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An Unconvincing Case

A critique of Richard Tarnas' Cosmos and Psyche, New York: Viking, 2006

John Heron

Of the several drafts written between September 2007 and February 2008, this one of 11,600 words is the full and definitive version of my commentary. It gives a more comprehensive and radical account of my views than the 5,000 words I extracted from it - to meet editorial restriction on length - to publish in Network Review: Journal of the Scientific and Medical Network, No. 95, Winter 2007, pp. 11-16.

A:  Astrology and psychoastronomy

A.1  My background

A.2  Psychoastronomy

A.3  Psychocosmic co-creativity

B:  World transit correlations with cultural data

B.1  A personal response

B.2  Doubts about world transit reliability

B.3  The problem of Eurocentrism

C:  Implications for the future

C.1  The issue of upcoming transits

C.2  A troubling instability

C.3  The issue of indeterminacy and unpredictability

D:  Issues of methodology

D.1  The absence of rigorous curiosity

D.2  The issue of permissive latitude

D.3  The lure of holonomic meaning and its occasional transformation

D.4  The issue of supporting evidence

D.5  Lack of adequate rationale

E:  The issue of planetary aspects

E.1  The absence of validation

E.2  What about microcosmic aspects?

E.3  The challenge from a pan-planetary perspective

F:  The issue of planetary archetypes

F.1  Uneasy composite

F.2  Uneasy linkage

F.3  Planetary principles galore

F.4  Earth archetype in absentia


A: Astrology and psychoastronomy

A.1  My background

My background in this matter is as follows. As a young man for some 15 years I cast horoscopes for myself, my family, my friends and their families. My readings were valued and I prided myself on my insights. At the peak of the Uranus-Pluto conjunction through 1965-6, I suddenly decided it would be healthy to undertake a radical review of the basic assumptions and working methods of astrology. After many months of work I found so many anomalies and arbitrary notions that I decided it was irresponsible to impose them on others, and since then I have not cast another horoscope.  My work imploded its correlation with the transit.

A.2  Psychoastronomy

I have however for many years sought to live awarely and intentionally within the solar system and its galactic setting, opening myself somatically, aesthetically, intuitively and spiritually to its entities and changing patterns. I have called this practice psychoastronomy simply to differentiate it from astrology. At my Centre in Tuscany I had in the grounds several planetary sites for this practice. And when running workshops or launching inquiries I simply have a chart of the current dispositions of the solar system and invite people to be aware of it as a pattern of significant entities, without providing any interpretation. I mention all this so that you, the reader, will understand that I come to Cosmos and Psyche with a belief in  some kind of fundamental resonance between human beings and their cosmic setting.

At mid-summer in the southern hemisphere, I find the relationship between myself, the earth, the sun and the galactic centre empowering. I think this empowerment is to do with my creative participatory enaction. I believe that I (and any human being) can choose an idiosyncratic mutual engagement between self and earth and a unique pattern of  two or more heavenly bodies (including planets, stars and deep space entities and locations), and find in that engagement a distinctive qualitative transformation of being. It is an existential mutual dialogue of co-creative participative resonance. For me the significance of celestial bodies and their patterning includes some rough appreciation of the relative distances of the bodies concerned from the earth, and some appreciation of their relative size, motion, moons and other physical attributes, so I need some modicum of astronomical knowledge. I find that for this practice of psychoastronomy to work I need to be mentally free of  traditional notions of aspects and planetary attributes, and let the presence of each celestial entity, the astronomical pattern and  planetary data co-create their significance with me. Instead of applying ancient rules, I discover liberation in active imagination engaging with the living chorus of entities in space.  The practice also requires good astronomical (not astrological) software, which provides a window in microcosmic space to prepare my mind for co-creative engagement with bodies and patterns in macrocosmic space. For some years I used RedShift on a PC. Currently I am using Voyager 4 for the Mac and find it better in its presentation of data.

A.3  Psychocosmic co-creativity

As I see it, the only relevance, within the ancient rules of astrology, of working out correlations between planetary aspects and historical events in the past, is the pragmatic implication of this practice for the present and the future. And the implication of traditional astrology for the future is clear: we sit around and wait for the rule-bound alignments (personal transits or world transits) to occur and for our psyches to be in synchrony with them, and then we can start co-creatively to engage with the predefined archetypal dynamics associated with the alignments. Our cosmic co-creativity is bound by ephemeris watching on the one hand and traditional textbooks on astrological interpretation on the other. I find this - both experientially and theoretically - a limiting and constrained account of co-creative participatory engagement with our cosmos. By  contrast with this, I believe such co-creativity to be capable, in awakened humans, of a rich, dynamic, diversity of idiosyncratic empowering enactments in which the unique creative choice of a human being finds its synchronous correlate in a unique macrocosmic pattern, which is not rule-bound, but liberated by unpredictable personal engagement with awe and beauty and cosmic drama. There are many new psychocosmic transfigurations awaiting to be enacted, by an empowering bio-spiritual engagement of the somatic being in co-creative resonance with any one of an unlimited range of unique cosmic configurations of self, earth, solar system entities, galactic and deep space entities and locations.

This psychocosmic co-creativity is one way of engaging, through their physical manifestations, with powers and presences that have their primary home in the subtle universe. But it is not the only way or even the main way, just one way. It is also possible, I believe, to engage with powers and presences directly in their primary home. By powers I mean archetypal formative principles of creation; and by presences I mean elevated sublime superpersons who refract and mediate powers.

I realize that this practice, even in the dawn of its infancy, is more potent, transforming and relevant to contemporary spirituality and a participatory worldview, than anything I got out of traditional astrology 40 years ago.

B:  World transit correlations with cultural data

The greater bulk of Cosmos and Psyche is devoted to making correlations between each of four kinds of world transit on the one hand, and human events in diverse fields in the history of the Western cultural tradition on the other. A world transit is a temporary alignment, also called an aspect (angular relation), of two planets with the earth, such that, according to Tarnas, the distinctive archetypal principles linked to those planets have a potent interactive influence within the human psyche throughout the world for the duration of the alignment. The four planetary alignments Tarnas considers are Uranus-Pluto, Saturn-Pluto, Jupiter-Uranus and Uranus-Neptune. With each of these world transits Tarnas correlates a large amount of data drawn from the Western historical tradition, as illustrative of the special archetypal dynamics involved. Here are my reasons for finding this ambitious undertaking of questionable soundness.

B.1  A personal response

I find something progressively oppressive about a large number of human creators and creations  - of great range, richness, depth and complexity – being subsumed under just two archetypes, selected from  a pool of five, however multivalent they may be. Over and over again the particular archetypal dyad being applied both dominates, and reduces the complexity of, the cultural data it is supposed to illuminate. This relentless two-category subsumption of diverse aspects of Western civilization, carried through over several centuries, comes over to me as an intellectual obsession that has got quite out of hand. I notice a strange effect: the more ostensibly profound the author’s reading of events in terms of two planetary archetypes appears to be, the less plausible I find it, and the more my soul discreetly suggests caution. The participants in an entire civilization, with their products and deeds, are repeatedly seduced and constrained by an exotic pair of planetary principles, in order to uphold a moot, ancient geocentric theory about a psychophysical cosmic process. A whole culture is beguiled, in truncated piecemeal fashion, to placate the archetypal gods. As a reader I long to be free of the restrictive interpretative enthusiasms that intoxicate the author’s mind. I yearn to have my extraordinary tradition honoured by a much more imaginatively rich, fully contemporary and liberated grasp of its cosmic context.  Then I realize that this personal response needs to be translated into a careful analysis of a wide range of relevant issues. So the rest of this commentary addresses these issues.

B.2  Doubts about world transit reliability  

Tarnas states (137) that even a thousand compelling examples of people with the same natal aspect or personal transit, and who have the same pattern of human experience, “would only be a drop in the ocean of the larger class” of all the countless other people in the world who also have the same natal aspect or personal transit. What applies within the drop is not enough to validate a belief that the same will apply within the ocean. He is, in effect, saying here that natal aspects and personal transits are statistically unreliable. Notwithstanding this, he then argues (137) that world transits, because they relate to whole cultural epochs and the experience of many different people, will enable more critically reliable correspondences to be made. If this claim of critical reliability turns out to be dubious, then both personal and world transits are in trouble. I will mention here three main sources of doubt.

A tubful in the ocean  

The same argument that Tarnas makes about the unreliability of personal transits applies to world transits.  No matter how many compelling examples you get of correlations between world transits and events in the history of one cultural tradition this is only a tubful in the ocean of the larger class of all the numerous civilizations and cultures that have risen and fallen around the world over many thousands of years. In order to secure any kind of validity for the world transit theory, you would need to apply the same world transits to a large number of different historical traditions at different periods in different parts of the planet. It only takes the history of one of these substantially to ignore the transits for the theory to be in trouble. This need for data from other historical traditions is especially acute when both the archetypal principles and the method used for making correlations are themselves rooted in the only historical tradition so far considered (see section A.2).

Tarnas says he has “focused principally on the history and figures of the Western cultural tradition” (137). And he is only one person looking at only parts of it: the four world transits are applied from the following starting dates - 584 BC, 1489 AD, 1775 AD and 1913 AD. Prodigious though his scholarship is, he is inevitably selective within these limited periods, with limited access to all the data in all the different Western cultural strands he examines. Furthermore, the historical record is itself selective, for no recorded history covers everything that happened in any epoch. And Tarnas never cites even one other astrologer to support any of his innumerable interpretations. For one man, without any quoted agreement with anyone else, to correlate a limited number of dissociated world transits with limited data from limited parts of just one (vast) tradition, and to go public with this as evidence of a cosmic archetypal dynamic, with worldwide all-inclusive transcultural impact, is question-begging of a high degree. This is compounded by the problem of Eurocentrism discussed in section A.2.

One combination at a time  

Then there is the issue of dissociation, which is central to this critique. Tarnas describes the influence of an aspect within each of his chosen four transit cycles in a dissociated manner, as if it operates independently of all other concurrent aspects. These simultaneous alignments will involve several of the following: the outer planets with each other; the outer planets with the Sun, Moon and inner planets; and the Sun, Moon and inner planets with each other. To ignore a multiplicity of these contemporaneous influences is, in astrological terms, to simplify, distort and misrepresent the interpretation of the aspect. World transits of different sorts overlap each other yielding complex and intricate patterns of archetypal interaction.

Tarnas acknowledges this point: “For the sake of simplicity and clarity I have focused the discussion on one planetary combination at a time. But a more adequate analysis must engage the larger complex of archetypal relationships that are always at work in every person’s life, every event and every cultural epoch” (341).  A person’s natal chart can only be understood, he says, if one takes into account the entire multiplicity of natal aspects. So too - and perhaps more so we might think - with the world: all concurrent transits need to be considered in their intersecting entirety. Yet for 300 pages of world transit correlations, Tarnas opts for simplicity and clarity rather than more adequacy: one combination at a time, and any mention of a concurrent transit is the exception rather than the rule. This sustained preference for clarity over greater adequacy raises the spectre of unreliability.

Once Tarnas has stated that “a more adequate analysis” involves not just one aspect but all concurrent aspects, then I think he should have given several examples which show the difference between an analysis derived from one aspect only and the more adequate analysis derived from that same aspect interacting with all the other overlapping ones. Without such examples, we cannot see what the real story looks like. We cannot judge, without a comparison with the multiple aspect method, how much the single aspect method leads to pseudo-correlations. Thus an astrologer’s review also asks for one, two or three detailed examples of a full astrological analysis, and states that there are times when it seems that Tarnas is stretching the single aspect symbolism “to breaking point and beyond” (Phillipson, 2006)

Take two quite different aspects which overlap. Each of them on their own may correlate with quite different historical events; and the two considered interacting with each other may correlate with yet a third quite different event. If you consider only one aspect at a time and stretch the multivalent meanings of the two associated archetypes to breaking point, unqualified by any other planetary pairs (which are always active), then you enter the domain of pseudo-correlations. This possibility raises doubts about the validity of the single pair correlations which Tarnas makes; and the fact that he never systematically addresses this issue increases those doubts.

Let us take a brief look in a bit more detail at the extent of the problem. In the hundred years 1913-2013, for his four world transits Tarnas lists 33 “hard” aspects (conjunctions and oppositions), and 25 of these are concurrent with one or more of the others. As well as these, there will be many other concurrences involving squares, sextiles and trines among the same planets, and concurrent aspects of all kinds involving the outer planets and the rest of the solar system. But the great majority of world transit correlations which Tarnas makes throughout the book simply ignore all this complex simultaneous multiplicity. Only occasionally in the text or a footnote does he discuss one world transit in relation to one or two other concurrent world transits: he goes for clarity rather than “a more adequate analysis”.

Tarnas clearly implies that this more adequate analysis will be at the expense of clarity. And this is indeed the unacknowledged and unexamined problem: if all the many concurrent planetary aspects are taken into account then identifying correlations with historical events becomes more obscure and problematic. The reason there is so little agreement among astrologers about the interpretation of astrological configurations (Carlson, 1985; Kelly at al., 1990; McGrew and McFall, 1990) is precisely because of the intricate interweaving patterns of different kinds of multivalent categories of meaning. So if you go for clarity, and focus on just one aspect, you may make a pseudo-correlation; but if you go for adequacy, with multiple overlapping aspects, it is more difficult to make a sound correlation. For a further critical development of this central issue see section  B.1 below, where it is clear that, when it comes to the future, Tarnas veers strongly away from single aspect analysis, and emphasizes the great difficulty of assessing “intricately complicated archetypal interactions and multiple influences” (479).

We should also note Tarnas simplifies his transit interpretations even more, by deliberately excluding the influence of the zodiacal signs in which the two planets are situated (506). This is in order to avoid the huge problem of which of the two zodiacs to use, the sidereal or the tropical  (Heron, 2006).

Eminence as evidence   

Finally, there are doubts about using eminence as evidence.  Tarnas cites a very large number of events in the lives of eminent individuals as examples of a world transit at work. There are two issues here. One is the assumption that eminent people are paradigmatic of the archetypal configuration of an alignment. “Such individuals”, Tarnas writes, “are more conspicuous embodiments of archetypal tendencies that are present in varying degrees in everyone” (136). This suggests that the less eminent you are, the weaker the astrological effect – a curious elitist doctrine. Since the vast majority of people on the planet are very non-eminent, they will pretty much drop off the astrological radar screen, so there is not a lot of point in them bothering about astrology. This also means that a world transit is, with respect to individuals, misnamed: it is in fact an Occidentocentric transit for the eminent. In any event, the reliability of the transit as anything to do with the worldwide human community is seriously compromised by the Tarnas notion of an eminence effect.

There is a second issue about the way Tarnas cites events in the lives of the eminent as evidence of a world transit. In some places he does so without any mention of whether or not the events correlate with the personal transits of these people. In some places he makes a link of some sort between a personal transit and a world transit. What I find missing is any systematic account of widespread supporting evidence that the personal transits of people correlate with the world transits in which those same people are included. In the absence of any thoroughgoing analysis of the matter, doubts linger about the reliability of both kinds of transit.

B.3  The problem of Eurocentrism

A basic ambiguity  

As I have said, the great bulk of the book is taken up with applying four kinds of world transit, four pairings chosen from the outer planets from Saturn to Pluto, to data from the Western cultural tradition. But this tradition is still to this day soaked in Greek mythology, whose gods and goddesses were the original source for the archetypal characterizations of the planets. Even the outermost planets discovered in modern times were given names chosen from Greek mythology; and the modern archetypal attributions overlap to some degree with the ancient attributions. So how do you differentiate between a cultural trend being in synchrony with a world transit and planetary archetypes, as against being due to morphic resonance among people putting forth yet another creative or convulsive or limiting process grounded in their cultural origins and mythic traditions?

Because of this basic ambiguity – and this is only one factor in the need for multiple samples - it is essential to study correlations of the same transit with events in several other cultures, such as the Chinese tradition, the Indian tradition, the Persian tradition, the ancient Egyptian tradition, North and South American Indian traditions, and so on. And Tarnas does very little of this. Until it is done, doubt hangs over the whole claim that world transits are planet-wide and correspond with distinctive kinds of cultural happenings in any and every tradition. And unless, for a given tradition, there is a lot of detailed and reliable historical data covering several centuries, such cross-cultural validation cannot be done  

Eurocentric archetypal hegemony   

But if we suppose it can be done, within some traditions, then we have another big issue. Should it be done with archetypal categories rooted in Eurocentric mythology and its ancient geocentricity? Even Western anthropologists have nowadays acknowledged the importance of abandoning Eurocentric constructs in their inquiries into other cultures. To avoid Eurocentric archetypal hegemony, Tarnas needs to develop, in dialogue with scholars and luminaries in other great historical traditions, the first draft of cross-culturally acceptable archetypal principles; and to invite a host of competent astrologers from within a number of different historical traditions to work out an agreed methodology, then set about exploring all the relevant correlations between events and world transits.

Then, of course, if they did so using the complex and intricate archetypal interactions of all the main concurrent aspects, would they reach any degree of significant agreement? The available evidence suggests that this is unlikely (Carlson, 1985; Kelly at al., 1990; McGrew and McFall, 1990).

C:  Implications for the future

C.1  The issue of upcoming transits

A plethora ahead  

I now return to the issue of multiple concurrent aspects discussed in A.1 above. At the end of his book, in his chapter on the future, Tarnas gives dates for the “hard” alignments of the five outer planets from 2004 to 2045 (467-8). Tarnas does not extract the overlapping alignments from these dates, but it is important to do so to grasp the specifics of what his astrology really entails. These dates reveal that, through 2007 and 2008, the following world transit “hard” alignments overlap, which means on the Tarnas view, that the associated archetypal principles are all in dynamic interaction within the human psyche at the same time: Uranus square Pluto, Pluto conjunction Jupiter, Uranus opposition Saturn, and Saturn opposition Neptune. And that only covers the five planets from Jupiter to Pluto. There will be several other concurrent conjunctions, oppositions, squares, sextiles and trines throughout the solar system as a whole. In short, during 2007 and 2008, the human psyche will be influenced by a veritable plethora of archetypal dyadic interactions which are interacting with each other.

The disappearance of single aspect analysis  

Tarnas then considers a simultaneous pair of aspects at work at the present time, specifically the Uranus-Pluto square and the Saturn-Neptune opposition. He says (479) that the qualities associated with these two aspects “could scarcely be more different…..Only a complexity theory adequate to such intricately complicated archetypal interactions and multiple influences would be of use in assessing the unfolding continuum of history” (and Tarnas is only talking of two of the four alignments of outer planets at work in 2007 and 2008). This clearly indicates that single aspect analysis is very wide of the mark for making historical assessments about the present and the future (and surely, we may also infer, of the past).

If concurrent alignments are always present and are complicated to assess, then there are some critical questions to answer. Who is developing a theory adequate to assess intricate interactions? Without it, how can reliable assessments (about natal aspects, personal transits and world transits) be made of the many simultaneous alignments of the outer and the inner planets, the Sun and the Moon, which are always occurring? How can it empower human beings to become acquainted with present and future archetypal interactions which are too “intricately complicated” to assess without advanced theoretical support? How can correlations between historical events and aspects in just one dissociated world transit be reliable, when aspects in different transits always overlap each other in a difficult-to-assess intricate and complicated dance of archetypal meanings? How is it that Tarnas, who has just told us that multiple interactions make assessment of unfolding history extremely difficult, immediately launches into four pages (479-82) of presumably unreliable prediction about the nature of outer planet transits in our future?

C.2  A troubling instability

My provisional opinion is that the sweep of this book is troubled by a deep instability.  For 300 pages Tarnas looks into the past with one planetary pair at a time in order to make the business of astrological assessment appear to be clear and simple, when by his own admission a more adequate analysis would include multiple concurrent pairs (341). At the end of the book, looking into the present and the future with its multiplicity of concurrent pairs, he says that only complex theoretical support could make an adequate astrological assessment of them. The whole book wobbles between these two positions with an unsteady stance.  “Intricately complicated archetypal interactions and multiple influences” can be ignored when simplifying the past with a less than adequate analysis, and yet are indispensable and require great theoretical competence when assessing the present and the future (479). It is difficult not to draw the  conclusion that whether you deal with one pair at a time in the past, or with multiple pairs in the present and the future, making astrological assessments - whether for the past, the present or the future - is an unreliable business. One outcome is likely: professional astrologers will be waiting to tell us what the full story of multiple concurrent alignments really means; and category addiction  (Needham, 1956; Heron, 2006) will be given a new lease of life.

C.3  The issue of indeterminacy and unpredictability

A synchronous archetypal mechanism   

Tarnas makes a categorical assertion that “a fundamental recognition of indeterminacy and unpredictability is the bedrock of the entire perspective articulated here” (479). This is a misleading assertion. What Tarnas has firmly installed as the bedrock of his worldview is the very reliable predictability of human psyches synchronizing with all the transits of all the planets and their associated archetypes over and over again into the very remote future, for the solar system is a remarkable example of accurate cosmic clockwork. There is now one simple basic question: is our primary co-creative access to archetypal patterns restricted to synchronicity with the natal aspects and endless multiple transits of the solar system clock? If the answer is affirmative, then this primary access of ours is predetermined and predictable to a very high degree indeed. The only thing that is indeterminate is the concrete outworking of the predetermined psychocosmic synchronicity. This is still a fundamentally mechanistic account of human functioning: a synchronous archetypal mechanism, not a causal concrete one, but nonetheless a mechanism.

Tarnas rejects any idea that his synchronous cosmic mechanism means that the basic outlines of history are determined (480).  Quite so, but this misses the crucial point, which is – and it is worth repeating again - that human co-creative access to certain patterns of archetypes is quite clearly determined. There is no getting round the inescapable fact that, within the Tarnas worldview, an ephemeris, together with an astrological handbook on aspects and planetary principles, will tell you very precisely for the rest of your life when and for how long you are called upon to engage your creativity with this, that or the other predetermined configuration of archetypes. I find this worldview intrinsically implausible, not least because of recent expanding astronomical knowledge of the composition of the solar system; but there are also deeper reasons, to do with the potential range of human co-creativity, as we shall see below.

Horns of a dilemma  

Tarnas says that knowing about an upcoming transit makes possible a more informed response. Unfortunately this assertion sits closely alongside a whole raft of other assertions about the numerous unpredictable factors at work in constituting events, how unpredictability is the bedrock of his perspective, how intricately complicated multiple archetypal interactions are to interpret, and so on. He is dancing uneasily between the horns of a dilemma. If he can interpret an upcoming transit sufficiently to make an informed response, this takes him too close for comfort to archetypal predetermination. If he pushes the unpredictability and intricate complexity of archetypal influence too hard, then informed response to a transit becomes impossible.  But certainly, if his astrology is to have any pragmatic value, he has to resolve the dilemma in favour of informed response to a transit, plus archetypal predetermination. But he does not do so clearly, and in no way does he develop the practical details of informed response to upcoming transits as a tool for creative living. Instead he leaves the reader in a state of pragmatic uncertainty. What is supposed to be empowering erodes into the disempowering.

The bottom line  

We have now reached the bottom line of the Tarnas worldview. The basic question for his astrology remains: Is the access of human co-creativity to various patterns of psychocosmic influence determined by the timed synchronicities of solar system clockwork? Or does human co-creativity in principle and in potential have unlimited access to any enacted psychocosmic configuration, independent of such clockwork? Since Tarnas does not address this question, I am left assuming that his text implicitly entails the view that access is set to the timing of the solar system clock and its predetermined programme of psychocosmic synchronicities. Indeed if this key notion that access is tied to predetermined timing were removed from his theory, the whole apparatus of aspects and transits would become, at some deep level of human creativity and freedom, redundant and irrelevant.

The implications of co-creativity   

The most basic feature of the Tarnas revival of astrology is that its multidimensional and multivalent account of archetypes opens up “ontological space” for the “the widest diversity of creative human enaction” of (84), “full co-creative participation” of humans in, the psychocosmic process (87). This co-creative participation in archetypal dynamics means that the human being is “recognized as itself a potentially autonomous embodiment of the cosmos and its creative power and intelligence” (86). 

However, Tarnas does not offer full human co-creative participation in the psychocosmic process, he offers a very partial and constrained kind of co-creative participation in a psychocosmic process which he has predefined in terms of a highly questionable theory of aspects and planetary attributions derived from an astrology grounded on geocentric astronomy. This predefinition binds our cosmic co-creativity by ephemeris watching on the one hand and traditional textbooks on astrological interpretation on the other. To repeat my views from A.3 above,  I believe full co-creativity to be capable, in awakened humans, of a rich, dynamic, diversity of idiosyncratic empowering enactments in which the unique nature of a human being finds its synchronous correlate in a unique macrocosmic pattern, which is not rule-bound,  but liberated by unpredictable personal engagement with awe and beauty and cosmic drama. There are many new psychocosmic transfigurations awaiting to be enacted, by an empowering bio-spiritual dance of the somatic being  in co-creative resonance with an unlimited diversity of cosmic configurations of self, earth and solar system entities, galactic and deep space entities and locations. 5131

D: Issues of methodology

D.1  The absence of rigorous curiosity

Attachment to the glasses   

I cannot find any passage in the whole book where Tarnas shows that he has a rigorous curiosity in the possibility of counter-evidence. He never seems to want to take off the aspect glasses that enable him to see correlations, and then to have a look around for events that fit the archetypal qualities of an aspect but fall outside its range of influence; or see if he can spy events that fall within range of an aspect but entirely contradict its archetypal configuration.

Archetypal intoxication   

Instead, Tarnas goes in for continuous confirmation, without the rigour of falsifying curiosity. He piles up correlations, as if the accumulation makes a persuasive difference. Thus he lists a small number of massacres coinciding with Saturn-Pluto alignments. But even if he could produce two hundred massacres coinciding with one sort of planetary dyad, this is a bucketful in the ocean given the worldwide propensity, evident over thousands of years in every part of the world, for human beings to slaughter each other. Many small heaps of correlations, based on the astrologically dubious and stretched use of only two planetary principles – with no evident heretical curiosity about XY-type data outside an XY alignment, or about non-XY-type data within an XY alignment - is indicative of archetypal intoxication.

Keeping within the faith  

Thus his preferred way of dealing with difficult data is as follows: “When I encountered an event or cultural phenomenon for which convincing planetary correlations were not immediately apparent, I continued to pursue the inquiry, staying open to the possibility that a significant correlative pattern might well emerge over time as I learned more” (458).  This makes it clear that the function of anomalous data is simply to alert Tarnas to his deficient astrological know-how. I get no sense, either on the lines or between them, that Tarnas will ever allow anomalous data to call in question the basic geocentric astrological principles themselves – the major aspects, the forms of correspondence, the planetary archetypes. In other words, his tacit working assumption is that there cannot be any data that are not – as an astrologer who keeps the faith will sooner or later find out - defined by these principles.

The rigour that Tarnas does exercise is to steer a middle path between the conventional modern assumption that the cosmic processes are basically random and meaningless, and the arbitrary nature of some conventional astrological doctrines (459). Thus there are some features of astrological theory that Tarnas does not seem, in this book at any rate, to bother with – such as the twelve signs of the zodiac and the twelve diurnal houses – but he holds firmly to the central core, mentioned just above, without which astrology could not function. In abandoning the assumption of randomness, he cleaves too earnestly not simply to the assumption of an underlying order, but to the assumption of an underlying core of geocentric astrological order.

The temptation of self-rescue  

There is, indeed, a temptation always to remain within the assumptions of astrology, rather than radically question them. This is because its complexities make it so rich in persuasive forms of self-rescue and self-protection. Thus, for any transit involving planets A and B, there are many safety nets that underlie it. So if you find some event that looks like it manifests an A-B aspect, but falls entirely outside the range of one, then with a bit of imaginal and multivalent tweaking, it can be reconstrued as falling within an aspect of one or more of the many other transit cycles. Thus you may discover that while the A-B aspect is not at work, either A on its own, or B on its own, is aligned with some other planet; or that two other planets are in aspect in some way that echoes the A-B archetypal interaction; and there are regularly world transits of all sorts to choose from.

D.2  The issue of permissive latitude

Beyond the breaking point  

With sufficient imaginative flexibility it is possible, I suggest, to read a very broad multivalent category into almost any complex cultural event or any complex and richly endowed human being. The more multivalent and multidimensional the category the more permissive the latitude in applying it, and the more the person applying it invokes artistic, intuitive and imaginal kinds of validation, as indeed Tarnas does. This is all very well as far as it goes. The problem is it can readily go too far. While Tarnas is sensitive to this danger, I do not think he avoids falling foul of it. I have already mentioned an astrologer’s  review, which says there are times when it seems that Tarnas is stretching the single aspect symbolism to breaking point and beyond (Phillipson, 2006).

Given the widely multivalent description Tarnas gives of the interaction of any two planetary archetypes, given the special kind of flexible and nuanced imaginal vision which Tarnas says is needed to apply this double multivalency, given the rich and complex data that it is being applied to, given that up to an outside limit of 20 degrees of arc around the exact alignment of two planets with Earth is the latitude allowed for the alignment to be in synchrony with the human psyche, and given that he has four “hard” aspects to consider in any one transit cycle, then it is not surprising that this generous combination claims to identify relevant correlations. But the surfeit of data with all its unexplored diversity, richness and complexity simply starts to overflow the two-category bowl into which it is being poured. Indeed, the integrity of western culture is compromised by the relentless subsumption of diverse aspects of it under just two categories at a time, pair after pair.

Latitude with the eminent  

Tarnas gives himself great latitude in choosing what stage of human creativity by the eminent is claimed as evidence of correlation with a world transit: sometimes it is the occasion of the original inspiration, sometimes it is the period of creating the work, sometimes it is the occasion of the work being published or performed. These stages, for any one eminent person, may cover several years, so it will not be too difficult to find at least one of them that occurs within the 15-20 degree active period of, say, a conjunction or an opposition within a Jupiter-Uranus cycle. And in several cases he makes his choice of stage with no cross-reference to the personal transits of the individual involved.

Filling the gap  

As we saw in section A.3, inactive gaps in one world transit cycle may be covered by active alignments in another, and if one of the planets is the same in each cycle, then an archetypally configured event that runs over from an active alignment into an inactive gap in the first cycle, can be transferred with some multivalent adaptation into an active alignment in the second. Tarnas applies this shift to data about Aurobindo (364). This is another addition to interpretative latitude.

D.3  The lure of holonomic meaning and its occasional transformation

The holonomic principle  

The issue of permissive latitude, explored briefly above, rests upon a deeper issue: the lure of holonomic meaning. The holonomic principle, to which I subscribe, asserts that the whole is represented, encoded, enfolded in some way in the part. This is the universe-in-a-grain-of-sand, the microcosm-reflecting-the-macrocosm, principle. Thus the whole body is genetically coded into every cell of it.

The lure of holonomic meaning   

This is a degenerate offshoot of the holonomic principle. The lure asserts that if you take any set of a relatively small number of basic and varied categories of meaning and interpretation, which are broad and comprehensive in their scope, and which can be applied to the human condition, then anyone can to some degree identify with any combination of them, whether applied as interpretation of personality structure, or as an interpretation of life situations and events. The converse of this, of course, is that any practitioner can take any combination and read it into any person or any event. The outcomes of experimental studies of astrology cited in section A.4 above provide some evidence of the lure of holonomic meaning at work. Joseph Needham in his classic work on the history of Chinese civilization shows how the development of empirical science was held back by a prolonged cultural addiction to interpreting everything in terms of the five element theory (Needham, 1956).

The zodiac experiment  

The lure of holonomic meaning is also well illustrated by one of the most intractable anomalies in astrology. The zodiac is the basic platform of traditional astrology, but which do you choose to use, the sidereal zodiac of the actual twelve fixed constellations named Aries, Taurus, etc., or the tropical zodiac of twelve 30 degree segments marked round the ecliptic from the point of the vernal equinox? Owing to the slow conical rotation of the earth’s axis, and the resultant precession of the equinoxes, the two zodiacs are now displaced by some 25 degrees, so with the exception of the 5 degrees of overlap, your sun sign in one zodiac changes into an adjacent sun sign in the other zodiac. I once gave a talk to a group of friends all of whom believed in their tropical sun signs, and convinced them – by ostensibly plausible but spurious arguments in which I did not really believe – that it was better to use the sidereal zodiac. Once they were persuaded, I went round the room and announced to them their new sun signs. In every case, they embraced the new sign with a sense of liberating insight. I must say here that I have, as yet, found no good reasons for using either zodiac. It is important to add that Tarnas himself makes no reference to either zodiac in his many correlations.

The arbitrary divination experiment 

Instead of using the five outer planets, choose five symbols taken at random from a Tarot pack, and combine them in four different pairs, then make up four different and quite arbitrary temporal cycles, each cycle consisting of a period when the pair is inactive and a period when it is active, with its influence peaking in the middle of the active period.  Make an arbitrary choice of four different years from which you start your four cycles moving forward and backward in time. Now use this  divination system to interpret the story of your life. Then try it out on the history of the country you live in, or on any major chunk of history you know well or are interested to do research on. Be prepared to find a surprising amount of plausibility apparently adhering to the outcomes. And if your come across any anomalous data, go deeper into the imaginal overtones of your symbol pairs, until your subtler insight resolves the anomalous into the revelatory. What we have in this experiment is a quite arbitrary divination procedure. And the implication is that astrology itself may be such a procedure. But we must also take into account the following possibility

The paradox of the arbitrary  

Many times such an arbitrary procedure will simply indulge the lure of holonomic meaning, reading anything into anything. But it is paradoxically possible that on occasion such an arbitrary procedure can be the vehicle for some kind of direct intuitive process, in which case the arbitrary pattern of symbols or tea leaves or astrological features does two things. First, it distracts the rational, practical mind, disarms and deposes it, so that an intuitive, even extrasensory faculty, can tune in directly to the person, the event, or the cultural epoch that is being divined. Secondly, it provides a systematically ambiguous framework, capable of receiving innumerable different interpretations, on which this faculty can project its findings. The real function of the elaborate system of symbols and rules is to occupy the distracted mind, which thinks it is engaging with some ancient wisdom that portrays the world as it really is at a deep level, without realizing that the system is fundamentally incoherent. And the while the rational mind is thus busily deluded, the divinatory faculty can get to the heart of the matter quite outside the constraints of the system. Once the direct divination has done its work, it is not too difficult to fit its findings into the symbols and rules.   This analysis applies particularly well to astrology, which has so many interacting elements to interpret (Heron, 2006).

If there is anything at all in this theory, it would mean, of course, that you could radically rearrange and redefine all the components parts of astrology, and it would still from time to time work as a vehicle for a direct intuitive process - a process which must be distinguished from the process of simply making astrology appear to work by selective simplification and stretching, which is what Tarnas seems to be doing.

D.4  The issue of supporting evidence

Calling on colleagues 

Tucked into section B.2 above I mentioned that Tarnas never cites other astrologers to support any of his innumerable interpretations. It is odd to be so scholarly about the historical data, but not about how other astrologers have interpreted it. There is a vast astrological literature out there. Is there nothing in it at all about historical correlations with world transits? Or is what is there too inconsistent and confusing to be of any help? If the literature is no support, would it not perhaps have been prudent to invite astrologers Tarnas respects to formulate  - independently and without conferring - their own views on the relation between world transits and events in the western cultural tradition?

Systemic unreliability 

One of the big problems in the whole field is its unreliability. Well over a hundred experimental studies have been conducted on general astrology (Kelly at al., 1990; McGrew and McFall, 1990). Among the findings are the following: (1) subjects of astrological readings are just as likely to think that someone else’s reading is as accurate a description of them as their own; (2) there is no agreement among different astrologers’ interpretations of the same birth chart; (3) over 3,000 predictions made by astrologers were no better than if they were the result of chance or guessing. If indeed Tarnas had cited or hired other astrologers, the results might well have upset the world transit apple cart. Is this why they were not asked to help?

Tarnas dismisses statistical and experimental research on astrology on the grounds that it has “added relatively little to the astrological understanding” (76, also 462-3). Exactly so, for it exposes the unreliable nature of astrological understanding. What statistical research has unmistakably revealed is that respected professional astrologers do not agree about the interpretation of the same astrological configuration. Tarnas makes no mention at all of this consistently reliable finding, and I think he is unwise to ignore it. For a further example, see Shawn Carlson's research involving 30 American and European astrologers considered by their peers to be among the best practitioners of their art (Carlson, 1985). 

Misrepresenting the Gauquelin studies 

Tarnas argues that the well-known Gauquelin studies – replicated by others - support astrology, but the findings (about the correlations between the birth of eminent professionals in various fields and certain positions of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars) show that the effect is very weak. The results reveal that 22% of top athletes, as against a base rate of 17% for the general population, have Mars in position. So top athletes are only 5% more likely then the rest of us to show the “Mars effect”; and the vast majority of top athletes show no “Mars effect” at all. Moreover, the effect does not apply to  those who are not eminent (Ertel and Irving, 1996). And Gauquelin himself was clear that his findings did not fit traditional astrological patterns. There is certainly some minimal something going on here – as even Hans Eysenck acknowledged – but it is of no use to the case for traditional astrology.

Tarnas misrepresents the Gauquelin studies, and inflates their support for astrology (75-6). The way he writes about “a highly significant statistical correlation” of the position of Mars and the birth of top athletes, is clearly meant to imply that the effect is very strong. He makes no mention at all of the fact that the effect is very weak, and that the replicating studies show the same very weak effect.  The correlations, in reality, account for less than 1% of variability, which means as we have seen that top athletes are only 5% more likely to have Mars in  position.

Tarnas asserts that the Gauquelin findings correspond with traditional astrological principles. Other astrologers, as well as Gauquelin, do not agree with him. Here is a current view from a web site that fosters astrology research: “It must be stated that even if one accepts the Gauquelin plus zone results, they fly in the face of traditional astrological understanding of the weakness of cadent houses and have no practical value for consulting astrologers. The effect only works with eminent subjects and predicts eminence only marginally by increasing the likelihood that a planet is found in a plus zone from 17.8% to 22%. That leaves 78% of subjects with Mars outside of the Gauquelin plus zone. Hardly something a consulting astrologer could use” (McDonough, 2006).

Tarnas also says that “The positive results of the Gauquelin studies and their replication by others presented a robust challenge on science’s own terms to the scientific dismissal of astrology” (76). This is a misleading piece of propaganda. What the strange, weak, baffling, human-planet correlations actually do is to confront traditional astrologers as much as, if not more than, conventional scientists. Hans Eysenck, a formidable conventional scientist, had the integrity fully to acknowledge the uncomfortable nature of the confrontation for science. What frustrated Gauquelin was that traditional astrologers could not cope with the confrontation, and refused to see that his work was the first glimmer of dawn for new era for a new astrology solidly based on empirical data. Thus Tarnas avoids the confrontation by falsely appropriating Gauquelin’s work as supportive of traditional astrology, then dismisses the work and its methodology as adding nothing new, so that he can advance his own kind of neo-Jungian intuitive elaboration of the geocentric tradition as a better way forward.

D.5  Lack of adequate rationale

What is the point and purpose of Tarnas promoting his world transit correlations? He suggests two reasons. The first is that their superior reliability may encourage people to look into their own birth charts and personal transits. I have put forward a range of considerations as to why I think the claim of any reliability is questionable. The second reason is to make unconscious archetypal dynamics more conscious, so that people can be empowered to participate in these dynamics, exercising their autonomy in a co-creative manner. Here again the composite unreliability of one man’s single-tradition and selective single-transit-pair correlations, divorced from concurrent multiple-pair correlations, and unsupported either by anyone else’s correlations, or by his own or anyone else’s cross-tradition correlations, provides no adequate warrant for empowering anyone. I think it is unwise to suggest that people orientate their creativity to take account of world transits in the exclusive light of his solitary version of the dissociated influence of only four of them in one limited corner of world history. This opinion is powerfully underlined by the problems that attach to some of the basic features of the astrological worldview to which Tarnas subscribes; and to these I now turn.

E:  The issue of planetary aspects

There is a very simple geometric basis to the archetypal connection between cosmos and psyche in the Tarnas worldview. It is that any two or more archetypes interact dynamically within the human psyche when the planets with which they are associated make certain angles with Earth – which is at the vertex of the angles. These angles are called aspects and the main ones are (their names are in brackets): 0 degrees (conjunction), 60 degrees (sextile), 90 degrees (square), 120 degrees (trine), 180 degrees (opposition). A few degrees of arc either side of the exact angle is the latitude given for each aspect to manifest its synchronous relation with the human mind. Tarnas holds that conjunctions, squares and oppositions signify “hard” stressful archetypal interactions within the psyche, while sextiles and trines indicate “soft” harmonious ones. All this has its origins in the geocentric astrology of the Hellenistic age, and its development into the Ptolemaic worldview.

E.1  The absence of validation 

The aspect theory seems to be derived from the numerological vagaries of the Pythagorean brotherhood of the 5th century BC, and elaborated by geocentric Hellenistic astrologers: thus two, an even number, is feminine and evil, so the division of the 360 degree circle of the heavens by two or a multiple of two yields the maleficent “hard” aspects; while three is an odd number and therefore masculine and good, so the heavenly circle divided by three or a multiple of three gives us the beneficent “soft” aspects.  A related derivation is from the way the four elements were allocated to the zodiacal signs: signs with the same element are compatible with each other, and they stand in 120 degree relations, hence the origin of trine aspects being “soft”. Signs with differing and conflicting elements are opposite each other or at right angles to each other, and this is the source of the “hard” opposition and square aspects.

Both these sources involve arbitrary and dogmatic correlations between different sorts of categories; and if you follow them through in a systematic way they yield disabling inconsistencies and anomalies. Tarnas certainly does not put them forward as in any way validating his aspect theory. The trouble is he does not put forward any kind of validating argument for it at all, other than to assert that it “was for Kepler the most fundamental and empirically validated principle in astrology” (105).  Now Kepler undoubtedly claimed that his own experience “gives credibility to the effectiveness of aspects”. We must remember, however, that Kepler was very much under the spell of Pythagorean and Platonic geometric mysticism, and it was remarkable that he broke out of it enough to establish, on the basis of astronomical data, the elliptical nature of planetary orbits. And one man’s experience does not constitute adequate validation.

E.2  What about microcosmic aspects?

Tarnas, following Jung, holds that “principles of number and geometric form” are a major type of archetype (57).  This means that the aspect angles are associated with dynamic archetypes, which are in fact potent superordinate archetypes, since they control and determine how the planetary principles swing into interaction. And since, as Tarnas holds, the microcosm reflects the macrocosm, then we can properly ask for evidence that these powerful angular archetypes have an influence within our earthly experience.

Aspects in  human society 

Thus we can ask whether there is any evidence that the ease or difficulty of members of small groups of people working, talking, playing, dancing, acting together in the same area of space bears any relation to the angular patterns formed between them in that space. If person B is in negotiation with persons A and C while standing or being seated at an angle of 90 degrees with them, is the process going to be stressful for B, as against being harmonious if the angle is one of 60 or, better still, 120 degrees? In composition and design in the plastic arts - architecture, sculpture, painting, the graphic arts - do 90 and 45 degree angles appear to be in any aesthetic sense more difficult than 60 and 120 degree angles? In the diverse symbols of religious traditions and schools worldwide, is there any evidence that more often than not 60 and 120 degree angles are used to represent the harmonious, while right angles, squares and crosses are used to represent the stressful? If E, D and F are three capital cities (centres of government) of three sovereign nations, and if they are all in a straight line with D in the middle, does government D find itself caught up in stressful interactions between governments E and F? And are there harmonious relations between any three other sovereign nations whose capital cities are the vertices of an equilateral triangle? And so on and so forth.

Go microcosmic first 

There is an endless array of possible experiments and inquiries that could be set up to see whether the aspect theory holds up in human, and in animal, interactions of many different kinds. Is it responsible to go macrocosmic with this theory without putting forward a shred of evidence that it holds microcosmically? Is it not wiser to seek for evidence on the accessible and manageable microcosmic scale, than (as Tarnas strives to do) in macrocosmic planetary transits in relation to the vast multitudinous sweep of human history on Earth – an unmanageable scale in which issues of interpretation and its validation become, as we have already seen, problematic?  And if they were any evidence of a microcosmic effect, could it not be harnessed to make a significant contribution to the quality of everyday life? Has anyone ever looked into this matter? There is no evidence in this book that Tarnas has any awareness of the immediate microcosmic implications of his theory of aspects.

E.3  The challenge from a pan-planetary perspective

Astrologers are geocentric: they only take into account earth-centred aspects. If the earth is in aspect with Mars and Venus, they ignore the concurrent Mars-centred aspects and Venus-centred aspects and how these qualify the earth-centred aspect.

What happens to the aspect theory if you try to generalise it throughout the solar system? Does a theory created within a geocentric context survive its translation into a heliocentric context? If we swing the theory out in the solar system as whole and adopt a pan-planetary view, then all the planets, including Earth, are in a continuous intricately complex ever-changing web of planetary aspects, and thus of multiple changing archetypal interactions. If you are on planet A, and A is in aspect with B and C, then you need to know all the other aspects both B and C are busy with in order properly to evaluate the nature of the ABC interaction. If for A, B and C are in opposition, while B is in trine with D and E, then the impact for A is somewhat different than B being square with D and E. And then what else is going on for D and E?

My guess is that, for any particular moment of time, if you worked out all the “hard” and “soft” aspects for every single planet in relation to the other planets, the whole system would break down in intricate confusion and contradiction. I very much doubt whether the arbitrary geometric simplicities of the geocentric era would survive for long in the swirling orbital patterns of heliocentric sophistication.

The issues raised by a pan-planetary approach are important for astrologers. Within the next two thousand years, we will very likely have human colonies and space stations on the surface of, or hovering in the gases of, several planets in the solar system. When children are born in these planetary outposts, how will astrologers construct and construe their natal charts? Among the many issues that arise, there is the problem of moons. Our moon is astrologically associated with an archetypal principle, so do we therefore assume that each of the twelve moons of Jupiter has a distinctive archetypal principle linked to it? If so, then a child born in a human space station hovering in the gaseous vapours of Jupiter, will have a natal chart which includes all the aspects the twelve Jupiterian moons have with each other, with the sun and with all the other planets, and all this combined with the all the other nonlunar aspects. Perhaps pan-planetary heliocentric astrologers will sensibly agree to forget about the moons of a multi-mooned planet they are based on.

There is no evidence in this book that Tarnas has ever asked – in order to prepare for our future in the solar system - whether his geocentric astrology is compatible with pan-planetary heliocentric astrology.

F:  The issue of planetary archetypes

The other main platform of the Tarnas astrological worldview is that sun and moon and planet are each associated with a distinctive archetypal principle.

F.1  Uneasy composite 

The Tarnas account of a planetary archetype has three origins: the Jungian concept of innate psychological dispositions in the collective unconscious of human beings, the Platonic notion of a transcendent Idea which gives its empirical correlate form and meaning, and the geocentric view of different subordinate gods or spirits associated with the moon, the sun and planets. Tarnas develops these three into an uneasy composite, on the edge of a muddle, as the next point brings out.

F.2  Uneasy linkage 

There is a big problem about the nature of the relationship between an archetype and a physical planet. Tarnas says nothing more than that an archetypal principle is “linked to” or “associated with” a planet, and that “archetypes possess a reality that is both objective and subjective, one that informs both outer cosmos and inner human psyche” (86), and leaves it at that. There is a huge aesthetic gap here, a glaring imaginal discontinuity between the physical reality of the planet and the archetype that is inexplicably linked to it and objectively informs it. Read the account Tarnas gives of the multivalent attributes of the Pluto archetype (“elemental power, depth and intensity…primordial instincts, libidinal and aggressive…violent purgatorial discharge of pent-up energies…etc.” (99)) and then contemplate the physical Pluto on the outermost reaches of the solar system, an extremely cold, small, remote icy body, only two thirds the size of the moon, a body which astronomers have recently downgraded and designated as a dwarf planet. There is, prima facie, something crazy about this claimed “association”; about that archetype, as defined, objectively informing that planet, as described. Another way of putting this is to ask how such a psychological archetype could possibly have anything to do with a Platonic Idea of the spatio-temporal form of the planet. Incidentally, since Pluto was only discovered in 1930, we need a lot more detail about how astrologers have so quickly established the identity of its associated archetype.

Note that the ancient geocentric astrologers, whose planetary attributions are still in use today, did not have this aesthetic gap. In the total absence of any knowledge of the physical nature of each planet they could make an imaginative leap from its simple sensory appearance - as a moving light in the sky - to a characterization of the god involved: Mercury speeding round the earth is the messenger; Venus appears as the evening star or the morning star, when people are making love; Mars is tinted red, the colour of blood; Jupiter is magnanimous in its great unwavering brightness; Saturn plods very slowly across the sky as if carrying an onerous load. But once we know all we now know about the physical properties of the planets, it seems to me that astrologers should at the very least close the aesthetic gap in the light of contemporary astronomical knowledge, and totally revamp their description of the planetary archetypes. What qualities one wonders would the Hellenistic astrologers have attributed to Jupiter if they had known it has a large inner core of ice surrounded by an ocean of compressed and liquefied gases, merging into an outer atmosphere of hydrogen containing clouds of methane and ammonia?

Put all this together with aspect theory and there is surely something arbitrary, simplistic, naïve – and plain imaginatively unconvincing - about inexplicable linkages being stirred into interactive activity by rudimentary bits of geometry. Is this really how our local bit of the cosmos is dynamically ensouled?

A viable astrology would need to divine afresh whatever, if anything, the planets symbolize, represent - whatever qualities, if any, they stand for or refract - by attending in full to their physical properties, moons and movements, by attuning to their subtle realms, energies and presences, and by building on the work of Gauquelin in doing – unencumbered by traditional astrological dogma - a lot of original systematic empirical work on correlating their location in space with people and events here on earth. Rather than a revival of its ancient core of geocentric principles, astrology – renamed psychoastronomy - needs a combination of modern astronomical knowledge, original and bold contemporary methodology, and modern seership.

F.3  Planetary principles galore 

As well as the dwarf planet Pluto discovered in 1930, there is now another dwarf planet also in the Kuiper belt like Pluto but much further out. This is Eris, slightly larger than Pluto. As well as Pluto (1430 miles diameter) and Eris (discovered in 2003, and 1491 miles diameter), more than a thousand other icy, rocky bodies have been seen in the Kuiper belt including Quaoar, (745 miles diameter), Ixion (660 miles diameter),Varuna (560 miles diameter). Researchers estimate there are 500,000 bodies with diameters greater than 20 miles in the belt, and that some of these are almost certainly the size of Pluto—if not larger. Then way beyond the Kuiper belt is Sedna (1000 miles diameter), discovered also in 2003, and which may be in some inner part of the Oort cloud of icy bodies which orbit the sun at a distance of 2 to 19 trillion miles.

Astrologers have already gone out on a limb linking a potent psychological archetype to Pluto. How many times can this process my repeated with bodies of similar size within the Kuiper belt and the Oort cloud without it becoming seriously questionable? And if it cannot sensibly be repeated with all the objects similar to Pluto, then the grounds for applying it to Pluto are also in question.

F.4  Earth archetype in absentia

Tarnas nowhere in his book attributes a distinctive archetypal principle to planet Earth. In his chapter on the planets he gives a fulsome account of the archetypal attributes associated with the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto; but not a word about Earth. He writes the whole book as if Earth is archetypally vacuous. So when two planets are in aspect with Earth, this is synchronous only with dyadic interaction between the archetypes of the other two planets, which impacts directly on human experience. And human experience is not itself an archetype, but only part of the empirical world in which archetypes manifest. There is no triadic interaction between an Earth archetype and any other two planetary archetypes with which Earth is aligned.

This archetypal emptiness of Earth is inherited from the origins of astrology at a time when the ancient geocentric universe of Aristotelian physics and Ptolemaic astronomy prevailed. In that universe the earth is at the centre where all heavy elements collect: it is a lowly passive coagulum subject to the influence of the sun, moon and planets, which revolve around it in transparent spheres moved by subordinate gods or spirits, and beyond them is the sphere of the fixed stars, directly moved by God.

But if you have gone beyond geocentric astrology, and are a pan-planetary astrologer in a human colony on Mars at a time when Earth and the Uranus are in opposition, to make sense of this aspect you will need to ascribe an archetypal principle to Earth. And if a human is born on Mars at the time of the opposition, you will interpret the aspect in terms of three archetypes – those of Earth, Uranus and home planet Mars - dynamically interacting in his or her psyche. This would be a great improvement, you might believe, compared to current restricted astrological practice on this planet.

A good way to ascribe an archetypal principle to Earth is to appropriate a lot of the attributes which Tarnas allocates to the Moon, such as “the matrix of being, the psychosomatic foundation of the self, the womb and ground of life…the impulse and capacity to gestate and bring forth…the immanent, the centripetal, the home, the fertile source and ground…etc., etc.” (90). Indeed, it seems to me that Tarnas disempowers Earth by projecting many of its symbolic attributes on to the bleak, barren and lifeless Moon.

For Tarnas to exclude an Earth archetype in this way from his ensouled cosmos is theoretically incoherent. A pan-planetary astrologer (who still believes in Tarnas-type astrology) would: (1) have a comprehensive grasp of the multivalent, multidimensional archetypal attributes associated with Earth; (2) thoroughly revise the interpretation, here on Earth, of each natal horoscope, personal transit and world transit, by including in the archetypal interactions the dynamic power of the archetypal principle of Earth as well as the principles of the other planets involved; (2) bring out what it means to be born on the manifest home of the Earth archetype, to be embodied in intimate conjunction with it; (4) bring out what it means for human beings to engage in a fully intentional co-creative, participatory relationship with the Earth archetype.  

Tarnas says his theory liberates humans from subservience to the archetypes of other planets, via his notion of autonomous, participatory co-creativity in their multivalent influence. Even within its own terms of reference, I am not convinced. His geocentricity has not liberated the Earth from subservience because his Earth has no archetype to join in the planetary party, and thus humans have no archetypal intermediary through which they can influence the cosmic dance. On his account, neither an Earth archetype, nor humans participating in it, plays any part at the archetypal level in the dynamic of interacting planetary archetypes. It is because of the archetypal passivity and vacuity of Earth in the Tarnas view that his theory, seen from within it, lacks Promethean fire. But seen from without, where he does attribute archetypes to other celestial bodies we have the two problems identified above as “uneasy composite” and “uneasy linkage”, not to mention all the difficulties with aspects. Unfortunately a pan-planetary astrologer is still lumbered with all these anomalies.

John Heron, September, 2007


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