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Beyond the Trigger Effect
(A Personal Note on the "Numinous Consciousness")
by Robert Couteau

Ed. N.: This article is a revised version of a text already published here (C.U.R.A.'s 6th edition, June 2000).

The Question of 'Triggers'

As interest in underaspected planets continues to grow, many people have been asking: "Do you think astrocartographic relocation is the only manner in which underaspected planets may be effectively channeled? And if not, what other mechanisms are involved in enhancing the effects of LAPs?" In fact, I have come to the conclusion that underaspected planets are rarely, if ever, enhanced only by relocation. Far more often than not, they seem to serve as an internal guiding principle, a raison d'être or spiritual guide-post, in most people's lives: both with celebrated personalities and with ordinary people.

Points of Inner Focus

Even prior to conducting the research for my book, it had become obvious to me that underaspected planets served as primary motivational points of focus, that they symbolized the core ideals, yearnings, and key elements of our spiritual identity. Historical biographies as well as the horoscopes of personal acquaintances revealed that the traditional notion that underaspected planets somehow portray "unintegrated elements of our psychology" was in fact erroneous and that the opposite seemed to be true: underaspected planets symbolized, more than any other factor, our core psychic nature and what we are meant to do in this particular lifetime. Subsequent scrutiny of biographical data revealed a synchronistic parallel between astrocartography locales and birth charts, vis-à-vis underaspected planets.

Other triggers

As I have attempted to demonstrate, what makes such energies special is that when underaspected the energy is unfettered. It is pure, so to speak; it is its own master. It can express itself without being tied down, through aspect, to other planetary energies. [1]  That seems to be the key. Why did we not realize this earlier? It may simply be a case of believing things without testing them, of allowing ideas to be passed along without asking the fundamental question, "Why?" And yet it may be something else, besides:

Traditional Definitions, Traditional Assumptions

If it is the case that least-aspected planets are rarely, if ever, untriggered, and the reverse is true that LAPs signify something at the very forefront of our nature, of our existential purpose and yearning in life: that they represent our essential spirit and the drive behind our entire being and purpose then why did we adapt the false assumption that underaspected planets are instead indicators of 'unconsciousness'?

When I first encountered this traditional assumption that underaspected planets represent "an energy that cannot be integrated with the other planets: a sort of free-floating, nonintegrated energy" I became intrigued. My approach to astrology had always been influenced by Jung's philosophic / scientific approach, so this naturally raised the question: If it is not operating consciously, then which aspect of the unconscious does it symbolically point to or portray? From an astrological-psychological point of view, we usually think of a conscious and an unconscious level or perspective. It was a natural assumption to conclude therefore that underaspected planets must represent some unconscious complex or archetypal pattern of being.
However, a deeper understanding of Jung and of the work of several other thinkers may lead to a rather more complex view regarding such matters.

Beyond the Duality of Triggered-Untriggered, Conscious-Unconscious

Perhaps we have become overly committed to approaching things in too dualistic a fashion, especially as regards what is "conscious" and what is "unconscious." In short, we have forgotten that there exists, too, what the religious scholar Rudolf Otto once called the "numinous consciousness": the awareness and experience of the holy, the sense of grace, of the sacred in life. Otto took Kant's term, and Kant's division between the noumenon (the thing itself) and the phenomenon (the way we perceive the thing) and coined the adjective, numinous. It was from Otto that Jung borrowed this term: Jung would later say that the difference between his psychology and Freud's was that Freud's focus was on the neurotic while his (Jung's) was on the numinous within mankind. [2]  This difference is crucial. It may even be at the root experience of the sacred versus the profane the experience of grace, as opposed to the experience of life as a mere linear succession of mundane, meaningless events.

"Numinous consciousness"

Otto refers to this crucial experience of grace as a "numinous consciousness," i.e., direct experience of the numinosum, of the mysterium. And this experience forever alters us. It permanently shifts our consciousness: we are no longer the same after such a revelation / revaluation (mysterium tremendum (= revelation [yang]) / mysterium fascinans (= revaluation [yin]). In short, we have in the moment of this experience transcended ordinary consciousness, as the self has been graced, ordained to touch for a moment the fabric of the higher Self what we may call the eternal, or god within.

This experience does not reflect a dualistic notion of conscious versus unconscious. At least, not the unconscious as defined with a small 'u'. This is instead a case of the smaller self suddenly and inexplicably 'opened' or 'expanded', and what this opening or expansion of consciousness reveals partakes of the Sacred Absolute: the Absolute Knowledge (and I would add, Absolute Feeling) of the mysterious dimension of wholeness: In short, we are here delivered unto a realm about which we cannot really speak. (For the name of God cannot be uttered by one who has truly been touched by Him.)

Otto's was a reverent and feeling-toned (rather than overly intellectualized) approach to the Sacred Absolute: what he called the mysterium fascinans et tremendum. Here is what he means by this:

Mysterium tremendum: "A mystery inexpressible and above all creatures"

"We are dealing with something for which there is only one appropriate expression, 'mysterium tremendum'. The feeling of it may at times come sweeping like a gentle tide, pervading the mind with a tranquil mood of deepest worship. It may pass over into a more set and lasting attitude of the soul, continuing, as it were, thrillingly vibrant and resonant, until at last it dies away and the soul resumes its 'profane', nonreligious mood of everyday experience. It may burst in sudden eruption up from the depths of the soul with spasms and convulsions, or lead to the strangest excitements, to intoxicated frenzy, to transport, and to ecstasy. It has its wild and demonic forms and can sink to an almost gristly horror and shuddering. It has its crude, barbaric antecedents and early manifestations, and again it may be developed into something beautiful and pure and glorious. It may become the hushed, trembling, and speechless humility of the creature in the presence of whom or what? In the presence of that which is a mystery inexpressible and above all creatures." ( Rudolf Otto, "The Analysis of Tremendum," from The Idea of the Holy, chapter IV).

For any astrologer worth his salt, all that is clearly synonymous with the symbol complex that we refer to as "Pluto" which I posit as the extreme point in the yang or tremendum planetary spectrum. [i.e., Sun-Mars-Saturn-Pluto.] But that is only one-half, or one aspect, of Otto's mysterium:

Mysterium fascinans: "The Dionysiac-element in the numen"

"These two qualities, the daunting and the fascinating, now combine in a strange harmony of contrasts, and the resultant dual character of the numinous consciousness, to which the entire religious development bears witness, at any rate from the level of the 'daemonic dread' onwards, is at once the strangest and most noteworthy phenomenon in the whole history of religion. The daemonic-divine object may appear to the mind an object of horror and dread, but at the same time it is no less something that allures with a potent charm, and the creature, who trembles before it, utterly cowed and cast down, has always at the same time the impulse to turn to it, nay even to make it somehow his own. The 'mystery' is for him not merely something to be wondered at but something that entrances him; and beside that in it which bewilders and confounds, he feels a something that captivates and transports him with a strange ravishment, rising often enough to the pitch of dizzy intoxication; it is the Dionysiac-element in the numen." (Rudolf Otto, "The Elements of Fascination," from The Idea of the Holy, chapter IV).

Now that is a marvelous, succinct description of the Neptune experience. Something that "captivates and transports"; a "strange ravishment"; a "pitch of dizzy intoxication." In the fascinans we have then a portrayal of the yin energies (Moon-Venus-Jupiter-Neptune), that reach their final, transpersonal expression in the outermost yin symbol of Neptune. And while Neptune may allure with as great a promise and enticement of otherworldly power and delight as Pluto, it may also destroy one through 'bliss' [3]  as surely as Pluto may rend us asunder in agony, pain, and trauma. Indeed, that is the nature of the mysterium fascinans in its more primitive expression. It is my contention (see below) that all the astrological planets, in partaking of the numinosum, of the holy and sacred dimension in life, partake in what is either a primarily fascinans or a primarily tremendum nature that, at any rate, is how we experience them.

Lines of development

As I have tried to illustrate in my essays on the "Transcendental Planets," there is a definite yin line of planetary development, beginning with the Moon and developing through Venus, Jupiter, and Neptune. [4]  And there is also a parallel yang line extending from Sun into Mars, Saturn, and Pluto. [5]  I see Mercury (hermaphroditic, and traditionally described as possessing a 'dual nature') acting as a liaison within this overall process, [6]  just as I see Uranus (asexual) as somehow transcending such fixed, dualistic energetic approaches and instead acting as a sort of cosmic switch or circuit breaker, especially in regard to the outer planets and the attempt that we make to integrate them psychologically. [7]  That is, Uranus serves an "enantiodromian" function by reversing conditions (like the moving yin or yang lines in the I Ching) whenever an extreme point has been reached; i.e., extremes change into their opposites. Uranus thus rules the principle of "dynamic reversals." [8] 
But where then does the least-aspected planet fit into all this?

The LAP as a Point of Numinosity in the Psyche

We are all moving, in a teleological fashion, toward the Self: toward our own futurity, to the as yet undefined, undiscovered Self. As such we may progress in only one of two possible manners at any moment: along the lines of either the yin (fascinans) or yang (tremendum) scale of values. As Jung has shown, ultimately there is no dualism, yet when the archetype when the mystery within life approaches, we must split it into two pieces: we cannot digest it in its enormousness for if we attempt to do so we will either dissolve (fascinans) or be crushed (tremendum) by it. We can only, within the inherent limits of our ego-bound perceptual processes, chip off a tiny piece of the godhead, and that piece may serve as a guiding stone, a magnetized compass that points into the unknown and that beckons us to follow, no matter what the fear, trepidation, or horror (mysterium tremendum); and no matter what the blissful intoxication or joy (mysterium fascinans) that we are bound to be cast against. That is the nature of the numinous and the underaspected planet symbolizes this. It represents a crucial aspect of the future Self, a voice of the higher Will, an unknowable and invisible Will that is leading us in a meaningful direction.

Numinology and the Transcendent Function

As Jung has shown through his empirical studies, the creation of a numinous consciousness is assisted by what he calls the transcendent function a term that I assume he borrows from Hegel and that he defines as "a uniting function that transcends [the] tension of opposites." The transcendent function is a "psychic function that arises from the tension between consciousness and the unconscious and supports their union." [9]  As a planet that remains relatively isolated due to a lack of aspect interaction and one that is less reflective of such conflicts of opposites the LAP seems to serve the same role as the transcendent function, and therefore the numinous quality of the least-aspected planet is probably not coincidental. The LAP also serves as a likely bridge upon which several seemingly antithetical views (or energetic tensions) may come into parity since it stands not only aside from them but also even above them, as the LAP transcends the dualism. As such, it is the tertium non datur or "reconciling third": "[nature] acts symbolically in the truest sense of the word, doing something that expresses both sides, just as a waterfall visibly mediates between above and below." [10]  It is with this notion in mind that we speak of a 'Transcendental' or 'reconciling' planetary symbol.

For it stands there, between two worlds, as a kind of twilight guidepost, and it is through its presence that we discover a telic or forward moving drive. It is like a bridge that links two worlds and simultaneously makes them one or rather creates a third, transcendent possibility: "a mystery inexpressible and above all creatures" (Otto). [11] 

Supplemental notes excerpted from the Dublin Astrologer
December 1998 (Revised July 2001):

The effect of the least aspected or Transcendental Planet may be enhanced in the following manners:

- Birth directly under or near the line of Primary Transcendental Planet.

- Relocation or temporary travel to the vicinity of the Primary or Secondary Transcendental. A temporary relocation may result in a 'Transcendental experience': a meaningful or momentous event that marks one's life.

- Certain remarkable people neither travel nor relocate to the region of their Transcendental Planet, yet their personality, character, and biography is indelibly marked by the symbolic significance of the least-aspected planet. Somehow, the Transcendental function is triggered 'internally'. [12]  A truly sensitive nature experiences an internal yearning for wholeness and acts upon it. The numinous center of the psyche, symbolized by the least-aspected planet, thus asserts itself, most likely through compensatory symbols such as found in psychological projection, dream symbolism, and synchronistic phenomena, or through the suprarational portals of intuition and feeling. Remarkable natures are known for their ability to move in parallel with this telic function: to unite the ego-will with the unconscious Will. What the unconscious has in store, in the deepest sense, is often symbolized by this least-aspected planetary energy.


[1]  Dr Victor Mansfield has kindly given me permission to use this insightful remark from an e-mail that I received from him on October 14, 1998: "I had a guru with an unaspected Sun. He always thought that it allowed him the maximum freedom of expressing the Sun's meaning and function. Perhaps aspects not only help manifest or express a planet's meaning and function they also limit its scope of action." See his groundbreaking work, Synchronicity, Science and Soul-Making, Chicago, Open Court Publications, 1995. « Text

[2]  "The main interest of my work is not concerned with the treatment of neurosis but rather with the approach to the numinous. But the fact is that the approach to the numinous is the real therapy and inasmuch as you attain to the numinous experiences you are released from the curse of pathology." Carl Jung, C. G. Jung Letters, vol. 1, letter to P. W. Martin, p. 377. (Special thanks to my friend Douglas Boyd of Galaxy: Archetypal Astrology (online), for reminding me of this fine quote.) « Text

[3]  A classic tale of such developmental dangers, Homer's Odyssey poetically addresses the delightful - and harrowing - dimensions of what might be termed the various levels of such "yin-insanity": The dissolution of the ego in "The Lotus Eaters" (Neptune); the imprisonment (and psychological regression) of Odysseus on Circe's island (Moon); and in a classic tale of anima-ridden allure and enchantment, Odysseus - his ears plugged with wax and his torso fastened tightly to the mast of his ship - listening to the sweet nothings of the Sirens and their song (the personification of the anima, i.e., Venus). Indeed, yin bliss - and the so-called benefic planets that reflect and symbolize it (e.g., Venus, Jupiter, Neptune) - is not always all it is made out to be; i.e., it is occasionally advisable to proceed here with caution.

It is worth noting that this classic "yin adventure tale" follows in the footsteps, thematically, of the Iliad - a yang tale focused upon the opposite side of our theoretic spectrum: the blood and guts of the tremendum, with its less nuanced and rather more obvious dangers and pitfalls. « Text

[4]  "Together, the Moon, Venus, and Jupiter represent successive stages in the evolution of consciousness ..."; "Neptune completes the sequence of the Moon, Venus, and Jupiter ..." Marcia Moore; Mark Douglas, Astrology, The Divine Science, pp. 40-43. Though considered the original ruler of Pisces, Jupiter is often considered a male or yang planet, here however we have taken a different point-of-view, i.e., Jupiter as social-collective yin. « Text

[5]  "It is possible to trace a line of development linking the Sun, Mars, and Saturn, which parallels the line linking the Moon, Venus, and Jupiter." Marcia Moore; Mark Douglas, Astrology, The Divine Science, p. 41. "Neptune is the higher octave of Venus"; "Pluto is the higher octave of Mars." Alan Oken, As Above, So Below, pp. 317, 324. « Text

[6]  Just as in alchemy, which speaks of the principal "Mercurius," in astrological tradition, too, we see that Mercury both effects and personifies the union of opposites on the microcosmic human level (i.e., he partakes equally in and at various times alternates between the yang (actively communicating and promulgating) and yin (passively absorbing and comprehending) energy spectrum. He is the microcosm within which opposing planetary forms are brought together and their oppositional tensions integrated and resolved, through the mediation of rational comprehension and reflective consciousness. In alchemy, Mercurius was envisioned as standing between Sol and Luna - the primary elemental forms of spirit (yang) and soul (yin) - and providing, through receptive awareness and active transmission of thought, a mediating function, one providing on-going psychic evolution and stabilization. (See my essay, "Transcendental Mercury.") « Text

[7]  As Linda Reid has pointed out in an online Webfest post (what follows is a paraphrase of her remarks): trying to "integrate" the energy of an outer-orbiting planet is in fact a misnomer. For example, an energetic complex such as that symbolized by Uranus is not so much integrated as it is held, for a brief moment, like a sparkling bundle of energy in the palm of one's hand. For can we ever 'integrate' something that is so much larger than the ego-conscious complex? « Text

[8]  Although certain astrologers feel that Uranus corresponds to the yang energy force, our point-of-view is that Uranus transcends the dualistic expression of yin and yang energy: that while Mercury is traditionally considered to be hermaphroditic (equally embodying both principles), Uranus should be viewed as neither male nor female. Instead, Uranus symbolizes the cosmic function that reverses yin or yang energy into its opposite when either achieves an extreme form of expression. This principle of dynamic reversal is expressed in the I Ching by the unfolding patterns (or 'hexagrams') of energy forms (the moving lines) that compose the chapters of this book. In the West this notion is best exemplified by the ancient Greek philosophical notion of enantiodromia, a "running opposite or counter to," promulgated by the philosopher Heraclitus: "Fate is the logical product of enantiodromia, creator of all things."

In modern psychological literature Jung notes that enantiodromia is synonymous with "the emergence of the unconscious opposite in the course of time. This characteristic phenomenon practically always occurs when an extreme, one-sided tendency dominates conscious life; in time an equally powerful counterposition is built up, which first inhibits the conscious performance and subsequently breaks through the conscious control." And he adds, "Sooner or later everything runs into its opposite." Such reversals include the sudden shift from one extreme form of behavior, perception, or ideation into an (seemingly) opposite form or way of being. Through the enantiodromian, dynamic reversal of Uranus, the form of Mercury's ideation and organization is transformed by the higher octave of Uranus's reformation (Mercury poses the question "Why"; while Uranus asks, "Why not?"). Ultimately, beyond this seesawlike action of energetic reversal, the final Uranian purpose is to alternate currents of life-energy until a nondualistic or transcendent "third" form is discovered: one that, ideally, is not as extreme as either opposite but that incorporates the best elements of each in order to create a more manageable (a more consciously operating) transcendent reformation or organization.

The above note excerpted from my essay, "Transcendental Uranus." See also Stobaeus, Eclogae physicae, cited by Jung in Psychological Types, p. 425. In Psychology and Alchemy, discussing the "transformative principle at work in nature and the harmony of opposing forces," he notes: "Chinese philosophy formulated this process as the enantiodromian interplay of yin and yang" and adds, in a footnote: "The classical example being The I Ching or Book of Changes." See Psychology and Alchemy, p. 245.

One of the earliest references to enantiodromia in Jung's work occurs in the series of lectures he gave in Swanage, England, in 1925: "When something has been accomplished, an opposition must be established before anything else can occur. You may hold a Christian ideal, but this is also impossible, for though a mind may be spirit, you cannot go endlessly into spirit, as you constellate the materialism of the unconscious. A living system is a self-regulating system and must be balanced. Neither spirit not matter is good in themselves, for, in excess, both destroy life." "Lectures at Swanage," August 1, 1925, Lecture VII, pp. 51-52. (Jung also discusses enantiodromia and the I Ching on May 25, 1925, in his Analytical Psychology seminar. See my bibliography for this title.) « Text

[9]  Daryl Sharp, C. G. Jung Lexicon, A Primer of Terms and Concepts (Toronto: Inner City Books, 1991), p. 135.
As an incidental note, in mathematics the term 'Transcendental Function' refers to a function involving real and imaginary numbers: 'Transcendental Numbers' refers to "the theory of irrationality, transcendence, and algebraic independence of various numbers." From "Number Theory IV: Transcendental Numbers," Yu V. Nesterenko, N.I. Feldman, Encyclopaedia of Mathematical Sciences, vol. 44.

The relationship between numerals and archetypes was one of Professor Jung's long-term interests, especially during the final decades of his life. See C. G. Jung Letters, vol. 2, letter to Steven Abrams, p. 400: " I have always come upon the enigma of the natural number. I have a distinct feeling that Number is a key to the mystery, since it is just as much discovered as invented. It is a quantity as well as meaning." « Text

[10]  Carl Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis. Collected Works, vol. 14, par. 705, cited in Sharp, p. 134. Perhaps it is also not completely coincidental that Jung penned such thoughts in a chapter entitled, "The Conjunction," bearing witness, as he often did, to the power of astrological thought and its influence upon him. « Text

[11]  All Otto citations are from The Idea of the Holy, translated by John W. Harvey. « Text

[12]  It was in this sense that Jung spoke of "autonomous movements of the unconscious": eruptions of archetypal material that are not necessarily triggered from without or from merely personal experience: "It requires a very close contact with the unconscious, and an understanding of it, for a man to realize that the origin of his mythological or spiritual experiences is within himself, and that whatever forms these experiences may appear to take, they do not in fact come from the external world." Analytical Psychology, p. 132. « Text

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Robert Couteau: Beyond the 'Trigger Effect'
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