Thursday, April 13, 2006

Following the Yellow Brick Road, Pt. I

Today I went down Fields Book Store to see and hear Richard Tarnas, who was there to promote his new book, Cosmos and Psyche. I haven't read the book, so I can only recount what transpired when, in front of me and 24 other avid listeners, he espounded on his life's work in psychological astrology. I can also explain what I was doing there in the first place.

First Tarnas: He got his start in the 1970s, studying at the Esalen Institute near Big Sur along with other people who would become reknowned such as "mythologist" Joseph Campbell and religous scholar Houston Smith. Now a widely respected scholar who teaches at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), Tarnas's forays into archetypal astrology reveal the existence of a consistent correlation between the movements of the planets and the expression and development of human history. He clarified painstakingly that this coincidence of meaning a.k.a. synchronicity, is reflective not casual and that the study of overall patterns can only be used to make archetypal predictions of future events. They merely point to a direction that things may go. He used the example of a clock, stating that just like the hands on a clock don't cause it to be a certain time, say 7:30 PM, planetary positions don't cause particular happenings, but they do reflect something about "the cosmic state of the archetypal forces" in effect at a given moment.

These comments necessitated a brief definition of archetypes, and Tarnas noted that their said existence has been a topic of debate since the days of Plato and Aristotle. His own definition of an archetype is "a universal principle or force that affects--impels, structures, permeates--the human psyche and human behavior" in all facets of life and that can be expressed "as impulses and images from the interior psyche, yet also as events and situations in the external world." Hero, Healer, Villian, Teacher, and Mother are common examples of these ancient patterns of consciousness. (For an extensive overview, see A Gallery of Archetypes as compiled by Carolyn Myss.)

From there, Tarnas explained his view of astrology as a tool for enhancing free-will rather than enforcing an unflexibly destiny or sense of fate. He believes that as individuals we have the best chance of knowing our own authentic nature when we're conscious of the patterns of meaning held within our birth charts. The greater one's understanding of the archetypal forces influencing one's own life, the greater is the opportunity to make decisions uncircumscribed by unconscious motivations. Tarnas told us that as he delved deeper into the subject, he noticed that "the constant coincidence between planetary positions and human lives exists as a kind of universal code for the human mind to unravel," and it's from that point of view that he wrote first the 1991 tome The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that Have Shaped Our World View and then this year's 592-page sequel, Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View. In both books, Tarnas has applied his understanding of archetypal dynamics to birth and transit charts of the soul of the collective, with a particular emphasis on planets (archetypal forces) and aspects (the angular relationship between planets, which are said to reflect the nature of interaction between archetypal forces).

My limited understanding of the science of astrology prevents me from commenting more thoroughly about the rest of the discussion. However, it wasn't difficult to grasp that the result of this work is the discovery that a multitude of seemingly disparate historical and cultural moments and events arise and have arisen under the same star influences. Take the French Revolution of 1789, and the mutiny on the "Bounty" during the same year: from these Tarnas denotes "the synchronous emergence of parallel events totally isolated from each other yet reflecting the same archetypal complexes." Temporal proximity can be as widely divergent as geographical proximity as evidenced by the parallels he draws between the revolutionary mood of France in 1790 and shudders of evolution experienced worldwide during the 1960s. In his work he also tracks the rise of certain individuals (e.g. Madonna's career trajectory or Hitler's) and developments in art or science, juxtaposing them against various astrological configurations and periods.

Overall I found his commentary to be quite compelling. A robust Q&A followed, with most of the audience seeming to be extremely familiar with his work and deeply knowledgeable about psychology, astrology, transformation studies, etc. I was a bit out of my league, so I left. Which brings me to how or why I ended up there in the first place.

To be continued.


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