particular point in space and in terms of the particular need for it at the exact moment of its emergence into independent existence’. (Booklet Astrology for New Minds quoted in Stephen Arroyo: Astrology, Psychology, and the Four Elements, CRCS, 1975, p50)
- “Cosmically speaking, every moment of the universe can thus be realized as a cosmic symbol revealing the quality of the moment, and the soul of the Cosmos…” (The Astrology of Personality, Servire/ Wassenaar, 1963, p78)
…this one from Stephen Arroyo: “…we are all part of the same universe, merely different manifestations of the same whole”. (Astrology, Psychology, and the Four Elements, p60, his italics)
…and this one from Dennis Elwell: “We are the personal expression of the suprapersonal, a reflection of the All at one moment of its existence”. (The Cosmic Loom, Urania Trust, 1999, p173)
I discovered these four quotations after I had written the above.
(13) It is hard to disagree with them since much modern technology — e.g. lasers, microchips, photocells, nuclear reactors, long-range deep-space communication devices, transistors — is dependent upon quantum theory .