Can We Take Astrology Seriously? — Simultaneity, Synchronicity, If It’s Good Enough for Sting, Then It’s Good Enough for Me
This is part of a series of articles I am publishing on Medium Can We Take Astrology Seriously? These were previously an unpublished book I wrote some time ago, Homage to Patric Walker. This article is chapter 7, which follows the Introduction, part 1 and part 2, chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3, chapter 4, chapter 5, and chapter 6. (This article makes most sense if you are familiar with chapters 5 and 6.)
There is one remaining objection which needs to be dealt with :
Even if we allow that there are interconnections and interaction between inanimate matter and personality, which may stretch all the way across the universe, how do we account for the symbolic nature of this interaction?
The major source of symbols in our lives are dreams. The person best known in the modern era for bringing to our attention the importance of dreams and their interpretation, and who actually created a whole approach to therapy based on their interpretation is Carl Gustav Jung. In his lifetime he established himself as a, if not the, major authority in all matters psychological, and his reputation has become even greater since his death. Near the end of his life, having decided to publish a book containing a summary of all his major ideas for the general reader, he called it Man and His Symbols (1); he attached that much importance to their role.
Before Jung, Freud had noticed that dreams were full of symbols that could be interpreted meaningfully with a view to resolving the psychological problems of his patients. He found this symbolic nature of dreams so confusing that he developed a theory that there was a hidden ‘censor’ at work in the psyche which disguised the true meaning of the dream from the dreamer (2). Jung later disagreed with this view, realising that symbols were the dream’s natural means of self-expression: “My idea is that the dream does not conceal; we simply do not understand its language” (3). His work is so well known nowadays that it would be superfluous to discuss it here (4). The basic point, however, is that dreams contain a deeper wisdom, not otherwise available to ego-consciousness, which knows the overall psychological situation — past, present and future — of the dreamer. Thus the astrologer Liz Greene says of the dream: “It is a running commentary of life, reported by ‘something’ inside. There is an inescapable sense of a superhuman artistry in this weaving” (5).
How is this possible? The Jungian explanation is that dreams emanate from the Self, “the inventor, organiser, and source of dream images” (6), and which, as I have discussed earlier, is also the hidden, greater personality, the ‘God-image’ in man. Compare this passage from Jolande Jacobi: “Symbols are never consciously devised; they arise spontaneously. They are not rational or a product of rational thinking or of the will, but rather result from ‘a psychic process of development, which expresses itself in symbols’. This is particularly evident in the case of religious symbols. They are not thought up; rather, they are ‘spontaneous products’ of unconscious psychic activity…” (7).
So my working hypothesis is that the divine part of each human being (the Self) expresses itself through symbols.
There are many examples of the symbolic function in our lives. Jung puts it thus: “Symbols, I must point out, do not occur solely in dreams. They appear in all kinds of psychic manifestations. There are symbolic thoughts and feelings, symbolic acts and situations” (8). Aniela Jaffé comments: “The history of symbolism shows that everything can assume symbolic significance: natural objects (like stones, plants, animals, men, mountains and valleys, sun and moon, wind, water, and fire), or man-made things (like houses, boats, or cars), or even abstract forms (like numbers, or the triangle, the square, and the circle). In fact, the whole cosmos is a potential symbol. Man, with his symbol-making propensity, unconsciously transforms objects or forms into symbols (thereby endowing them with great psychological importance) and expresses them in both his religion and his art” (9).
We can also note that in modern times we have come to recognise the importance of the phenomenon of psychosomatic illness, where the physical symptoms have a psychological rather than physical cause, expressed through a symbolic meaning in relation to it. Jung notes that: “Before the beginning of this (20th) century, Freud and Josef Breuer had recognised that neurotic symptoms — hysteria, certain types of pain, and abnormal behaviour — are in fact symbolically meaningful. They are one way in which the unconscious mind expresses itself, just as it may in dreams; and they are equally symbolic. A patient, for instance, who is confronted with an intolerable situation may develop a spasm whenever he tries to swallow: He ‘can’t swallow it’. Under similar conditions of psychological stress, another patient has an attack of asthma: He ‘can’t breathe the atmosphere at home’. A third suffers from a peculiar paralysis of the legs: He can’t walk, i.e., ‘he can’t go on any more’. A fourth, who vomits when he eats, ‘cannot digest’ some unpleasant fact. I could cite many examples of this kind, but such physical reactions are only one form in which the problems that trouble us unconsciously may express themselves. They more often find expression in our dreams” (10).
There is also the phenomenon of synchronicity which I discussed earlier, where meaningful events occur, corresponding to and symbolic of the inner state — for example, the scarab-beetle (a symbol of rebirth, of the client’s need for psychological transformation). According to Jungians, such events are organised by the archetypes, in particular that of the Self (11), which has all the appearance of a hidden intelligence.
It seems that no matter which way we turn, we are drawn to the conclusion that this intelligence (the Self) thinks symbolically. If the Self is the microcosm of a cosmic Self (Brahma) then there is no reason why we should not assume that it also thinks symbolically. I have already noted the suggestion of quantum physicists that there is a cosmic brain permeating the universe; it would seem that it thinks via symbols. As the Divine is responsible for the creation of the cosmos, which includes our individual personalities, there is no obvious reason why the principles of Astrology should not be included in the process, given that symbolism is at its heart.
It is tempting to restrict myself merely to showing that symbolic effects are a part of nature, but, having suggested that symbolism is at least a major, if not the natural, means of expression of The Divine, we might be inclined to wonder why this should be so. Speculating on the nature of God is always likely to be difficult (12), but I hope that the following may offer at least some food for thought.
The best discussion of this issue of which I am aware is by Jolande Jacobi in Complex, Archetype and Symbol in the Psychology of C.G. Jung, in the section “Symbol” — from which I have selected the following statements:
“When the archetype manifests itself in the here and now of space and time, it can be perceived in some form by the conscious mind. Then we speak of a symbol… In order to appear as a symbol it must, in other words, have an ‘archetypal ground plan’… Whenever a general psychic constellation, a suitable situation of consciousness, is present, its ‘dynamic nucleus’ is ready to actualise itself and manifest itself as a symbol” (p74, her italics).
“Symbols present an objective, visible meaning behind which an invisible, profounder meaning is hidden” (p77).
She then quotes:
a) Doering: “Symbols are metaphors for the eternal in the forms of the transient; in them the two are ‘thrown together,’ fused into a unity of meaning” (Christliche Symbole, 1933, p1),
b) Bachofen: “Words make the infinite finite, symbols carry the mind beyond the finite world of becoming, into the realm of infinite being. They awaken intimations; they are tokens of the ineffable, and like it they are inexhaustible” (Mutterrecht und Urreligion 1954, p52),
c) Creuzer: “In a sense, the symbol can make even the divine visible… We call the supreme manifestations of the formative faculty symbols… their characteristics are… instantaneity, wholeness, unfathomable origin, necessity. This one word signifies the manifestation of the divine and the transfiguration of the earthly image” (Symbolik und Mythologie der Alten Volker (1810).
In other words, in our material world, the universe of spacetime, we are cut off from the deeper spiritual levels, (the worlds of the eternal, the absolute beyond space and time). It is commonplace to say that the Eternal, the One, the Divinity “cannot be expressed in words”, is “ineffable”, and yet this Divinity is responsible for, and maintains in being this material world. If there is to be some communication between the different levels of reality, that is where the symbol comes in, according to these authors. Archetypes and their manifestations (symbols) are the interface between the psychoid universe and the Divine, as stated by Bachofen above. Note also Jacobi’s inference that the archetype exists outside of space and time but needs to manifest itself in the world of spacetime, and achieves this through the symbol. A symbol is thus the method by which meaning breaks through into the world, how the hidden reality becomes manifest, the closest that we limited human beings can come to comprehending the otherwise inexpressible. If this is the case, then astrological symbolism can be seen as an expression of the creative operations of the Divine.
(1) Picador, 1978
(2) See The Interpretation of Dreams, Pelican, 1976, chapter IV: Distortion in Dreams, especially pp 225–6.
(3) Analytical Psychology, Its Theory and Practice: the Tavistock Lectures, Routledge, 1976, p92. See also Man and His Symbols, as (1), pp 30 and 52.
(4) I refer interested readers to Man and His Symbols, pp 3–44, 325–374. Also Modern Man in Search of a Soul, Routledge, 1961, chapter 1.
(5) The Astrology of Fate, Mandala, 1985, p318
(6) Marie-Louise von Franz in Man and His Symbols, p161
(7) Complex, Archetype and Symbol in the Psychology of C.G. Jung, Princeton University Press, 1971, p105, quoting Jung, The Secret of the Golden Flower, Routledge, 1962
(8) as (1), p41
(9) in Man and His Symbols, p257
(10) as (1), p9
(11) See Jung, Synchronicity, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972, p89, Jacobi, as (7), pp62–66, and Ira Progoff, Jung, Synchronicity and Human Destiny, Julian Press. p122 et seq., including:
“Jung states it as his experience that parapsychic events ‘nearly always occur in the region of archetypal constellations, that is, in situations which have either activated an archetype or were called up by the autonomous action of an archetype’ ” (p124).
Also Marie-Louise von Franz: “Wherever Dr. Jung observed such meaningful coincidences in an individual’s life, it seemed that there was an archetype activated in the unconscious of the individual concerned” (in Man and His Symbols, p226).
(12) After all Richard Feynman said (in relation to quantum mechanics) that trying to work out why nature behaves as she does drives you mad, so that it is better not to ask.