Exegesis Volume 07 Issue #036

In This Issue:

From: "JG or DF"
Subject: [e] astrology & the soul

Exegesis Digest Wed, 06 Mar 2002

From: "JG or DF"
Subject: [e] astrology & the soul
Date: Wed, 6 Mar 2002 20:48:25 +1300

I remember as a youngster deciding that the soul was merely a figment of the collective imagination. Apparently, nobody could define it. If you consult the dictionary, it is merely equated with the spirit. Yet some writers intuited a difference between the two, even if their attempts to distinguish them failed to capture any fundamental distinction. Seemed to me that if the soul really did exist, perceptive and articulate people would have become sufficiently aware of it to provide a feasible recorded description. Some years of scanning current literature produced no evidence that this had ever happened, so I dismissed the concept as merely a redundant notion from archaic Christianity.

I was therefore amused when a post-new-age publishing fashion in the '90s brought a new wave of books about the soul. Slow learners? A belated struggle to escape the death-grip of Christian doctrine? Years later again, I have finally managed to check a few of these out, and now wonder if the concept of soul might yet be viable. True, none of the authors achieves any definition of the soul. In fact, none even tries to define it. They seem to share a tacit belief that readers will share their intuitive perception of what it is. After 40 years, collective progress on this matter seems to be zilch.

Rather than dismiss with disgust such an abysmal performance, I suggest we contemplate what they do manage to produce in the way of thoughtful commentary as they circumnavigate the heart of the matter. Here's a sample, from one who essays the relation of the soul to astrology, without, of course, ever actually spelling it out...

[Quotations are from"The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life", Thomas Moore, 1996. The author has been a professor of religion and psychology, and spent 12 years as a monk in a Catholic religious order. He graduated in philosophy and music from one university, gained an M.A. in theology from a second, an M.A. in musicology from a third, and a Ph.D in religious studies from a fourth university.]

"When twenty years ago I wrote my first book, *The Planets Within*, about Ficino's astrological magic, I didn't mention enchantment, but now I see that his work is exactly that: a manual for the enchantment of everyday experience. My book was a commentary on the third volume of his *Book of Life*, entited *How to Design Your Life in Accord with the Sky*, a manual of natural magic that became extremely popular in the decades after Ficino's death, in 1499." (p36)

"Now I turn to the soul in nature and culture.. In these pages I try to restore legitimacy to certain practices, such as astrology and divination, which are considerably misunderstood and denigrated by a culture that has lost its taste for enchantment. I realize that I risk being misread, as I try to find a middle path between the psychological reduction of enchantment to projection or metaphor and literal, too simple belief in a spirit world." (xix)

See, a sensitive and perceptive man. Like Odysseus, he must navigate between the Scylla of sterile psychology and the Charybdis of new-age fantasy. One removes natural magic from the world of the psyche by denial, and the other achieves the same result by substitution.

"Once, while listening to a roundtable discussion by distinguished reporters and news analysts, I was stunned to hear one of them refer to a politician's outrageous statement as "astrology." The word was spoken in the most disdainful tones, and everyone on the panel seemed to get the joke. Perhaps because I have spent years reading poetry and religious literature from Europe, the Americas, Africa, India, and China, all assuming an astrological point of view, I felt the smug rationalism of the reporters sharply and wondered if we will ever be able to recapture the most fundamental source of enchantment available to us: the brilliant, mysterious, and suggestive night sky." (p316)

We? Why does he generalise the inadequacies of the journalists to (incorrectly) include himself? Rhetorical question. There is a certain type of author whose style seeks to be inclusive. It is best to classify them as socialist: they tacitly advocate that we all share the inadequacies that they complain about. The process in their psyche is driven by this purpose: to socialise incompetence. They want everyone to own the problem, presumably in the hope that this strategy will focus more attention on it and generate a solution faster. However, we don't all have the problem that afflicts journalists. Although he does not identify himself as an astrologer, he is obviously partisan on behalf of astrology. The complaint is effectively the same lament uttered by so many astrologers for so long - that others don't get it, when it would benefit them to do so.

"Astrology begins, and perhaps its essence resides, in the undeniable power the sky has over our moods and emotions. The heart of astrology is not to he found in horoscopes and tables of houses and longitudes, although these tools are important and effective for a certain way of reading the sky. We can become astrologically astute by gradually attending to ordinary celestial events, by cultivating an awareness of the changing moon, the position of the sun, and the arrangement of planets and stars, noticing both traditional symbols and perhaps coming up with original stories and pictures." (p316)

He has learnt that astrology must be experiential, rather than cerebral, and that its benefits come more from an ongoing reflective usage. It would be hard to learn this profound lesson without personal experience of astrological practice over a period of at least a few years, but if he was fortunate to have close personal relations with astrologers who had evolved to this depth of relationship to the subject, I think it is at least theoretically possible that he could have absorbed this realisation without becoming an astrologer himself.

"Astronomy leads to a certain appreciation of the sky through measurement, while astrology invites us to stories and images about human life stimulated by patterns and qualities of light in the sky." (p316/7)

The former is a technical approach, and the latter cultural. Astronomy is based on observational practice, but uses physics for its theoretical basis. Observation of the heavens has become incidental to astrology (unfortunately). Note that learning is derived from the heavens in both instances. The former provides learning about the physical features of the cosmic environment, the latter provides learning about metaphysical features of that same environment, which inform "human life" (as he notes).

"It's traditional in astrology to speak of the "influence' of planets and stars, and this idea is a stumbling block to many. Theologians and philosophers have fulminated in their defense of free will, which they see challenged by the idea of astrological influence, while our modem problem with celestial influence stems from our scientific knowledge about the sky and the apparent absurdity of imagining that a lifeless body could have any effect on our lives. Yet, if we're emotionally affected by a sunrise or a beautiful moon, why not call this an "influence"? We can be 'Influenced"by a person or a book or a movie without engaging in moralistic harangues about the loss of will. Why not consider the same kind of relationship with the sky? A cloudy day certainly influences our mood differently than does a sunny day, and, more mysteriously, many people sense a foreboding atmosphere around a full moon." (p317)

This is a timely defence of the use of the word `influence'. Although it apparently entered the English language as an astrological term, general usage since has given it the very broad meaning that is commonly understood, as he describes it. This common meaning is simply a pragmatic notice of what actually seems to happen. Advertising is a multi-billion-dollar global industry because images and symbols influence us - to spend our money on the advertised products. Scientists moaning about a lack of causal relationships are beside the point. Astrologers should figure out how this lesson applies to them, and get over it.

"From beyond recordable history people have refined their plain appreciation of the stars into images that guide life on earth. The stars form a zodiac, a belt of living mythological beings, a zoo of animals and other figures, that holds us in its crescent lap. In the course of time, observers of the sky have construed relationships among all the various celestial bodies, developing a system of aspects, or angles of position, rulership, planetary character, transits, and the interpretation of all these factors. Traditional astrology, East and West, is an intricate mythology of the soul, requiring a wealth of information and skill for its practice, and far deeper and more solidly based than superstition in its power to animate the imagination." (p317)

An intricate mythology of the soul, able to animate the imagination. Such advocacy will probably persuade only the piscean reader, who no doubt is already beyond the need of it! Meaning, wisdom, and any substantial reasoning, are all apparently assumed unnecessary by the author. Looks like a projection of author's mystical rapport with nature. Sadly, many readers lack this, and his projection will not suffice to magically endow them.

"It is not unusual in general to find the natural world stimulating the imagination into story and poetry. As a way of explaining stories, scholars have often tried to trace traditional tales to their roots in nature, but we can reverse that principle and see nature as the source of the major mythologies of the world. Astrology is a form of imagination emerging from nature and having direct relevance foreveryday life. It's an applied poetics, a vision of life on earth stimulated by movements in the heavens, which can take us into areas of self-reflection as no other system of symbols and images can." (p317)

A fair description of the potential value of the use of astrology. Good that he anchors astrology in nature (unlike most astrologers).

"Astrology, based on one of the most fundamental of human experiences - the feeling of wonder occasioned by celestial movements - is among the few self-contained symbol systems that can help make sense out of the chaos of life. When we feel confused and lost, we can use the sky for guidance." (p318)

Here he gets close to capturing the essence of the general appeal of astrology in our times.

"The advantages of an astrological viewpoint begin with living in tune with nature rather than in alienation from it." (p318)

And that is really the heart of the matter. Combine this statement with the passage above, and you just about have the essentials covered.

"Astrology not only gives us images of emotional qualities; it also provides an intricate sense of time and timing especially relevant to the rhythms of hunan life. At a simple level, we could be guided by astrology to avoid trying to accomplish anything important when the moon is "void of course", when it has no current relationship to a planet. We might refrain from activities like writing, speaking, or doing serious business when Mercury is moving backward as seen from Earth." (p319)

Here is another essential point - applied astrology enhances one's sense of time and timing. Also note the careful use of "might". He is advocating consideration of options, not particular choices. This is no true-believer.

"Through an astrological sensibility, we could learn that our personal and social rhythms are not unrelated to the rhythms of the world around us and that life is not as fully subjective as modern social sciences would lead us to believe. We could sense for ourselves that we are indeed microcosms, small worlds sharing many of the characteristics of the immense macrocosm. We could cultivate a subtle and sophisticated sense of time as experienced, and not merely measured, by living in tune with our own felt rhythms and looking to the world outside us for models of timing. We could expand our notion of clock time with an appreciation for cosmic time." (p319)

Redefining one's relationship to time is a profound personal experience which (based on my own experience) takes years to achieve. I applaud that he foreshadows this potential for readers. I see it as a vital key to evolutionary personal development.

"An astrological attitude directs attention away from the self, with its subjective, conscious, and willful decisions, toward an outer world that has its own mysterious ways of offering guidance and reflection. It gives us a concrete and explicit way to be in tune with nature, not just knowledgeable about it. Whether or not we practice astrology technically, it can show us a way to find deep guidance that transcends mere psychology. I would rather turn to astrology to expand psychology than reduce astrology to the psychological." (p320)

Hear, hear!

"Keeping astrology somewhere between occult practice and modern psychology is a difficult, subtle task, demanding that our applied poetics remain both imagistic and connected to life. It's in this spirit that I read the lines of the Christian theologian Origen: "Know that you are another world in miniature and have in you Sol and Luna and even the stars" (Homiliae in Leviticum, 5..2). When I first read those words, twenty years ago, I began to reflect on the moon as mirrored in the interior life." (p320)

I guess the passage from Origen (the planets within, microcosm) is due to his gnosticism. The author inexplicably failed to expand on his reference to the internal Luna and make an intuitive correlation with the soul.

"With an astrological viewpoint, we can look beyond ourselves and into the world for signs of where to go and what to do. We can listen for suggestions from the world, of which we are a part, rather than initiating everything from subjective will and consciousness. This is the ethical dimension in enchanted living: deepening our sense of morality by learning the ways of nature. Astrology is in essence not a belief, a method, a science or pseudoscience, or even an art. At base it is a form of relationship between human life and the world, a relationship in which we learn about ourselves by observing the sky." (p321)

Now there's a revolutionary stance; anchoring morality in nature! And note how the author surpasses prior restrictions on the definition of astrology!

"Robert Fludd wrote extensively about the macrocosm and microcosm, betraying his Neoplatonism and his deep astrological spirit in these words from his 'Philosophicall Key": 'Wherfore I cordialy admonish thee to ascende from this World unto God, that is to penetrat quite through thyself: for to clime up unto God, is to enter into thy self, and not only inwardly to visit thy dearest Soule, but also to perce into the very centre therof, to vew and behould ther thy Creatour."" (p321)

Too bad that quote fails to specify that astrology is involved. Though I have read elsewhere that Jesus meant the same thing when he said `the kingdom of heaven is within you', which does indeed imply the microcosm/macrocosm relation.

"In Fludd's rich imagination, astrology is a way to penetrate through yourself and enter into yourself at the very center, where a divine vision is made accessible. For him and for many of his colleagues, astrology is no mere catalog of advice but a path to self-discovery that is not limited, as modern psychology is, to purely human and subjective dimensions. It is a technology of mysticism, and although mysticism seems out of vogue in modern life, it is exactly the piece we are missing when we feel a vacancy in our hearts and in our minds, where no human love seems to satisfy and no human explanation makes absolute sense." (p321/2)

A technology of mysticism that is not wholly subjective? Too bad he did not proceed to demonstrate how he saw objectivity being included in the technique.

Fludd's published debate with Kepler is worth considering. At least, the Nobel prizewinning phsyicist Wolfgang Pauli deemed it so, for he wrote a commentary on it. This commentary was Pauli's contribution to the book he co-authored with Jung ("The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche", 1955). It was also later included as a chapter in "Robert Fludd", by WH Huffman, PhD, 1992 (of which I have a copy).

"An astrological perspective opens up the mind, heart, and imagination, bursting the limited subjectivity that has been a harmful characteristic of modern life, embracing nothing less than the universe itself in our very definition of humankind. Many judgments, kind and unkind, are made about the European Renaissance. In my view, the greatest rediscovery of the Renaissance was the reclaiming of the cosmos as an essential element in our conception of human life. Philosophers, poets, and magi of the time were able to reconnect nature and culture and cultivate a constant interplay between human decision and natural phenomena. This aspect of the Renaissance was tenuous and didn't hold for long. Instead, we created modern technological life and abandoned magic." (p322)

"Our current hope for enchantment lies in a recovery of the Renaissance appreciation of macrocosm/microcosm dynamics, spelled out so imaginatively by Fludd, Ficino, Paracelsus, and others. This could be achieved by a fresh appraisal of astrology, moving away from any hint of superstition toward an intelligent, sensitive, poetic, and existential intimacy with nature, who shows herself in the enchanting light display of the night sky. We can look deeply into that night sky and see ourselves." (p322)

Yes, yes, of course, but something more than mere poetic whimsy is required! The author seems to assume that his sensibilities are typically human. In fact, most people are vastly less sensitive. Even more to the point, modern society conditions people to be insensitive to the very things the author assumes they are innately sensitive to! His naivety renders his advocacy ineffective.

Nevertheless, his account illustrates quite well why a large section of the human race is drawn to the possibilities of astrology. Musing over these possibilities often leads to curiosity-driven expenditure upon the services of astrologers - and the luck of the market-place then brings disillusionment, or inspiration...

Dennis Frank


End of exegesis Digest V7 #36

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