The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 83, titled:
Richard Tarnas on Cosmos and Psyche
With Chris Brennan and guest Richard Tarnas
Episode originally released on July 26, 2016.
Note: This is a transcript of a spoken word podcast. If possible, we encourage you to listen to the audio or video version, since they include inflections that may not translate well when written out. Our transcripts are created by human transcribers, and the text may contain errors and differences from the spoken audio. If you find any errors then please send them to us by email: email@example.com
Transcribed by Sheila Reynolds
Transcription released May 8, 2017
Copyright © 2017 TheAstrologyPodcast.com
(This transcript begins with the interview itself. Information about prize giveaways and announcements which occur at the beginning of the podcast have not been transcribed)
CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi Richard, welcome to the show.
RICHARD TARNAS: Thank you for having me, Chris.
CHRIS BRENNAN: I’m very excited to have you on the show. I have been looking forward to this for a while and the occasion is that it has been ten years since the publication of your book, Cosmos and Psyche. I wanted to talk about and give a synopsis of some of the main points you make in the book, ask a little bit about what the process was of writing it and what the outcome has been or what the past decade has been like since its release.
So, it’s been ten years. When did you release the book? Do you remember exactly when it came out?
RICHARD TARNAS: It came out in January of 2006. I had finished all the text writing by January of 2005, that’s when I put in the last chapter on the current world transits and so forth. Then in September of 2005 I was going through the galleys and at that point I added a couple of paragraphs which included the Katrina flood that took place a week earlier. Other than that, it was all finished by the beginning of 2005 and then published in January 2006.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Brilliant. Since it’s been ten years, one of the motivations for this show is there’s a lot of new and younger people who have come into the astrological community, which as you know is my primary audience, who might not be familiar with your work yet, so I thought it might be good to start from the beginning and give them some background on who you are and where you are coming from. Let’s start at the beginning: you were born in 1950, right?
RICHARD TARNAS: That’s right. I was born in Geneva, Switzerland actually in February 1950. I grew up in the United States, in Michigan until I was 18 and went off to college then.
CHRIS BRENNAN: OK. And is your birth data public?
RICHARD TARNAS: Yes, for those who are interested it is February 21, 1950 at 12.30 pm Central European Time, Geneva, Switzerland. That’s the birth certificate.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Exact time?
RICHARD TARNAS: Yeah, the Swiss tend to be pretty precise it seems.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Sure, (laughs) they have that reputation. And in terms of your training, earlier in your life you studied Classics under the Jesuits, right?
RICHARD TARNAS: That’s right. I was educated by nuns in my elementary school and then went to a Jesuit high school in Detroit for four yeas and majored in, what they called then anyway, Classical Honours where you studied Greek and Latin and the Humanities. So, it was a lot of focus on history, literature and a humanistic culture, along with math and science but the emphasis was more on the humanities and the ancient languages.
CHRIS BRENNAN: And that training in Greek and Latin put you in a unique position in terms of being able to read a lot of source texts in their original language, as well as maybe a background in the ability to do that kind of historical research, would you say?
RICHARD TARNAS: It helped a lot. When you’re reading words even in English it’s helpful to know their Greek and Latin origins. Like the word ‘archetype’ for example and the rich multivalence of that term arche in Greek, to know that it means ‘original’ or ‘very early’ or ‘primordial’ but also a power or a province, a domain, but also like the first of something that shapes everything else afterwards, or fundamental, basic, underlying – all those are kind of packed into the word arche. So, archetype takes on more multivalent meaning when you have that reference back to it’s origins in Greek. But I think more specifically it was just the encounter … you know when you encounter other languages, other cultures, other eras, that can’t help but expand your own perspective on the world view and the linguistic structures and constraints that one lives in, when you are just living in the present with a limited language foundation, or matrix I guess would be a better word.
So, in that respect it was expansive to have that constant engagement with other eras, other cultures that had such a big influence on us. And the other big thing in terms of the work that would eventually become relevant to Cosmos and Psyche, astrology and the whole orientation of Archetypal Astrology, is having a direct engagement with Plato’s view of the archetypes, and then Aristotle’s transformation of that concept and vision. That provided me from high school on with a way of approaching the whole question of concepts and universals and how do we go from this particular thing to thinking in terms of a larger class of things, that that particular belongs to. And Plato’s understanding of this in terms of these archetypal principles or Forms, capital F, or Ideas, capital I, is that something is beautiful to the exact extent that that painting, or that person or that sunset participates in the archetypal idea of the beautiful itself; of the eternal principle of beauty that transcends every local instance of it.
So, when Jung recovered the notion of archetype but psychologically, in his understanding of the deep psyche and of the collective unconscious, it was of great interest to me that there was a continuity from Plato to Jung. But there was also a huge difference and that was even before I knew any astrology, that’s what I wanted to write my doctoral dissertation on was the evolution of the concept of archetypes from Plato to Jung.
Yes, so there were a number of reasons why that engagement with Greco-Roman culture, the Greek language and Platonic philosophy and Aristotle and so forth was, I think, one of those things that helped to orient me from the beginning and helped me when I then went on to college and beyond, have a grounding that was very valuable.
CHRIS BRENNAN: So a lot of that was already in your background from high school and then you took some of that background with you into college where you started studying and focussing on the Western intellectual and cultural history, right?
RICHARD TARNAS: That’s right. I then went to Harvard, Cambridge, Massachusetts and that was back in 1968 to 1972 period. That was my four years as an undergraduate and so Harvard and Cambridge, like many other university towns during that period, like Berkeley or Madison or Ann Arbor was a real hot bed of the counter-culture. So, a part of one’s education back then was you know, the psychedelic revolution, the encounter with Asian mystical traditions like Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist and so forth, ideas like Alan Watts’. So that was all near and that kind of allowed a greater imaginative and intellectual flexibility for taking seriously a wider range of, let’s say philosophical options, rather than just being held in by a traditional modern Western mindset. So that was helpful but you’re right, I then went on to study the History of Philosophy, the History of Depth Psychology starting with William James and Freud and Jung, as well as the History of Music. I was just very interested in the history of the different cultural and intellectual lineages that seemed rich in their own right, listening to (not discernible) or Beethoven, or something like that or reading Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde. But on the other hand, it was giving me a sense of the longer historical and evolutionary process that had brought us forth to this moment and it was in a certain way living in all of us, so I was extra passionately drawn to those historical studies.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Sure, in the terms of history of thought and change of thought over time and identifying different periods of thought, or when things would go through transformation or a change of some sort?
RICHARD TARNAS: That’s correct. I was particularly interested in the interior history of our civilization rather than the military and political milestones that might normally be focussed on. Although, I had a decent head for dates like knowing when the French revolution happened, of course which was also intellectually and culturally so significant. But in terms of my primary focus, it was more on that interior of the history of the modern human being that has gone into shaping us that comes from philosophy, it comes from religion, it comes from science, from the arts and all these interact to shape our world view, which in turn shapes our sense of who we are, who we are in the universe and what the nature of the universe is.
Is it just a disenchanted mechanistic, neutralized, vast space that we have randomly found ourselves in? Evolved out of random processes, yet somehow we have subjectivity, have a capacity for consciousness in this vast, unconscious universe? Or is something more mysterious going on? And are there other ways of looking at the universe that perhaps could embed our consciousness in a way that is more coherent and healing rather than alienating and disorienting?
CHRIS BRENNAN: And is that part of what led you then, while you were still at college, to working at the Esalen Institute?
RICHARD TARNAS: I had read about Esalen Institute, which is in Big Sur, California while I was still at Harvard, in fact there was an article in the Harvard Crimson newspaper whose headline was “AFTER HARVARD, ESALEN?” I found the article fascinating and I happened to be one of the few people who decided to follow that up after I graduated.
The main reason I came to Esalen was that I wanted to meet and study with Stanislav Grof, who was the world’s expert, and still is, on psychedelic medicines and LSD psychotherapy coming out of the psychoanalytic Depth Psychology tradition but very much integrated the mystical traditions as well. As a clinical psychiatrist, I had been so impressed with what I’d read of his work from Abraham Maslow and others that I wanted to meet him.
While the focus on psychedelics had begun there at Harvard, while I was there actually, Ram Dass (indiscernible) Tim Leary and Richard Alpert who had changed his name later to Ram Dass , had been at Harvard and when they were starting their LSD experiments. Alan Watts came there for a while and was kind of a spiritual guide for them in some respects and all of them, they definitely had a significant impact on me, not Leary directly so much although we became friends, but more Ram Dass and then Alan Watts’ work was influential.
So I was kind of prepared to be exploring non-ordinary states of consciousness and what that could tell us about the nature of the mysterious universe we live in, as a result of my college years. Then I came out to California to pursue doctoral studies and particularly wanted to work with Stan Grof and, as it turned out Esalen was just a great place and I ended up living there for ten years and studied with Joseph Campbell and Gregory Bateson, …(indiscernible) Smith, James Hillman and quite a few others.
It was an educational centre that honored a wide range of orientations and it took seriously, whether it would be meditation and yoga or synchronicities and discussion of the Tao or reincarnation or shamans would visit from the Wichita tribes in Mexico and so forth. As a result, there was a metaphysical, not only tolerance but passionate curiosity and openness to many different perspectives and, as I learned soon after getting to Esalen in 1974, astrology was also part of the vocabulary, part of the world view there. This along with the overall openness to Hindu, Buddhist, Tao-ist mysticism or shamanic practices to the importance of paying attention to synchronicities and things like that.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Before you got there I think you say at one point in the book that you, because of your educational background, had a predisposition to dismiss astrology and assume that it wasn’t something that was intellectually valid. Was it during this time at Esalen where your views on that changed? Or were you forced to re-examine that?
RICHARD TARNAS: That is correct. You know, I hadn’t really thought a lot about it but I remember my first encounter with anything to do with astrology was when a professor at Harvard, who had been trained by Jung and taught at the Harvard Divinity school, mentioned to me as a friend, we were seeing each other occasionally and having conversations about Jung and Freud and European culture and so forth – he was from Switzerland – and he at one point started talking about my … he must have asked about my birth date at some point … because he started looking at my …and talking a little about the different signs my planets were in. And I just thought this was a kind of trivial pursuit, you know, I was surprised that someone of such intellectual dignity had just gone in that direction, and I just kind of steered the conversation back towards our usual form. And so, there was a few years where I think astrology kind of knocks on your door. I think it was Greene once said that astrology more chooses you rather than you choosing it.
On the other hand you can choose to ignore the invitation and it wasn’t until I read more Jung and also in the year right after leaving Harvard, I read quite a bit of Rudolf Steiner. And in both Jung and Steiner there was definitely a respectful attitude about astrology which I, in a general way, started assimilating. But then it was really at Esalen where I first had my chart read and then the crucial turning point was actually when Stan Grof and I were dealing with a particular research issue that we wanted to …. his colleagues and fellow psychiatrists over many years had tried to understand and not been able to make any progress with and as a result we were able to make a … at that point astrology presented itself as a possible avenue of researching ‘Why do some people have such different responses than others to the exact same sustance’? In this case LSD, over mescalin or psyllocybin ? and even though they are getting the exact same, say 500 micrograms, and why does the same person at different times also have different responses? And none of the traditional psychological tests that were employed by the clinics back in Maryland and Prague where Stan had worked had any …. none of those tests had any validity, they just seemed completely irrelevant to what kinds of experiences people were actually having.
There wasn’t any predictive power and at that point Stan and I both had sufficient, at least, openness to the possibility that astrology might be of value in looking at it. An astrologer named Arnie Tratovic ? was visiting Esalen, actually was in a month long seminar that Stan was offering on Buddhism, and he shared with Stan and me his conviction that people’s experiences were very much reflective of the personal transits that they were going through and he taught us how to calculate a birth chart. This was back in ’75, ’76 when one had to do all this by hand and use reference books etc. like Tables of Houses and Latitudes and Longitudes, but it was relatively simple math as you know and we were able to calculate our transits in our birth charts. We had very good records for our sessions and we were just astonished by the correlations between the kinds of experiences that we and other people had in these non-ordinary states of consciousness that were so powerful, that were so archetypally saturated by a kind of mythic intensity, couldn’t miss the qualities and lo and behold, it really fit the planetary principles that were being highlighted by the planetary transits to the natal chart. And this was so consistent and so accurate it had such a kind of nuanced quality of correlation that we had to reassess our initial scepticism that …. really astrology I think was the last of the new paradigm or ancient esoteric methods that we took seriously but it turned out to be the most valuable one of all! Not only in shining a light on a particular research interest at this point, which was understanding powerful transformational experiences which people coming to Esalen seem to specialize in having, with or without psychedelics, but it was also valuable for understanding artists. We looked at the birth chart of a Michelangelo or a Beethoven or of a Jane Austen or you looked at the personal transits of Galileo when he turned his telescope to the heavens. It just kind of blew our minds basically.
And so, it was from that point on, and this was early 1976 I remember the turning point – it was March 1976. From that point on I recognized that astrology was the most interesting thing to me of anything that I had studied in my life and I was interested in a lot of things. One of the reasons for that interest was that it shone a light on every other subject I was interested in, whether it was history or psychology or art and literature. Even the fine points of philosophical issues like how do we know things, epistemology, not to mention the whole issue around ‘is the cosmos meaningful, purposeful, ensouled or is it a mechanistic, random process of matter and energy with no deeper purposes or humanly meaningful categories at work in it’? Every one of those areas of study to me, of vital interest, was illuminated by astrology in the most extraordinary way so it really became a lifelong passion I guess. It’s 40 years ago now that that awakening happened.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Right, so your initial access point is just this discovery that people in altered states of consciousness, that you could actually predict or more reliably anticipate through their astrological transits, what kind of experience they are going to have than any other diagnostic tool that you had available at the time, but then when you made that realization suddenly you realized how applicable it was to all of these other fields of study that you already had a deep interest in?
RICHARD TARNAS: Exactly, yeah.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Great and that was exactly 40 years ago and we’re sort of at the anniversary of that as well this year, which is kind of interesting. So, that year in 1976 you got your PhD, right?
RICHARD TARNAS: That’s correct.
CHRIS BRENNAN: You said that it took you …, your first book, technically, was Passion of the Western Mind which you said took you ten years to write, so you must have started writing it just a few years afterwards, around 1980?
RICHARD TARNAS: That’s right. I began in late ’78 with some writing that eventually went into what became Cosmos and Psyche and the essay, “Prometheus the Awakener”, I wrote an early version of that in late ’78, early ’79 – this was right as I’m in my Saturn return, I was almost 29 just as that was happening. That’s when I connected deeply with Charles Harvey and the British Astrological Association and John Addey.
Rob Hand and I had been friends for two or three years at that point and I’d invited him along to Esalen along with other astrologers to present … ?Jim Rulis?, Zip Dobyns and others, but it was really from when I was 29 that I started writing more astrologically, but also thinking about the philosophical dimensions of what I was studying and, at a certain point in 1980, I realized that I really needed to write. At least, it started as a few chapters that I thought were going to be at the beginning of Cosmos and Psyche.
I wanted to write an introduction to the general reader that would both explain the whole understanding of archetypes and how it evolved from the ancient Greeks or even from the mythic … if we think of gods and goddesses as being the archaic, primordial way in which the archetypes were experienced in the ancient imagination as very powerful beings whom they personified and that one can still experience in this way, in special states of consciousness usually. And then to show that whole evolution, from the mythic to the Platonic and Aristotelian understanding of the archetypes and universal forms and then how that evolved all the way up to the modern world view. And then depth psychology coming partly out of Romanticism and it’s deep interest in the profound inner psyche is able to reconnect to a mythic and archetypal domain that informs the human psyche in a very powerful and general, seemingly universal way.
I wanted people to have a sense for – here’s this very rich concept of archetypes that goes all the way back and seems to be an explanatory principle for understanding the basic meanings of the planets. Because when you read any conventional astrological text book about what a Mars/Venus conjunction represents, or a Saturn/Mercury opposition, you can see at work every single specific detail that is described as characteristic of that Saturn/Mercury opposition in a natal chart or in a transit, or a Venus/Mars conjunction, you can see how each of them has been … those descriptions are based on understandings of universal principles that are essentially archetypes. They simultaneously seem to act as inner psychological drives and impulses and they express themselves in images, but they can also be experienced as gods and goddesses. They also can be philosophically understood as transcending principles along the lines of Plato’s understanding of the archetypes. They can also be seen as Freudian instincts.
This is partly under the influence of James Hillman who became a major mentor and friend during these years in my late 20’s and early 30’s and his wonderful book, called Revisioning Psychology, really was the master work and manifesto of archetypal psychology. His work really gave me an inspiration for being able to write astrology and about astrological matters in a way that drew on everything else I learned in terms of cultural history and literature and philosophy and depth psychology.
But to get back to your question: I felt that before, I tried to serve as a bridge for the educated sceptical public, sceptical of the remotest possibility that astrology was anything more than an idle game you might play as you read the Sunday horoscope column. I felt that I needed to introduce the reader to a bigger historical context, both in terms of understanding the nature of the meanings of the archetypes but also in terms of understanding how our world view has shifted. So that what in an earlier era such as in ancient Greece, or Egypt or Mesopotamia, Rome, even in the medieval Christian period, in Europe there was a much greater plausibility to the astrological cosmos. The entire universe was seen as being structured and imbued with intrinsic meanings that held great significance for the human being and that in some sense seemed to be focused on the earth, which in a pre-Copernican universe was much more plausible.
As soon as you had the Copernican Revolution, this would radically change the game and change the cosmic structure and opened up the possibility of the mechanistic universe. Because I had studied the Copernican Revolution in some depth at Harvard, I had taken one of the most influential courses I ever took – it was the one by Thomas Kuhn, who wrote The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and another book called The Copernican Revolution, which for him is the paradigm of all paradigms, or the paradigm revolution of all paradigm revolutions! I took the course that he had helped shape when he was at Harvard, I took it under a great astronomy professor Owen Gingrich. I wanted to bring in that understanding as well, how the Copernican Revolution had played a role in this.
By the time I finished setting out this historical background, bringing us right up to date to the post Modern period when many things, including the modern assumptions about the nature of reality were coming into question. By the time I finished this I realized this was too much to be the opening three or four chapters of my book on astrology, Cosmos and Psyche. I realized it should really be published as a book in itself. I named it Passion of the Western Mind and then Random House found out about the two books through a series of connections, someone was enthusiastic about my work let somebody else know who was a literary agent, who let the head of Ballantyne know about it and then they read it. They read Passion of the Western Mind as well as the outline of Cosmos and Psyche and they said “Let’s do it. Let’s publish it!”
Interestingly, they thought Cosmos and Psyche would be the blockbuster and that Passion of the Western Mind would be a way to get there, to establish credibility. What they didn’t expect, and nor did I, was that Passion of the Western Mind would catch on quite quickly and it became a text that is used in many universities, both here in the States and abroad. I really wrote it for the general reader but it also got picked up in an academic context, which was great and it allowed me to …. when I became a professor and started teaching, which delayed my completion of Cosmos and Psyche by another ten or fifteen years but it was worth it because I was able to teach the material in Cosmos and Psyche at my school Californian Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco which to my surprise, not only the students but my fellow faculty and the administration were eager for me to teach not only the Passion of the Western Mind history of philosophy kind of courses, but also courses that were about my research with Stan Grof that involved the planetary correlations with psychological states and we’re very much indebted to that ethos of metaphyscial expansiveness that is part of our school’s origins that allowed us to teach that material for now over twenty years and that very much went into how I ended up finishing Cosmos and Psyche.
CHRIS BRENNAN: OK and so backing up a little bit, from the late 1970’s you already started writing a book on astrology where you wanted to demonstrate, or you had noticed that major outer planet alignments coincided with or correlated with major shifts in Western thought and Western intellectual traditions but then, in order to demonstrate that premise, to show that shifts in Western thought coincided with major astrological alignments you first had to answer the question of ‘What are some of the major shifts in history?’ And that is where Passion of the Western Mind comes from essentially?
RICHARD TARNAS: Yes, actually I wanted to trace the background to the concepts that astrology depends on/uses, and I also wanted to trace the background to our current cultural rejection of astrology as being … as I like to say, it’s the gold standard of superstition in our culture. It’s what one goes to or points to if you want to say something is superstitious, is worthy of intellectual scorn at best and just being ignored if at all possible. That attitude about astrology comes out of an extraordinary history and it’s not a simple rational attitude that is based on a clear understanding of the evidence. There are good reasons for that rejection. I think in some ways astrology had to be negated by the modern mind and modern self at a certain point for modernity to … and the modern self to emerge with sufficient autonomy that it could then re-engage the cosmos, an ensouled cosmos in a new way, a more co-creative, participatory way but in order to get to that point there had to be a kind of a loss, a negation, what was felt at first as a liberation from the old astrological ensouled cosmos but then eventually was experienced widely as a kind of state of alienation and disorientation and a cosmic void which to a certain extent characterizes the late modern and post modern existentialist crisis.
So I really wanted to have readers understand the context in which the astrological evidence can now be looked at with new eyes and with greater sophistication.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Sure, and this was going to be initially, as you said, like the first few chapters, almost like a preface to your main work but then its release in 1991 becomes wildly successful and it’s not just generally successful, but also becomes assigned reading in a bunch of university courses and you become to a certain extent, almost like a celebrated intellectual figure. Maybe not on the level of Thomas Kuhn or someone like that or ….
RICHARD TARNAS: I wouldn’t say it became wildly popular, I think it did way better than a book like that – intellectual history – can ever assume it will do but it sold to this point about one quarter million copies, which is good for a book that really sought to honour the intelligence of the reader and his or her interest in the profundity and complexity of our intellectual and spiritual and cultural history. But what was surpising to me was that it was picked up by … I stopped counting after it reached about 100 universities. You know they were using it at Harvard, or U.C. Berkley and seminaries and so forth. That was a surprise.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Sure, especially because even though you don’t really talk about astrology in the book, you had, not an ulterior motive but it was just the preface to something else that you were building up to that wasn’t necessarily clear in that book.
RICHARD TARNAS: Right, it turned out to be a trojan horse in that respect.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Sure, because you had established your credibility with, maybe intelligentsia is not the right word, but in academia it established your credibility and then from that, as you said, you started your career teaching and you started teaching at C.I.A.S. in California and developed the program there. What is the name of the program again?
RICHARD TARNAS: It’s called the Philosophy, Cosmology and Consciousness program. It’s part of the Philosophy and Religion larger dept that our Philosophy, Cosmology and Consciousness program, PCC for short, we founded it in ’94 and Stan Grof, Brian Swim, indiscernible ?Breakneck, David Ulancey? And myself and Robert McDermot, we were the original co-founders and then Sean Kelly came into the faculty with Alison as well. In addition we’d have, I’m not sure how many hundreds of graduates have come through it for the Masters and PhD program over these years, but some of the people who have played a role now in archetypal cosmology came through the program. Kieron Le Grice for example and Rod O’Neal, Matt Segal, indiscernible and others. Erica Jones and Jessica Garfield-Kabbara, Chad Harris, Matthew Stelzner, Delia Shargel. These have become wonderful teachers and scholars, therapists, professors and so forth who have come through the program.
CHRIS BRENNAN: So it is in that context, while you are invovled in that program and while you are teaching and you’re writing this book that is going to be a huge tome, that you’ve been working on since the late 1970s, but they’re developing a bit of a community around it or you were able to share portions of it with some of your students and get feedback at that time, right?
RICHARD TARNAS: Yes, that was extremely useful.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Eventually you have gone through the whole writing process and the book is released in 2006. The external premise of the book was essentially, as I would state it from an outsider’s perspective, is “What if a prominent contemporary Western intellectual wrote a book in which he tried to make the case for astrology and explain what it is in a modern context, while demonstrating how it works” and one of the things I think a lot of people in the astrological community don’t necessarily realize is that it wasn’t necessarily written for the astrological community but instead it was written essentially in order to convince intellectuals and academics that there is something to astrology. Do you feel like that is an accurate symopsis?
RICHARD TARNAS: That’s right. I thought that some astrologers would be interested in it, that it wasn’t going to come as a relevation to them that astrology was valuable or that it worked, but I thought well there may be correlations and there may be formulations in the book that they might find helpful. But you’re correct I was trying to write, in a way, for the future and for the future of astrology being accepted, re-embraced into the heart of our cultural life because it certainly deserves to be. It’s way more intellectually sophisticated and psychologically sophisticated certainly than the way it is viewed by the mainstream but it’s actually at a higher level of sophistication than much contemporary psychology, for example.
Stan Grof, who knows psychology inside and out as a long term psychiatrist and psycho-analyst and therapist, he views astrology as the Rosetta Stone of the human psyche and Jung often made comments along that line and I think they are completely correct.
CHRIS BRENNAN: So you basically wanted to present that insight that you had suddenly and unexpectedly had back in the mid 1970s, that there’s actually something to astrology and not only is there something to it but it becomes the key or … becomes this interesting lens through which you can look at and analyse and get a different perspective on all of these other fields. Then you yourself were in a very unique and good position to try to make that argument to the academic/intellectual community because, as you said earlier, the almost subversive nature of Cosmos and Psyche as a follow up to the Passion of the Western Mind, which went over very well in 1991; but then otherwise you wrote the book knowing that it was like a scandalous thing for a university professor to come out with a book that is supportive of astrology because it is viewed, as you said, as the gold standard of superstition.
RICHARD TARNAS: Yes and by contrast it turns out to be a kind of philosopher’s stone, in that it is so valuable in whatever direction you turn it, whether it’s understanding our current political moment in the United States or globally or if you are wanting to look at the nature of Jennifer Laurence’s particular power as an actress in our time and looking at her birth chart and how that connects with world transits and so forth. In all these ways astrology just provides a lens and a frame of reference that I don’t think can be matched in any place else in the academic world; which would sound just absurd to any good academic who did not have a good grasp of astrology, who had not been initiated into it but .. so it goes (quiet chuckle).
CHRIS BRENNAN: Basically what the book ending up being was like a brilliant book on modern astrology where, if anybody was ever going to be successful in attempting to make the case for astrology as a subject that was deserving of intellectual interest or that one should not dismiss out of hand, then this was essentially it. And in terms of some of the themes in the book, you start out with this great analogy that was always one of my favourite parts of the book where, although you don’t mention astrology until page 61 which is pretty far into the book, you end up drawing this very long, extended analogy between the Copernican Revolution as an analogy for astrology today in some sense, right?
RICHARD TARNAS: Yes. I left it to the reader to figure out that’s what I was doing. It wasn’t the only thing I was doing with that analysis of the Copernican Revolution because I also believe the Copernican Revolution made possible the modern self. Also, it summarized everything that we received from the ancient Greeks and the medieval developments and then it also led to so many … well, almost everything we can think about in modernity, including the post modern period which was set in motion by the Copernican Revolution. I wanted to emphasize the pivotal role that it played, but in doing so it provides such a perfect parallel to the astrologer today who makes a discovery that would just be rejected out of hand by all the major intellectual and cultural authorities of this era. So there is a real parallel there.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Yes, I think you wrote: Imagine you have a new theory that conflicts not only with common sense but also with religious authorities (like passages from the bible when interpreted literally) or even, with many of the most cogent and long-established principles in physics and cosmology, you were writing about the Copernican theory and the theory that the Sun is the centre of the solar system and that the earth revolves around the Sun (the Heliocentric theory, which was his argument) and making a similar analogy today just in terms of the way that astrology, in an intellectual sense, if you come to it as a general person with a relatively decent education or background doesn’t, on the face of it, seem like it makes any sense or that that would be a possible or plausible thing from a cosmological perspective and therefore it is rejected out of hand and yet there might be something to it.
RICHARD TARNAS: Yes, and it helps to know that in order for the Copernican Revolution to succeed, scientists and philosophers had to rethink their basic assumptions about, not just the movements of the planets and the fact that the earth might be moving, they had to rethink the very basics of physics, everything from the Aristotelian point of view – things fell because they were falling to the centre of the earth, because this earth was the stable centre of the universe and heavy things had a natural inclincation to fall towards that centre. We also had to come up with explanations as to why is it if the earth was moving that buildings aren’t falling over or that we don’t lose our balance as the earth is rotating and revolving in different directions at once, how could that be possible?
In order to make the Copernican Revolution and the heliocentric theory plausible, the very basics of physics had to be changed and that was the whole paradigm shift that Thomas Kuhn used as a kind of model for all paradigm shifts: that it’s not just a matter of new data coming in, you need an entirely different theoretical gestalt that allows you to see new data that would not even have been visible before and allows you to re-conceive everthing that you had been looking at in a different way, much as you can flip back and forth between a black vase as being two white faces in profile and it can go back and forth between those two gestalt images; it’s the exact same drawing but the different perception gives us an entirely different result; it’s a different interpretation and it allows us to see the data in totally different ways.
That was another reason why I wanted to bring in the Copernican Revolution is that astrology can’t just be added to the conventional modern, materialistic world view. Astrology really has to be … we have to rethink the nature of causality, we have to rethink the structure of the universe and we have to rethink the relationship of the inner human psyche to the external material world, which is the modern world view, so sharply divided by botson? and ideas and emotions are just inside our heads while the world outside is just matter and energy. This is not at all the way, let’s say indigenous native Americans or Aboriginal Australians looked at the universe. It was completely different, the wind, the plants, the birds, the sun and moon, they also had interiors. They were capable of communicating meanings. Meaning wasn’t just a human construct, it pervaded all of reality and that requires a total paradigm shift for the modern self, which I think really, in order to go through that paradigm shift, the modern self has to let go of it’s old identity, it’s old assumptions and go through a kind of ego death, which in fact our era seems to be precipitating in various ways.
CHRIS BRENNAN: So the Copernican Revolution necessitated a paradigm shift and in some ways it couldn’t take place or couldn’t be validated within the context of the old model, it required a complete rethinking of everything. In light of that, that’s part of what you try to outline in this book which is, ‘What would the cosmos have to be like in order for something like astrology to be valid in some sense?’ in the specific way that you define it? One of the things you identify as a source of an issue and a point of conflict that the astrological premise automatically comes into conflict with, is the idea of what you call the disenchanted world view as both a source of problems with the world but also something that astrology seems to contradict in some sense, right?
RICHARD TARNAS: That’s correct, the disenchanted world view emerges out of the scientific revolution and the Reformation, each playing a major role in that process but it ends up in a world in which only the human being is seen as having conscious intelligence and capacity for moral and aesthetic evaluation. And because of that the rest of the world can be seen as just an object, were subjects but the world is seen as an object – like ancient growth forests or animals or planets and so forth and they are therefore either a mechanistic explanation or they are there to be used as resources: animals are harvested, old growth forests are nothing but lumber and potential and so forth. That objectification of the world and exploitation of the natural environment, instead of a kind of reverence for it as an ensouled community of beings, that we are members of has gone a long ways towards creating the global ecological catastrophe that we’re all facing today. And it has also gone a long way towards creating that sense of lonely isolation that is the hallmark of the modern existentialist predicament of being …… a lonely speck of meaning-seeking dust in a vast, unconscious, purposeless, meaningless cosmos that that whole litany of de-centred isolation, that is characteristic of the modern heroic sense of being the only island of rational consciousness around, has gone a long ways towards shaping the spiritual crisis of our time as well.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Sure and part of the solution that you introduced as a contrast was drawing on some ancient thought, like Plato – the idea of the human psyche actually being embedded in a larger world psyche, or world soul, depending on how you want to frame it. And this being both part of the explanatory rationale for astrology as well as the solution to the disenchanted world view. So taking this ancient idea of the cosmos as somehow ensouled, I guess, is part of the basic philosophical premise of the book?
RICHARD TARNAS: Yes, Platonic and I would say the whole Platonic tradition, including Plotinus the great neo-Platonist who developed these thoughts even further in terms of the anima mundi (the world soul). But I also attempt to emphasize both in the course of Cosmos and Psyche, certainly by the end, as well as in my classes, the importance of the shift that is possible in our time through having gone through the long modern development and the modern differentiation of an autonomous human consciousness. It allows certain possibilities that were not available to the ancients, in terms of how we relate to this ensouled cosmos and how we , for example, can respond to tracking our personal transits or looking at our natal chart and regarding it in a different way than would have been characteristic of earlier eras. There were a whole range of ways, as you especially know Chris, of interpretations and ways of responding among the ancients. The Hellenistic, the Roman, the medieval mindset was not just a monolith in how it regarded astrology, but there were certain tendencies widely shared that modernity, having gone through that whole process of differentiation that we’ve been describing, permits a new kind of way of co-creatively responding to the powerful forces that we associate with the heavens, with the planets, not in a mechanistic causal way but as cosmic forces that also live within the human psyche and the collective psyche of humanity.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Yes, I think that makes a lot of sense and your general point about the downfall of astrology and its loss of scientific and intellectual credibility after the scientific revolution and in the modern period, allowing the modern mindset to rebuild itself in a different way and to then reinvent astrology in a way that allows for greater self-autonomy and more empowerment. That is certainly something that wouldn’t have happened quite as much or wouldn’t have happened in the same way if astrology hadn’t lost it’s credibility first, you wouldn’t have had this ability for it to completely reinvent itself in the 20th Century, along more modern, almost humanist lines?
RICHARD TARNAS: That is correct. And I think we also have a better grasp of the rich multivalence of symbols, the nature of symbols and of metaphors – it gives us a more intellectually and psychologically flexible way of understanding the astrological meanings. That is something that could become more clear if we unpacked one particular principle for example but the basic point is just that we have had a couple of hundred years now, particularly the last one hundred years of delving deeply into the very nature of symbolism and the various ways in which archetypes can be formulated and experienced and the ways in which metaphor informs our thinking , our vocabulary, our language, our fantasy and so forth. All of these give us tools for apporaching the knowledge that Saturn is opposing my Moon or Uranus is squaring my Jupiter. It gives me tools to approach the range of potentialities that that transit signifies, that were not available to somebody who was looking at Saturn opposite the Moon in 20 BCE in Rome.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Sure, because you are explicitly approaching it from the point of finding a way for that to be empowering in some sense?
RICHARD TARNAS: Empowering, also … I don’t want it to seem as just a matter of human beings appropriating it to become more powerful themselves. There is also a kind of respect and reverence for the cosmos’ own intentions, that we can perhaps more intelligently participate in by being aware of them and also by bringing greater consciousness to the enactment of the astrological influences that are coming through us. We may be able to be more skilful in how we express those energies rather than the often destructive way we can express them if they are entirely unconconscious and possessing us like a complex.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Sure, and just the idea of co-creation is a term that is often used in that regard?
RICHARD TARNAS: That’s right, yes.
CHRIS BRENNAN: So one of the most controversial points about astrology that you said when presenting it to the public was that It posits an intrinsically meaning-permeated cosmos. So the idea that the cosmos is not random and meaningless, but that there is a subtle ordering of things that is happening and there is something from a modern, especially scientific or scientism, perspective that is deeply .. maybe offensive is not the right word but, it is just diametrically opposed to the modern conceptualization of the world as essentially random and meaningless.
RICHARD TARNAS: Correct, yes. That is a real challenge for the dualistic modern mindset which basically stops the presence of meaning inside the human cranium. Anything out there that we see as bearing meaning has to be seen as being put there by human consciousness, that we are imbuing it, we’re projecting it but the idea that the cosmos could be bearing it in some intrinsic way is just anathema to the disenchanted mainstream modern world view.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Right and then you go on to demonstrate that, or a large part of the book is focused essentially on the demonstration of that by saying, ‘Look at all these planetary cycles that coincide with either people’s biographies or major world events or major shifts in intellectual trends in concert with different planetary transits and cycles’. The implication that there is more of an orderliness, or there is more of an underlying sense of meaningfulness or purpose underlying events than there should be otherwise, according to our contemporary understanding of the nature of the cosmos.
RICHARD TARNAS: That is correct. The kinds of correlations that we observe shouldn’t be happening if we truly lived in a mechanistic cosmos. The tendency that historians will note when a particular era will have a kind of wave of revolutions that are happening in different parts of the globe, that are not in touch with each other, in the 17th century, it’s a mystery. Or even where they are in touch with each other but somehow … something catches fire in 1789, 1790s and sweeps through France and much of Europe but also happening at the same time is the mutiny on the Bounty in Tahiti and the revolution of the slaves in Haiti. All these synchronistic waves of, what a Jungian would call, archetypal phenomena taking place in so many fields in so many areas of the world simultaneously, this shouldn’t be happening. Nor should they be happening with the same planetary alignments, in which similar phenomena took place at other times when those same planets were in alignment.
Just take our own time right now, which is going through Uranus square Pluto. Why is it that so many people, completely non-astrological people, are noting that the cultural and political quality of our time, the zeitgeist, has so many resemblances to the 1960s, to the 1930s? In many other ways the potential for mass populist eruptions of discontent and defiance that are led by demigogic individuals, but also the very characteristic qualities that we see in the ‘60s of the empowerment of women, of youth, of environmentalism, of civil rights issues and minorities and so forth, sexual revolution, why such parallels? And going right back to the French revolutionary epoch, when all those characteristics that I just mentioned were also characteristic of that period, which also had Uranus opposite Pluto; square in the 1930s, conjunct in the 1960s and now the square again in our time.
There’s a coherence of patterning here, of archetypal patterning that is expressing itself both synchronically – many things happening of the same quality, in many fields across the world at the same time, and then also diachronically: namely, that through time at other periods such as the ‘60s or the ‘30s or the 1790s and other epochs that I studied and analyse carefully in Cosmos and Psyche, that had the same Uranus/Pluto quadriture alignments, show the same motifs, all of which are reflective of everything that contemporary astrologers agree are connected to the meanings of Uranus and Pluto in interaction. That just should not be happening and the correlations are just dazzling, they shatter the limited mindset. There is no way one can readily assimilate the nuance, the massiveness, the complexity of the correlations by adding it to a conventional Newtonian, Cartesian, Einsteinian universe. We have to bring in more than that, we have to draw on the wisdom and traditions that come from other eras and other cultures in order to begin to grasp the mystery that we’re witnessing here.
CHRIS BRENNAN: You spend a large part of the book demonstrating this through the study of larger historical epochs and showing cultural shifts through planetary cycles or shifts that occurred together in synchronicity with cultural cycles, like looking at the Uranus/Pluto cycle that you mentioned or looking at the Saturn/Pluto cycle and especially the conjunctions and oppositions, and that is sort of the practical demonstration of the book, which takes up the majority of it.
However, in the beginning you also tried to set down a philosophical foundation for … you know, you’re going to demonstrate that this happening so then the next question is, “Why is this happening?” or “How is this happening?” and one of the things that you do is adapt Carl Jung’s theory of synchronicity as an explanatory mechanism or principle for astrology. Although you expand it so it is not restricted to the occasional or the spontaneous events that he was focused on or usually tended to define it as, but instead something that can be a regularly occurring phenomenon, right?
RICHARD TARNAS: That’s correct. He himself did say that astrology could in fact be seen as a kind of systematic cosmic form of synchronicity happening on that vast scale. But he, in his essay on synchronicity and the paper that he gave at ?Aeronus, the focus was much more on other kinds of synchronicities that were more one-off striking breakthroughs of unexpected meaning where the inner world and the outer world exactly matched – like the golden scarab flying in the window of the therapist at the same time that the patient is describing a very significant dream in which he had been given a golden scarab in the dream context itself. This had a very powerful effect on her as a patient, contemplating ‘Why did that insect want to get into this window at that moment?’ and the idea that Plotinus says, it seems that everything breathes together.
Anyway, Jung was particularly focused on that type of synchronicity but the fact is he was paying attention to synchronicities all the time, they were very ongoing in his life. He was very attentive to them the way a shaman or a Tao Te Ching sage would be attentive to synchronistic phenomena and he was also deeply interested in astrology. In fact, at the time I was born in February 1950, he actually wrote a letter on the day I was born, in Switzerland, to a scientist saying how obsessed he was at that point, studying astrology and synchronicity, trying to wrap his mind around it and to understand it better and he was trying to apply statistics at that point to it. And that was why he was contacting the scientist but ..
CHRIS BRENNAN: Wow, that is a pretty impressive synchronicity of itself and then you were actually born with Gemini rising and the ruler of the Ascendant in the 9th house which is traditionally, and in modern times still associated with astrology?
RICHARD TARNAS: Yes, and you could bring up that I have Uranus rising too. I think everyone has birth synchronicities – they seem to converge around births and deaths and periods of crises and deep transformations, deep threshold periods. That seems to be when synchronicities seem to be constellated with unusual frequency and intensity.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Sure, and the general point, in terms of synchronicity and its relevance for astrology, was just that he was interested in investigating things that coincide in time, that share an equivalency of meaning but don’t necessarily have a direct causal connection between the two but instead they are just happening in the same moment in time and sharing a similar sort of symbolism. And this is where that becomes a useful explanatory principle for astrology, because as you pointed out in the book, the dominant view in the 20th century is that the planets do not necessarily cause events to happen or the events that they correlate with, either in an individual’s life or in world events. It doesn’t necessarily cause them to happen but instead they are just coinciding with time and sharing an equivalency of meaning and a large part of your book is both demonstrating that that is regularly and consistently true, but also trying to explain a broader philosophical framework for how that is even possible.
RICHARD TARNAS: Yes, I think causality still does play a role, in the sense that there is something like archetypal causation which, in other words, the planet seen as that body out there of Mars or the Moon, Pluto etc. that physical body I don’t think is causing in a typical, mechanistic, linear form, whatever phenomenon I’m going through …. That rocky body isn’t causing me to be angry or bold or emotional or whatever, rather at a certain level the archetype, which can be seen in a way as both inside and outside, it’s part of the, what Plotinus would think of as, the anima mundi or world soul, that does seem to have some causal capacity but it’s more in the sense of formal causation. That is, it is shaping the experience, it’s what is giving the pattern, the meaning, the form to the experience and then there is also an element of final causation, which was Aristotle’s term (as was formal causality).
Final causation is where something has a purpose, it is unfolding towards realizing a purpose that, from the point of view of Jung, synchronicities were always moving us towards greater wholeness, it was overcoming the barrier between unconsicous and conscious and moving the psyche towards a state of greater wholeness and therefore healing and also contact with the numinous. In that sense, synchronicities were serving a purpose and that would be considered an example of final causation. But when a person or when two people have, let’s say a Mars/Venus conjunction between them, Mars in her chart is conjoined Venus in the other person’s chart and they engage in a passionate kiss just as, let’s say the Sun or Mars is crossing that Mars/Venus conjunction in their synastry. Well, that would be an example of formal causation in the sense that Venus, with its impulse towards romantic experience and tender expression and sensuous experience, is combining with the Mars physicality and ardour and the more erotically yang impulse. They are combining together to create what goes into a kiss and that’s an example of the archetypal forms are shaping, are configuring the experience and that would be a kind of causation, but I don’t think it is the planets ‘causing’ so much as the archetypes or the gods. They are the ones that can be seen as having some kind of causal efficacy.
CHRIS BRENNAN: That is something you have actually been exploring in the last two issues of the ARCHAI journal which is, there are a few issues which we’ll talk about in a minute, but you’ve been exploring this issue of what are the planetary archetypes and how are they working and if there is some form of causality, how you define that or what is the nature of it, right?
RICHARD TARNAS: That is correct. What you’re referring to are some notes on archetypal dynamics and complex causality that I wrote just prior to writing Cosmos and Psyche, when I gave myself full time starting in 2002 to the writing of Cosmos and Psyche, from 2002 to 2004. Just before I started that full time composition, I took the time out to think through the philosophical nuances of what are we witnessing when we study astrological correlations? What does it mean to say that a Mars/Venus conjunction comes through in a particular way? And so I unpacked it from various perspectives and that has been published in two issues of ARCHAI journal, as you mentioned.
CHRIS BRENNAN: OK, so transitioning then into the next section as we start to wrap this up in the next 30 minutes or so, I wanted to talk about this new approach, or this new school of astrology that’s been emerging in the last ten years, since the release of Cosmos and Psyche that you’re referring to as Archeyptal Astrology and this seems to be essentially the approach that you developed after studying the astrological tradition and then refining it. That includes the techniques and conceptualisations that seem to make the most sense to you, or seem to be the most reliable or plausible in which you set the foundation in Cosmos and Psyche, right?
RICHARD TARNAS: That’s correct, yes.
CHRIS BRENNAN: OK and the way it comes off is that it’s a more well-articulated and theorectically consistent approach to modern astrology which also has an integrated technical and philosophical structure essentially, right?
RICHARD TARNAS: Yes, although it is always a work in progress but we do attempt to be philosophically reflective about the concepts and the assumptions and the history of what has shaped our modus operandi.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Also, it seems like it was partially characterized as an attempt to create a standardized approach that could be used in an academic context. I know one of your students, Kieron Le Grice, said, I think in one of the ARCHAI journals, “It is the emergence of a new academic field centred on the archetypal approach to astrology.” And that is how he defined archetypal astrology?
RICHARD TARNAS: I think he was, I can’t remember the exact place where that quote happened, but my guess is that he was talking about archetypal cosmology, which is the more general discipline within which archetypal astrology is the core. The difference between those two is that archetypal astrology is particularly focused on the tracking of correlations as we see them in natal charts and in personal transits and in world transits, and in chart comparisons and relationships and progressions and so forth. So that would be the focus of archetypal astrology, with a special emphasis on the significance of the planetary archetypes and the aspects between the planets. But archetypal cosmology is the larger field of interest in several disciplines that in a sense archetypal astrology points towards. Like we want to understand, in what kind of a cosmos do we live in which these planetary correlations could exist, because it is a very different universe than what we are taught in the mainstream scientific world view.
There is also the interest in integrating the insights of depth psychology, Jung, Freud, Hillman, Grof, transpersonal psychology, feminist psychology , archetypal psychology – it comes from Hillman and Jung and so forth. There is also a great deal of interest in cultural history and biography. So that larger range of say, scholarly disciplines, that provide a context within which archetypal astrology is the core and archetypal astrology shines a light on all those but all those also shine a light on astrology. We think for example that astrology and psychology both have about an equal amount to learn from each other and can be enriched and illuminated and emancipated by each other. It’s not a one way influence or effect.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Sure, and within this context, how are you defining the use of the term archetype or archetypal, either within the context of archetypal cosmology or more especially within the case of archetypal astrology?
RICHARD TARNAS: It’s a term that simultaneously hearkens back to the original Platonic understanding I mentioned: the idea of the archetype of Beauty, capital B, not just any thing, this person or that person or that experience as being beautiful, but the very principle of The beautiful with a capital T that endures when the flower dies but then re-emerges in the butterfly or the sound of music that somebody is listening to. That Platonic understanding of archetypes, some of the shifts that Aristotle brings into it, bringing in more dynamic, teleological and immanent understanding. Then Plotinus’ further elaborations on the term and then the recovery of the term within contemporary depth psychology which first starts inside the human psyche but then, through developments within depth psychology, particularly seen with Jung and Grof and Hillman too, it breaks beyond the human psychological boundary, where we come to see archetypes as informing matter and psyche, inner and outer worlds and in that sense there begins to be a kind of rapprochement between the depth psychological understanding of archetypes and the Platonic traditions’ concept of archetypes with the great movements of the planets in the cosmos serving as this extremely powerful structure of ongoing processive evidence for the reality of archetypes and their patternings of human experience.
CHRIS BRENNAN: You make a point in the book of saying that astrological archetypes are capable of manifesting as internal or external events and while it seems that in archetypal astrology there is a tendency to focus on psychological states, it seemed like at one point in the book you expressed the importance of not just limiting them to internal states, but acknowledging the potential for some sort of external manifestation in events?
RICHARD TARNAS: Well sure, for example let’s say … I gave a lecture last night to a group in China, by webinar, on Frida Kahlo the Mexican painter. She had many things that you can see in her chart that correlate so much with her art but also her personality and also her biography, including events that happened to her not just events that she precipitated. For example, she has a Mars/Uranus conjunction opposite her Sun. There’s more to it than that, it is actually opposite Sun, Jupiter, Neptune but the Mars/Uranus conjunction is very tight, very potent and exactly opposite her Sun and it certainly fits her bold, fiery, creative, rebellious personality and her capacity to really impulsively break through all kinds of constraints – social and artistic and so forth. But that tendency of Mars/Uranus for explosive impulsive actions can also come at one in ways that one has not precipitated at all, for example the sudden catastrophic accident that she had riding on a street car in Mexico when she was quite young. That shaped her life in so many fundamental ways and caused sharp pain, which is a Mars/Uranus kind of thing and lacerations and so forth – many operations. All these Mars/Uranus phenomena were set in motion by a sudden explosion of energy, unexpected, which is Mar/Uranus, but it didn’t come from her it was in the environment. It was a physical event that she did not set motion, she wasn’t driving the car or anything, she was riding, minding minding her own business; the thing happens to her.
The archetypes that are symbolised in the birth chart and in the ephemeris, as we look at our transits, are not only relevant to who we are in a sense of our conscious personality, or even just things that originate inside our selves, it is the whole gestalt of our lives, inner and outer, the events that happen to us, the kinds of people that not only we draw towards us – because there you can think of it as being you’re pyschologically in charge, you’re pulling people towards you. There is that, but there are also people who come to you out of the blue, that you weren’t looking for, that you didn’t unconsciously invite but who just go out of their way to find you. And in all those ways, that shows how much the archetypes transgress the boundary between inner and outer and between the material world and the psycho-spiritual world. They are a unitary principle that transgresses the structures of the Cartesian subject/object dichotomy.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Right, and in connection with that, one of the points you make and one of the things that seems to be a general philosophical principle, that the archetypal school has adopted is the idea that astrology is not concretely predictive but only archetypally predictive and so therefore, the focus is not on predicting specific, concrete outcomes but instead discerning archetypal dynamics that unfold over time, right?
RICHARD TARNAS: That’s correct and that is because archetypes have a range of possible meanings that, just as in the example of the Mars/Uranus conjunction in Frida Kahlo’s chart, they are expressed vividly in her paintings, in her visions, in her personality, in her actions but also in things that happen to her and the kinds of people that are drawn towards her; the whole circle of revolutionaries that she tended to hang out with and to have relationships with. So, in all those ways, that multi-dimensionality and also multivalence, those are two different terms: the multi-dimensionality refers to the fact that it could happen in the inner world or the outer world in actions or in images or dreams or whatever; while the multivalence has to do with the fact that Mars/Uranus could express itself in two or three, or many different ways in the inner world. It could be a person who experiences a capacity for boldness and courage but it also could be a person who is impulsive and rash. It could be a person who loves doing risk-taking things or who can be very fast moving – driving race cars or speeding down ski slopes on their skis and so forth. These are all ways in which it’s all happening in the same dimension of the inner psychic impulses but they are multivalent, going from very noble courage to very less than noble – in your face, immature, knee-jerk, compulsive rebelliousness and turning everybody that you meet into a repressive home-room grade school teacher that you didn’t like and therefore that you’re going to disobey. [1:42:17]
OK so all these different ways are true to the Mars/Uranus complex or the Mars/Uranus archetypal combination but which way that comes out is not necessarily visible just by looking at the birth chart. The birth chart is archetypally predictive, we definitely get a sense for what archetypal principles are being activated and in what combinations and at what times. But as to whether it’s going to be courage in noble activity or it’s going to be a kind of immature, juvenile delinquency that is self-destructive and perhaps risking physical injuries and so forth, I think a person with intuitive abilities, clairvoyant abilities, psychic capacity can combine the astrological data/information with their intuitive capacity and may be able to zero in on a concrete prediction. And that is where a divinatory potential comes into astrology that is definiely there. Not everybody has it, not everybody has equally well developed intuitive or clairvoyant skills or abilities but it is definitely potential, it’s there. But astrology just by itself I think is, in terms of looking at a birth chart, looking at the transits, not knowing anything else about the person from some internal intuitive reading of their inner life and of the future, that is why we would say that astrology is best understood as archetypally predictive and not concretely predictive.
CHRIS BRENNAN: One of the philosophical conclusions that you draw from the multivalent nature of planetary archetypes is that this leaves room then for free will and makes … because they have so many different meanings and because you could have a manifestation … there is a sort of spectrum of let’s say subjectively positive or subjectively negative manifestations of the same archetype, that there is something about it that is inherently indeterminant and that archetypes in that sense are more participatory and co-creative, right?
RICHARD TARNAS: That’s exactly right, you’re putting it very well. The multivalence of the archetypes, their fundamental indeterminacy is … even though whatever comes through will be faithful to the core essence of that archetype, that archetype does have this rich plenitude of ‘irridescent variation of aspect’. That is the way the neo-Platonic philosopher of our own time, J.N. Finley, put it when he was describing the archetypal ideas in Platonic tradition. They have an irridescent variation of aspect or meaning and that irridescence is crucial I think, to giving us human beings, as we look at our transits and we look at our charts, a feeling of our authentic range of possiblities and therefore a kind of self responsibility. We are not just going to be under the gun of an all determining fate that’s coming from this transit. There are a number of ways it can come through and I personally think some things may be karmically quite destined and that that is another level of determinism which is playing a role in life.
Just within the astrological frame of reference, I think it is much more empowering and liberating and psychologically accurate, to recognize that we have a range of ways in which we can use this energy. When Mars conjoins my Moon, as a transit, I can find myself getting hot under the collar about perhaps things around the house that wouldn’t normally bother me. Or I could foresee that kind of rash response to minor domestic and emotional issues and I could use that energy to do some spring cleaning today. Or discharge the Mars energy in some way that is authentic to the archetype but not limited by any one particular meaning.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Yes, take a Taekwondo class or something like that?
RICHARD TARNAS: Exactly, yes a very good example.
CHRIS BRENNAN: I want to move on to the post “Cosmos and Psyche” period over the past ten years since we have not covered all of the points in the book, obviously since this is a very large book, but we have covered a lot of the main ones. One of the things I want to make sure we touch on is just one of the outgrowths it seems of the book, and of the group of students and other people that you have been working with, especially in San Francisco over the past decade: this amazing journal called ARCHAI: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology that first started being published in 2009 and was published largely by students of yours or people with whom you were doing research along similar lines right?
RICHARD TARNAS: That’s correct. Everybody who was on the editorial staff at that time had come through my Philosophy, Cosmology and Consciousness program. They had gotten Masters degrees or PhDs, I think generally PhDs at our school and then they began editing this journal, simultaneously as a scholarly journal but one that was going to take the astrological frame of reference seriously and explore it in a rigorous way.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Basically, if there was an actual scholarly journal for astrology this is it. I’ve not seen anything … even some of the older journals like Correlation are not quite up to the same standard or do not have the same focus in terms of what they are attempting to achieve. Certainly none of the contemporary research organizations for astrology produce anything of this calibre, so it is filling a really important and interesting role in the community in terms of what it is doing. A new issue came out, I just got it this week, it’s really great, so it seems there was a little bit of a break for a few years but now they are resuming publication and it is being helmed by your daughter at this point, right? [1:51:28]
RICHARD TARNAS: Well, actually two people, Becca Tarnas and also Grant Maxwell. It’s an annual and the first several issues starting in 2009, 2010 were edited particuarly by Kieron Le Grice, Rod O’Neal and Bill Street and what happened is: after several years, their work continued to evolve and Kieron, who had been playing the key role overseeing the journal, editing in the latter part of that period, he was appointed a Professor and Chair of the Depth Psychology and Humanities program at Pacific Graduate Institute – a graduate school in Santa Barbara, California that focuses particularly on Jungian and archetypal psychology and humanities and mythology. So, as anybody who is a professor knows, especially if you’re a Chair, you suddenly have your hands full with a lot of other things. As a result, a new generation of archetypal astrologers and scholars who have been initiated into this discipline took up the opportunity of this journal that had established a very good track record. They have taken on the mantle and I think have done a splendid job, especially Grant and Becca, in this new incarnation that just came out this summer.
This issue is focused on Saturn and has a great black cover with white type and we were able ….. years ago James Hillman, who I was pretty close to and who was really one of the major inspirational figures in the emergence of archetypal astrology, just as he was the founder of, and certainly leading figure in, archetypal psychology going back to the 1970s and the very first essay I read of his was on Saturn. It’s called “On Sennex Consciousness”, sennex being the Latin word for old man or old person as in senescence or senile or senator, and I thought when I read that back in the ‘70s, this was the most brilliant exploration of an astrological archetype I had ever read and even though he is clearly drawing on astrological traditions, he is not confined by it, he’s not writing just as an astrologer, he is writing as a man of letters and deep culture and wide learning.
He died recently, but before he died I was at his home in Conneticut and I asked him could we republish that essay in ARCHAI journal and he said, “Yeah sure, that would be good”. We both agreed it would give a new generation a chance to encounter these ideas and so it is the leading article in this issue, devoted to Saturn. It is kind of appropriate that an elder – he died when he was 85 – same age as Jung, that an elder would provide us with this kind of foundational work on Saturn while these Saturn themes are very present, multivalently one might say in the issue.
CHRIS BRENNAN: It’s a really brilliant issue and I love that essay and it is appropriate in terms of – it’s been 40 years now as you’ve said at the beginning, since your journey in astrology began in 1976 so people can check out the latest issue or they can find the journal at www.archai.org and I will have a link up on the website for the description for this episode. On the ARCHAI website I really like … they have created a new website and it has this pretty amazing glossary of fundamental terms and principles used by this group of astrologers for archetypal astrology. So I definitely recommend checking that out.
OK there are just a few questions as we wrap this up, that I will give to you in rapid fire and maybe we could get through them really quickly?
RICHARD TARNAS: OK.
CHRIS BRENNAN: This is a miscellaneous question and it’s a little complicated but: to what extent does the thesis of “Prometheus the Awakener” contradict the contemporary premise that is often used to derive new astrological meanings from the names of newly discovered celestial bodies, and in light of that do you have any reservations about how this approach is being applied to new dwarf planets in the present time?
RICHARD TARNAS: The planets that were discovered and were visible to the ancients with the naked eye, they were named at a time when the general state of consciousness of humanity at that point and of those who were naming it, was clearly different than our consciousness today. There are many ways of describing it: Rudolf Steiner would describe it in one way or the author, Julian James, the Princeton psychologist who had written about the bicameral mind, he described this shift in other ways. So, there are many ways of describing it but there is clearly a great evolution of consciousness that has happened over these 2,500 or more years and what we, as astrologers today, are looking at with the planets out through Saturn, is that we essentially have a legacy we are receiving from another mode of consciousness that, to the best of my judgment, seems to have had a kind of direct access to the archetypal meanings of the planets that Saturn, Jupiter, Venus, Mars etc they bear a pretty intelligible connection to the mythic figures in Roman and then in Greek myth, with Mesopotamian more or less equaivalents behind those as well.
The planets when they are named in the modern period, starting with Uranus in 1781, Neptune in 1846 and Pluto in 1932, these are named by people who are not particularly living in that same state of, I might call it a state of spiritually permeable consciousness that may have been in more intimate connection with the mythic realm, with the archetypal dimension of being, with the spiritual realities however we want to talk about it, with the gods. As a result, their naming a planet may or may not be as relevant to the actual meanings of those planets or dwarf planets in astrological terms and we need to take our time in grasping and discerning those meanings through a …. we pay attention to the name that was given, it wasn’t entirely arbitrary. However, it is interesting Uranus was named Uranus as a kind of logical sequence that if Jupiter is the father of Mars and Mercury and Venus and then Saturn is the next planet out and it’s the father of Jupiter, then we should name Uranus, as the planet beyond Saturn, after Ouranus, the god of the sky who was the father of Saturn/Kronos. There is a kind of patrilineal logic into why it was named that, as well as the fact that this planet was discovered so far out in the sky, beyond any other planets. How appropriate to call it the sky god, Ouranos.
Astrologically, so many of the essential meanings of Uranus have to do with rebellion and creativity and the impulse for freedom and unexpected lightning-like shifts of consciousness or insight or technology and so forth. And there is a trickster quality to it. None of these have anything to do with Ouranos and yet the astrological Uranus does have something to do with the heavens, with the cosmos, with astronomy and so forth. You can see there is definitely a connection between the name that was given by modern astronomers, Uranus, to that planet which empirically we can now see does have something to do with the heavens, with astronomy, with the stars etc.
Yet so many of the rest of the meanings of Uranus clearly have more to do with the Prometheus archetype and myth: the trickster, the great defiant rebel, the one who brought all the arts and sciences to humanity, that stole fire to liberate it. There are so many ways in which it fits, I think we need to see these planets as they are being named today, as potentially having a connection with the archetypal meaning that we will discover astrologically through our close observation. It isn’t a necessary indication of the full meaning.
Neptune, for example, again seems to have a synchronistically appropriate connection with water, the ocean, liquid, the fluid nature of things, the flow of consciousness, the stream of consciousness; or drowning in madness, or saturated with images etc. These are all Neptunian ways of speaking that are archetypally Neptunian but also make sense in terms of the fact that Neptune, Poseidon was the god of the sea. But then you look at the character of Neptune, in many ways Neptune/ Poseidon was like another kind of tempestuous, mean-spirited, patriarchal thug from the Greco-Roman pantheon and very unlike the qualities of Neptune that we think of in terms of say, universal compassion or mystical states of unity or high inspiration and so forth. We need to recognize that there is often a connection between the new name and the actual archetypal meaning.
This is even more evident with Pluto – Pluto, Hades, Dionysius all certainly connect to the Pluto archetype that we observe, but I think to go deeply into the meanings of Neptune and Pluto we have to range beyond Greco-Roman myth. Neptune clearly has so much to do with what the Indian pantheon can give us in terms of Shakti, Brahma, the dream of Vishnu, the quality of Maia, and “lila” the divine play of reality, the mystical idea of being a drop in the ocean of consciousness, that each of us is a separate but ultimately unified drop in the whole of the cosmic, divine ocean of being. These are all very relevant images and myths and deities from the Indian tradition that are very helpful for us to understand what Neptune is about and the same thing with Pluto when we bring in Shiva let’s say, or Kali in her destructive and creative qualities, or Pele the Hawaiian goddess of the volcano.
There are ways in which we need to keep a more … we shouldn’t just jump on the band wagon of “this was named that and therefore that is the only myth that we can grab our meaning from”. That seems very simplistic and not adequate for the rich complexity of the relationship between the name and naming of a planet and its archetypal meaning.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Yes, I guess I was just curious in terms of the tension between the modern tendency to take the name as synchronistically meaningful in some broader, symbolic sense versus the empirical side of astrology or the empirical tradition that sometimes can develop meanings after long periods of observation and, knowing that that has been a hobby horse for you, I was curious because you wrote early versions of that book I mentioned, Prometheus the Awakener, back in the late 70s as you said, or 1980s but then we’ve actually had the discovery of minor planets and, potentially, another large planet here pretty soon, so it takes on a greater meaning now in terms of laying the foundations of some of these newly discovered bodies.
OK so the last two very brief questions: one of them, submitted by a listener, was “What role if any does the zodiac play in archetypal astrology?” and actually, I had a question about that as well because there is obviously a tendency to focus on planets and aspects and I was curious if the zodiac is largely not used? Or, if it is just used in a much reduced capacity in terms of your specific approach?
RICHARD TARNAS: Yes, but maybe I’ll just finish off one last sentence with the last question you got up and that is simply to … I see both the empirical effort has to work with the synchronistic approach to the naming, so that you work with the two together in a kind of, like a hermeneutic loop. Each one perhaps can help guide the other but without being constrained by just one approach or the other. Rather, we take both into account.
In terms of the zodiac, the zodiac is very important I think to every archetypal astrologer who is quite aware of the fact that, I’m looking at my chart, you know, I’m very aware of the fact that my Sun is in Pisces or my Mercury, Venus and Jupiter are in Aquarius in the 9th house and these are astrological factors and ways of making meaning that continue to be very relevant to me. I think two things happened where, the focus came much more on the planetary archetypes and aspects and the signs receded in significance. They colour the energies and they give us a quick way of being able to see what’s in aspect and what the aspects are but they don’t … they’re not as all- determining as when we see that there’s a Mars conjunct Pluto natal aspect; or let me put it this way: what made the big difference for us, is when we were doing our astrological correlations with the psychological material back at Esalen in the 1970s, we found that it was far more important to know that Pluto was conjoining the Moon rather than whether Pluto or the Moon were in Scorpio or Sagittarius. The essential meaning was much more carried by the planetary aspect rather than by it’s sign or house position. If somebody had Pluto conjunct Moon as a transit, we could be quite certain that was going to come through in the psychedelic session that they were going to do, while the difference between them having the Moon in Virgo or in Leo was actually relatively insignificant.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Sure.
RICHARD TARNAS: House positions were also much more difficult to determine when we were working with figures from the past for whom we didn’t have the exact birth time and so, when we were looking at Beethoven’s chart or something like that, we were having to work with a noon chart. In that case the house positions become not relevant at all.
Then of course, there is the whole controversy with the signs of the two zodiacs and when I came to write Cosmos and Psyche, wanting to make this as intelligible as possible to a non-astrological public, an intelligent public but non-astrological, I wanted to be able to minimise the extra details. So by just focusing on the planetary meanings and the aspects, it made it a simpler set of principles by which we were understanding the cycles of history.
Those were two big factors but I see the zodiac as being quite significant though I do see why Johannes Kepler did focus, as I do, much more on the planets, the aspects, including what some would consider to be minor aspects as being very important. I see midpoints as being very important and then the signs and houses shape, colour and contextualize those planetary meanings, but the planets are basically the big, dramatic centre of action.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Yes, that makes sense. That clarifies things and makes a lot of sense in the context of the book and in terms of not having rejected it entirely but just playing a reduced role or, other things that were more important or more pressing taking greater prominence in the book.
The final question from a listener was just a question/suggestion about you maybe doing an audio book version of the book of Cosmos and Psyche at some point, just because a lot of more auditory listeners that listen to the podcast for example, would love to have something like that. I don’t know if that’s at all possible. Have you ever considered it?
RICHARD TARNAS: I hadn’t. People have been suggesting it for years for Passion of the Western Mind and it’s something I should probably do in the long run and I thank the listener for their suggestion and I’ll definitely keep it in mind. I have a couple more books I really want to get out first, as soon as I get through a number of my students’ dissertations and a few other tasks and deadlines but I could definitely see doing that.
CHRIS BRENNAN: So you are planning on writing other books in the future or you do have some in process?
RICHARD TARNAS: Yes, I have a handbook on the planetary archetypes that’s basically been written, I had it written 30 years ago but I just need to take the time to do a comprehensive completion and refinement of that. Something like Ebertin’s Combination of Stellar Influences but more comprehensive and a bit more balanced and multilevel, that’s one of the books.
The other one is not so astrological, it is more a continuation of the end of Passion of the Western Mind and the beginning of Cosmos and Psyche, where I am looking at our moment in history. So those are the other two books that are on the way.
CHRIS BRENNAN: OK, brilliant! Well, we’ll be looking forward to those and where can people find out more information about your work, if they want to find out more about either your teachings or your writings or other things?
RICHARD TARNAS: I think if they go to my website cosmosandpsyche.com they will be able to get a lot there. They can also go to the ciis.edu website which is where I teach in San Francisco, I think you can access that through my cosmosandpsyche.com website and then the ARCHAI journal which you mentioned the link for, that is also a good way of learning more about the kind of work that I’ve been contributing to as much as I can.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Great, and that’s at archai.org?
RICHARD TARNAS: that’s correct a r c h a i . org.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Awesome. Well thanks a lot for joining me.
RICHARD TARNAS: Thank you Chris, you’re a great interviewer and you did an extraordinary job of preparing for it and your questions and the professionalism, it’s just a very high quality. I’m very impressed. Of course I have always been impressed by your work!
CHRIS BRENNAN: Thank you. Well, it has been a real honour interviewing you on this year ten anniversary since I first read your book so thanks a lot.
RICHARD TARNAS: Thank you. I appreciate that very much. Take care, Chris.
CHRIS BRENNAN: Alright, well thanks everyone for listening and we’ll see you next time.
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