Cosmos and Psyche

I’m on an astrology kick lately. I’m not one to usually believe in these sorts of things. But, I have to admit that when, 2 years ago, a friend talked me into getting my natal chart read, I was shocked at how accurate the astrologer’s assessment of me and my life was. (It wasn’t 100% dead on, but was uncannily resonant.) She even said to me some things that, although I had a hard time seeing their relevance, were exactly what friends had been telling me about myself for years.

So, recently, I’ve been reading this book. It’s by a scholar who I highly respect. He, also, was skeptical of astrology. But since he is a cultural historian and recognized that many otherwise intelligent philosophers throughout history have trusted in astrology, he thought he’d look into it and see what the hub bub was all about. He too was taken by surprise at how unusually informative it was. But what’s more, he has taken astrological theory and applied it to world history and, in this book, he lays forth an impressive body of data showing correlations of trends and world events with their archetypal counterparts in the sky.

Take this simple example …

Herman Melville is born in August 1819.
Eleven days later, the whaleship Essex departs from Nantucket and is subsequently attacked by an eighty foot whale and sunk.
Melville knows nothing of this until, in his early twenties, he signs on to a whaling voyage and meets the son of one of the few survivors of the earlier whale attack.

In August 1851 (just over 30 years later), Melville is completing “Moby Dick” as the whaleship Ann Alexander is rammed and sunk by an enraged sperm whale in same waters where the Essex went down.
To this day, the Essex and the Ann Alexander are the only two well-documented cases of such events.

So, what did this two periods of time have in common besides whale attacks and Herman Melville being creative? Three planets in conjunction: Saturn, Pluto, and Uranus. Oh, and by the way, these are the only such conjunctions of these planets in the past 200 years.

So, why should we care about Saturn, Pluto, and Uranus? Because archetypally,
* Uranus is linked with freedom, individuality, innovation and sudden surprises and when in hard aspect (0, 90, or 180 degrees) with Pluto, which is linked archetypally with forces of nature emerging from chthonic depths, has been shown to be correllated with rebellion and shifts in power (such as occurred during the Uranus-Pluto conjunction from 1960-1972 and their opposition in the French Revolution years of 1787-1798)
* Saturn is linked with death and morality and, when in hard aspect from Pluto, seems to constellate (in people and in human history) “a compulsion for an Ahab-like obsessive pursuit of an evil that must be rooted out at any cost” (p. 237).

See any similarity between these archetypal dynamics and a freakish face-off between an enraged whale and a whaling ship?

Although other authors have suggested similar correlations in the past, Richard Tarnas is the first to show the degree of pervasiveness and depth of such “flukes”. In short, this work promises to be the seminal opus in building an objective case for a relationship between forces in the universe and forces in our small, little lives. If you ever wanted something more convincing to show that synchronicities are more than just statistically probably coincidences, read this book.

5 thoughts on “Cosmos and Psyche

  1. If you ever wanted something more convincing
    my problem is that I don’t really need anything more convincing than my own felt experience, which is pro-astrology. however, i suppose it would be useful to defend this point of view to others who need more convincing.

    • Hey, I wonder if in that PhD program they’ll give you a semester on using archetypal astrology to inform your therapy. Seems like the kind of cool thing that belongs in that program.

  2. Interesting. I must admit, though, to being one of the “more scientifically hardheaded,” with whom Publisher’s Weekly predicts the book will be a “tough sell.” The example you mention above is provocative, but I’d like to know what other similar events have occurred (and I’d wager there have been several) without an alignment of Pluto, Saturn, and Uranus.

    Good science makes hypotheses before the data are in; accounts like Tarnas’ are post hoc in that they seek to explain the event within a theoretical framework after it has occurred. This irritates me like a bee in my scientist cap, to mix metaphors. 🙂 Good science, theoretically, should seek to disconfirm a hypothesis, and I don’t see astrologers doing this. It’s easy to find patterns after the fact, especially if you’re looking for them.

    • To be fair to Tarnas, he freely admits in the book that the kind of data that can be gathered for this kind of thesis simply cannot be conclusive in a materialist/empirical sense. The kind of dynamics to which his theory speaks do not have clean, atomic boundaries (at least I can’t see how to make them measurable), which is why poets do a much better job capturing the experiences than scientific minds do. Even within his own theory rules, there is enough other complex stuff going on in the sky that it’s hard to say with 100% certainty that the trends we witness on Earth aren’t colored by, say, some other conjunction of planets (when they occur). The more “gods” in the mix, the more multi-layered the potential dynamic could be. Tarnas’ is not predictive astrology (which he eschews). However, given that we can predict when planets will form certain aspects in the future, we might be able to take this concept forward and see how it plays.

      To be clear, the author does not go so far to suggest that the planets rule our lives. Just that there is some correlation. (For example, perhaps something else is the causal force and the planets are a reflection of it just as our lives are a reflection of it.) He only lays out what he has observed, gives some education about archetypes, and says “Isn’t this interesting? I hope it inspires more research by others.”

      Tarnas knows better than anyone, perhaps, the influence of epistemology in embracing/rejecting/considering his testimony. (His last book was a tome on the history and development of Western thought and is used in many universities as the text book for such a course.) History has shown us that any paradigm can be illuminating and imprisoning. Illuminating because it helps bring to light complex relationships that were previously obscured. Imprisoning because in observation, people tend to find what they are looking for. Tarnas has suggested that today’s gold standard of truth, the scientific method, is no more immune that that phenomenon. Although it is what we have evolved to so far, that does not mean that it is the end-all-be-all of epistemology. (Consider Daniel Dennett’s idea of Greeedy Reductionism.)

      In any case, I can see I’m getting a bit wordy and am about to launch into a philosophical jag on Justified True Beliefs (how we know what we know). So, let me stop myself. I will freely admit that I’m a willing convert to Tarnas’ ideas and so that skews my lens. But I am a convert because I once had a much more rigorous and demanding burden on “reality” and found that, if I lived true to my scientific mind, there’s very little that I actually can know. (For example, how do I really know I was born on February 7, 1969?) Putting stock only in things that can be empirically verified has the effect of eliminating and therefore effectively invalidating a lot of experiences and beliefs that seem to be relatively informative and useful.

      So, to bring it back around to the cosmos, the question that seems to be emerging from this age (especially in light of the recent rise in evangelistism and superstition), how can we hold, in Jung’s words, the tension of the opposites (science and metaphor) and not force a conclusion before one naturally arises?

      Thanks a bunch for listening and for getting me going. I love to think about these things.

      • Okay, here are a few random replies:

        To be fair to Tarnas, he freely admits in the book that the kind of data that can be gathered for this kind of thesis simply cannot be conclusive in a materialist/empirical sense.

        But the Saturn/Uranus/Pluto whale example is empirical. This is empirical observation of materialistic data alright; he’s just explaining the events post hoc.

        Tarnas’ is not predictive astrology (which he eschews). However, given that we can predict when planets will form certain aspects in the future, we might be able to take this concept forward and see how it plays.

        Exactly. So, we (he?) could propose theories that could be tested. If this happens, and astrologers are able to reliably demonstrate the statistical significance of certain cause-effect relationships, then I will be convinced. But no one’s ever been able to do this, to the best of my knowledge.

        And this gets me to the point about every paradigm being simultaneously illuminating and imprisoning: Sure, empirical science is far from perfect; I’ll be the first to admit that. Yet, when it comes to understanding cause and effect relationships, it’s the best method we have, as far as I’m concerned. The point about poets capturing certain experiences better than scientists do is relevant here–this statement is valid, certainly, but scientists have the game won when it comes to determining cause-effect relationships and the significance thereof. There are certain things science cannot do. Science cannot conjure a mood, nor can it mirror the human condition in ways that make us react emotionally and viscerally, in the ways that art can. But, this isn’t the point of science. Granted, there are many different valid epistemologies, and different epistemologies are suited to different aims. What irks me is when someone ignores the epistemology that is best suited to their goals. It seems that Tarnas would be best served by science, if he wants to say something about the causes of certain human events and the effects of planetary motion on human behavior.

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