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on 22 August 2017
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on 27 April 2014
During key moments of my life, I have often felt forced to acknowledge a divine spark in astrology, something momentous and awe-inspiring, sending messages to us from unseen forces.We just had to decode it, if only we could read the signs. It is hard not to notice that this month, April 2014, we are at a pivotal moment, poised between two eclipses and locked in a Cardinal Grand Cross so you might be feeling the internal tug of war, urging dramatic change. Astrology is enigmatic, yet everyday; obvious, yet maddeningly elusive: untouchable, yet at the same time prostituted everywhere as a common superstition. It is not easy to understand in depth, yet is incredibly easy to simplify into a stock set of character types, and thus ridicule the true riches it has to offer. The debate over the legitimacy of astrology has raged for centuries;it has been labelled 'quackery' by the so called 'real' custodians of knowledge; and it has been vilified by the Church as a form of black magic, yet also pursued in secret by more than a few world leaders ( Reagan famously consulted an astrologer) seeking to bargain with fate.

Umberto Stanucci (image)
That a natal birth chart could offer a snapshot of the interplay of archetypes in our character - read ‘personality DNA’ - has long been a source of fascination. How could that be so? Yet, ask yourself how many of your best friends happen to have the same sign, or element? How many of the events in your life tied in with sextiles, oppositions, squares and transits of the heavyweight planets? Why should any of this even be true once, let alone with a staggering exactitude, if there’s nothing at all to it? The trouble is it takes a lifetime to track such patterns. Yet tracking them really can provide some eye opening insights into the uniqueness of the patterning of a single life. After reading Tarnas' Cosmos and Psyche I felt the need to put a few words together on this puzzle written in the stars.

How to begin about Cosmos and Psyche (2006) which is a cornucopia of ideas? It simply blows the mind, but gently yet relentlessly. Tarnas’s style is methodical and assured and his range is staggering.By reading it, vast chasms appear to expertly illustrated with new relevance and you cannot but feel more expanded in terms of scale and panoramic breadth of vision. It transports you to an elevated, but intricately woven insider’s viewpoint that adroitly illuminates all that we (thought) we knew about history and culture and then turns all that on its head. I'm inclined to agree with a reviewer, Mary Hynes, who said "This is the closest my head has been to exploding while reading a book". If the Passion of the Western Mind (1991) was Tarnas’ Ulysees then Cosmos and Psyche is most definitely his Finnegan’s Wake; the first, charted the conscious ideas that have shaped the Western world view; the second, is attempted map, no less, of the unconscious mind of the entire universe - at least thus far.

You might think that this book is difficult to read, but just like the multiple and repeated cycles that appear like motifs in a symphony, the writing is expertly controlled. It flows well for 544 pages of dense information, allowing for much previewing, subtle iteration, layering of themes and accumulation of impact, building up to Wagnerian crescendos worthy of
such a Titanic subject. The wealth of cultural, scientific, historical and literary knowledge in any one person is in itself astonishing- putting aside that Tarnas is a Harvard Professor of Psychology - but in addition to this there is the accumulation of 30 years of careful study of astrology. This is no mere sun-sign coffee table trivia, but the deepest, most profoundly psychological and penetrating set of insights into how planets align with historic processes, leaving their unmistakable stamp upon events. It is rare that such a book comes along and dares to describe the ‘whole’ picture and at the same time revolutionise our picture of history and our intimate place within its inexorable, archetypal evolution.It starts by saying we have not been served well by the loss of meaning to the modern era. Tarnas points to a schism in our understanding of the universe, especially in the modern era. Meaning has become divorced from the world we live in. It often seems random, soulless, impersonal, where we are just cogs in arbitrary mechanical wheels. Shamans however, still understand that we are intimately connected to the ‘anima mundi’ or world soul, and astrology may just provide that vital missing link. Yet, until now it did not seem possible to rejoin ancient hermetic philosophies with a stark, random, god less, postmodernist universe which offers no shape or pattern to our lives.

Tarnas puts forth a scrupulously delineated set of correlations and alignments that match
up with not just significant turning points in the lives of great leaders, writers, artists and scientists, but also with eras of distinctive progress. This process is not bat-hits-ball Newtonian mechanics, with a simplistic, deterministic, linear causal relationship of material, external forces upon events upon the Earth. The key players are the more recently discovered and less visible outer planets: Saturn, Uranus - which Tarnas defines more correctly as Prometheus- Neptune, and Pluto, which is defined by Tarnas more accurately as Dionysius. Rob Brezsny, who was astrologer for the Village Voice, has cited Tarnas’ book as “the definitive astrology book of the 21st century - probably the 20th too.” Daniel Pinchbeck says that Tarnas has "staked his success and academic reputation on this radical thesis," for example on the idea that from 2006 to 2020 we are experiencing a
further period of revolutionary/innovative/radical energy, just as in the 1960s, when Uranus (Prometheus) and Pluto (Dionysius) were in alignment, which - surprise, surprise- also happened to be in alignment during 1797-1789- the French revolution. Even Lennon noted that Love and Peace were not just restricted to the 1960s.

Tarnas is careful to emphasise that it works more subtlely as archetypal and dynamic energies that unfold and express themselves in diverse ways, depending on the circumstances. Similar influences can manifest quite differently, multiplying the possibilities and permutations. C.G. Jung talked of the need to discern ‘symbolic patterning’ in events, which is a skill that requires development for most of us. All synchronicity indicates is that two things occurring together have a meaning, and are not just happenstance. Knowledge of the positions of planets in our natal charts, and of the transits and progressions, can allow us to have a more creative approach to cyclical shifts and changes occurring now and over the next decade. You can get your chart from Cafe Astrology.

Tarnas’s grand breathtaking sweep of history/science/events interlinked with the movements of planets. Hence, it underscores the old esoteric proverb ‘as above so below’ of the Hermetic Philosophers. He recognised that the extraordinary changes during the 1960s aligned with the only conjunction of Uranus (Prometheus) and Pluto (Dionysius) of the 20th century. The precision of these alignments can be mapped across centuries to evidence common traits - revolution and cathartic transformation- associated with those planets, leading to the possibility that human behaviour, and how that works itself out in history, aligns rather too neatly for other explanations, even down to
precise moments. Our current cultural transformations are an echo of the 1960s, and should give us insight into what may happen in the next few years, suggesting the predictive power of astrology comes from understanding larger cycles, rather than merely 'seeing' the future. The impulse for radical change is certainly on the cards, in the growth of feminism, the overthrow of corrupt governments, social justice, eco-activism and technological advancements.

In short there is a grandeur that inevitably emerges from this new 'world view', this illuminated understanding that astrology and history are thoroughly enmeshed. Tarnas' approach is delightfully cross-disciplinary in that it has managed to join quite a few dots across previously divided fields of study, from depth psychology (which was itself considered pseudo science only a hundred years ago) to astrology, from science to art, to make the previously fragmented picture we had of the world ‘whole’ again.

© Kieron Devlin, 2014 arthealswounds.blogspot.co.uk
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on 3 December 2017
With his earlier sober masterpiece 'Passion of the Western Mind', Richard Tarnas brilliantly describes Western man's voyage through time in conscious thought: it outlines the strictures of dualism, idealism and metaphysics (from Descartes to Kant and the post-Kantians), and the consequent alienating horrors of existentialism and the drivel of post-modernism, though later to reach, via depth-psychology, the happier shores of what he choses to call a 'participatory epistemology', driven by thinkers from Goethe to Steiner, which makes rather more sense and brings things back together again.

Should that particular penny drop concerning 'participation', the public mind may soften to understand the giddier notion of harmony between man and the stars, albeit not be for the first time.

Are the starry heavens our new cathedral?
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on 27 November 2014
Richard Tarnas is a spiritually oriented author based in California, where he teaches at a private college, the California Institute of Integral Studies. His worldview seems to be broadly Jungian, and probably also has affinities with Steiner's Anthroposophy and Aurobindo's teachings. Tarnas' most acclaimed work, "The Passion of the Western Mind", is apparently used as a college textbook in the United States. This book, "Cosmos and Psyche" is less popular outside strictly spiritual circles, and was even attacked in the Wall Street Journal! Tarnas attempts to prove a variant of astrology, and expands on themes already touched upon in an ealier essay, "Prometheus the Awakener", reviewed by me elsewhere.

I read some chapters of "Cosmos and Psyche", and skimmed others. The book is incredibly dense. Unfortunately, the more I read and reflected, the less convincing "Cosmos and Psyche" became. The author, Richard Tarnas, believes in astrology and claims to have found a large number of correlations between earthly events and planetary alignments in the sky. There are many problems with his method, however.

First, he discusses a large number of such alignments: Uranus-Pluto, Uranus-Neptune, Pluto-Saturn, Uranus-Neptune-Pluto, etc. Second, he believes that their influence is usually contradictory and multivalent. Thus, it's relatively easy to find *some* correlation between earthly events and the motion of the planets. A liberating revolution with a darker side (and there are many of them) can be correlated with any number of planets! So can just about any cultural or literary development. Third, even with such a large net, some events seem difficult to pin down astrologically, including the Russian revolution of 1917 or the Chinese revolution of 1949. They seem to be hanging in the air (or from the sky?) as astrological anomalies. Fourth, the author's interpretations are often subjective. Why is the creation of Israel seen as negative, while anti-war protests in the United States are positive? Because the author is, ahem, leftist...? (I'm pretty leftist myself, BTW, but that's not the point here, unless you believe the cosmos is somehow favourable to the PLO or Ralph Nader!)

I suppose some people might also consider Tarnas to be Euro-centric, since the planets are usually connected to specifically Western developments such as the Enlightenment, the American and French revolutions, the sexual revolution of the 1960's and 1970's, etc. To his credit, Tarnas does see this problem and calls for more research on correlations between planetary movements and the development of other cultures. I nevertheless get the impression that the author has a evolutionary-teleological perspective in which the passion of the Western mind is seen as cosmically paramount (for good or for worse)... This comes from Steiner or Aurobindo, surely.

A more "in house" problem is that the author also strays from astrology as usually understood, and quite openly so. He treats all aspects as if they were both positive and negative, while a regular astrologer would argue that some aspects (such as the opposition) are usually negative, while others (such as the conjunction) are usually positive. Since Tarnas treats all planetary alignments as equal, he gets even more chances to "detect" correlations. After a while, both he and the reader get lost in a sea of multivalent archetypes, varied possibilities and a lot of mush...

The problematic method (inherited from dissident Jungian Hillman?) makes it downright impossible for Tarnas to predict the future. Both me and other reviewers are disappointed! But sure, one can probably correlate the rise of ISIS, the crisis in the Ukraine or the latest Lady Gaga clip with some planetary aspect - in retrospect. But to what end, I wonder? One could also broaden the search even more: one of Tarnas' colleagues in the camp of "archetypal cosmology", Keiron Le Grice, has discovered a brand new planetary archetype in yonder skies, the dwarf planet Eris, symbolizing the ancient goddess of war and discord. We can't say we haven't been warned...

Is there something to astrology? Who knows. As another reviewer pointed out, the universe *is* pretty weird, so weird that you probably can cram in a planetary archetype or two. Overall, however, I don't think the connection between Cosmos and Psyche (and its attendant daimons) are to be found within the covers of this dense book...
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VINE VOICEon 24 October 2012
As an Astrological Author of How to Survive a Pisces and other books my husband bought me this for my birthday...and it took me over 6 months to read it. This is not a book you can read in one sitting, and shouldn't be viewed as such.

This is a massive and detailed account of the placements of the 'outer planets' through time to the present day and how they 'match' the astrological and personal psyche of us as humans.

Richard combines astrological archetypes with historical happenings and I was amazed at how accurate and meaningful his work is.

You don't have to know anything about Astrology to read and understand this. You do, however, have to have a more philosophical understanding of life ....and forget materialism. If that's your belief, this book is not for you.

If you love poetry, fiction, history and a bit of politics, you'll wonder at the vastness of Richard's work. And a massive undertaking it is too.....I agree with William that it's 'Majestic, Sweeping and Profound.'

On page 18 he describes how 'we' once viewed the world as something we were part of, that was intelligent and had 'soul' and how now we are (sadly) separate from this world we inhabit, in all our individualism.

This is the crux of his book.

That we are part of the Universe, that the planets aren't just randomly orbiting the Sun, going round and round.

When certain planets get into certain 'placements' we on Earth act in certain ways, create in certain ways, fight/paint/write/love/hate all in ways reflected and imbibed with the archetypes that he describes so eloquently. This isn't a history book, it's a long poem, dotted with history, the history of us as a species and how our actions on earth are shaped by the movements of the planets.

We are all connected...

I got to the end of the book and felt bereft. I'd walked this long journey with a spiritual guide and the pilgrimage was over....all that lingers is the deep sense of satisfaction, that someone has written a account of the planets purpose and our part of that process.

A wonderful book, a wonderful journey and I salute Richard's bravery in writing it:)
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on 10 June 2006
It never ocurred to me to take astrology seriously. Then some people I respect (Stan Grof and others)persuaded me otherwise. If meaning is integral to the structure of the universe and everything is connected then it is not too far fetched that the synchronicity of the planetary positions and the archetypes they represent become expressed in our lives through our natal charts and transits. This book mainly concerns the transits to our planet and illustrates the activity of the archetypal influences represented by the transits by historical events and movements. Tarnas does this well. He is as learned as you would expect from an author of a history of western philosophy. He loves his subject, he is prone to hyperbole. he's an enthusiast. My concern is that he may have just pulled examples from history to illustrate his theories. His hypothesis is brilliant and could be tested. A panel of historians blind to the astrology could rate eras and events according to criteria corresponding to the archetypal flavours proposed by Tarnas. If there was agreement between the historians and Tarnas then the case would be proven and this book would go down as a seminal text. At present it is just an interesting idea. A good read if you can forgive the rhetoric.
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on 5 February 2013
I found this book fascinating and an eye opener. This book and Lawrence Edwards's work on plant and bud growth really do cause us to rethink our relationship to the cosmos. Perhaps we could entertain the possibility that we are in constant symbiosis and resonance with the stars, and that they are not necessarily as remote and irrelevant to us as we might have thought.
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on 16 July 2009
As a fan of his previous book, The Passion of the Western Mind, this book was a big disappointment. How can anyone in the 21st century write a book about cosmos and psyche and take almost no account of the vast knowledge systems of Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, yogas and meditation practices, especially working in the Centre for Integral Studies? Although Depth Psychology drew on theosophy, theosophy is based on a very simplistic and distorted understanding of the full depths of Buddhist and Hindu philosophical insights into the relationship with psyche and cosmos. Western modes of thinking and practice can no longer claim for themselves universalist truths. Just as Buddhist mindscience is having to encounter and take account of modern science, so western ways of understanding the meta narratives of human culture must now address the deep and profound insights encoded in Eastern thought. For example, any contemporary writer in this area of intellectual exploration must surely take account of the Buddhist tradition where the understanding of the inseparable union of 'emptiness' and 'inner luminosity' and the relationships between the inner and outer cosmos enacted in Buddhist tantra profoundly challenge western scientific materialism and attempts at the post modern transcendence of its limitations.
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