The following paper was originally presented to a non-astrological audience at the International Forum on New Science, September 27, 1991, at the University of Colorado, Fort Collins, USA., and was subsequently published in the proceedings of that conference. _________________________________
The New Paradigm And Postmodern Astrology
By Glenn Perry
Giving a talk on astrology may seem somewhat out of place at a conference on “new” science. There is nothing particularly new about astrology. It existed before science, and in this sense could be considered pre-scientific, even anti-scientific, in that astrology was a central feature of the magical worldview which science radically displaced. Astrology, of course, is the study of correspondences between celestial and terrestrial phenomena, most notably the belief that the arrangement of planets at a given point in time is a symbolic reflection of the character and destiny of an individual born at that time.
Astrology’s Bad Reputation
While astrology held an honored and central place in cultures before the scientific revolution, it has since been discredited. There are reasons for this, which I will go into shortly. Suffice to say here that for many intelligent people the claims of astrology appear somewhat ridiculous—a mere pallor game for the intellectually indigent, a crutch for the weak and dependent, a superficial and spurious system which survives as an intellectual relic from a bygone age only among the uneducated, the superstitious, or the just plain stupid.
Astrology has been accused of being simplistic, fatalistic, and anachronistic. It has no place in our universities, is scorned by almost all branches of modern learning, and is condemned by the church as heretical. Hostility toward astrology was no where more apparent than in 1975 when a statement attacking and disavowing astrology was co-signed by 186 leading scientists, including 18 Nobel Prize laureates.
Given the disreputable nature of astrology, it may be perplexing to know that at one time it was considered the divine art, the “mother of all sciences,” a study worthy of such names as Nicholas Copernicus, Galilei Galileo, Johannes Kepler, and Sir Issac Newton—all of whom were inspired by astrology. We know that Kepler’s laws of planetary motion derive in large part from his search for the music of the spheres, the great cosmic harmony of which Pythagoras spoke. Likewise, Newton’s quest to understand the root cause of astrological influence led to his theory of gravitational attraction.
The Organic Worldview
To understand why some of the founding fathers of modern science were themselves astrologers, we must first understand the premodern world view which science was yet to conquer and replace. For thousands of years, people the world over held a common belief: the Universe was alive. The totality of Sun, Moon and stars was experienced as a vast network of living consciousness governed by an infinite intelligence. This Being was not separate from the world, but was immanent in the processes and cycles of nature. While different religions and philosophies referred to this ultimate Being by various names, there was near unanimous agreement that the world was ensouled.
In neo-Platonic philosophy, the entire universe was viewed as a living organism. This organism had a hierarchical structure, such that the system of the world was a “Great Chain of Being,” wholes within wholes of ever-widening comprehensiveness, culminating in the Cosmos itself, the ultimate all-embracing whole (Lovejoy, 1936). The stars and planets were expressions of the functions of this organism, just as the various organs of the human body are expressions and instruments of its functions. Every entity in nature corresponded to this general pattern. Each thing was part of a greater whole, while also being a whole which contained its own subordinate parts.
Correspondences between levels was the only natural view. Formally known as the doctrine of the macrocosm and the microcosm, the idea was based on an analogy between the whole and its parts; the lower is a microcosm of the higher. Correspondences were explained by the hermetic concept of “similars” and “sympathies.” Similars are those structures which agree in design though they may differ in magnitude. Sympathies are resonant bonds of vibratory frequencies which unite all similars. Thus, the ancients conceived of the Universe as a great system of similars decreasing in magnitude as we descend the orders of life, and united by resonant bonds of sympathy (Hall, 1936). The doctrine that everything in the Universe hangs together mainly by hidden affinities provided the foundation of astrology. Since Man was viewed as a mirror of the cosmic order, every aspect of his physical and psychic anatomy had its counterpart in the celestial realm. Each human being was a microcosm—a miniature universe—reflecting the macrocosm, the Universe as a whole. The essence of this teaching is captured by the hermetic maxim, “as above, so below.”
Plato taught that the One Universal Psyche manifested certain forms or ideas which are the models of all things having substance. These divine ideas—the “gods” and “goddesses” of Greek mythology—had their visible form in the planetary bodies. Issuing forth from these divine ideas and flowing downwards through the hierarchy of Being a spiritual energy impregnated nature on mental, biological, and physical levels.
The order and content of the world, therefore, depended upon the various movements and interactions of the planetary gods which embodied the ideas for all things. Human minds, or souls, were structured on the same pattern as the world soul. The gods which ruled the heavens were also the innate ideas of human consciousness. The swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, was later to call these inner gods archetypes, and thought them to be structural elements of the human psyche.
Plato’s student, Aristotle, taught that the ultimate and final cause of all movement in nature was the end or purpose for which a thing exists. The notion of evolution being drawn forward by divine ideals is known as teleological causation. Aristotle believed that the power of attraction was a better model than propulsion; things are lured more than they are driven. Teleology was thus based on the idea that everything in the physical universe is a consequence of things superior to it. Causation throughout is downward, from superior to inferior, from what is more to what is less. Downward causation suggests that things move by being drawn toward that which fulfills them, fulfillment occurring to the degree that they fashion themselves to its likeness. Humans, for example, behaved in certain ways because they were animated by the same divine impulses as were embodied by the planetary gods. Since the planets seemed far away, downward causation was also referred to as attraction-at-a-distance.
Downward causation can be contrasted with efficient, or material causality. In Aristotle’s scheme, the power of the planets was not their ability to cause events on earth in a linear, deterministic fashion, but their resonance with analogous structures and processes at lower levels of the hierarchy. If the behavior of human beings corresponded to the movements of the planets, it was not because the planets caused them to act this way, but because of a hidden affinity between human and divine.
From the perspective of astrology, there is no absolute separation between the consciousness of the individual and the consciousness of the Universe in which the individual is embedded. Higher levels of consciousness interpenetrate the lower; attraction-at-a-distance assumes an interdependence between the whole and its parts. Each person is part of the greater whole, just as a wave is part of the ocean from which it arises. In this view, the planets don’t cause events on earth, anymore than a clock causes time. Rather, planetary configurations are symbolic reflections or analogues of cyclic phenomena at the terrestrial level.
“As without, so within,” writes Huston Smith (1976), “the isomorphism of man and the cosmos is a basic premise of the traditional outlook” (p. 60). The character and destiny of an individual human being is reflected in the configuration of the cosmos at the moment of birth precisely because that person embodies the divine will of that moment. According to Smith, the great spiritual tradition of humankind can be summed up in three words: Man mirrors cosmos. Man is the universe in miniature, such is the bare statement of the doctrine. After nearly a lifetime of research into comparative religions and philosophies, Smith concluded that this one fundamental truth was discerned and lived by all peoples of the world, universally held by all civilizations, and taught by all the best minds right down to the 18th century. The sole exception to this belief, notes Smith, has been Western Man since the 18th century: “As it had blanketed human history up to that point, constituting what might be called the human unanimity, the force that leveled it must have been powerful, and modern science is the obvious candidate” (p. 5).
When the modern world began to take shape around the 17th century, it involved a revolt of common sense against everything speculative, spiritual, or occult. Medieval concepts of ruling spiritual forces were not particularly useful when it came to building machines or healing diseases. While Galileo, Kepler, and Newton were all well versed in the organic world view of the ancients, they were also committed to exploring the ancient mysteries through a powerful new method of knowing, the empirical method.
The Scientific Revolution Empiricism was an objective way of knowing which relied solely upon experience or observation alone. Only that which could be objectified, that is, experienced through the senses of an observer, was considered real. Empiricism promised to reveal new truths. So impressive were the medical and technological accomplishments which derived from this method that it became the “right” way of knowing, at least for science (Griffin, 1988; Smith, 1982).
But there was a price to pay. The objective approach to knowledge implied that the basic elements of nature had no subjectivity, no internal nature, no experiences, perceptions, feelings, purposes, or aims of their own. This ultimately led to the disenchantment of the world (Griffin, 1988). Rather than seeing the world and all things in it as an enchanted garden, ensouled by a divine Being, the world was compared to a vast machine which operated through mechanical principles alone. Mechanism, not organicism, became the reigning paradigm of science.
By insisting that all natural phenomena can and should be explained by reference to the laws of matter in motion, mechanism explicitly rejected occult qualities, such as animating spirits, which could not be quantified or subjected to experiment. The most virulent attack of the mechanical philosophers was directed at the neo-Platonic concept of the soul of the world, source of its vital activity. The removal of organic assumptions about the cosmos constituted the death of nature—the most far reaching effect of the Scientific Revolution. Nature was hereafter to be viewed as a system of dead, inert particles moved by external, rather than inherent forces.
At the heart of the mechanical philosophy was the denial that natural things had any hidden (“occult”) powers to attract other things. The rejection of action-at-a-distance in favor of action-by-contact explanations was based on the replacement of all organismic and spiritual explanations by mechanical ones. Easlea (1980) has argued that the desire to rule out the possibility of attraction at a distance was, in fact, the main motivation behind the mechanical philosophy and its denial of all hidden qualities within matter.
Astrology Replaced By Psychology Needless to say, a major casualty of the scientific revolution was astrology. It is important to recognize that astrology was never disproven by the methods of science. Rather, its invalidity was a presupposition. The issue was not one of proof, but of paradigm. Astrology was part of the old, organic paradigm of animating spiritual forces, of living intelligences which ruled the heavens and ordered the world below, of correspondences between macrocosm and microcosm, of similars bound together by sympatheia such that human and divine were of one essence. Mechanism was the antithesis of such beliefs. So astrology became outlawed, forbidden, anathema to the scientific mind.
Students who might otherwise have been interested in astrology, studied psychology instead. In this they found a subject which was in every way compatible with mechanistic principles. At the heart of 17th century psychological empiricism was the denial that the human soul was shaped by innate ideas which originated in the mind of a Universal Being. John Locke insisted there were no innate ideas which pre-existed in the mind, and thus no possibility of a resonance with higher intelligences which might conceivably work through the soul. Rather, all mental content was alleged to come directly from experience; the mind is a tabula rasa, a blank slate, waiting to be imprinted by the impact of material causes originating in physical conditions outside the body. By the 18th century, not only was the soul stripped of its innate ideas, its very existence was doubted. Whereas the organic worldview of astrology regarded man as a partially divine performer in a purposeful cosmic drama, the new psychology considered him to be a mere animal inhabiting a blindly mechanical universe.
Generally speaking, modern scientific psychology has remained faithful to the 18th century view that humans are basically animals, their nature and character the effect of random, externally originating forces such as genes and social conditions. They are not descended from the gods above, nor are they evolving anywhere in particular. In effect, the human being resembles nothing so much as a victim of circumstance. While there have been some notable departures from this tradition in recent years, a brief review of the evolution of psychological theory reveals that almost all tend to incorporate deterministic assumptions based on mechanistic reasoning (Lowry, 1971).
Meanwhile, astrology has remained more or less stagnant for the past 300 years, a discredited and neglected system of thought unlikely to be vindicated so long as it remains ostracized from our schools and universities. Not surprisingly, astrology attracts many of the fringe elements of our society—people who for various reasons tend to identify with the dark, oppressed, rejected system of belief that astrology has come to represent. Like a child who has for too long been locked up in the basement by an abusive and abandoning parent, astrology has remained primitive, undeveloped, and crude by modern academic standards.
Because it is not considered a valid profession, there are no licensing boards to assure that astrologers meet even minimal standards of education, ethics and competence. Consequently, there are very few astrologers who can present their case in a manner consistent with scientific standards of responsibility. Instead, there is a huge amount of nonsense published in the field—like Sun sign books and newspaper horoscopes—that continue to damage astrology’s credibility. Individuals who attend college and are trained in research methodologies are unlikely to apply this training to a subject which is not even taught, and one which is disreputable and potentially damaging to their careers.
The Rebirth of An Organic Worldview The situation, however, may not be as hopeless as it seems. After all, it was not scholarly research that led to the rejection of astrology, but abandonment of the paradigm which supported it. If astrology is to have its honor restored, its supporting paradigm must likewise be resurrected. Many philosophers of science agree that such a paradigm shift is actually occurring right now in the late 20th century. Evidence suggests that the mechanistic paradigm has pretty much played itself out. Ironically, it is the growth of science itself which has gradually eroded confidence in many of the cherished theories and models which flowed naturally from the mechanistic paradigm. Application of the empirical method has led to a proliferation of blind alleys in virtually every field of modern science.
New physics, as articulated in such books as Fritjof Capra’s (1976) The Tao of Physics, is actually more in accord with spiritual traditions which postulate a universe of pure consciousness. In these new models, ultimate reality is described as seamless, or whole, and there is no absolute separation between events or objects in space-time (Zukav, 1979; Davies, 1988). Bell’s theorem, for example, states that action-at-a-distance can influence all points in space simultaneously, without any forces traveling through space. Similarly, David Bohm’s (1980) holonomic theory of quantum physics states that every part of the Universe bears witness to the structure and process of the whole, i.e., the whole is contained in the part. This idea simply restates in modern terms the hermetic maxim, “as above, so below.”
Another development in new physics, the Anthropic Principle, states that certain pure numbers called the constants of nature—analogous to Platonic forms—seem specially contrived to facilitate the evolution of conscious intelligence as manifest in human beings, thus reviving the ancient doctrine of teleological causation (Barrow & Tipler, 1986). And in evolutionary biology there is a veritable avalanche of evidence indicating that evolution is not the chance outcome of random mutations preserved by natural selection, but rather is a purposeful and self-organizing process guided by an immanent intelligence (Denton, 1985; Thaxton, Bradley, & Olsen, 1984).
All these developments and many more are leading to what David Roy Griffin (1988) has called “the reenchantment of science.” A number of philosophers are now asserting that there is a scientific revolution occurring at the present time which involves a recovery of certain truths and values from various forms of premodern thought (Harman, 1986; Smith, 1982; Tarnas, 1990). British biologist, Rupert Sheldrake (1991), details these recoveries in his new book: The Rebirth of Nature: The Greening of Science and God. These developments include the replacement of mechanism with an organismic paradigm; the presence of intrinsic purpose throughout nature; the presence of a divine whole in all the parts; attraction-at-a-distance or downward causation; and the history of the Universe as a self-creative, self-organizing, conscious Being. What is most interesting about these developments is that implicit in the new, organismic paradigm of postmodern science are the very principles upon which astrology is based.
The Resurgence of Astrology If psychology is to keep pace with current thinking in the hard sciences, it may have to re-evaluate some of its major premises. Chief among these is the notion of the human being as a product of externally originating forces, drifting aimlessly in an alien, material world with no particular meaning or overarching purpose. Instead, psychology can be revisioned such that human beings are conceptualized as rooted in a living Universe, the rhythms and cycles of which flow through body and mind alike. This, of course, was the astrological world view. The possibility of a creative synthesis of modern and premodern truths may lead to an integration of psychology and astrology in a new, postmodern, astro-psychology.
This is precisely what is happening among at least some practitioners. Increasingly, psychotherapists are discovering that astrology can be reformulated as a contemporary psychological language and diagnostic tool (Idemon, 1988; Perry, 1988). The advantages of such a conception are immense. What other personality theory allows visible access to the psyche of a human being? Like an X-ray of consciousness, the horoscope reveals the underlying motives, beliefs, and internal dialogues which constitute the unique personal mythology of each client. Moreso, astrology is consistent with parapsychological research that shows human consciousness to be non-local, i.e., not constrained by brain and body (Dossey, 1989; Krippner, 1988). Each symbol in the horoscope is a corollary to both psychological and environmental phenomena. By using the chart as a diagnostic tool, the psychotherapist is able to connect the highly abstract, intrapsychic reality of the client with the concrete events of his interpersonal world. Not only does this assist the therapist in the process of correct interpretation, it also makes available a rich storehouse of metaphors to explicate the subtleties and consequences of the client’s inner life. Like dreams, events of the outer world symbolize inner psychic states. Thus, events are metaphors of cognitive structures, and can be introduced as such during the course of psychotherapy.
Astrology also shows the timing of events. As the actual planets continue in their orbits, their movements correspond with the unfoldment of specific types of processes for specific periods of time in the life of the individual concerned. For example, I was working with a depressed, 40 year old man whose problems stemmed from a rather toxic relationship with his mother during childhood. He described her as severely controlling, abusive, and rather paranoid. This was reflected in his chart by placement of the Moon, which in astrology symbolizes the mother. His Moon was in the sign of Scorpio in the 8th house squaring Pluto. The meaning of this complex of factors suggests exactly the type of mother he experienced, as well as the kinds of problems he was having—namely, that he was depressed, emotionally constricted, and severely afraid of women. After six months of therapy, I noted that Pluto had moved to the exact degree of Scorpio that his Moon occupied at the time of his birth. In astrological parlance, this is called transiting Pluto conjunct natal Moon.
Because Pluto in this man’s chart was associated with the type of mothering he received and thus the kind of mother he internalized, it could be predicted that his mother-complex would be strongly activated for exactly that period of time that Pluto was over his Moon—in this case, for several months. I was not surprised, therefore, when my client began to report some difficult and trying experiences with a new boss at his place of work. This new boss—a woman—was in every sense a stand-in for his mother. She was castrating, controlling, intimidating, rather paranoid, and undermining of his power and authority. His challenge was clearly to stand up to this woman and work out with her precisely what he had not been able to do with his mother. In effect, the mother which he had internalized was now reappearing before him at work, the embodiment of an aspect of his own psyche. I emphasize that this was not simply a projection, or transference distortion. She was, for all practical purposes, his mother. In astrology, Pluto transits are associated with healing and transformation. Accordingly this was a pivotal time in his work with me, during which he was able to resolve many of the issues that had brought him into therapy.
Now how can we explain this kind of synchronicity? Why is it that at the precise period of time that Pluto was over his Moon he had a life changing experience which was the key to resolving his depression? He had no knowledge that Pluto was transiting his Moon. He had no knowledge of the astrological meaning of such a transit. Yet, the meaning and duration of the transit corresponded perfectly to the actual events he experienced.
I want to stress that examples like this are not unusual. There is no greater proof of astrology’s validity as a diagnostic and prognostic tool than its daily application in clinical practice. Each hour of every working day I witness how the charts of my clients reflect their underlying psychodynamics, their interpersonal relations, the apparently random events they encounter, as well as key periods in their process of growth and change. I have come increasingly to appreciate that events do not occur randomly and no one is a victim. As this case illustrates, events are not only meaningful, they are also purposeful in that they frequently provide the stimulus for growth. Every problem is an opportunity for change, customized precisely for the individual. The specifics of the problematic event seem to constitute the key for unlocking hidden potentials within the personality. Astrology’s unique value is that it provides a symbolic language for bridging subjective with objective reality and for deciphering the process of change which is inherent in these relations.
It should not be surprising that psychotherapists are beginning to utilize astrology both in this country and abroad. In 1987, I founded the Association for Astrological Psychology, an organization exclusively devoted to the integration of astrology and psychology. At present we have approximately 3000 members, many of whom are professional therapists and counselors interested in using astrology as a diagnostic tool in ongoing work with clients. I mention this not so much to promote our organization, but to point out that astrology is not limited to newspaper horoscopes, Sun sign books, and 900 numbers. Indeed, as many therapists are recognizing, astrology is an elegant archetypal language of the human condition, compatible with almost any psychological model. Most importantly, it re-establishes a connection with something beyond our genomes, our parents, and our society. Astrology reunites us with a living cosmos. In a conscious universe, people and planets are woven into the same seamless web of being. There is no absolute separation between inner and outer realities. Neither is one a cause of the other. In a postmodern, astro-psychology, the human being is once again a partially divine performer in a purposeful cosmic play.
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