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by Dennis Frank
Ed. N.: This text appeared in the Exegesis Discussion Group (mailing list focused on astrology) on Dec. 12, 1999 (4.98). Dennis Frank cites extracts from a book by the physicist Roger Jones ("Physics as Metaphor", 1982; London, Abacus (Sphere Books), 1983, p.63-71) and comments on them.
Dennis, author of "The Astrologer and the Paradigm Shift" (1992) and graduated B.Sc. in physics, can be reached at email@example.com
Whereas I have been presenting aspects of a contemporary view of astrology to this list from the perspective of a physics graduate who became an astrologer, I realise it would be useful to assess the extent to which others treading a similar path present a similar description. An appraisal of the science/astrology interface appears below as illustration. The author received a doctorate in physics (1961), spent 6 years as research scientist in experimental high-energy physics, then became an associate professor of physics at the University of Minnesota.
A very powerful spatial metaphor alternative to our own may be discovered through a sympathetic consideration of astrology. The unity and connectedness of all things is reflected in the astrological blending and equating of the inner and outer realms of consciousness and space. Astrology holds up a mirror to human consciousness. It reflects the medieval feeling of being imbedded in the cosmos.
If we try to understand astrology sympathetically from within the Greek and medieval forms of consciousness that nurtured it, we find that the underlying tenet of astrology - "as above, so below" - is decidedly inconsistent with the conception of an inner subjective world of mind and an outer objective one of reality, which is usually assumed as a matter of course today. Our idea of above and below or of outer and inner is that of two different spatial realms.
For the medieval astrologer, above and below refer not to different places but to different aspects of the same thing. There can be no above without a below. The two are connected - in fact, unified; and the many correspondences and felt relationships between them inform the study of astrology. Astrology is thus the explication of the connections that exist between the stars and humans, between two apparently different realms which are actually one. Since the experience of this unity is not ordinarily given to us, we find correspondences, echoes, hints of one realm in the other. In using the stars to study ourselves, we tacitly accept this unity and find our inner selves reflected in our experience of the world and its space.
Medieval consciousness did not feel so keenly as does ours that the mind and the rest of the organic space of the human body is bounded by our skin. We feel ourselves to be well defined and delimited from everything outside ourselves. What is inside is me, and what is outside is other. There is nothing in between and no overlap. If I think about it, there is some ambiguity when I eat. Some of my intake remains foreign and is expelled. The rest turns into me. (...) When I conceptualize about my body in this way, it's almost as if my body isn't me either. I seem to be an agent using my body, which therefore becomes somehow other. This gradual diminishing of the me is a characteristic feature of modern consciousness and space. As I think about myself in terms of the physical, chemical, and biological processes which science has been so successful in describing, I picture my consciousness or my self as occupying a shrinking region, somewhere inside my head (at least, that's where I seem to feel it). Where does that leave me and my inner space? Indeed, without the revolution in mind expansion of the 1960s and 1970s, the crushing weight of the arguments of modern science might well have convinced us by now that we don't exist at all, that only what is other is real, that consciousness and even life itself are ephemeral and illusory.
Astrological or medieval space, by contrast, has none of this abstract, lifeless character. It would not even have a purely spatial character, were we to experience it. Much of what a medieval person would think of as spatial, we today would call mental, emotional, or psychological. To the medieval mind, space, or let us say spatial relationships, comprises the felt connections among things. If a knight was called quixotic or mercurial, this was as much a spatial as a psychological statement (to use modern categories). The knight and the element were two different aspects of the same thing, which were connected in some way that was dimly perceived by the medieval mind as space. There was no separate, external, geometrical space in which to picture abstract relationships. Rather, there existed among things a web of organic and reflexive relationships, whose quality for the medieval mind was analogous to our sense of space.
In such a realm of organic connectedness, the medieval astrologer pondered the relationship of humans to the stars. He did not think in the terms that we might use of the influence of the planet Mercury on someone at the moment of his or her birth, projected across millions of miles of empty space. Rather, he recognized in the primal moment, when a newborn child drew its first breath of life, the stamp of a unique event impressed upon the whole cosmos and reflected in its every rhythm and pattern. He might equally well have read the child's essence and potential in other reflective and synonymous patterns - in the waves and currents of the sea or the fluttering leaves in the forests or the elements of the earth or the stars in the sky.
Astrology does not concern itself, therefore, with cause and effect. It makes no more sense to say that Mercury has cast a spell on the newborn baby than it does to say that the baby has cast one on Mercury. It isn't that either one affects the other, but that they reflect each other. The whole configuration of earth and sky is a profound symbol for the child and for Mercury's momentary harmonies and relations to other heavenly bodies. In this important sense, astrology is antithetical to modern thought and science, which tend to suggest that the cosmos and its causal connections are without meaning or purpose.
Our modern, meaningless, random universe would be inconceivable to the medieval astrologer. Meaning and wisdom are incorporated in astrological space, which is symbolic, organic, and synchronistic, rather than empty, geometrical, and causal. The spatial relation of Mercury to the child (in our modern sense of space) is of little importance in medieval astrology. A natal chart represents the organic and harmonic relations among the various astrological elements rather than the geometrical ones. It is the organic, reflective, symbolic relation that is of primary importance, and this connection is felt intuitively by the astrologer, as it was by ordinary people in the Middle Ages.
The modern distinctions between symbolic and realistic, metaphorical and literal, inner and outer, subjective and objective have little meaning for medieval consciousness. To medieval astrologers, alchemists, and artists, seeking the unity of all consciousness, life, and being, what possible sense could there be to a space that is abstract, external, and perspectival? They knew that space was a metaphor, a symbol for all the interrelationships and harmonies among the stars, the elements, and humans. In modern consciousness, mathematical laws of cause and effect in geometrical space are the emasculated vestiges of the connections we share with all things, vividly sensed by earlier consciousness.
Since there is no way to separate our knowledge of the world from our consciousness of it, changes in either world or mind must be understood as changes in both. World and mind are seemingly different, perhaps complimentary, aspects of the same thing. Thus a different view of the world held by earlier peoples, one which to us, is simpler and more naive than our own, is not a reflection of inferior knowledge, but of a different metaphoric expression of the world resulting from a different state of consciousness. The evolution of consciousness then follows from the inseparability of mind and matter and from the recognition that other people have experienced the world differently from ourselves. This requires that we accept a "primitive" world view as a serious, sympathetic, and accurate description of an earlier experience rather than as uninformed, superstitious, or inferior. If experience has changed and if consciousness is inseparable from reality, then there has been an evolution of consciousness/reality.
In modern times, our lost sense of synthesis or connection has become intellectualized as an assumption about reality (that it is separate and independent of our inner mental world and, in fact, subsumes that inner world, which is therefore not real. We conceive of space as an infinite, empty, lifeless, cold, dark, alien void. It is the blank, unfeeling stage on which matter plays out its aimless, random acts. It provides the merest, tiniest corner in which to harbor an insignificant speck of a planet, warmed by a second-rate star, on which by sheer accident, against impossible odds, life and finally consciousness have come to be. We see ourselves as living in a basically alien universe which offers us little succor or hope, and above all, no meaning or purpose.
Our modern space is the perfect metaphor for separation, extension, individuation, and alienation. We cannot even conceive of existence except in space, which then becomes the medium par excellence of existence. To exist is derived from the Latin verb meaning to stand out, and space is exactly what we stand out from. Space is the background from which we emerge or exist, in which we become an articulate, individuated, unique being. On one side of the coin is existence and uniqueness, on the other, alienation and isolation. Our spatial metaphor is thus intimately linked with our fears and apprehensions about life, death and survival.
The space of medieval consciousness, by contrast, is organic, connective, nurturing, human, intelligent, alive with meaning. It is a realm of wisdom and a storehouse of knowledge. Rather than space, it is place, home, environment. Like a womb to an embryo, it sustains, warms, and nurtures; it provides balms and lifelines; it has no clear-cut boundaries, no separation between inner and outer. Although less sharply defined, clean, and geometrical than our space, it contains things that we would not think of as spatial at all, things psychological, emotional, intuitive. One's feeling for others and for other living and inanimate things are included, so that the sense of medieval space incorporates love, appreciation, inspiration, belonging, kinship, and holiness.
In the medieval world, you felt somewhat less individual, but much more a vital part of things. You belonged to some great organism and functioned meaningfully and purposefully within it. The meaning and purpose might not be clear, but it was there all around you. You could feet it, sense it. Astrologers and alchemists sought it in the stars and the elements,whose connections to you were not in space, but were space. We dismiss astrology, not so much for the reason that it does or does not work, but because of the anomalous kinds of explanations it would require in our current physical and geometrical theories (the latest "paradigm," as Kuhn would say). Carl Jung uses the notion of synchronicity to provide some kind of explanation for the divinatory powers of the ancient I Ching and of astrology.
Synchronicity is the principle of noncausal links between coincident or symbolically related events. An example would be the cardinal I sighted outside my window while writing the paragraph on cardinality. Another is the correspondence between a prominent position of the planet Mercury and the birth of a child with dominant mercurial traits. Synchronicity is no explanation at all in the accepted scientific sense. For an acausal principle is a contradiction in scientific terms. But rather than reject synchronicity for this reason, we must recognize its power to help us transcend our limitations. The real contradiction lies in the incompatibility of synchronous and causal consciousness or of astrological and physical space. And the incompatibility stems from our refusal to apprehend and accept the relative metaphorical status of all our constructs. As long as we insist that one kind of space is literal and objective, while another is metaphorical and mythic, we shall always be bound by the apparent contradictions between them. For these different views are complementary, and neither of them can give a complete picture. Human enlightenment is probably the result of the rare synthesis of all the many views, metaphors, constructs, and can never be completely experienced, understood, or communicated in terms of any one of them. To the extent that astrology is already a partial synthesis of some of our most meaningful metaphors, we do ourselves a grave disservice to ignore its wisdom.
Indeed, we do ourselves much harm in refusing to seriously study and contemplate many of the mythic and symbolic systems of early, primitive, and alternative cultures. Our chronic inability to come to grips with such matters as totemism, animism, reincarnation, extrasensory perception, divination, and a world of mythic creatures, archetypes, and gods and goddesses with human traits stems from our idolatry of physical and geometrical space. It is space which separates and distinguishes things from one another and then requires a causality to link them again. Implicit in Jung's principle of synchronicity is the idea that all things are reflections of each other: every pattern, every event is a microcosm of the whole universe. This holistic and fundamentally nonspatial notion has its roots in all ancient cultures. That all is derived from one - is One - is buried deep in human consciousness. If I can read my personality in the stars, it is because I and the stars are one and the same - are but different metaphors.
Before leaving the matter of astrology behind, there is one more metaphor I'd like to suggest with its help. The method of astrology provides for the construction of a natal chart for every human being. This chart is a symbolic map of the heavens at the time of birth of a person from which a gifted astrologer can read that person's basic character and destiny. (It is not all as fatalistic as it might sound, for astrology deals in potentialities and limitations which define the broad outlines of events but do not determine them absolutely.) Thus each personality and its destiny is roughly correlated with a birth or natal star configuration and its subsequent unfolding pattern. In other words, the entire collection of human personalities and life stories is an alternate manifestation or metaphor of the evolving events of our solar system as viewed from the earth. All the complex occurrences and relationships of human life and society have their counterpart in the spacetime events of astronomy. All human history is yet another spacetime metaphor.
Extracting the core concepts of this description, we obtain the following. First, astrology addresses the "unity and connectedness of all things". Second, we find yet another use of the mirror analogy, reflecting "the inner and outer realms of consciousness and space". Third, yet another identification of the hermetic maxim as "underlying tenet of astrology - 'as above, so below'."
"The two are connected - in fact, unified", is the fourth key concept, in which we see the author relating the duality of macrocosm/microcosm, space/mind, to the underlying unity that is the context from which the divergence emerges. "Astrology is thus the explication of the connections that exist between the stars and humans, between two apparently different realms which are actually one. Since the experience of this unity is not ordinarily given to us, we find correspondences, echoes, hints of one realm in the other. In using the stars to study ourselves, we tacitly accept this unity and find our inner selves reflected in our experience of the world and its space." Since we grow up being taught that stars are unconnected to humans, our personal relation to the cosmos remains tacit, and we becomes conscious of it only via various signs and symbols that resonate within and evoke the feeling of being connected.
The fifth key concept identified is that astrology addresses a primal boundary issue: "The mind and the rest of the organic space of the human body is bounded by our skin. We feel ourselves to be well defined and delimited from everything outside ourselves. What is inside is me, and what is outside is other." Astrology provides personal meaning of self, in relation to a cosmic context. The mass psychological consequences of paradigmatic decentration are signalled. This prevalent pathology has been produced by science the past 3 centuries.
Sixth, the author proceeds to postulate an organic relation of humans to cosmos: "There existed among things a web of organic and reflexive relationships, whose quality for the medieval mind was analogous to our sense of space. In such a realm of organic connectedness, the medieval astrologer pondered the relationship of humans to the stars." The seventh key concept is signalled when he describes relationships between things as reflexive, implying mutual feedback.
The 8th key concept is that, to the astrologer, space contains meaning. "Meaning and wisdom are incorporated in astrological space, which is symbolic, organic, and synchronistic, rather than empty, geometrical, and causal." This is a primary paradigmatic difference between physics and astrology; space, in the contemporary astrological paradigm, contains a dimension of quality derived from a basis of archetypes in nature. However, we must remember that astrologers never consider any space other than local space. When they consider cosmos, galaxy, or solar system, these spaces are described as frames of reference in relation to the surface of the earth or the centre of the earth, and they are experienced as components of the sky.
The 9th key concept is that the astrologer studies an holistic relation of part to whole, microcosm to macrocosm. "It is the organic, reflective, symbolic relation that is of primary importance, and this connection is felt intuitively by the astrologer, as it was by ordinary people in the Middle Ages. The modern distinctions between symbolic and realistic, metaphorical and literal, inner and outer, subjective and objective have little meaning for medieval consciousness." The horoscope is used as a diagram of this holistic organic relation, to allow detailed analysis of it.
The 10th key concept is complementarity, as in modern physics. "World and mind are seemingly different, perhaps complimentary, aspects of the same thing." If the brain has evolved to produce the mind as a model of the cosmos, it performs a complementary function. The principle of complementarity seems to be identifiable in the organic cognitive process of pattern recognition. We correlate the pattern without to the simultaneous pattern within. This allows the unitary nature of the cosmos to be identified as the context of meaning as well as the reservoir of potential, from which such dualities (world/mind, above/below) then arise synchronously in the form of particular structures and processes.
The 11th key concept is identified as a natural polarity between individual and collective, defined in relation to the spatial context. "Our modern space is the perfect metaphor for separation, extension, individuation, and alienation. We cannot even conceive of existence except in space, which then becomes the medium par excellence of existence. To exist is derived from the Latin verb meaning to stand out, and space is exactly what we stand out from. Space is the background from which we emerge or exist, in which we become an articulate, individuated, unique being. On one side of the coin is existence and uniqueness, on the other, alienation and isolation. Our spatial metaphor is thus intimately linked with our fears and apprehensions about life, death and survival." From the point of view of the individual, unique identity is separated from the total environmental context, which includes both space and society. From a collective viewpoint, individuals are contained by space and included in humanity, but the human race is separate from space (according to the ruling paradigm), even though it is contained in space as part of Gaia, solar system, galaxy, and cosmos. Therefore there is a corollary produced by this separation polarity, in which different people seem alien, fear of those different produces war, and individuals are discounted in value by social systems; to the extent to which they separate themselves, they become replaceable.
The 12th key concept is synchronicity, of which the author provides a definition. "Synchronicity is the principle of noncausal links between coincident or symbolically related events." This principle is identified in relation to the paradigmatic reason astrology remains marginalised by science. "The real contradiction lies in the incompatibility of synchronous and causal consciousness or of astrological and physical space. And the incompatibility stems from our refusal to apprehend and accept the relative metaphorical status of all our constructs. These different views are complementary, and neither of them can give a complete picture. Implicit in Jung's principle of synchronicity is the idea that all things are reflections of each other: every pattern, every event is a microcosm of the whole universe. This holistic and fundamentally nonspatial notion has its roots in all ancient cultures." So the author recognises that the principle is operative as part of nature, providing a pattern in the moment that connects every event (microcosm) to the cosmos (macrocosm). He identifies it as essentially holistic, non-spatial, and rooted in all ancient cultures.
These twelve key concepts seem to identify most of the basic features that together provide the metaphysical foundations of astrology. A keen analytical mind may be able to distill them into a smaller number, some overlap being currently evident. My purpose is merely to illustrate the common ground they have with similar contributions to this list from myself and others in recent months. It seems most significant that contemporary descriptions of these points are consistent with medieval beliefs and ancient cosmologies, but we need to proceed beyond tacit acceptance of a continuing tradition of cosmic wisdom. Refining and improving contemporary descriptions, and amalgamating them into a common view, is what remains to be accomplished. Only then will astrologers contribute substantially to the paradigm shift.
All rights reserved © 1999-2000 Dennis Frank