October 13, 2014
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.