ADRIAN: I felt exactly the same when I read Prometheus the Awakener… this was the book that launched me on this path.
RENN: By the end of 1980 or maybe 1981 he began to feel that while that book would have influenced some people, it just did not have the kind of mature Promethean quality that was needed to influence the intelligentsia in the mainstream culture. So he went back to the drawing board – though he had already put a lot of work into this manuscript – and basically spent the next 10 years working on another book which became The Passion of the Western Mind. It has gone on to win awards and was called by Joseph Campbell the best history of the Western world views that he had ever seen in one volume and is being read in university courses around the world.
And then he followed this with his short Prometheus the Awakener already mentioned. I think is the best beginner book for any student of astrology. Finally, in 2006 Cosmos and Psyche came out. At Esalen, as he put it something like “all things great and small came through there” he had the opportunity to see everything that was happening the human potential movement. Everyone who lived at Esalen was able to see the whole rich variety of things as they came through. Often people got very interested in something for a while and then they lost interest and they got into something else for a while, so there was a kind of very fast, a kind of youth-culture, California overdrive, it had to be exciting and new – though there were many exceptions to this of course and the mainstays of Esalen massage and Gestalt certainly withstood the test of time and will continue to do so, no question. But for Rick to be working so long at his writing and research projects and not to be published, I think some people probably thought it would never happen but in his very powerfully inspired way he just kept working and working. He is not only a brilliant, gifted writer – someone described his writing as like watching an Olympic diver – some of the sentences… you just watch these twirls and then it just comes down and hits the mark perfectly – he is also an extremely hard worker and he was the right person for the job, for the Herculean task of ushering in the new cosmology.
So in 2006 Cosmos and Psyche was published and I mentioned in one of my endnotes in my book that I believe scholars will look back at 2006 as the moment of the paradigm shift, the official moment, but that’s just my speculation.
ADRIAN: I have the same feeling…
RENN: I have an equal regard for Grof’s book The Cosmic Game…
ADRIAN: A masterpiece, a really perfect book, with an astounding story itself!
RENN: Yeah, I was musing the other day that maybe one day on my website I would write that the book of the century is Cosmos and Psyche and the book of the millennium The Cosmic Game.
So what a beautiful moment for that to come out! I was just so proud of him, he put so much work of research and titanic brainpower into this project. Part of it was made possible by the fact that he has been teaching classes for at least a decade, before that point I don’t know, maybe 10 or 15 years or more at CIIS in San Francisco (California Institute of Integral Studies) so he became aware of what were the most important points to present and what were the areas that people would have the most questions or difficulties with in his new hypothesis. He was able to learn the most effective and concise way to respond to those questions.
One of the main differences in archetypal astrology – this school I guess we can say he has initiated – I don’t believe he set out to initiate a school of astrology but I think that all of us who follow and come after Tarnas would say that this is a new school of astrology – is that there is more of a focus on the aspects and the planets themselves: planets, aspects and transits. We don’t use the house system or the signs as much and this has the effect of solving two big debates and the problems between the different house systems and between the two sign systems, tropical and sidereal. It often crossed my mind if these things are so powerful, these sign boundaries and house boundaries, then how could there be such a difference of opinion about them? If one is true and one is false, then you would think that the evidence would gradually make the true one obvious and clear. I think we all agree that there is definitely something to the signs and the houses but I see them more as adjectives or adverbs which modify or reinforce the basic, more important thematic quality of the aspects and transits themselves.
Tarnas was able to zero in on the core archetypal meanings of the aspects and transits. I think that the reason that he was able to do what few astrologers or none before him were able to do was that he didn’t get distracted by these other minutia of different layers of astrology. I don’t think it’s possible to write something like Cosmos and Psyche if you’re talking about the planets in the houses or the signs, it just won’t deliver the same archetypal power and concision and persuasiveness. If you want to get to the core meanings, you really only need to look at these major interactions between the great planetary symbols themselves.
ADRIAN: Would you like to mention one of his most astounding correlations?
RENN: Some of the most interesting chapters in Cosmos and Psyche are based on the alignments between the outer planets so there’s a chapter for Uranus-Neptune alignments, Uranus-Pluto alignments, Saturn-Pluto, Jupiter-Uranus, and so forth.
The Uranus-Neptune alignments are so beautiful to talk about because it is such a transcendent energy. The last major Uranus-Neptune alignment that Tarnas articulates occurred from 1985 to 2001. Uranus and Neptune were conjunct in the sky during that period and some of the things he observed that corresponds to these alignments are the emergence of new religions and a sense of spiritual awakening, rather than Uranus-Pluto alignments which tend to have a more political, elemental, biological, and revolutionary quality. Uranus-Neptune, because of Neptune’s spiritual, gentle qualities is more like the velvet revolution or spiritual revolution and it’s interesting that it corresponded to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in which almost no one died! It was one of the great miracles of our time that this opening happened in such a peaceful way.
The Uranus-Neptune alignment of 1985-2001 also coincided with an incredible upsurge of goddess imagery in people’s inner lives, of spiritual feminism. Many people in their sessions began to have images of the Divine Feminine, it saw the rapid spread of ayahuasca through the entire Western world with ceremonies by shamans. There was also an incredible renaissance of female musicians, Uranus corresponding to the return of the repressed. The ‘90s were dominated by great female musicians. Tarnas was able to go back in previous Uranus-Neptune cycles and I won’t elaborate here because I really recommend people read Cosmos and Psyche, but many religions began during Uranus-Neptune alignments back through history. Now it is very interesting that there is this period…
ADRIAN: The Axial Age?
RENN: Yes, the period from about 595-560 BC, these incredible 35 years coincided with the lives of Buddha in India, Lao Tzu and Confucius in China, probably Zoroaster in Persia, and the first Greek philosophers in Asia Minor: Thales and Anaximander. Pythagoras was also living during that 35-year period of the axial age, as well as the Hebrew prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Second Isaiah.
I mean that’s incredible: the birth of Greek philosophy is a very special moment in human history, as well as Confucius, Lao Tzu, Buddha, Zoroaster, Mahavira the founder of Jainism, also the Greek poet Sappho who lived on the island of Lesbos – this is really amazing. Tarnas prefaces his book with a beautiful, poignant line from one of the fragments of her poetry that we have. This period coincided not only with a Uranus-Neptune conjunction but with Pluto, Uranus, and Neptune all exactly conjunct – the only period in recorded history with an exact conjunction of those three planets.
I think that is quite an astounding correlation: a spiritual quantum leap in human history coinciding at the halfway point of the patriarchal era – which began around 3000 BC and so the Axial Age was about the halfway point. This was a very powerful dispensation. Of course there were spiritual practices going far back into prehistory with worship of the Great Mother Goddess and of nature, and then shamanism going back tens of thousands of years before that, but the Axial Age was quite a moment and this is one of my favorite parts of his book.