Archetypes and archetypal astrology
ADRIAN: Can you share some details about your new project?
RENN: Well, it will be somewhat similar to this last one but I don’t want to talk about it too much. As Robert Frost says: talking about your writing is like opening a fire hydrant in the street, when what you need is a thin, controlled stream up in your room.
ADRIAN: We are speaking here about archetypal astrology and I have mentioned so many times the term archetype… Maybe it’s appropriate to explain it at last … What are the archetypes?
RENN: I think there are different levels of archetypes. I mean there are a range of different ways that Western philosophers have used that term or similar ones: the Archai the Reals, the Forms. In astrology I guess we say there are archetypal complexes associated with the Sun, Moon and the eight planets. And, there is a range of archetypal manifestations. Within each of those overarching categories there would be various other archetypes. The Sun would be connected with the archetype of the Self, with Apollo, with the Divine Son, and each of those could be called an archetype, too. So there are archetypes within larger archetypes.
ADRIAN: Do we have a more thorough description of what is in fact an archetype?
RENN: Tarnas, in his classic Prometheus the Awakener talks about three broad overlapping ways of understanding archetypes in Western philosophy.
The first, which he calls the Homeric, was active at the dawn of Western civilization and is illustrated in the great books that have guided our civilization: The Odyssey and Iliad. The archetypes were experienced as living Gods and Goddesses, who exist on a higher level than the human realm but are very interested in human affairs and constantly intervening. These books are filled with the problems if you get on the bad side of a God or a Goddess, if you don’t honor them or you slight them in some way: they come after you. We can interpret this in a kind of a Jungian way as whatever we repress, gets a lot worse. So, it’s very important to make time in our spiritual and psychological practices to let all the archetypal energies, essentially the different energies and emotions that come out of our psyches, and feel them and give them expression in safe and appropriate ways. For instance, the Mars archetype. It’s good to express that energy but not at other people, not at nature; and don’t punch walls. It’s good to lie down and hit the sides of your mattress, to yell in a soundproof room or a parked car, things like that. With Saturn, it’s important that we exercise restraint, caution, discipline, and so forth. But it’s also important for us to discriminate between when it is important to control ourselves, and when it is okay to let go, like in psychedelic therapy or Holotropic Breathwork sessions.
The second major way that archetypes have been understood in the West, Tarnas calls the Platonic. Plato talks about the archetypes as metaphysical essences that are both transcendent to the physical realm and yet permeate and inform it. Something is beautiful to the extent that the archetype of the Beautiful exists within it. In some of the great dialogues, such as the Symposium, his protagonist Socrates talks about how we know something has Truth or Goodness in it and basically makes the argument that these things are emanations of the central source of that quality, the archetypal Forms or Reals
And then the final way of understanding the archetypes would be the Jungian way. Jung rediscovered the archetypes in the 20th century, primarily as ordering principles within the psyche itself. Because he was a student of Immanuel Kant, he was reluctant to postulate that we can know anything for sure about the external world, that everything we experience potentially just happens within our own consciousness, our own psyches. But later in his career through the study of synchronicities, he began to realize that the archetypes are not only these primal and instinctual patterns in the psyche but also exist in the Universe at large, and he formulated the idea of Anima Mundi or World Soul.
ADRIAN: And all these levels overlap?
RENN: Yes, and there are many other finer distinctions and nuances in archetypal understanding that Tarnas talks about in The Passion of the Western Mind, but we can say that the archetypes exist both in our psyches as well as in the Universe at large. So, everything in the Universe is essentially created by an archetypal pattern. Something has solidness and concreteness to the extent that the archetype Saturn exists within it. Saturn represents a contraction of energy into a slow and cool enough form that it can be perceived as solid.
ADRIAN: The ancient Doctrine of Signatures formalized by Paracelsus was based on this paramount idea of archetypal patterning… If these are the archetypes, then archetypal astrology studies the interactions between archetypes and is focused mainly on the aspects between planets. Is that right?
RENN: That wasn’t Tarnas’s intention. But that is one of the unexpected benefits of his perspective. Because we focus on the alignments between the planets–the aspects as well as midpoints (considered a type of aspect) as well as personal and world transits. In other words, two planets interacting in the sky now would be a world transit and will affect the entire psyche of humanity or, rather, would reflect influences underlying the entire psyche of humanity at a given time.
So, because we look at aspects and transit, we don’t spend too much time focusing on the signs and very little on houses. The differences between the vast array of house systems and the two major sign systems, Sidereal and Tropical, are transcended. The question everyone should ask here is: if these divisions in the sky are so important, for example, between Aries and Taurus and so on, why can billions of people believe in one system and swear by it and yet other people believe in the other one and swear by that. These boundaries don’t seem to be quite as distinct, otherwise people would eventually agree on one of the systems, I think. Obviously, there’s something about the signs, but I think I may have mentioned this before: I see them as kind of like the paint job, the color of something; they don’t really describe what the thing is in its essence, and the same goes for the house systems.
ADRIAN: Then what about “planets have the power, signs tell how, houses tell where…” ?
RENN: That’s the basic rule, but I think planets and aspects also tell how and where. But the ‘where’ being a range of possibilities, no system can predict the exact outcomes. If they could, believe me, computers would have found that by now. There are a lot of very smart people who would love to make a career by finding statistical correlations running all kinds of variables… But so far, this is not the way the Anima Mundi reveals its secrets to the crude sort of logical positivist kind of mind.
However, there are a few statistical correlations that have been replicated and are now considered scientific fact. And, the readers interested in that should check the books of Michel Gauquelin. A good account of this is in Hans Eysenck’s book Astrology – science or superstition. He really debunks a lot of traditional astrology though, but then he ends with an account of Gauquelin’s writing and how that work was replicated by the Committee on the Scientific Investigation on Claims of the Paranormal, CSICOP. Sounds like Cyclops, right? And how they actually then falsified their data… because it was an anomalous phenomena that didn’t fit into their worldview, so they falsified it and then were caught doing that, an absolute disgrace. And so I believe Gauquelin’s work stands up to this day. But I think that the Gods just sort of overlapped a tiny bit of the great realm of astrology with the statistical observational technique, just enough to entice us and give some proof but not enough so that we can just reduce everything to a simple formula and simple systems.
When we’re looking at astrology there are numbers involved, the division of the circle by whole numbers forms the basic aspects, i.e., when you divide the circle by the number one you get the conjunction; it’s 360°. When you divide the circle by two, you get the opposition; it’s 180° and so on, so in that sense the system is numerical or Pythagorean. It goes back to basic numerical criteria, but there is so much more to astrology. And, we also have to have the mind of an artist and a poet and a philosopher to see the richness of archetypal expressions. You don’t just see simple one-to-one correlations that can be figured out by something as crude as mathematics.
An interesting way to describe this idea is from an unpublished paper by William Keepin at CIIS (California Institute of Integral Studies). He said that anyone with a sufficiently trained musical ear could listen to the music of Mozart and the music of Salieri and agree that Mozart’s music is more beautiful and superior. But the essential factor here is they have to have a trained musical ear and know something about the subject. Just like in order to evaluate astrology you have to know something about archetypal principles. You can’t just approach them in the same sort of epistemology (method of investigation) that you would approach a physics experiment. To use some of the epistemological criteria that you might use in a physics lab in the study of musicology would be like analyzing the ink in Salieri’s manuscripts as a way to determine why his music is inferior to Mozart’s. You see, this is just a totally wrong angle, the wrong dimension of investigation. To investigate astrology, you have to come inside the system and learn a bit about the basic processes, the basic epistemological priorities and methods and explore it for yourself.
ADRIAN: Astrology sees the interaction among archetypes as an evolutionary process. In archetypal astrology it seems the interaction between characters themselves is much more important than the particular nature of the interaction. That is the common themes are seen more important than say, the distinction between soft and hard aspects.
ADRIAN: So there’s no distinction between soft and hard aspects, between say, a square and a trine?
RENN: No absolute distinctions. Anytime you get two planetary archetypes that combine, the overwhelming meaning is going to come from those two planets. I mean people can suffer greatly under Saturn trine Moon; it can be a serious time with a lot of introspection. If people have a major Saturn transit, if for instance they have Saturn square Saturn and then also, Saturn trines a second planet like Saturn trine Moon, that will significantly increase the Saturnian flavor of their experience. The basic, traditional meaning that people associate with the flowing aspects (trine and sextile) versus the dynamic aspects (conjunction, opposition and square) holds true, but I would just say the distinction would not be quite as pronounced.
Flowing transits tend to be easier to deal with, but they don’t force growth. The dynamic aspects (conjunctions, squares and oppositions as well as some of the minor aspects like semi-square, semisextile, sesquiquadrate and quincunxes) really put more force between these principles and the growth, integration and resolution comes from that. But you also have to look at the planets involved… With Venus square Jupiter I would say there’s really nothing painful about that. Very few people would have suffering experiences with the Venus square Jupiter transit. But you could see some of the square quality showing up, even more, such as passivity or possibly laziness or a desire just to sit back and do nothing because it’s a square. But in the end, we all need to take breaks sometimes and Venus-Jupiter are great transits for parties, weddings and social events.
Astrology for Groups
ADRIAN: Speaking about social events, you were involved in choosing an astrological appropriate moment for the second Global Breathwork Day. Can you share some details about this?
RENN: Well, Ken Sloan has approached a few of us for I think four out of five of these Global Breathwork Days, so I gave my two bits and did my best. But Matthew Stelzner is also contributing his insights now. It’s also really nice to have someone else because I felt it is a big responsibility. A few years ago there was a Super Moon and Stan Grof suggested to have it on the Full Moon, but none of us knew it was going to be a Super Moon. It was eight months in the future, and we didn’t realize. Anyone who had googled the date would have seen it, but nobody did that. We looked at all kinds of other factors, and I was convinced that it would be slightly better to have it the weekend before just because it would have been a bit easier, especially for people starting in the early time zones. And as we approached the date there was this talk about the Super Moon. We realized that it would’ve been better. It was a beautiful day as it was, but sometimes it’s better not to get too obsessed with the small astrological details, but just focus on what’s logistically better.
ADRIAN: What kind of factors did you use for selecting the Global Breathwork Day?
RENN: Well, I mean the same ones I would look for in an individual session. First you map out what the possible times are. They wanted to have it in the spring. Stan originally said May was best because that’s considered the happy month in Europe, so we really were just looking at May. And, you know we just try to make it as sort of intense as possible, so there’s some punch to it, some drive, some dynamic energy but also a lot of beautiful, soft, nourishing feminine energy that is conducive to bonding, fun and the feeling of kindness and support. And so that people have good integration experiences. There are so many factors, hundreds and hundreds of sub-factors that you might look at in the field of holotropic astrology.
ADRIAN: So the astrology you practice does not have just a personal scope. Are you working on a larger level, like on groups?
RENN: Oh, yes. Picking dates for groups is something I’m interested in to support people. There is only one combination I would recommend, that people postpone the day if they can. With everything else there is a positive side too. I mean every planetary pair has a positive manifestation, and as long as people are organized and there are enough sitters to breathers you won’t come across any dangerous energies. But Mars-Saturn-Neptune dynamic aspects like a triple conjunction or T-square or Mars-Saturn square Neptune, when all three of those archetypes are involved, that really tends to take the wind out of peoples’ sails, and it can be unusually discouraging for people. I just think individuals tend to get their money’s worth more during other archetypal influences. These configurations are fairly rare, but we will be having them a few times in the next several years or so because we are moving into Saturn square Neptune, so every six months for about two weeks Mars will be forming one of those dynamic alignments with the Saturn-Neptune. And those can be unusually discouraging. Again, I wouldn’t say they’re dangerous. It’s just that you have to have enough support, enough facilitators. And, people who are naturally inclined or who have issues with chronic depression might find those even more discouraging than usual. It wouldn’t be the nicest energy to do a first session, though people can still have very rewarding experiences.
ADRIAN: How can you describe the concept of spiritual emergency through the lens of astrology?
RENN: Well, I can talk a little bit about it, but I don’t know how much astrological insight per se I can offer. Stan and Christina Grof coined this term of spiritual emergency to describe situations where a person’s unconscious contents suddenly begin to emerge with a lot of force, disrupting their ability to function in the everyday world, forcing them to turn inward and focus on those contents. This can often be accompanied by activation of kundalini energy, from the base of the spine which I see as an evolutionary force going into overdrive.
Spiritual emergencies can be precipitated by powerful spiritual practices, such as intense meditation or concentration, through psychedelic experiences, through crises, such as a death in the family, and sometimes just spontaneously with no obvious catalyzing factors. These are tremendous opportunities, however, and the Grofs somes refer to the Chinese characters for crisis which involves two parts: one meaning danger and the other opportunity—that’s a good description of these states. We should be giving people a lot of support. Ideally they would have 24-hour back-up support where they can just go into the process for as long as they need. You always want to keep them from dangerous traffic or windows, things like that, from doing dangerous acrobatic maneuvers like standing on their heads or something where they might damage their necks. People’s judgments on issues around safety may be temporarily impaired. The other one would be that they get enough to eat. People can lose weight extremely rapidly in those situations; their body goes into a kind of overdrive mode. It is important get enough calories so they don’t become dangerously thin.
Sometimes people have trouble sleeping, and then the lack of sleep weakens the ego and allows even more process to come up, which creates a kind of feedback loop, so that’s another issue. But, it’s usually not a problem for at least the first week or two. I’ve seen several examples of this when people get enough support they can come through the other side more integrated than they were before and it’s like basically being in a psychedelic session that lasts for awhile. It’s like you are in and it just keeps going and going. And, you can’t really stop the process. There can be a tremendous release of long-buried inner material.
The problem is that in our current medical model in psychiatry, these states are grossly misunderstood, and if someone’s family took the individual to a hospital, the first thing they would do would be to give them powerful antidepressants or antipsychotics which would then create several new problems for them. One is that it would suppress the energies, it wouldn’t make them go away – which is dissociating the person from their unconscious state which could really have long-term negative results and would preclude the possibility of working through the energies. It would also give them the stigma of having a psychological label, a diagnosis and would create legal problems for them if they want to do Holotropic Breathwork or other types of powerful breathwork techniques in the future, not to mention issues for their self-esteem and self-image. Most people who have been psychiatrically hospitalized end up with increased legal issues for facilitators who might want to work with them. This depends on the situation as there are no absolute contraindications, but it certainly is something that needs to be discussed and can present problems.
So it would be much better if people could get support when it comes to working and facing the material right at the time. The best prognosis would be for people who already function at a fairly high level in their everyday lives, are well-established and are intelligent, whose symptoms come on suddenly, in an acute onset. For persons who have had terrible emotional problems all their lives and have been suffering for a long time, then the spiritual emergency idea is not so clear-cut. With them long-term systematic psychotherapy would certainly be very beneficial.
I was lucky I had a powerful kundalini opening in 1982. I was 22 years old and was doing a lot of focusing at that time—breathing slowly and surrendering with each exhale—for about six months prior to that and I suddenly had a Kundalini experience and ended up quitting University at that time though I did go back and finish later. I went to Esalen and was able to do Holotropic Breathwork sessions that were available in the Esalen community twice a week, for about two or three months. It was a fantastic opportunity for me; I was so lucky to have had access to that. So few people do, I mean almost nobody would have had that perfect situation, so I was really very lucky.
ADRIAN: What were your transits at that moment?
RENN: Pluto’s opposition to the Sun was the driving force behind it. I think these kinds of spiritual emergencies, as the Grofs see them, are more likely under powerful Pluto and Uranus transits, whereas the Neptune and Saturn transits tend to have a different effect. But where there’s a sense of driving energies, pushing someone forward with a sense of a finite amount of suffering that will eventually end if you just keep going to the process. Obviously, Pluto’s opposition to the Sun would be one of the most powerful Pluto transits that a person can have. Uranus was also squaring my natal Pluto, so the Pluto-Uranus combinations are probably the most indicative of something like this sudden kundalini experience. Looking at the 1960s and early 70s with the Uranus-Pluto conjunction and at this present decade with the Uranus-Pluto square, I imagine a lot more people are having those types of experiences.
ADRIAN: Are there different types of spiritual emergencies?
RENN: Sure. Whenever you’re in a spiritual emergency you’re just accessing your own unconscious material, which is unique, to some extent, for each person.
ADRIAN: I mean in connection with the astrological transits…
RENN: As it’s conceived, by definition, I think spiritual emergency would apply more to powerful Pluto and Uranus transits. The various nuances or the specific elements that would occur would then depend on all the different astrological factors: how many BPM III themes might emerge would be dependent on the strength of Pluto and the various aspects to Pluto and so on. There’s no one transit that we can say this is going to happen at this time. We certainly don’t have a large enough sample yet to make that kind of correlation.
Working with Clients
ADRIAN: I would like to know something about how you do readings, how you work with clients.
RENN: Well, I usually ask people to write a 1 to 3 paragraph description of what’s happening in their lives, what’s working, what’s not, what are their dominant emotions that they’re going through, are there any decisions they need to make, what is their relationship with their inner life at present and send that to me. That helps to focus our time together. Then I spend time looking at the chart and we talk on Skype or on the phone and record the conversation. I usually introduce the basics of astrology if they’re not already familiar. Then we look at their natal aspects, go through them one by one and see how they fit together. Then there are transits for the past year or so and transits at the present moment and transits a year or so into the future and I go through the range of possible expressions of each of the energies that they’re experiencing and some of the healthy ways people can deal with those energies.
This can be helpful in a number of ways… one is, it can be validating for people who are going through tough times. “You know, you’re having just the exact kind of experience that one would expect, given that you have a Saturn or Pluto square your Sun and that there is a time limit on that transit. You’re almost finished with this transit, and so forth…” That’s great news and it’s always nice to be able to tell people that. Also, it can help people with manic Uranus or Jupiter transits, where there’s a lot of feeling of breakthrough and excitement, inflation, over-optimism or overextension associated with Uranus or Jupiter. I can help to remind people that this too shall pass so try not to get too carried away, i.e., I wouldn’t borrow money based on faith, but get a sober, second or third opinion.
During the Neptune dynamic transit to Jupiter, for example, people tend to get overoptimistic with their inspiration. So it’s really important to get sober, grounded advice before spending money. It’s not that it is unlucky energy at all, but people can get carried with feelings of expansion and benefit and so on. There are hundreds of other nuances of experience and ways that people can deal with different types of transits. For instance, sometimes when transiting Uranus hits natal Venus people can go through a period where they may feel restless in their existing relationships. They may find themselves in triangle situations and may be attracted to someone outside of their relationship or that someone is attracted to them or sometimes their partner can be the agent of that energy. There are different ways people can deal with that. There are also various ways people can deal with their Mars energies, different types of aggressive feelings and conflicts that might come from those and how they can best process them out of their systems.
ADRIAN: What is your strongest point as an astrologer?
RENN: I wouldn’t want to phrase it like that, but maybe just to say that because I’m in my fifth decade of life and I’ve been studying this since I was a teenager, I have had a lot of time to observe my own transits over many years and have also studied the transits of many other people including a lot of famous people, so I’ve had some time to develop some experience. But there are many great astrologers out there.
For people who are specifically interested in the relationship between holotropic or psychedelic self-exploration and archetypal astrology, that would be probably one of the places I would have experience perhaps more than some other astrologers. There are other astrologers who have experience with that too. Obviously Rick Tarnas, Matthew Stelzner and growing number of others. Some of my favorite readings are with people who are doing Holotropic Breathwork sessions or other powerful spiritual techniques or are considering doing medicine work with legitimate shamans or responsible psychedelic therapy. It’s always fun to give them support and feedback.
ADRIAN: Do you have a favorite aspect in your chart?
RENN: You know, I don’t want to offend any of the gods and goddesses, so I better not comment on that (laughing).
ADRIAN: If you were to meet face-to-face with an archetype, which one do you prefer and what would you ask?
RENN: (laughing) For how long?
ADRIAN: It’s your choice! An hour or a year…
RENN: If it is for an eternity, I guess Neptune, because Neptune represents blissful infiniteness and eternity, the timeless serenity of Absolute Consciousness. But I don’t think too many astrologers would have a problem choosing Venus if it was just for a day… but I don’t think it’s possible to experience the archetypes, let’s say in a Holotropic session, without experiencing their opposites as well. So in order to reach states of artistic rapture or spiritual ecstasy within your psyche in a session, you have to have probably in the same session an earlier point where you experienced total catastrophe, and total energy blockage and failure. Then it breaks through and you get to the positive side of the gestalt. They always go in pairs, the dualities in the material world present themselves in a very powerful and condensed way in this work and so to get one side you have to be willing to face the opposite, but they always resolve on the positive side. The positive side is stronger, but you have to be willing to face the negative side too. I think it’s nice to have a variety which is what the Universal Mind seems to enjoy as well.
ADRIAN: Astrology deals with predictions, and you are a good astrologer. Do you know how your life will look in the future? How often do you reflect on such subjects?
RENN: I don’t know when my last breath will be. It could be in one second or it could be in decades. I really don’t know and I don’t think there is any astrological system that can predict that kind of thing. If there were it would be very easy to verify that with computers. Death is a very clear-cut variable, and they would have found it by now.
I think about the future a bit, but I find it better to stay focused in the present. There’s enough happening in the present, including my own emotions. There’s always something inside and it’s important to stay with it. Projecting into the future involves the mind, and as soon if you do that too much, you’re cutting yourself off from your feelings and maybe projecting into the future: oh, no, something terrible is going to happen! When really all you know for sure is that there is anxiety in my gut right now, and it’s important to stay with it and feel it without trying to change it. That’s the way to consume it and release it, so I find the present is more important. Tarnas talks about that too, in archetypal astrology we focus more on the present and the past, trying to understand the deep history, the meaning of events, the archetypal energies underlying events.
Sometimes, occasionally, we look into the future and at best we can only suggest the general range of possible outcomes and expressions but not the exact outcomes. I guess in my inner self-exploration I’ve had enough of the very sweet transcendent experiences to convince me that our consciousness is all going to the same place eventually. It’s where we came from, essentially like drops of water in the world, no matter whether they’re in a glacier or in a river or lake, sooner or later every drop ends up going back to the ocean. That is our true home and our true destination and everyone goes there; that’s the final resting place. This is the Divine Ocean, the Universal Mind. We’re always still there, actually, a part of it, we just forget for awhile.
ADRIAN: Is astrology able to awaken us to this perspective?
RENN: I think it can help. It is one of the systems that can help remind us. I mean just the fact that there are synchronicities, all these meaningful connections indicate that there must be some kind of higher intelligence orchestrating events, reminding us that there’s something else going on, other than just human brains. That really there is a vast Universal Intelligence that seems to be in touch with all the parts and which enjoys connecting things together, in ways that we can’t always see and will never be able to see all of or even a fraction of. But we can see just enough to remind us that it is our true essence. It’s humbling and also inspiring.
ADRIAN: What would you say to a skeptic?
RENN: Well, they’re so many of them, I don’t have enough energy to talk to everybody. When someone says “Do you believe in astrology?” I say “do you believe in gardening”? I don’t really see astrology as a belief system. It’s simply a way of working with energies that are happening all the time. I think many people trained in the Cartesian-Newtonian world view, the current scientific model which is a leftover from the 17th-century, believe that if society opens more to astrology, somehow all of the gains and benefits of modern science and technology will be lost. And that it’s an either-or situation. Either people pursue higher meaning in life and engage in technologies to open to it, or they enjoy pragmatic technologies and the benefits of science. I think it’s possible to have them both. A person can be grounded and realistic, can accept the laws of physics, and yet have a rich inner, spiritual life.
Grof is first and foremost a scientist, and he showed that is possible to study holotropic states in a scientific way. The crudest way, and an approach that he has not been involved in, would be to hook up people’s brains with electrodes, or examine their brain waves with other sophisticated technology. But that’s not the most interesting approach in my opinion. The most interesting way is for researchers to have their own experiences along with studying the experiences of their clients, their session reports, and their level of well-being after sessions. This is the appropriate way of collecting data in the study of inner subjective experience. We can then also correlate that data with other variables, such as their astrological transits.
I think that people with solid scientific minds who are open to self-exploration will find that there is a tremendous amount they can contribute and probably end up having very satisfying and meaningful careers. There is a vast frontier of possible studies and topics that people could do research on in the burgeoning holotropic and psychedelic fields.
First part of this interview: Honoring the Elders
Second part of this interview: Pathways to wholeness