ADRIAN: Would you describe your book as a kind of do-it-yourself manual? Let’s speak about the topics you addressed in it – Holotropic Astrology and the archetypal manifestations in one’s inner life, for example!
RENN: (Laughing) Well, that’s kind of funny, I would describe it more as how to do it with the support of others, but I know what you mean. I wanted to address some of the major safety issues around holotropic and psychedelic states, so that people approaching them can enter them in the most safe, responsible, and effective way, as Grof says, in order to maximize the benefits and minimize the risks. So, in Chapter 3: Issues in Psychedelic Therapy and Self-Exploration, for example, I address the set and setting, the dosage, quality and purity of psychoactive substances, the level of trust and support and other issues that seekers and journeyers will find useful.
I also talk about the contraindications, some of the medical and psychiatric issues that would make psychedelic or holotropic therapy perhaps unwise: serious heart conditions, very high blood pressure or history of severe clinical conditions such as manic depression. There are a number of other psychiatric concerns, but in principle, people in all those categories could benefit from these therapies if they were done in an inpatient facility where they had 24-hour support. Grof worked with a number of psychotic individuals and even they were eventually able to reach states that were higher functioning than the average person and what is considered normal and healthy, but it took a lot of work and they needed 24-hour supervision in an inpatient facility for the periods between sessions, until they were healed.
One of the chapters that I’m really happy with is Chapter 7: Putting it all Together: Scenarios in Self-Exploration, where I talk about a number of possible scenarios that people might find interesting, where astrology could help them make decisions about the timing of sessions and other related issues like having a spouse or partner as a sitter. Readers may find it useful to know that in general a spouse or a romantic partner is not the best sitter for sessions. There are exceptions of course, some relationships are just so exceptionally trusting and open and loving, but for most people any unacknowledged feelings, or secrets, or past baggage can become magnified a thousand times especially in psychedelic sessions and it’s better to have a neutral spiritual friend as a sitter, or several friends, and then have your partner come in at the end of the session, at a predetermined time for the bonding phase.
I open the book with The Birth of the New Worldview chapter, in which I talk about Grof’s incredible therapeutic breakthroughs in Prague and then, as we mentioned before, the story of archetypal astrology, the Rosetta Stone of the human psyche and consciousness research, and how Richard Tarnas was able to correlate people’s inner experiences with their astrological transits.
In Chapter 6: The Archetypal Pairs I go through all the different planetary pairs – Sun-Moon, Sun-Mercury, Sun-Venus, and so forth, all the way out to Neptune-Pluto, and talk about the range of possible manifestations of those archetypal energies in everyday life as well as their possible manifestations in holotropic self-exploration. Furthermore, as you mentioned, I took the time to include the possible manifestations of, for example, Jupiter-Uranus alignments, which we have right now in the sky, the Jupiter trine Uranus, at the biographical, perinatal, and transpersonal layers of exploration. This represents about 33 years of research in which I collected data and sessions from various people.
ADRIAN: You mentioned the Promethean ecstasy. Are there different types of ecstasies? I’m not referring here to any substance, but to special states of consciousness. Can you elaborate on these?
RENN: Right, we are speaking here of states of consciousness rather than the drug Ecstasy/MDMA. Yes, Grof coined the terms oceanic or Apollonian to describe Neptunian types of ecstasy. This involves a sense of no boundaries, connection, higher meaning, and blissful, ecstatic, serene feelings.
Volcanic ecstasy refers to the kind of driving, aggressive, sometimes sado-masochistic energies, associated with the dynamic stage of birth – people often have images of exploding volcanoes at this point. In these final stages, people can experience a fusion of pain and pleasure and be unable to distinguish between the two. It’s a sort of driving life force which he called volcanic or Dionysian type of ecstasy because it occurs in the context of death and rebirth, of feelings of dying and being reborn.
And then there is a sense of the crown chakra opening and being flooded with an electrifying barrage of insights and understandings and has a kind of a fiery, electrifying quality. Tarnas and Grof called this Promethean ecstasy and it corresponds to major transits of Uranus.
ADRIAN: Apart from these marvellous ecstatic possibilities are there any problematic expressions of these archetypes? Should such situations be addressed with the ‘classical’ model, i.e., allopathic medication, or are there some modern, more appropriate and efficient ways?
RENN: Yes, let’s take the idea of psychic inflation that Jung wrote about. For example, the Christ complex, in which a person might have the sense of special spiritual importance, is strongly connected with the manic phase of manic depression – manic feelings of over-activity and extreme enthusiasm, and restless rushing around from one project to another, a sense of great things and great potentials and so on. This would be a difficult manifestation of the Uranus archetype, but the real solution, Grof found, is to allow the underlying Plutonic energies to complete themselves in sessions, so things could become temporarily more agitated in the session, and it would probably go back to the dynamic stage of birth, where people are in a desperate fight for their lives, suffocation and yet a sense of the light at the end of the tunnel, that they’re about to be born, there’s a sense of the Divine getting closer and closer, and this incredible liberating event that is about to happen, it feels like it has cosmic significance. That’s the natural basis for those types of feelings. It’s not uncommon for people to identify with the death and rebirth of Christ, as well as the death and rebirth of Osiris, Persephone, Dionysus and others when they’re reliving their own death and rebirth as a foetus in the womb, dying to the womb and being born as a human being, as a baby.
So, to simply suppress or try to calm down that type of energy when it manifests is not a suitable solution in the end. People need to be able to face it on the level from which it originates and allow the process and the energies to complete themselves.
ADRIAN: It’s quite unusual to present transits in this order and grouped like you did. Why did you choose this structure?
RENN: Oh yeah, this is interesting, the structuring of this book didn’t just come to me at once, it just kind of presented itself over time. I started out with transits of Neptune. Now, the normal way to do this would logically be Sun-Sun, Sun-Moon, Sun-Mercury, Sun-Venus out to Neptune-Pluto, but I went with the idea that “the medium” is the message. So I wanted to show that all transits of Neptune have many similarities, that they all have fundamental thing in common, “the Neptunian quality or emotion” – so I wanted to put all of them together.
The table of contents should have laid out a bit more clear these distinctions but this is how it ended up. So there are the transits of Sun-Neptune, Moon-Neptune, Mercury-Neptune, Venus-Neptune, Mars-Neptune, Jupiter-Neptune. I wanted to be able to present all the BPM I correlations with Neptune all-in-a-row, in a series like this, so people could get a clear sense of it. Okay, they all have something in common, when people have Neptune transits they are more likely to access these amniotic memories of the womb, of oceanic feelings, identification with outer space and with aquatic animals and so on. And then, on the same pattern, there are the transits of Saturn (Sun-Saturn, Moon-Saturn, Mercury-Saturn, Venus-Saturn, Mars-Saturn, Jupiter-Saturn), then the transits of Pluto (…), and then the transits of Uranus (…). So I am following the Grof-Tarnas sequence of perinatal matrices, which, as we mentioned, are strongly connected with transits of Neptune, Saturn, Pluto and Uranus respectively.
So those were first and then I present what I call the fundamental alignments, these are the six planetary pairs that involve one of the four outer planets, from Saturn to Pluto. These are very powerful alignments. I didn’t put them first because I thought it would be useful for people to really get a lot of explanations about Neptune transits and Saturn transits and so forth, before I introduce these fundamental alignments which involve pairs of these major archetypes: Saturn-Neptune, Saturn-Pluto, Saturn-Uranus, Uranus-Pluto, Neptune-Pluto, Uranus-Neptune.
Then the modifying alignments come afterward. They tend to be less significant as transiting factors and it seemed natural to put them at the end. The most powerful of those would be Mars-Jupiter transits and Rick talked quite a bit about that one to me in the early days at Esalen, and in many other conversations that we had, mainly that Mars-Jupiter is a very desirable energy for holotropic exploration. I mean Jupiter-Jupiter is nice too, many, so many of them are… they’re all good in their own way, but Mars-Jupiter was a special one, because it helps to create a sense of dynamic enthusiasm and courage, a kind of a carrying way that pushes the material out of people’s psyches. And he described it as a kind of magic bullet against the fear and inertia of our egos.
ADRIAN: Since you actually wrote a very practical book, what would be your advice to the reader who wants to start this inner journey of self-discovery?
RENN: (Laughs) Well just on the issue of practicality, readers may find it interesting, I was born with a very close Moon-Saturn conjunction in Capricorn in the Sixth house. It’s maybe the only time I’ll mention houses in this interview, they’re not really a part of archetypal astrology. But I certainly do have that earthy part and also have a Jupiter-Pluto trine, pretty much exact in Virgo and Capricorn, so a lot of Earth.
To answer your question, in the Gestalt sessions that I had the privilege of doing at Esalen Institute the axiom was: ” just start where you are”. Notice what you’re feeling without trying to change it – just be where you are, breathe into it, feel it more deeply and allow it to be there without trying to change it. Grof’s work follows in the tradition of Jung in the sense that it is very optimistic, whereas Freud was pessimistic. Jung and Grof understood and directly experienced that the psyche is self-regulating – the psyche knows how to reach a higher level of consciousness. Grof says that just as the body knows how to get rid of a sliver, the psyche knows how to get rid of traumatic baggage, while opening or widening the pathway to the Divine.
So all we are doing in archetypal astrology and in holotropic exploration is cooperating with a process that is always trying to happen. With each breath we take, we are bringing consciousness and life force into our systems and in self-exploration we are essentially just cooperating with our own Inner Healer. For example, in a Holotropic Breathwork workshop we create a safe environment, we have a preparatory talk, there is medical and psychiatric pre-screening, people introduce themselves, and everyone chooses a partner for the day. One person would then breathe before lunch and one after lunch and they would take turns, one would sit while the other breathes. And of course, we address any concerns they may have, we make sure there’s enough room around them, pillows and it’s done in a soundproof space. We are creating an environment where people can lie down, close their eyes, usually with eyeshades, with loud evocative music and they can really just surrender and sink into their own being and allow whatever is inside to come up. We don’t try to direct the process, we just support whatever is happening, though we have many ways in which we can help complete the process if at the end people are not already resolved. That’s essentially the basic modus operandi of all effective psychotherapy: you create a rapport, a safe trusting relationship and safe environment and then you just let the psyche come forth.