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Counterpoints in Transpersonal Theory
Toward an astro-logical resolution

Gerry Goddard

If astrological correlations are real, then the underlying Copernican, Cartesian, and Kantian bases of the modern world view cannot be sustained. The whole modern world view is undermined at its very foundation....For astrology provides the one category of evidence that attacks all three dimensions of the modern prison of alienation right at their corethe epistemological, the ontological, and the cosmological.

Richard Tarnas

Recovering a lost language

Since the flourishing of the modern world view in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, astrology has become the marginalized poor cousin of recognized knowledge disciplines, excluded from serious consideration of its possible epistemological merit. That astrology has not 'proven' itself to a science largely grounded in an objectivist and quantitative paradigm is to be expected. The idea that a ‘bunch of lifeless rocks’ moving around the sun could be significantly related not only systemically to certain bio-physical dynamics of Gaia, but synchronistically and archetypally related to the most subtle and complex dimensions of human experience is an idea that has been consistently rejected a priori by naturalistic physicalists, even by those of a new-science persuasion. But that astrology be denied its rightful place in the field of transpersonal studies—the field that profoundly challenges the prevailing paradigm through its serious investigation of the transcendent—is neither understandable nor acceptable. For the transpersonalist who embraces a transcendent ontology, there can justifiably be no such a priori ontological grounds for the exclusion of astrological synchrony.

Astrological correlations, if valid, are precisely that which call into question a strictly materialist ontology, and the quest for astrological validity must necessarily recognize a different logic than that which confers truth value to purely objective scientific statements.1 Just as mystical experience cannot, legitimately, be summarily rejected on the grounds of mere subjectivism or even pathology but must be investigated on its own terms, so too astrology must properly be investigated in terms of the epistemological structure and logical form of its own truth claims—claims which, grounded in a connectivity of subject and object, articulate meaningful connections among varied apparently noncausally related phenomena.

The modern rational/empirical paradigm of the last few centuries has been singularly incompatible with the symbolic astrological zeitgeist, explaining it as a mere psychological projection upon a planetary Rorschach. But certain new paradigmatic developments which have come to challenge the prevailing modernist view and rescue meaning and values from ‘mere’ subjectivity now find increasing alignment with the findings of astrology so that, as she emerges from her underground banishment, a new synergy becomes possible between serious astrology and these new interdisciplinary and transpersonal fields, especially since the vocabulary of these emerging new perspectives already shapes the interpretive and symbolic language of the serious psychological and biographical astrology of the last few decades. Standing on the border between the humanities and the social sciences, while at the same time suggesting a peculiarly meaningful connectivity between experience and the ‘physical’ cosmos—a non-causal relation between the so-called ‘subjective’ and the so-called ‘objective’—an adequately articulated astrology, one which has matured beyond its older concrete predictive pretensions and popular amusements, has something of significance to offer transpersonalists.

In this article, I’ll introduce some current themes and counterpoints within transpersonal theory, first situating transpersonalism in relation to modernism and postmodernism. Then I’ll suggest in broad strokes how the astrological language—specifically in terms of its underlying 4-fold and 12-fold geometry, the archetypal topography of the space in which and across which the planets move—can be understood as a map of the structure and evolutionary development of consciousness in resonance with the cosmic ground, a map that tells an overarching meta-narrative offering a resolution to certain central counterpoints within current debates in transpersonal theory.2

Emergence of new perspectives

The “new cultural paradigm” is unfolding more as a set of family resemblances among an array of new ideas arising from a variety of fields than as a unified consensus on the nature of human consciousness and the world. Several developments stand out: From a more holistic perspective, the new systems and complexity sciences challenge the old atomistic and material mechanistic world view with its assumption of the completely detached observer; the perspective of deep ecology with its reverence for Gaia envisions a re-enchantment of the world and an honouring of earlier and indigenous ways of knowing that have become marginalized by the dominance of reason and science which dates back at least as far as the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; Jungian and post-Jungian depth psychology and the revaluings of Western arcane traditions and Eastern mysticism are now firmly rooted in Western culture though not in academic orthodoxy; a variety of feminist viewpoints expose the male or 'androcentric' and 'logocentric' bias at the very core of 'civilization' as we know it, calling for deeper and more adequate accounts of history and cultural changes; and of course, over the last three or four decades a new cognitive orientation has established itself in the humanities departments of many academic institutions, namely, postmodern criticism and deconstruction from Nietzsche to Heidegger, Gadamer, Derrida, Lyotard and Foucault, which, along with a multiculturalist ethic, reveal the linguistic, cultural and historical perspectivalism underlying all pretensions to objective truth and privileged value positions.

Most relevant to our present discussion, developments in transpersonal studies including all of the above fields and more, reach beyond the personal, psychological and humanistic dimension to a rigorous investigation and an honouring of the transcendent. In a holistic and unifying embrace that seeks to overcome the fragmentation and compartmentalization resulting from the modern and postmodern views, transpersonal theories seek to understand and articulate consciousness and nature in a multiplicity of ways—biologically, psychologically, socially, culturally, historically, ethically, cosmically and spiritually. These new fields and disciplines weave a multidimensional fabric, powerfully depicting a new vision of our world. Although there may be little consensus, little sign of an adequate overarching philosophical account, there is within this diversity a common ground of agreement; namely, a deep questioning of the 'modernist' view, a view originating with the Copernican discovery, given paradigmatic form by Bacon and Descartes and achieving, with Locke and Newton, a triumphant self-congratulation in the age called the Enlightenment. But beyond the common point of rejection of the modern materialist paradigm with its privileged knower and its objective certainty, any attempt at accomplishing an overarching synthesis of the views of the new physics, complexity science, depth psychology, deep feminism, mysticism, altered states of consciousness etc. through a teleological and evolutionary account of history and consciousness conceived within a transpersonal ontology—'a grand theory of everything'—still comes into direct conflict with the radically interpretative and constructivist postmodern perspective. Replacing the modernist belief in the possibility of certain and objective knowledge, is the newer idea that the mind does not simply mirror an objectively existing, concrete, material and mechanistic nature, but in some sense informs and creates its very world.

Modern and postmodern epistemologies

The modernist paradigm, generally described as a Cartesian dualistic and Newtonian mechanistic and atomistic worldview, has through the ninteeenth and twentieth centuries become an increasingly naturalistic and objectifying world view. In speaking of the modern paradigm, we are referring not solely to its singular objectifying view of nature, but to its underlying conviction, rooted in the Greeks, that the human mind can come to know what is objectively and independently 'True'. Having given up on such a serious quest for Truth, postmodern constructivism holds that all experiences and truth claims are culturally, historically, and linguistically mediated or constructed; consequently, we cannot speak meaningfully of a universal nature of things behind the diverse claims, we cannot speak of a ‘Truth with a capital T’ beyond the creative diversity of culture and experience. As Richard Tarnas (1991) puts it, "there is no 'postmodern world view,' nor the possibility of one. The postmodern paradigm is by its nature fundamentally subversive of all paradigms, for at its core is the awareness of reality as being at once multiple, local and temporal, and without demonstrable foundation." (p.401) Whereas the modern has considered its world view to be ‘the way things really are,’ the postmodern argues that the modern is only one world view among an indefinite number of possible world views, none of which can be established as privileged among others in disclosing ultimate Truth. Consequently:

….The more one interprets the more one finds not the fixed meaning of a text, or of the world, but only other interpretations. These interpretations have been created and imposed by other people, not by the nature of things. In this discovery of groundlessness the inherent arbitrariness of interpretation is revealed. For if there is nothing to interpret, then everything is open to interpretation; the only limits are those arbitrarily imposed. (Dreyfus and Rabinow 1983, 106-7)

In its most radical form, postmodernism carries a pervading naturalistic and anti-transcendent bias leading to the relativistic pragmatism of the later Wittgenstein or of the ‘end-of-philosophy’ philosopher Richard Rorty.3 Such a relativism, even if nobly inspired by the Enlightenment’s egalitarian and multicultural spirit of tolerance for differences, ultimately undercuts the legitimating grounds of meaning and value which are needed to guide further human evolutionary flowering. Though fostering an intellectual and cultural diversity free of the hegemony of positivistic science, postmodern ‘constructivism’—e.g. Wittgenstein, Rorty, Derrida, Foucault, where such notions as self, subject, consciousness, meaning, values, truth, individual, collective, are seen as products of such underlying conditions as ‘discursive’ and ‘nondiscursive practices‘, ‘forms of life‘, historico-linguistic structures—nevertheless perpetuates a subtle form of 'naturalism'. It has no place on which to ground the constitutive linguistic structures other than in the determinisms and contingencies of material and nonconscious nature.

From the postmodern and multicultural perspective, an interdisciplinary investigation into the varied emerging perspectives will be approached more as an open-ended conversation, as an embrace of diversity, rather than as a challenge to understand the universal essences underlying the diversity. From the point of view of much of the new thought, concerned as it is with creative richness and diversity while embracing pluralism and pragmatism over artificial 'logocentrism', any attempt at a 'grand synthesis' allegedly commits the ultimate sin of all intellectual, cultural, and (consequently) socio-political tyrannies in that it asserts a new imperialist and totalizing theory. Hence, the well-known postmodern imperative always to observe an "incredulity to metanarratives" (Lyotard 1984, .xxiv).

The transpersonal perspective

Broadly speaking, the transpersonal perspective agrees with the postmodern that the pre-modern, the modern and other world views are indeed 'world views', none showing, at least by themselves, the ultimate nature of things—all perspectives being socially, psychologically, historically and linguistically shaped. But it does not agree with the postmodern position that various world views are shaped exclusively by social-linguistic factors. Rather, successive and varied world views are rooted in certain ‘deep structures of consciousness’ or ‘archetypal processes’ which cannot be explained away as arbitrary, disclosing nothing beyond the historically contingent process of human constructivism itself. Although there is agreement between transpersonalism and postmodernism that the old objectivist cosmology is inadequate to account for twentieth century scientific and psychological insights and discoveries, there is an essential difference; transpersonalism is committed to taking a stand within the shifting sands of endless meaning contexts.

The 'new paradigmatic' activity which arises from the 'ruins' of radical deconstruction becomes an ontological and epistemological investigation into the nature of paradigm itself, into the process and history of paradigm formation, rather than a direct search for a new and better paradigm that trumps all the old ones. Now in a radical spirit of self reflexivity, we question the foundational nature of foundations themselves that masquerade either as 'facts' or as a priori principles and assumptions. Unlike the ultimate foundational and indubitable principles sought by traditional metaphysics, our new paradigmatic principles or metaphors of explanation cannot constitute a rock bottom and certain foundation of things, but need to be seen as the horizon of an ever expanding, integrating and evolving totality of experience and knowledge. To give up the need and the search for a formulatible certainty—a search for an unquestioned set of foundational axioms—is surely an increase in wisdom.

Foundational to the transpersonalist stand is the contention that the experiences and reports of mystics and advanced practitioners of certain trans-rational and trans-linguistic cognitive modes expand this horizon, reveal an ever widening and deepening dimensionality beyond previously 'constructed' worlds. The full range of cross-cultural 'mystical' experiences reveals a certain number of 'realizations' which are veridical and ultimately transformational, revealing the ontological ground of sensorily, linguistically and culturally mediated 'experience'. In fact, even the relative beginner in the practice of mindfulness meditation begins to become aware of that non-tangible “space” in which both self and world are revealed, not as separate and distinct but as intimately connected, a dimensionality more encompassing than ordinary subject/object consciousness. The transpersonal perspective ultimately implies a larger and flexibly open-ended 'meta-framework', the on-going articulation of which is necessary for comprehending and mapping the diversity of views.

Within the relatively new field of transpersonal theory a number of sometimes conflicting metanarratives have been advanced which situate the diversity and sometimes the developmental succession of various world views and paradigms within an overarching cosmological meaning, a revisioned ontology and epistemology. These viewpoints can be classified as a partially discordant triad: The first orientation can be broadly described as a neoperennialist and evolutionary progressive view of the nature of consciousness which describes a template of successive and holarchically nested stages and deep structures which map the trajectory of history from the cosmological, to the biological, to the psycho-social, and ultimately to the transpersonal levels. The second orientation, in some ways resonant with the post-modern rejection of essentialism, engages a pluralistic epistemology free of the constraints of an articulated universalist ontology with its teleological assumptions, thus eschewing ontological levels and overarching historical pictures of development in favour of an openened spiritual practice, and interreligious dialogue. The third viewpoint can loosely be described as a neoJungian depth perspective which emphasizes the dialectic of consciousness and unconsciousness at all stages in the course of individual and historical development. Evoking the mythic motif of the journey of the hero, consciousness as an increasing sense of autonomous selfhood emerges from an original state of subconscious and undifferentiated unity with the ground of being, then passing through a stage of separation and even alienation from the original matrix, undergoes a life and death struggle resulting ultimately in a rebirth and a reuniting with the original ground of being, but now in full consciousness, aware of the ultimate Unity in Multiplicity (“The godly powers sought and dangerously won are revealed to have been within the heart of the hero all the time.” Campbell 1972, 39.)

The neoperennialist perspective

In our time, the term 'perennialism' denotes a traditional cosmology that envisions reality as composed of ever higher 'levels of being' all the way up from pure matter through biological forms to the divine—the Great Chain of Being as Arthur Lovejoy named his now classical history of ideas which traces a multilayered cosmology from its source in Plato's Timaeus, though Aristotle and Plotinus up to Leibniz, Pope and others of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries who stood outside the rational/empirical Enlightenment stream. Capturing the logic of the hierarchic concept of being and truth are the words of the perennialist thinker, E.F. Schumacher:

The ability to see the Great Truth of the hierarchic structure of the world, which makes it possible to distinguish between higher and lower Levels of Being, is one of the indispensable conditions of understanding...Many things which are true at a low Level of Being become absurd at a higher level….Given the different levels of being, to know anything about the world one must be adequate to the 'thing to be known'. "When the level of the knower is not adequate to the level...of the object of knowledge, the result is not factual error but something more serious: an inadequate and impoverished view of reality. (1977, 14, 42).

Affirming the a priori concept of depth against postmodern levelling, the philosopher Huston Smith (1989) contends that "the Modern Mind was flat because it took its directives from science which cannot get its hands on the component of experience that verticality tokens, namely values. By contrast, the Postmodern blurred and amorphous. Not only does it lack an embracing outlook; it doubts that it is any longer possible (or even desirable) to have one." (p. 232)

Inspired by the evolutionary visions of Hegel and Aurobindo and standing within a tradition stretching back to Plotinus and forward to philosopher Henri Bergson, theological paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin, Jungian theorist Erich Neumann, and cultural historian Jean Gebser, the transpersonalist Ken Wilber has given the 'Great Chain' a thoroughly historical and teleological form in terms of the humanities and social sciences of the twentieth century. In Wilber's view, despite differences of method and interpretation, not only do the 'ultimate' mystical realizations of such traditions as Vedanta and Zen Buddhism coincide ontologically, but less spiritually advanced levels of transpersonal experience across diverse religious practices and traditions also broadly coincide in that they access, in their phenomenologically varied ways, the same deep ontological structures. Not only are there alleged universal core structures which underlie the spectrum of transpersonal differences, but there are also core structures informing the domains of ordinary experience. For example, despite distinct cultural differences between East and West, there is a structure of rational thought, namely, Piaget's formal operational thinking, which underlies a diverse range of values, core beliefs, and practices.

Beyond its particular hierarchic or 'Great Chain' formulations, at the core of the perennialist conception is the claim that the universal, rather than being merely abstracted from the particular (nominalism), is the ontological ground of the diversity and relativistic pluralism of the epistemologically shaped 'surfaces' of things. As Huston Smith (1992) writes: "Red is not green, but the difference pales before the fact that both are light. No two waves are identical, but their differences are inconsequential when measured against the water that informs them all." (p. 256) The perennialist view advanced by such thinkers as Huston Smith, Fritjof Schuon, E.F Shumacher, and further developed in the earlier writings of Ken Wilber, holds that there is a core set of 'experiences' (e.g. out-of-body experiences, mystical union with the divine, disclosure of an ultimate nondual Emptiness) uniting the diverse phenomenological accounts and doctrinal views of various religious and mystical traditions. Such 'experiences' — if they can be thus psychologized—are held by perennialists to disclose a trans-individual, trans-historical, and even trans-experiential ontological reality beyond ordinary culturally mediated consciousness.

The pluralistic perspective

Within the transpersonal field there are many who feel that certain deep ecological, femininist, multicultural, interfaith dialogical, and even shamanic indigenous perspectives world views and cultures have been marginalized and reduced by such universalizing theoretical schemes as Wilber's. In such hierarchical stage-by-stage, level-by-level models, the development of the West, despite its obvious pathologies—explained away as unfortunate divergencies from optimal development—is implicitly postulated as paradigmatic for the optimal overarching development of the potentialities of the homosapien brain. One implication of such a meta-narrative is that women along with indigenous and pre-urban social groups and societies (assuming they have not already been hegemonically absorbed) are called on to 'catch-up' by following the developmental steps laid out by men and the ‘more advanced’ West respectively.

In its recognition of a radical epistemic plasticity, what we are calling the pluralistic transpersonal perspective is resonant with the spirit of postmodern contextualism and constructivism yet goes beyond it; in the words of Heron and Reason (1997), "any conceptual context is itself set within a wider and deeper experiental context." Critics of Wilber’s allegedly overly agentic, progressive and Eurocentric view call for a softer and more 'allowing' approach to the universe, a creative play of 'emergent', new and entirely unpredictable features best understood through an ongoing conversation. Such a transpersonal participatory perspective shares with postmodernism a suspicion of the over-universalizing and hierarchizing tendencies of perennialist thought which allegedly constrains the obviously creative, emergent and indeterminate diversity—a diversity that can never legitimately be subsumed under ‘totalizing universals’. Rather than assuming that varied mystical experiences actually access the same fundamental reality—and in particular, that they even access different common levels so that some practices can be accurately identified as 'higher' than others— the transpersonal thinker Jorge Ferrer (2002) has, in the spirit of postmodern indeterminism, articulated that what reality is, is an ever open-ended unfolding mystery which can be disclosed from many experiential standpoints in many ways, none of which can be said to be a disclosure of an Absolute universal reality or deep structure. From the transpersonal perspective, the process of cultural constructivism is itself situated within a deeper onto-epistemological context—a processive engagement of an unfolding and indeterminate 'reality'. In fact, as Ferrer argues, such a perennialist idea of deep structures, or of an objective Ultimate beyond our participation, drags in the old "myth of the given", the modernist notion of an objective truth on the other side of experience, a sort of Kantian noumenon lying beyond and superior to our knowing. This anti-perennialist conception within transpersonalism has recently received its most adequate and nuanced articulation by Ferrer who claims, through a reformulation of the epistemological foundations which have thus far informed transpersonalism, to be advancing a participatory view of reality—an epistemology where "nature's unfolding truth emerges only with the active participation of the human mind," where "the world's truth realizes itself within and through the human mind" (Tarnas 1991, 434). Such a participatory conception falls between the unacceptable relativism of pure postmodern relativism and the procrustean universalism of perennialism.

It has been repeatedly stated (by Ken Wilber and others) that the relativistic view is self-undermining since the statement itself claims to be a final statement of Truth; namely, the Truth that there is no Truth. Jorge Ferrer has pointed out that while this argument (the 'performative error' argument) is valid against the most radical form of relativistic claims—that is, against the extreme claim that everything is on the same level and that no epistemological and ethical distinctions can be made—it misses the point of the softer form of relativism. This softer form involves a legitimate questioning of any a priori absolutist claims advanced with an insensitivity to context, while it asserts a creatively indeterminate and 'participatory' view of reality. Pertinent to this issue of soft relativistic transpersonalism is Peter L. Nelson's view of spiritual knowing as an 'ontological neutralism' where through a process of critical deconstruction, even of apparently ontologically ultimate and self-validating mystical experiences, one arrives at the view that there may be no final bottom line. But "that realization itself is not merely a new bottom line that there are no bottom lines, but is an entry into a profound unknowing that must be lived as an abiding existential ontological uncertainty." (Nelson 2000, 75)

The neoJungian perspective

Some of the objections to the hierarchical universalist ontology can be answered by the neoJungian perspective, especially as articulated by transpersonal philosopher Michael Washburn in his concept of primary repression as the necessary foundation of the mental-ego and the consequent propulsion through its inevitable angst toward a ‘regression-in-service-of-transcendence’. The clinical experiential disclosures and the mapping of the perinatal matrices by transpersonal psychotherapist and theorist Stanislav Grof similarly identify a return to origins involving a transformative opening to the collective unconscious. In a number of works, Grof has provided an archetypal cartography of the collective unconscious that not only identifies the primal matrices underlying certain classes of pathology but also articulates the ontological interpenetration of biologically primal (the life-death dynamic of the birth process) and transpersonal experiential domains. The neo-Jungian view articulates the intuition that something of great value has been lost—something that we once experienced, however dimly, and with which we were once connected. Furthermore, due to the dialectical polarity of consciousness and unconsciousness, this 'something' was inevitably lost in the process of taking the next developmental step—the birth of self reflexive interiority and individual autonomy out of prior collectivity and the group mind. But to move on from here and now, to move beyond our present critical and severely imbalanced condition, we must reclaim and embrace that which we have lost—the feminine, the earth, the anima mundi. Such an integration is not merely a modification of the ego and its drive to greater self actualization, but a radical transformation which necessarily accesses the transpersonal dimensions. We are speaking here not of a buried aspect of the personal self, but of an archetypal dimensionality dialectically related to and as ontologically significant as the essentially agentic and masculine dimensionality that came to form the infrastructure of civilization, and of Western culture in particular.

Toward a softer universalist teleology

The account of history in which emergent and ever more complex and higher levels of consciousness are drawn by an ultimate telos illustrates development in terms of overarching principles and universal or 'deep' structures. But this view of a meaningful trajectory of consciousness-evolution does not have to put linear constraints on evolution’s natural diversity, to marginalize the ever present “other”, or to exclude such 'new science' and generally non-teleological ‘chaos’ perspectives as the natural phenomena of 'self organization', emergent properties, or Sheldrakean morphogenetic fields; rather, it places them within an archetypal map. Nevertheless, morphic fields, subtle energies, and emergent properties still do not explain consciousness; only an archetypal conception can relate these models to consciousness. The open indeterminacy and variety of detail at any stage and level of development does not preclude the presence of a sacred Pythagorean-like ontological geometry within the broad parameters of which the details of creation spontaneously emerge—including Sheldrake's cosmological habits and morphic resonance.

I believe it is possible to articulate an ‘evolutionary’ account that recognizes developmental sequences and levels which are informed by universal meta-principles, an account that does not ontologically marginalize, diminish, misinterpret, or absorb the ‘other’ in whatever form the ‘other’ appears, yet which maps and explains the complex shape of actual history (both species and individual) with all its dialectical imbalances, distortions, and repressions. Any such theoretical account or meta-narrative must situate itself in relation to the most adequate existing accounts or theories and offer a synthesis of the best features and a resolution of the most critical disjunctions among existing models. The main intrafamilial yet significant disagreement among teleological evolutionary views of consciousness and history centers around the issue of whether or not the so-called higher level transformation of the particular modernist/postmodernist structure of the relatively autonomous and rather monochromatic mental-ego and its accompanying dualist epistemology involves a necessary return to some historically and ontologically prior dimensionality.

Ken Wilber holds that it does not, that Washburn’s view is a regressive and Romantic mistake that confuses the original unconscious and predifferentiated unity-state of the child and the ‘primitive’ human with the fully conscious integrated state. Such a conflation of pre-mental egoic and post-mental egoic levels he has named the “pre-trans error” allegedly committed by Romantics, Jungians and some eco-feminists who reach back falsely to a ‘golden’ or enlightened past that never was — namely, childhood and that apparently more peaceful and egalitarian period of human history prior to the patriarchy. Similarly, in response to Grof’s perinatal cartography, Wilber maintains that we do not go back to birth in order to transcend, because birth is a biological reality and belongs on a lower ontological tier of the Great Chain of Being. I believe that Wilber’s pre-trans distinction is generally valid as applied to the sequencing of a particular line of development, e.g. the stages from the naïve child, to the loss of innocence, to the possible later gaining of wisdom. But when applied foundationally and ontologically, the pre-trans distinction (despite later refinements that try to ameliorate its essential linearity) betrays an overly constrictive structuralist ontology which recognizes dialectic only within the terms of the deep structures—physical cosmos, biosphere, psyche, soul, spirit—rather than as that which fundamentally informs those structures.

When articulated in terms that engage and modify the profound insights of several new paradigmatic viewpoints including the essential ideas of Wilber, Grof, Washburn, Tarnas and others, the astrological mandala, through its bi-polar, dialectical, cyclic and upwardly spiralic logic, compels us to describe a developmental trajectory that preserves the idea of a multileveled ontology informed at every level by the dialectics of self and other, individual and collective, agency and communion, differentiation and integration within a still more fundamental polar dialectic of consciousness and unconsciousness. Thus development proceeds from a state of undifferentiated unity to an extreme differentiation and creative yet dangerous diremption to a transformative interpenetration and a reuniting pictured as Washburn’s ‘regression-in-service-of-transcendence‘, Grof’s perinatal encounter, Tarnas re-embracing of and reconnection with the feminine—a journey conceived in such a way as to not be in violation with what is valid in the logic of the pre-trans distinction.

Psychotherapist/astrologer Glenn Perry (1991) has extensively argued that astrology is a discipline which 'makes sense' and must necessarily be understood within an organic, holistic and connected paradigm, a holistic world view that was replaced by the subject/object divisive and objectivist modern scientific paradigm. But more important than the re-affirmation of the organic and holistic cosmology within which astrology was originally conceived, is the fact that the deep logic of the astrological archetypal mosaic when properly interpreted is itself an archetypal mapping of the very process of historical paradigmatic succession, of the very structure and development of consciousness.

Astrological universals

In answer to the critics of neoperennialist universalism, the meanings of astrological symbols are not fixed essences that describe the way things precisely are beyond our experience of them, behind their manifest qualities. Rather, these symbols are dynamic multivalent nodal points of an archetypal network that both allows and gives rise to an indefinite array of possibilities as they are creatively engaged by emergent consciousness. They are not imposed frameworks or boxes that constrain the diversity and indeterminacy of life’s expressions—a constraint on experiential and transpersonal diversity that Ferrer attributes to the universal structures of neoperennialism. The particular sort of universalism inherent in the idea of the astrological archetype is free of the box-like restrictions suggested by the concept of foundational deep structures or universal frameworks. Astrology reveals an ontological ground of things while disclosing an unlimited freedom. Any one archetypal principle has a multiplicity of possible expressions at each of various levels, although the essence of the expressions of one archetype can never blur with the expressions of another even as they come to interact and intertwine producing ever new complex patterns and influences. For example, in planetary terms, the expressions of Jupiter always involve an expansive inclusiveness and consequently, can never slide over into a Saturnian separative contraction even though these two archetypal colourations continually blend and mix to form the phenomenal palate of manifest existence.

The deep astrological logic does not literally map the actual stages and structures of developing consciousness a la Wilber's structural-hierarchic scheme or Washburn's bi-polar dynamic and object-relations stage model. Rather, it maps the constitutive archetypal principles that can be seen as underlying, generating and informing, through individual and historical experiential participation, the deep self/world and individual/collective forms at all levels of evolutionary unfolding and individual psychological development. In this sense, our structuralist and universalist model is constituted by fundamental principles that are deeper and more multidimensional than the alleged deep structures (e.g. body-ego and mental-ego, concrete operational and formal operational cognition) which these archetypes have brought forth. In the participatory mode of knowing and being as articulated by such thinkers as Tarnas and Ferrer, where personal and transpersonal worlds are enacted rather than waiting to be discovered, such an archetypal nodal network lies behind the deep structures and developmental levels that constitute the basic categories of transpersonal models.

Beyond psychological astrology

Among the various branches of astrology, it is 'psychological astrology' which has constituted the major developmental and interiorizing step beyond astrology's older externalized, concretized and fatalistic historical forms. Astrology’s symbolic meanings have been enriched through the languages of existential and humanistic psychology, Jungian depth psychology with its study of archetypal mythic themes and the dynamics of the unconscious, and the new spiritualities from Eastern and Western mystical, occult and perennialist traditions. The language of astrology is deeply rooted in the symbolistic logic of ancient mythology. In his Origin and History of Consciousness, the Jungian theorist Erich Neumann, identifies the deep psychological structures that correspond with the originally concrete mythic stories that rest upon the cultural surface of an evolving and developing consciousness. "Just as unconscious contents like dreams and fantasies tell us something about the psychic situation of the dreamer, so myths throw light on the human stage from which they originate and typify man's unconscious situation at that stage." (Neumann 1973,.263). Neumann is able to tie in the individual developmental stages with overarching historical and collective developments:

When we speak of the stages of conscious development, we mean...the archetypal stages, though at the same time we have repeatedly stressed their evolutionary and historical character. These stages, with their fluctuating degrees of ego consciousness, can be shown to be archetypal; that is, they work as an "eternal presence" in the psyche of modern man and form elements of his psychic structure. The constitutive character of these stages unfolds in the historical sequence of individual development, but it is very probable that the individual's psychic structure is itself built up on the historical sequence of human development as a whole. The concept of the stages can be taken as much in the "Platonic" as in the "Aristotelian" sense; as archetypal stages of the psyche's structure they are constituents of psychic development, but they are also the result and deposit of this development all through human history. (264)

Thus Neumann unifies human psychology and history as a grand and overarching history of the evolution of consciousness, a history that is more than a mere cultural history of ideas. As Owen Barfield puts it, '...the progress of ideas has been as much, or more, a function of the evolution of consciousness than its vehicle.' (1998, 104.)

And just as the mythic themes or archetypes now reveal the deep structures of which they were formerly largely an unconscious expression, so do the traditional stories and archetypal descriptions of the astrological symbols now richly reveal their deeper archetypal and psychological meanings. Contrary to Ken Wilber’s demeaning of the cognitive significance of myth which is allegedly confined to expressing a concrete mode of thinking developmentally inferior to logical and conceptual thought, “…neither the negation of myth by scientific intellect nor its transmutation into logos by philosophic intellect can exhaust the essence within myth. The mythical has to be restored to the existential whence it originates in an elemental sense and within which the core of the content of its meaning can be accorded anew an existential interpretation…”(Nishitani 1982, 173-74)

If astrology—specifically the sophisticated psychological astrology of the last few decades—reveals itself as a picture of the deepest formative principles of the human psyche and its developmental unfolding, then in terms of the insight of certain contemporary new paradigmatic thinkers (such as Gebser, Wilber, Habermas etc.) as to the homologies between ontogenetic and phylogenetic structures, it follows that astrology is also a picture of the deepest formative structures of the history of evolving consciousness. In this way, the scope and nature of astrology goes beyond the domain of psychological astrology to the understanding of the archetypal form of the deep structures of history. Of course, astrologers have always known that astrology works on collective as well as on individual levels. Although much of Western psychology has tended to be exclusively subjective and egoic in orientation, psychological astrology has always included both the spiritual dimension found in Jungian depth psychology and insights within the humanistic post-sixties 'human potential' movement. Nevertheless, for a more adequate understanding of human psychology in its integral relation to culture, for an understanding of individual development in relation to collective evolution, we must look toward an astrology that goes beyond the still individualistic purview of 'psychological astrology.'

The astro-transpersonal model in brief outline

In articulating an astro-transpersonal model a significant fact to keep in mind is that astrology is neither a purely human-created a priori model with a particular theoretical agenda nor a purely empirical model; rather, it is a cosmic and 'living' Rosetta stone waiting to be deciphered and enactively recreated at ever deeper levels. The astrological universalist picture is always larger than our theoretical understanding, more nuanced than any inevitably restrictive models can articulate.

For those who are not familiar with the astrological mandala, Fig I shows the two- dimensional chart circle, the multifaceted backdrop against which the ever-changing angular geometry of the planets unfolds. The circle is divided fundamentally into four quadrants by two orthogonal axes—the horizon and the meridian. In terms of the twelve houses—first, second, third etc—the two axes situate the planets in relation to any point on the Earth’s surface. In terms of the twelve signs—Aries, Taurus, Gemini etc.—the two axes signify the equinoctial (horizon) and solstitial (meridian) points of the Earth’s annual journey around the sun—i.e. from a geocentric perspective. The axes mark fundamental transition points, points whose significance in terms of the diurnal motion of the planetary bodies has been actually confirmed statistically by the scientific research of Michel Gauquelin 4. In addition, since the mandalic geometry also reflects the angular relations of the planets to each other, in terms of their corresponding archetypal meanings, these four points reflect the meanings of the most significant quadrature aspects—the conjunction, opposition and the two squares formed by the cyclic relation of any two planets. The archetypal mosaic is to be understood not only structurally but processively, not only geometrically but as a dynamic and complex process of change and development as the cycle unfolds from one sign to the next, the process repeating, sometimes at more mature levels, through successive cycles of emergence and unfolding.

The hemispheres, quadrants and each of the twelve principles signify a unique yet multivalent archetypal configuration. In terms of a simple cycle conceived in pre-modern cyclic time within a largely fated cosmos, movement is traced from Aries (spring equinox) all the way around to Pisces and then back to the Aries point to begin a new cycle—the “cycle of eternal return”. But rather than pure cycles that illustrate simple change without apparent growth, the cycles are actually spirals depicting emergent properties mapped as a developmental trajectory with reference not only to the two horizontal axes but also to an implicate vertical axis measuring increasingly archetypally ramified states of consciousness.

It is centrally significant that in mapping our softer universalist astro-transpersonal model, we cannot meaningfully say of archetypes (i.e. in this case, the twelve signs/houses) that any one stands 'higher' than any other as they do in Wilber’s holarchically nested model where, for example, conceptual reason stands higher than mythic imagination (Fig. II). Yet there are indeed earlier and later stages and levels of development, evolutionary and devolutionary trajectories, optimal and pathological expressions, lesser or greater dimensionalities, For example, psychologically speaking, a lower level of the first sign Aries includes instinctual precipitous action and aggressivity while a higher manifestation would be pioneering courage, strong and appropriate assertiveness. These higher and lower expressions or manifestations of each archetype, astrologers have called the higher and lower octaves of a sign, house or planetary configuration which in terms of spatial modelling, require mapping along an axis at right angles to the two axes describing the zodiacal circle.

As any developmental line—of any individual or any culture—proceeds from one archetypal configuration through another, each subsequent astrological category does not stand higher than the previous category even though optimally a higher level is reached. The emergence of a subsequent dimension (e.g. Taurus following Aries; Gemini following Taurus) is a product of a certain relative limit reached, a certain learning that takes place in terms of the former at a particular level; but rather than being subsumed in a ‘superior’ subsequent (horizontal) archetypal structure, the former structure optimally continues to grow and develop along with the subsequent archetypal structure once the breakthrough to the new level has occurred through the subsequent structure (i.e. Taurus, Gemini et al).5 Rather than stage/structure 1 being subsumed into stage structure 2 etc. the ‘higher’ is the total structure of 1 and 2, with 2 as the leading-edge of further development (Fig. III). In this way the important height dimension of perennialist models is preserved without their overly objectifying and essentialist structuralism. Unlike Wilber’s deep hierarchical structures, the astrological formative principles and categories go all the way from the ‘bottom’ to the ‘top’. Nevertheless, as the neoJungians claim, development does in fact proceed through repression and subsumption (but only on our Outward arc); that is to say, mythic imagination, in fact, eventually gives way to conceptual reason through the dominance of the prevailing paradigm which effects further developments while marginalizing earlier dimensions which will need to be later redeemed. An adequate map must reveal the dynamics that point toward this repressive process of stratification without logically enframing that subsuming process as genuinely integrative. Athough he argues that repression and patriarchy are simply ‘unfortunate’ deviations from the optimal pattern of successive differentiations and integrations, it is interesting that Wilber’s holarchic model actually enframes and legitimates, even if unintentionally, the hegemonic West, male dominance, and historical logocentric imbalance by fundamentally mapping cosmos and consciousness through a sequence of holarchically nested containments.

The astrological model is based on the principle of a dynamic bi-polarity resonant to the Taoist metaphysical concept of the yin and yang—a dialectical interplay of archetypal bi-polar principles at the core of evolving consciousness. Rather than focussing on the figure and leaving the background in shade, astrology's uniqueness lies in its central framing of the logical relation of particular and context, self and 'not-self', psyche and world, agency and communion, individual and collective, male and female, consciousness and unconsciousness as the foundational dialectic that drives development. The foundational and generative bi-polar axis is the horizon—the dialectical relation of Aries and Libra, the first and seventh principles (see Fig. I). The forceful, self assertive Aries stands in complementary but dynamic tension with the relational and accommodating Libra—in larger terms, the differentiating impulse to self development stands in dialectical and complementary relation with the connective impulse to social development from the so-called pre-personal and pre-patriarchal period to the personal and patriarchal and then to the post-patriarchal period along an 'Outward arc' trajectory of evolution.

Rather than conceived as simple spirals unfolding from Aries through Pisces etc. (1st through 12th), each facet (sign/house) stands in complementary and dialectical relation to its 180 degree opposite. Thus, an upwardly cyclic movement of a sweeping axis from Aries/Libra to Taurus/Scorpio all the way to Pisces/Virgo describes a trajectory of bi-polar spirals reminiscent of the structure of DNA. Such an overarching picture strongly accords with the map—described by Coomaraswamy (1985) and early Wilber (1980, 1981)—of an Outward and an Inward or Return arc of consciousness development. The spiralic sequence 1/7 to 6/12 (Aries/Libra to Virgo/Pisces) marks the Outward arc while the upwardly spiralic sequence from 7/1 to 12/6 (or from Libra/Aries to Pisces/Virgo) marks the Return arc, or the domains of the trans-egoic or transpersonal (Fig IV). Each of the four deep structure-levels shown here (each constituted by three substructures) is informed by the crossing of the axes by the double spiralic trajectory. In terms of the Outward arc, the six categories of the lower hemisphere refer to the development and structures of selfhood while the six categories of the upper hemisphere refer to the dialectically related structures of society and the collective; or, in terms of an individual’s birth chart, the participation of the self in relational and community life. In terms of a reverse tracing of the axes back over and directly resonant to the Outward arc structures, the Return arc transcends the selfhood and society meanings of the two hemispheres of the Outward arc while sustaining their core particular and universal meanings.

The Outward arc (1/7 to 6/12) signifies the development of consciousness—from pre-modern to modern to a still unfolding but increasingly maturing ‘postmodernity’—through a Promethean drive, an emphasis on the agentic pole dominant ‘over’ the communal pole (self over other, male over female), building ever more complex and largely stratified, rather than optimally integrated structures of consciousness.6 The Return arc is a process of deconstruction of the dualistic and divisive Outward arc structures from a more inclusive space of transcendent yet immanently grounded awareness. The Outward arc builds the ego and collective institutional structures: The Return arc does not consist in building further and ever greater superstructures on the basis of the ordinary self/world structure; it is not an accessing of new and hierarchically ordered structures beyond those of the Outward arc through an androcentric and agentic Promethean striving upward and onwards! Rather, as we move into more subtle and rarefied levels of consciousness, we are called to deconstruct and 'bring up into' the higher space of transpersonal awareness the now transformed self/world structures of the Outward arc. Transcendence is an accessing of higher onto/epistemological domains through a radical re-organization, a deep transformation involving a total deconstruction of self and its experienced world(s) revealing higher and more subtle levels of ‘consciousness already’.

Since the ego cannot develop except in distinction from the non-ego (individual distinct from society, psyche distinct from nature, or male heroics distinct from female cooperation and compliance), the development of egoic consciousness on the Outward arc necessarily occurs over against unconsciousness. The Outward arc is archetypally characterized by an Either/Or, while the Return arc is characterized by a Both/And. Contrary to Ken Wilber’s pre-trans distinction, a stable transcendence is therefore not possible without our 'going back' and awakening to all the marginalized levels, not only to uncover the individual's buried history (de-repressing the personal unconscious—as Wilber agrees) but most centrally, to engage the collective unconscious. Coming to manifest a higher archetypal meaning of the Libra/Aries (7/1) axis, the turning point from Outward to Return arc is necessarily mapped as a new and transformative relation to the Other where the 'other' is not required to do 'catch up', but rather the self (or dominant group or culture) awakens in the Other to all that which has been rejected and marginalized through the process of its own development, requiring a surrender and a mutual awakening as an equal synergy of male and female, East and West, first and third world, urban and indigenous. The difference between the transpersonal levels on the one hand and the pre-personal and personal domains on the other is that the transpersonal is an integrative joining, a flowing together of the conscious and the unconscious, once the (previously inevitable) divisive structures begin to be deconstructed. Rather than a pure transcendence, this opening into the larger space of transpersonal awareness is immanently grounded in body and nature. As we turn and enter the Return arc, it is through a transpersonal embrace that all deeply rooted dualisms and divisions of the Outward arc begin to be reconciled; the epistemic losses, dialectically established on 'the other side' of our 'partial' epistemic gains, can begin to be redeemed.

Thus is formed a dynamic three dimensional model—a holistic, interpenetrating, holographic, ontological whole within which consciousness journeys and unfolds through a pluralistic and participatory epistemology.7 It remains to explicate this model further in terms of its architectonics and the complex and multivalent richness of the four quadrants, the twelve signs, the two hemispheres, and the four deep levels of consciousness. Fully articulated, this model avoids some of the foundational logical problems that arise with mapping successive levels of evolutionary development in terms of nested deep structures as does Wilber (despite his later refinements).8 By holding the templates of various transpersonal and overarching developmental accounts of history up to the astrological archetypal map, we open the logical space within which a more adequate story or metanarrative can emerge that at best offers a synthesis of existing models and a resolution of their most troublesome differences.


1. For the most evidential and extensive empirical and scholarly interpretative account of concrete and cultural dimensions of history from the Ancient world to the present (philosophical, artistic, political, religious, scientific, intellectual, popular) in remarkable coincidence with the archetypal meanings of certain contemporaneous outer planetary alignments, see the forthcoming, Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a new World View by the eminent cultural historian, transpersonalist and astrological researcher Richard Tarnas. See also his earlier Prometheus the Awakener: An Essay on the Archetypal Meaning of the Planet Uranus and Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View.

2. This paper is a modification and abbreviation of the introductory chapters of my book in progress: Embracing a New Dawn: Transpersonal Theory and the Astrological Mandala. The transpersonal theory and ‘holonic logic’ of this synthesizing model has been worked out in a number of papers including my: “Airing our Transpersonal Differences”, “Holonic Logic and the Dialectics of Consciousness”, “Consciousness and the Holonic Infrastructure” and the forthcoming, “Perspectives in Transpersonal Theory: Mapping the Perinatal.”

3. See his Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature.

4. The late French statistician Michel Gauquelin established hard statistical evidence that the planets Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and the Moon correspond to particular personality traits just as the ancients had claimed: Saturn with scientists, Jupiter with actors and politicians, Mars with athletes, and the Moon with writers. Selecting those persons at the very top of their profession as best embodying the traits associated with their particular field, Gauquelin found that a statistically significant number had the 'appropriate' planet rising in the Eastern sky or culminating around the zenith position, thus activating the traditionally significant angles of the astrological birth chart. Gauquelin's work has been replicated several times and is not in dispute, though many scientists like to ignore it or downplay its significance.

5. For example, a dwindling food supply and population pressure in hunter/gatherer culture (Aries) may set a contingent limit which propels agricultural learning and the emergence of a new mode of farming consciousness (Taurus). But this ‘limit’ does not constrain with any finality the potentiality of the Aries dimension, even as hunter-gatherer culturean early expression of the Aries dimensionbecomes part of the buried strata of history and the collective psyche, rather than integrated holarchically into the subsequent (Taurus) dimension. Aries consciousness goes on developing in accord with subsequent emergent structures, but will eventually be called to develop in a way which is no longer distorted by the stratifications of earlier historical development. This example of the historical movement from Aries through Taurus etc. occurs in dialectical relation to the simultaneous Libra through Scorpio etc. process, a dialectic which describes, among other dimensions, the inevitable encounter of warlike and peaceful societies (‘dominator’ and ‘linking’ societiesEisler) where Aries, once the hunter, now becomes the warrior and conqueror, eventually moving society toward the repression of women and all aspects of the feminine, including feminine epistemologyprocess, contextualism, conversation etc.through institutional hierarchy, war, genocide and imperialism.

6. The dialectical logic and dynamic of the Outward arc is more complex than this. For example, in the later stages of the Outward arc trajectory we see an increasing complementarity of the dialectical poles leading up to the transpersonal threshold. Nevertheless, such a complementarity of the poles resolving patriarchal and ethnocentric dualisms cannot itself heal the foundational part/whole split upon which the individual self is inevitably based. See my forthcoming: Transpersonal Theory and the Astrological Mandala: An Evolutionary Model.

7. The cylinder model with its four main levels of consciousness development (which here is incompleteit actually includes four main levels beneath what is shown, referring to the stage/levels of cosmic and biological evolution) gives the impression that the ‘bottom’ is farthest from the Ultimate Source which is mapped at the ‘top’ as in Wilber’s neoperennialist model. But unlike the Neoplatonic metaphor which situates matter at the ‘bottom’ of the Great Chain, farthest from the Absolute's emanation, the complete cylinder needs to be seen as curved back on itself to form a Torus (the shape of the manifest in both personal and transpersonal dimensions) with each end connected directly to Source or Ultimate Ground, a Ground which both directly brings forth (Big Bang) and receives (Enlightenment) through an evolutionary and involutionary dialectic differently conceived from the overarching metaphor of Ken Wilber.

8. Wilber is disposed to reject astrology as a valid knowledge discipline a priori on the grounds that the language that describes the physiospherethe domain of cosmic and planetary activitycannot possibly address the levels of meaning which emerge at the higher level known as the noosphere. While technically correct in terms of the disjunction between the language of physics and the language of the humanities, the complete multitiered astrological model not only explains the downward reach of the Return arc without violating what is valid in the pre-trans distinction but, in the light of actual evidence demonstrating the time-space correspondence of planetary movements and higher level domains (most systematically through the work of Tarnas, for example), also illustrates, through mapping the same deep structures or astro-archetypal categories from ‘bottom’ to ‘top’, how such resonance occurs.


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