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Glenn Perry - What Is Archetypal Cosmology?

In 2009, two events occurred on opposite ends of the country that are synchronistically related. The first was the launching of a new online publication, Archai: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology, by a group of scholars associated with the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in San Francisco, California. The second was the inauguration of a new, accredited Masters Degree Program in Archetypal Cosmology through the Graduate Institute of Connecticut.

According to the editors of Archai, “Archetypal cosmology includes the study of correlations between cyclical alignments of the planets and archetypal patterns in human experience, but goes beyond this to address the theoretical basis of these correlations and their implications for a wider world view.”1 “Archetypal cosmology,” writes Keiron Le Grice, is a multidisciplinary subject drawing upon “astrology, depth psychology, history, philosophy, cosmology, religious studies, comparative mythology, cultural studies, the arts, and the new sciences.”2

The degree program at the Graduate Institute parallels the archetypal, cross-disciplinary approach to astrology that characterizes its CIIS counterpart. Courses include not only a thorough introduction to archetypal astrology, but also “draw upon diverse traditions in science, philosophy, and religion to examine the nature and development of human consciousness from a cosmological perspective.”3

These developments, occurring at different institutions on both coasts, are significant in light of the fact that astrology was ousted from academia in the 17th century mainly because it was unintelligible within the new, mechanistic worldview of the age. Today, astrology is finding new footing within academia precisely because it is consistent with scientific findings that are a witness against the adequacy of the mechanistic worldview.

An Antidote to the Charge of Fatalism

Another reason that astrology was banished from academic circles was its association with fatalism, which seemed to follow directly from belief in astrology as then practiced. Prior to the 20th century, there was little or no concept of consciousness evolution, that is, of the psycho-spiritual growth of the individual. Consequently, astrology was largely limited to trait descriptions and predictions of good and bad times for various enterprises. In addition, it was encumbered with an archaic terminology preoccupied with so-called “good” and “bad” planetary positions used to provide judgments with regard to a fixed character and unalterable fate.

After being driven underground and languishing in relative obscurity during the 18th and 19th centuries, astrology emerged like a phoenix in the 20th transformed by its incorporation of psychological concepts and practices, most notably those of the Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, whose theory of archetypes and synchronicity pointed the way to a radically new type of astrology. Jung’s concept of archetype was a refashioned version of Platonic forms—transcendent, intangible, yet generative patterns that exercised a formative influence upon the world below. Astrologers adapted Jung’s archetypal theory to their understanding of astrological variables—signs, planets, houses, and aspects—all of which were variations on geometric forms that acted exactly like archetypes.4

Synchronicity was based on Jung’s observation that archetypes not only informed and animated human consciousness, they also manifested through experiences that reflected the structure and dynamics of the psyche. Inner states and outer events were meaningfully related by some sort of acausal connecting principle. Jung speculated that archetypes, in effect, were psychoid; that is, they shape matter as well as mind. Human consciousness was infused with archetypal energies that were transcendent and immanent, within and without, both psychological and cosmological. The non-locality of archetypes led Jung to formulate his theory of the onus mundus, the one world, a psychophysical continuum of being in which individual consciousness merged with outer reality to form a unitary reality transcending the antithesis of subject and object.

Jung’s notion that archetypes formed a synchronistic bridge between inner character and outer circumstance remedied a major flaw of traditional astrology: its disempowering determinism. Ancient astrologers recognized there was a meaningful correlation between planetary alignments and human experiences, but presumed that the relationship was causally determinative of a precise outcome. Accordingly, the astrologer’s role was to utilize knowledge of planetary cycles to predict an immutable character and inexorable fate. Their uneven record in this regard was cited by critics as evidence of astrology’s invalidity. Conversely, astrologers saw their failures as merely an unfortunate consequence of incomplete knowledge, which could be remedied by further study. It may be, however, that astrology’s predictive inconsistency was the inevitable result of its failure to fully grasp the nature of archetypal reality.

It is axiomatic that an archetype can take many and varied forms and still remain true to its essential meaning. Likewise in astrology, an astrological configuration can express itself in innumerable ways that are equally consistent with the meaning of the relevant variables. A planetary archetype is multidimensional in that it manifests through phenomena that exist at different dimensional levels, e.g., as a need, feeling, attitude, belief, behavior, thing, role, person, place, quality, or event—all of which can be implicit in a single experience. Saturn, for example, can be experienced as an impulse for order, a feeling of heaviness, an attitude of realism, a belief in frugality, behavior that is cautious, a calendar for making plans, the role of timekeeper, a person of authority, the topfloor office of the CEO, a grave and somber quality, and a pressure-filled responsibility that requires meeting a deadline.

Not only do planetary archetypes (and their sign and house counterparts) display a bewildering multidimensionality, they are also multivalent in that there are varying expressions of the same archetype within a given dimension. Again, Saturn can be an impulse for order, but also a need for control, authority, perfection, success, or mastery. As an emotion, it can be a feeling of heaviness but also of despair, inferiority, failure, anxiety, determination, seriousness, or disciplined focus. As a thing it might be a calendar, but also a watch, bones, handcuffs, a scaffold, gavel, speed limit, and so on.

In addition to the multidimensionality and multivalence of astrological archetypes, they are also polyvalent, i.e., capable of combining in virtually limitless ways by virtue of their sign, house, and aspects. The resultant archetypal compounds yield emergent properties that are not inherent at the level of the variables that comprise them. If Saturn is in Pisces, for example, the impulse to order could manifest through phenomena that involve flow and liquidity (Pisces). If Saturn is also conjunct Uranus, the principle of order is joined with that of change, thus producing ordered change, disciplined progress, or a revolutionary new order, all of which will manifest in a Piscean way and through Piscean phenomena. A person, for example, might be the head of product development in an innovative high tech firm dedicated to the practical applications of liquid crystals. If this conjunction falls in the 5th house, his firm might be employed in the service of the entertainment industry, such as through special effects that allow for three dimensional viewing experiences in computer games and movies.

Of course, this same configuration—Saturn conjunct Uranus in Pisces in the 5th—could manifest in hundreds of other ways, too. Possibilities are only limited by one’s imagination and capacity for constructing plausible scenarios. The inherent multidimensional, multivalent, and polyvalent quality of astrological archetypes makes astrology archetypally predictive, but not concretely predictive.5 Planetary movements correspond to human experiences but are radically indeterminate in their ultimate manifestations.

Because Cosmic Being is microcosmically embodied in human beings, the evolutionary intent of the cosmos is evident not only in the self-actualizing dynamics of the psyche, but also in the particular experiences that an individual encounters. Jung stressed how psychodynamics is governed by a teleological principle which, through compensatory mechanisms, strives to bring about balance (wholeness) within the Self. This is partially achieved through the generation and attraction of synchronistic events that compensate onesided, unbalanced attitudes. In the process of engaging such experiences, the individual is provided an opportunity to develop the requisite understanding that allows for greater harmony, balance, and fulfillment.

The purposive nature of external events underscores that consciousness is non-local. Archetypes not only inform and animate the psyche, they also manifest environmentally in the form of relations with family, friends, neighbors, spouses, bosses, careers, co-workers, strangers, things, places, and even institutions. Again, archetypal astrology makes clear that personal experiences reflect rather than cause one’s intrapsychic world. The more emotionally significant the experience, the more perfectly it mirrors an intrapsychic factor and the more precisely it activates a learning process to actualize the full potential of that factor. Accordingly, not only does the birthchart symbolize the unique structure of individual psychic anatomy, it depicts the trajectory of personal evolutionary unfoldment—what is colloquially called fate, but which Jung termed the path of individuation. By becoming aware of one’s own path, the individual is empowered to consciously cooperate with the cosmos in a co-creative, evolutionary process.

It is precisely because archetypes are non-local that the outer world is responsive to the participation of human will and consciousness. Birthcharts, therefore, do not symbolize a fixed character and unchangeable fate, but a dynamic process in which character evolves by experiencing the consequences of its own internal states. In this view, fate is altered by the development and unfoldment of character.

Value Neutral and Evidence Based

Archetypal cosmology received a significant boost in credibility by the recent publication of philosopher and cultural historian Richard Tarnas’ work, Cosmos and Psyche, which provides evidence of striking correlations between planetary cycles and the major patterns of world history. Apart from its breathtaking scope and depth, Tarnas’ work helped to establish an appropriate methodology for astrological research— what Rod O’Neal calls archetypal historiography: the systematic correlation of overarching thematic patterns of historical phenomena with planetary cycles. “Archetypal historiography as a methodology combines two primary modes of inquiry: historical research and archetypal analysis of correlations based on archetypal astrology.”6

It is noteworthy that this type of research is value neutral and evidence-based. It eschews the value laden presuppositions and archaic terminology of traditional astrology with its malefic and benefic planets, afflictions, detriments, falls, sect, bounds, and so on. Instead, the goal is to employ a set of rigorous guidelines for discerning exactly how historical periods and individual biographies correlate with archetypal themes associated with planetary alignments. What results is a richly descriptive rendition of meaning rather than sterile judgments that reduce the birthchart to an endless listing of evaluative statements, e.g., good/bad, strong/weak, and better/worse.

Reconciliation with Science

A further defining feature of archetypal cosmology is its bridging of postmodern science with ancient philosophy. Traditional wisdom depicted the Universe as a living, hierarchically structured, purposive and conscious Being immanent in the parts and processes of Nature. The hermetic doctrine of the macrocosm and the microcosm held that the Universe is an all encompassing system of similars decreasing in magnitude as the orders of life are descended—as above, so below—and united by resonant bonds of sympathy. In this “great chain of Being,” phenomena are different levels cohere by virtue of a single pattern of order.7 Since humans mirror the cosmic order, every aspect of their psychic and physical anatomy has its counterpart in the celestial realm. Each human being is a microcosm—a miniature universe—reflecting the macrocosm, the Universe as a whole.

According to Huston Smith, so pervasive was this conception that it constituted what might be called “the human unanimity,” the sole exception to which has been Western Man since the 18th century.8 As a consequence of the empirical method of modern science, the solar system has been reconceptualized as a lifeless machine in mechanical motion hurling through the graveyard of space, devoid of purpose, consciousness, or sentience. Life is thought to have arisen by blind chance and to be entirely governed by physical laws of cause and effect. In the modern worldview, matter is primary, and consciousness merely an epiphenomenon of random mutations preserved by natural selection at a certain level of fortuitous chemical complexity.

For the past three hundred years, our culture has been shaped by the mechanistic paradigm of modern science. Again, it was largely as a consequence of this paradigm that astrology was banished from academic institutions and driven underground, its exponents discredited and its philosophy refuted. One cannot overstate the importance, therefore, of recent developments in postmodern science—e.g., Sheldrake’s morphogenetic fields, Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis, and Bohm’s holonomic universe—that are unexpectedly supportive of the organic paradigm that 18th century science radically supplanted.

New physics as articulated in such books at Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics and Michael Talbot’s The Holographic Universe is actually more in accord with spiritual traditions that postulate a universe of pure consciousness. In quantum mechanics, ultimate reality is seamless, or whole, and there is no absolute separation between events or objects in space-time. Bell’s theorem, for example, states that action-at-adistance can influence all points in space simultaneously, without any forces traveling through space. Similarly, Bohm’s holonomic theory states that every part of the universe bears witness to the structure and process of the whole, i.e., the whole is contained in the part. This idea simply restates in modern terms the hermetic maxim, ‘as above, so below.’

Likewise, the anthropic cosmological principle of modern physics asserts that the constants of nature— certain dimensionless numbers analogous to Platonic Forms that govern the strength of nuclear forces and determine the size and composition of atomic elements—are so precisely arranged that the smallest variation in even one of these constants would have prevented the Universe from coming into being.9 The implication is that the cosmos appears designed with an intent to evolve psyche—conscious human beings who embody not merely the physical properties of the Universe, but also its subjective, interior dimension. The emergence of carbon based life forms capable of reflecting upon the very laws that brought them into existence would seem not to be an accident, but evidence of an ensouled, intelligent, and purposive cosmos.

All these developments and many more are leading to what David Roy Griffin has called the reenchantment of science.10 A number of philosophers are now asserting that there is a scientific revolution occurring at the present time that involves a recovery of certain truths and values from various forms of pre-modern thought. British biologist Rupert Sheldrake details these recoveries in his book: The Rebirth of Nature: The Greening of Science and God.11 They include the replacement of mechanism with an organismic paradigm; the presence of intrinsic purpose throughout nature; the presence of a divine whole in all the parts; attraction-at-a-distance or downward causation; and the history of the Universe as a self-creative, selforganizing, conscious Being. Implicit in the new, organismic paradigm of postmodern science are the very principles upon which astrology is based.

Summary and Conclusion

Archetypal cosmology joins the mathematical precision of astronomy with the richly symbolic, interior world of depth psychology.12 Looking out, it examines how the shifting patterns of world history, culture, art, politics, economics, and individual biography are reflective of ever changing planetary movements. Looking in, archetypal cosmology becomes a multifaceted, psychological language that reveals the structure and dynamics of the human soul.

Archetypal cosmology transcends the judgmental terminology of earlier astrological models, while honoring the core meanings of signs, planets, and aspects that have carried forward over the centuries. It empowers individuals by encouraging conscious evolution—the deliberate intention to cooperate with an evolutionary process that is inherent to life. In contrast to the determinism and fatalism of traditional astrology, archetypal cosmology supports a co-creative, participatory relationship with the cosmos. Difficulties are perceived not as random impingements upon an innocent consciousness, but as evolutionary feedback that catalyzes and incentivizes growth toward wholeness.

The multidimensionality, multivalence, and polyvalence of astrological archetypes necessitate both an epistemological humility and a methodological rigor, grounded in an appreciation for the indeterminism that makes genuine freedom possible. Accordingly, archetypal cosmology is value-neutral, evidence-based, and reliant upon empirical studies that utilize a hermeneutic methodology for arriving at knowledge claims.

Finally, archetypal cosmology helps bridge the gap between science and religion by providing evidence for an ensouled cosmos. Its philosophical foundations reside in the ancient doctrine of the macrocosm and the microcosm, which, in turn, is girded by new paradigm sciences that not only validate traditional wisdom, but flesh it out in unprecedented detail.

 

Glenn Perry, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist, astrologer, and program coordinator for the Archetypal Cosmology Track at the Graduate Institute in Bethany, Connecticut (see ad below). For more information, visit this website.

Notes

  1. http://www.archaijournal.org/about.html
  2. Le Grice, K. “The Birth of a New Discipline,” Archai: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology, I, no. 1 (Summer 2009): 9.
  3. The Graduate Institute is offering a 12-credit, online Certificate Program in Archetypal Cosmology that begins September 15th, 2010. Qualified participants may continue their studies in archetypal cosmology by applying their credits toward an M.A. degree in Conscious Evolution.
  4. Perry, G., “Astrological Archetypes as Geometric Forms,” 
  5. This phrase is attributed to Richard Tarnas. 6 O”Neal, R. “Archetypal Historiography: A New Historical Approach,” Archai: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology, I, no. 1 (Summer 2009): 71.
  6. Lovejoy, A. (1936). The great chain of being. London: Harvard University Press.
  7. Smith, H. (1976). Forgotten truth: The primordial tradition. New York: Harper & Row.
  8. Barrow, J., & Tipler, F. (1986). The anthropic cosmological principle. New York: Oxford University Press.
  9. Griffin, D.R. (1988). Introduction: The reenchantment of science. In D.R. Griffin (Ed.), The reenchantment of science (pp. 1-46). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
  10. Sheldrake, R. (1991). The rebirth of nature: The greening of science and God. New York: Bantam.
  11. Grof, S. (2010). “Holotropic Research and Archetypal Astrology,” Archai: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology, I, no. 1 (Summer 2009): p. 54.