May 31, 2014

THE MENU

In the summer of 1968, when I was 23 years old and just beginning my astrological studies, the thought that the history of Western astrology is contained within a larger and more inclusive history of human consciousness first came to visit. I've been entertaining my visitor, and exploring all that this marvelous idea might possibly mean, and all that it might imply, ever since. Here's what my guest has taught me...


February 21, 2014

WHY THIS OLD RELIC?

The awareness of a correspondence between celestial and terrestrial rhythms has long been the cornerstone of one of humanity's oldest psycho-spiritual practices. A 25,000-year-old bas-relief of the Goddess from Upper Paleolithic Europe is the first archaeological evidence we have confirming it. The ritualistic form of practice that grew out of this celestial/terrestrial awareness developed in a very stable evolutionary symbiosis with shamanism, changing quantitatively for some 23,000 years as its practitioners learned from their experience, but never really changing qualitatively.

Then, 2200 years ago, in the final two centuries Before the Common Era, a huge qualitative change took place quite suddenly when the traditional Egyptian form of the old ritual ran head-on into a revolutionary new communications technology - the Greek alphabet. It took less than a century for the changes in brain function and psychology brought about by one of the major weapons of the Literacy Revolution to trans-form the original practice into the one we in the West today call 'astrology' - from the Greek words astron, meaning: 'heavenly body', and logos, meaning: 'to be present with in a meditative way'.

In turn, the astrology of the book had a period of relative stability that lasted until the second half of the 20th century when the technological environment of the Digital Revolution began to seriously erode the literate paradigm of human consciousness and, along with it, all its cultural institutions. Now the form of human celestial/terrestrial awareness is changing once again. 

So how does one ride the leading edge of this change? By remembering what humans have being doing for a long, long time now - aligning their life-energies with the qualitative aspects of time as revealed by the ever-changing relationships of the heavens and the symbolism associated with them. 

When we invite the movements of heaven to become the organizing principle of our awareness, the structural frame of our consciousness, we discover a sense of right relationship to the world that results from living in a 'participation mystique' with the cosmos. As the British essayist Thomas Traherne once wrote: "You never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars."

LIFE ON THE EDGE
Humanity is in great peril. Any organism that destroys its environment inevitably destroys itself. Many of us today understand this; and because we do, we're making a conscious effort to reconnect with nature, and teaching our children to do the same. Because the practice of astrology could help with this, you would think that it might at least be tolerated, perhaps even appreciated. But this is hardly the case. So why does even the mention of the word 'astrology' instantly raise the blood pressure of almost every philosopher, scientist, and general thought-policeman within hearing distance? 

The real answer to this question is not the one that usually gets trotted out: that astrology is simply bad science, pseudoscience; and to give it any credence whatsoever is delusional at best. In other words: we're expected to reject it on the grounds that it's clearly unscientific. When the National Science Foundation released its 2014 list of Science & Engineering Indicators, and stated that "fewer Americans rejected astrology in 2012 than in recent years", the response published by Mother Jones became just the latest example of the quasi-religious belief that the kind of 'knowing' perfected by science is the only valid way. The truth, however, is that the scientific critique of astrology completely misses the point.

Science, along with every other form of institutionalized inquiry preferred by Westerners, is a by-product of the invention of the alphabet, and an expression of the particular form of consciousness that alphabetic literacy effectively conditions. In the 20,000+ years of its existence, astrology never has been what our culture understands by the word 'science'. Rather it's something much older, and therefore entirely other than science.  

Astrology is really a time-capsule of sorts, handed down from a different paradigm of human consciousness and a different style of human cognition. And because of this, astrology's pre-literate, analogical, participatory way of thinking remains forever a baffling anomaly to the objectifying, analytical, conceptual thinking of the Western-educated scientific and philosophical mind. 

Over the course of the last 3000 years the psychology that accompanies the acquisition of alphabetic skills has systematically obliterated the pre-alphabetic psychology from which astrological awareness originally emerged. As a consequence, the practice of astrology has been thoroughly colonized by the the thought-habits that have become synonymous with thinking during the literate phase of the history of Western consciousness. Few astrologers today seem to understand the implications of this hostile takeover since we too share the same thought-habits, and because we never stop to consider how the Literacy Revolution influenced our current understanding of astrological practice.

ALL HER EMPIRES ARE FALLING DOWN
Enter the Digital Revolution. All the empires of literacy, all its time-honored cultural institutions - including the literate interpretation of astrological practice - are rapidly disintegrating as, one-by-one, each slides back down into the dark, roiling waters of the Racial Unconscious. The world built in the image of the literate mind is coming apart at the seams. In the sparse words of the novelist Louise Erdrich: "Everything familiar dissolves into strangeness." 

The ancient Greeks believed that all the intellectual disciplines spawned by the dissemination of the alphabet were gifts of the Sun God, Apollo. Lost in the brilliance of their collective light, the practice of astrology faded from view - exactly like a planet does when approaching conjunction to the Sun. For Traditional Western astrologers, such a planet was said to be 'disappearing in the beams of the Sun'. 

These same astrologers had another phrase to describe how a disappeared planet once again becomes visible as it leaves conjunction. I've borrowed this description for the title of my blog because it so aptly sums up the change in astrology's situation as we better learn to distinguish its unique reason for being from that of Apollo's gifts. And so, liberated from the objectifying constraints of philosophy, and from any need whatsoever to prove itself a science, a new post-literate paradigm of astrological practice is ‘emerging from the beams of the Sun’.

Everything that follows then explains my conviction that the key to our common post-literate future - both as astrologers and as humans - lies not in the history of our literate entrainment, but in the mystery of our pre-literate origins. Therefore all these postings reflect a spirit that’s quite different from the one informing mainstream astrological practice today - both West and East. So be forewarned. Leaving 'the reservation' may prove hazardous to your literacy-conditioned understanding of this time-honored celebration of participatory human consciousness.

February 18, 2014

ROBOTS FOR FREEDOM: WHAT ASTROLOGICAL PRACTICE HAS DONE FOR ME & CAN DO FOR YOU

I was 20 years old in the autumn of 1965, and in the throes of a major life crisis. I had just started my second attempt at college and was once again on the verge of failure. Desperately lonely, with very little understanding of who I really was, I spent my days trying on different roles like one might try on suits of clothing on a shopping spree. Nothing I tried remedied my angst. I knew full well that dropping out would leave me vulnerable to the draft; but I just couldn’t seem to pull myself out of my downward spiral. 

At my wits end, I sought help from the school psychologist. Dr. Marvin Herrick had received his professional training at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland. Like most Jungians, Dr. Herrick was big on dreamwork; and so he became my guide in the wild and beautiful back-country of my dream-life. Gradually the understanding emerged that all my woes stemmed from studying what my father wanted me to study rather than what I was really interested in. So against his wishes I changed programs, and immediately my life began to turn itself around.

My successful mentorship with Dr. Herrick had peaked my curiosity about his mentor: the psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung. So I began to make my way through Dr. Jung’s Collected Works which, if you’re at all familiar with his writings, is no simple task. Again and again I would notice him making some favorable reference to astrology. Wondering why any intelligent human being in the 20th century would do that, I decided to look into the matter for myself.

WORK FOR OURSELVES: THE LESSER MYSTERIES
Well, that’s my story. So what’s yours? Why are you bothering to read this? Perhaps you too are searching for something, just as I was. Looking back from the vantage of my 68th year, I can see that in the midst of all that unhappiness and suffering of my early 20’s I was searching for two things. 

The first was a vehicle for self-knowledge that was more direct than dreamwork, because our dreams clearly have a life of their own and don’t always shine their dark light on the issues one hopes they will. I needed a way to study myself that was more under my own control: something I could apply to specific problems, and that would give me better answers to the questions that were still burning their way through my soul. So I decided to follow Jung’s lead, and cultivate what I now like to call my ‘astrological awareness’. 

Mention the word ‘astrology’ in any context today, and most Western-educated people dismiss you outright. Or, if anyone is at all sympathetic, they immediately think of the twelve signs of the Zodiac. As useful as the Zodiac can be, especially in helping to identify one’s basic ‘type’ - i.e., a person’s natural way of being-in-the-world - this wasn’t the information that convinced me to seriously study astrology. Typologies definitely can play a role in helping us understand ourselves; however they‘re often used to create a very static picture of a person or situation. 

It was when I discovered that it’s possible to use the continuously-evolving pattern of planetary relationships to create a moving picture of ourselves and others that ‘the language of the stars’ really became interesting! So I made it a daily practice to attune myself to the cyclical movements of our solar system and their symbolic correspondences on Earth. 

In other words: I became intellectually and emotionally at-one with the ever-evolving dance of the Sun, Moon, and planets; and then I set out to verify in my own experience the claim made by astrologers that the symbolism of this planetary dance mirrors the patterns of the earthly life-stream. In the next posting, I’ll give you a practical example of what this means.

By educating my awareness in the astrological manner,  I was able to satisfy my need for better self-understanding. Being astrologically aware increased the degree of my consciousness. I became more conscious, more comprehending, of myself and others. And as the aperture of my consciousness opened, I was finally able to answer the question: who am I? - not in some abstract or theoretical way, but by appreciating how energy moves through me, and through my personal life, in uniquely patterned ways. 

Astrology further taught me that these energetic patterns tend to get habituated. It helped me see my own habits, and showed me how to convert a life of being run by them into one of intentional cooperation with the energy behind and informing them. In other words: it isn’t so much a matter of eliminating undesirable habits as it is learning how to work their archetypal energy in more beneficial ways. Hence the title of this posting: Robots For Freedom

WORK FOR OUR MOTHER: THE GREATER MYSTERIES
Having found a way to know myself, I knew there was still something else I was missing - a second piece of the puzzle; but at the time, I couldn’t really articulate what it was. All I knew is that I was wandering through my days haunted by a vague, uneasy sense of spiritual homelessness.

It took some time for me to realize it, but as I got increasingly skillful at attuning to the celestial cycles and observing what actually came to pass in my life and in the world as they unfolded, I began to experience something that was completely unexpected, but turned out to be the remedy I was seeking. As I became at-one with the movements of the solar system, I found myself experiencing a visceral, intimate at-one-ment with all of nature and all of life that the anthropologist Lucien Levi-Bruhl quite aptly terms participation mystique

It was subtle at first; but as this participatory engagement in the world deepened, my consciousness was no longer simply expanding, it was actually trans-form-ing. No ecstatic conversion, no shattering revelation, no big enlightenment. Just my disconnected, alienated, literate form of thinking and consciousness gradually morphing into one of inter-connective belonging.  

In Steps To An Ecology Of Mind, the communications theorist Gregory Bateson writes: “There will be no New Age until people learn to think in a new way.” So why should a new way of thinking, and a new form of consciousness, be more important than expanding the forms we already have? And why in particular is this experience of participation mystique not only desirable, but perhaps even necessary for our individual and collective survival?

LIFE IN THE DECLINE: THE DESOLATE EARTH
Some years ago now, The Sun Magazine published an interview with Kalle Lasn of Adbusters, who thoughtfully lamented: "It's a measure of the depth of our consumer trance that even the death of the planet is not sufficient to break it.” Consumer-based economies like ours today definitely present an unprecedented sustainability problem; but is this the real problem, or is it just a symptom of an even deeper malady? Could it be that our consumer trance is largely the result of our current ‘thought-habit’, a manner of thinking that is so taken for granted in Western cultures that we don’t even notice it, much less ever feel the need to question it? 

Our Western way of thinking was spawned by the invention of the Semitic alphabet in 1600 B.C.E. and institutionalized by the Literacy Revolution that soon followed. Today, alphabetic literacy continues to be championed by every Western-style educational institution in the world. It’s one of our most valued sacred cows.

The core feature of the pre-literate paradigm of human consciousness had been an instinctual at-one-ment with the natural world; but the core feature of the literate paradigm is what the philosopher Martin Heidegger calls the ‘subject/object split’: an experiential divide between a subjective, perceiving self - i.e., ‘me’- and an objective, perceived reality separate from me - i.e., the ‘world’.

Every way we think about ourselves and the world today is a product of the split. Philosophy, for example, is one; science is a second; and capitalism a third. Objective thinking has become so pervasive because in some ways it’s been so successful. It has improved our physical lives through science and technology, and our spiritual lives through the contemplative value of literature and the humanities. 

However, the psychology of the split has a shadow-side as well. It’s primarily responsible for the rampant hyper-individualism infecting our politics and economics and destroying our viability as a functional democracy. But more to the point being made here, the split alone is responsible for our unrelenting commodification of the natural world, and for the resulting desolation of our whole planet. In the blunt words of the naturalist John Muir: “Nothing dollarable is safe.” 

The only thing that can change this is a revolution in human consciousness. And if we’re to avoid what the philosopher Slavoj Zizek calls the ‘zero-point apocalypse’ now looming up before us, it will have to be a broad-based revolution. But this may not happen, or happen fast enough. So I recommend you view Diane Bell’s indie film Obselidia in case it comes down to deciding how to personally come to terms with the negative consequences of our collective inaction.

For right now anyway, birthing a new form of consciousness doesn’t mean that we have to abandon our hard-won ability to think objectively, or that we have to give up reading and writing. What we do need to do is learn how to step in and out of the split at will - and I suggest you find some way to address this now, as it may already be too late. 

A CROWN OF STARS
The Greeks got hold of the alphabet in 800 B.C.E. By 500 B.C.E., alphabetic literacy and the subject/object split had successfully launched the cultural miracle they’re so famous for. As a society, they managed to avoid many of the split’s shadow qualities that we today are falling prey to - such as hyper-individualism - because, unlike us, they had a functioning cultural institution that balanced the divisional tendencies of the split.

The Mysteria of Eleusis, was a two-part Bronze Age at-one-ment ritual that kept the split in check for 1200 years after the arrival of the alphabet. The first part, called the ‘Lesser Mysteries’ was celebrated each spring, and marked the beginning of a six-month period of intense preparation for the ‘Greater Mysteries’ celebrated each autumn. 

Since Western societies no longer understand the need to foster cultural institutions designed to antidote the excesses of the split, we have to do it for ourselves. That’s why earlier I called the ‘Work’ of getting one’s personal house in order: the ‘Lesser Mysteries’, and the re-membering of the at-one-ment: the ‘Greater Mysteries’. It doesn’t really matter how you do it; astrological practice is only one of many ways. But if you’re bothering to read this you just might be the kind of person who’s searching for this kind of pain relief - whether you understand what that means right now or not.

You don’t have to study astrology to have it help you embrace the Lesser Mysteries, the personal work of becoming a fully functional human being. A good astrologer can help you do that, especially if they have some psychological and spiritual training. To use astrology as your vehicle for the Greater Mysteries, and not actually get into the practice, is another matter entirely. I suppose it’s possible with the help of the right practitioner; but let the buyer beware. The practice of astrology has been as co-opted by the subject/object split as every other profession in Western culture. So unless you can find an astrologer who understands this, and is practicing in a manner that overcomes the split, you might do better with another vehicle.

Somewhere deep in psyche of every creature on planet Earth today - every plant, animal, and human - and in the dark light of the Spirit-world as well, the at-one-ment is calling to us. It’s the only thing that can make us sustainable again. 

February 17, 2014

SHOCKING TRANSFORMATION OR ZERO-POINT APOCALYPSE?

In an interview done with the BBC in 1959, Carl  Jung was asked how best to approach one’s own death. In a lengthy reply he stressed the importance of our attitude and the need for right thinking, saying: “When you think in a certain way, you may feel considerably better. And if you think along the lines of nature, then you think properly.” So how then does nature ‘think’; and how does she teach us to think? 

For starters, nature is far more verb-like in her cogitations than noun-like. In other words: the natural world is an ever-evolving symphony of intertwined processes rather than a set of static, autonomous entities. Secondly, nature does not think in linear progressions, but rather in circles, where every ending is always the prelude to some new beginning. When asked in the same interview if he personally believed that death was the irrevocable end, Jung responded that in the dreams of terminal patients, the unconscious seemed to completely disregard the threat, behaving instead as if psyche and life somehow continue on.

A circle in time is a cycle; and astrology is primarily a language of natural cycles. The twelve signs of the Zodiac, for example, can be taken to symbolize the twelve phases of the yearly seasonal cycle. The planets - which when viewed from Earth orbit against the backdrop of the zodiacal signs - ceaselessly move in cycles, within cycles, within cycles. The best analogy for the cyclical relationship of any two planets is another natural cycle: the growth of a plant, which consists of four progressive phases. 

First: the seed from which the plant grows germinates and the seedling begins to develop. This phase corresponds to the period of time between the conjunction - or periodic alignment relative to the Earth - and when the faster moving planet (the one closer to the Sun) reaches 90 degrees from the slower planet. So in the first phase of a planetary relationship cycle, whatever has begun at the conjunction, whatever process the relationship is symbolizing, builds its initial structures, reaching a crisis of sorts as the planets come to the opening 90 degree angle of the relationship. Astrologers call this a ‘square’.

Second: the plant matures, and then flowers and/or fruits. Astrologically this corresponds to the phase between the 90 degree and the 180 degree relationship of the two planets. If the developmental process the relationship is symbolizing survives the initial crisis of growth at 90 degrees, as the planets come to a 180 degree relationship ( or ‘opposition’), the process comes to full maturity.

Third: the plant produces its seeds; and between 180 degrees and 270 degrees (the closing ‘square’), the planetary relationship symbolizes the seed-bearing phase of the process. In the human situation, ‘seeds’ translate into understandings and awareness of the cycle’s meaning which effectively miniaturize the whole experience in exactly the same way the new seed does its parent plant.

And fourth: the seeds are released, and the exhausted plant begins to die and compost itself. In the final phase, from the closing square to the next conjunction and the beginning of the new cycle, the seeds of understanding and awareness of the process reaching completion establish the context and lay the foundation for the new process about to begin.

WE’RE RIDERS ON THE STORM
Let’s use the planetary cycle that’s currently most dominant in the world situation - the cycle of Uranus and Pluto - to illustrate what all this translates into. Due to the elliptical nature of Pluto’s orbit, the Uranus/Pluto cycle can vary in length from 115 to approximately 140 years. The cycle begins anew each time Uranus, which is closer to the Sun than Pluto and therefore moves faster in its orbit, passes between Pluto and the Earth. This, once again, is called a ‘conjunction’. The last Uranus/Pluto conjunction was in effect from 1961 through 1960. The next one will begin in 2100 and last through 2110.

Image: courtesy Bill Nolan
In the symbolic language of astrology, Uranus represents life’s unexpected twists and turns, or what we might call its ‘shocks’ and surprises - from political revolution to the societal impact of technological innovation. Pluto represents all life’s transformative processes or experiences of death and rebirth, meaning: all the ways that a curtain can go down on one phase of our lives and up on the next. So when considered together, the relationship cycle of Uranus and Pluto is always one of ‘shocking transformation’.

The big societal shock of the previous Uranus/Pluto cycle (1848-1853) had been the Industrial Revolution. In 1965, as the current cycle was just beginning, IBM released its first commercial computer, which officially launched the world-wide Digital Revolution. But there was another event, another seed planted, at the beginning of the current cycle that is perhaps even more timely and significant because it has the potential to trump all our technological achievements. 

Believe it or not, the first presidential briefing on the dangers of climate change was given to Lyndon Johnson in 1963. With the usual lack of foresight we’ve come to expect from most of our politicians, he completely ignored the warning. In early 2011, when Uranus reached the opening 90 degree square to Pluto, we entered the ‘crisis of action’ phase, meaning: that the seeds of understanding of the man-made effects of global climate change first planted in the 1960’s now must be acted upon if we’re to avoid the consequences. It is now very clear that this will require all of us in the next few years to ‘shockingly transform’ our fossil fuel-based lifestyles. 

Were we to actually do this - which, I’ll admit, seems almost impossible - by 2042, when Uranus and Pluto reach ‘opposition’ (180 degrees), our children and their children will be thanking us. And by 2069, when these planets reach their closing 90 degree square, the transformation of consciousness this will require will be built into the very fabric of the global techno-culture. 

If, on the other hand, we don’t act on this in the next three to four years, the people alive in 2046 will be living with the full-blown consequences of our inaction - and it won’t be pretty. If the astrological model proves correct, it won’t take until the end of the current century for the disastrous effects to be fully upon us. It will all happen by mid-century!

Think our rush to extinction cannot possibly happen this quickly? Then consider the following time line from a Dec 17, 2013 post by Dahr Jamail on TomDispatch.com. If, as the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead says, the process is the reality, is this enough reality for you?


* Late 2007: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)announces that the planet will see a one degree Celsius temperature increase due to climate change by 2100.
* Late 2008: The Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research predicts a 2C increase by 2100. 
* Mid-2009: The U.N. Environment Programme predicts a 3.5C increase by 2100. Such an increase would remove habitat for human beings on this planet, as nearly all the plankton in the oceans would be destroyed, and associated temperature swings would kill off many land plants. Humans have never lived on a planet at 3.5C above baseline.
* October 2009: The Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research releases an updated prediction, suggesting a 4C temperature increase by 2060. 
* November 2009: The Global Carbon Project, which monitors the global carbon cycle, and the Copenhagen Diagnosis, a climate science report, predict 6C and 7C temperature increases, respectively, by 2100.
* December 2010: The U.N. Environment Programme predicts up to a 5C increase by 2050. 
* 2012: The conservative International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook report for that year states that we are on track to reach a 2C increase by 2017.
* November 2013: The International Energy Agency predicts a 3.5C increase by 2035.

A briefing provided to the failed U.N. Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen in 2009 provided this summary: “The long-term sea level that corresponds to current CO2 concentration is about 23 meters above today’s levels, and the temperatures will be 6 degrees C or more higher. These estimates are based on real long-term climate records, not on models.”
On December 3rd, a study by 18 eminent scientists, including the former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, James Hansen, showed that the long-held, internationally agreed upon target to limit rises in global average temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius was in error and far above the 1C threshold that would need to be maintained in order to avoid the effects of catastrophic climate change. (http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175785/tomgram%3A_dahr_jamail%2C_the_climate_change_scorecard/#more)
In Hopi prophecy, unless humanity changes, our current ‘fourth world’ will be destroyed by fire. In the 1960’s, we thought that meant nuclear holocaust. Now we know, with drought and wildfire devastating the western US, parts of Siberia, and Australia what it really means. The philosopher Slavoj Zizek has dubbed all these converging catastrophes: the ‘zero-point apocalypse’.

EVERY ENDING IS A NEW BEGINNING
Today’s Uranus/Pluto square is someplace in every person on the planet’s astrological chart - yours included. If it’s positioned peripherally, then it will seem like the shocking transformation is taking place all around you. If it’s positioned centrally, it will be right on top of you in ways that will require you to shocking transform your own life. A good astrologer can help you understand what’s in it for you. Either way, it’s like living in hurricane Sandy 24/7, as life as we’ve known it breaks apart in order to re-construct itself in new ways.

Astrologically, we have no choice about living through this storm - unless we choose to exit - and that would just be another kind of shocking transformation! But we do have choice with regard to how we live through it. Either we choose to become the shocking transformation - change in the ways necessary if human life is to become truly sustainable - or we will suffer the shocking transformation. The former means we deal with the energies being symbolized consciously; the latter means we act them out unconsciously. The whole point of cultivating astrological awareness is to be able to live life more consciously. Things just work better that way.

So what’s it going to be for you? The Titanic is going down despite all the bullshit to the contrary. You can go down with it; or you can take to the lifeboats. Revolutions don't come from the top down, as Obama has once again demonstrated. They come from the bottom up. So change your life, and do it now!

Start right where you are. Join forces with like-minded individuals in your own community, and begin creating a world in which your children can thrive. The technology you need is already here. Choose life. The corporate vision for you, if you continue to buy into their consumer fantasy, is killing you. We need a different kind of American Dream, and we need it right now. Grow a garden, even if it's only in pots on your balcony, by the phases of the moon (Wendell Berry does). Don't worry if you seem to be the only ones doing this. People know something is wrong; but they don't know what to do. Health is contagious. Show them another way. If you need some inspiration, read Berry's poetry and essays, or chapters 8 & 9 of Thomas E. Mails' The Hopi Survival Kit.

Above all, learn to think like nature. There are many ways to do so; but developing your own astrological awareness, or consulting with someone who has done that, is one good way to help transform the obviously not-so-pleasant possibility of ‘zero-point apocalypse’ into a successful and sustainable shocking transformation.

February 16, 2014

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ASTROLOGER'S STUDY

In Kurt Vonnegut's futuristic novel The Sirens of Titan, the lone human representative on a pan-galactic space flight is summoned by the captain, who Vonnegut describes as a Portuguese man-o-war floating in a tank of sulphuric acid, and who says to the earthling: "Son, I'm sorry to have to inform you, but there's been a death at home." Shocked by this unexpected bad news, the young man anxiously queries: "Is it mom, is it dad?" "No son," replies the captain, "it's your whole solar system."

Our world does sometimes shift like this - suddenly, and in some completely unexpected way. When it does, our initial reaction is usually denial; and given our strong instinctual need for psychological stability, this is actually quite understandable. In its most extreme form, anthropologists call this: the 'disaster syndrome'. Emergency responders have been known to find individuals sitting in the midst of catastrophe calmly reading a newspaper, as if nothing out of the ordinary were occurring.

Institutions, nations - even well established intellectual and spiritual traditions - can also at times find themselves facing situations that trigger the disaster syndrome response. The conceptual foundations of physics, for example, were profoundly shaken at the beginning of the 20th century by the emergence of quantum theory - which yanked the rug out from under the feet of many classically trained physicists. And right now, an equally momentous and challenging change is in the works for those of us interested in the study and practice of astrology.

SINGING THE BODY ELECTRONIC
This isn't the first time that astrologers in the West have found themselves in the throes of a game-changing mutation. A huge shift in the form of astrological practice took place in the final centuries B.C.E., when traditional Egyptian astrology collided head on with the Greek alphabet. After perhaps 20,000 years of relative stability, it took the Literacy Revolution less than a century to produce a completely new form of practice, and for this emergent form to become the creative wellspring for what would grow into the entire 'Western' astrological tradition.

Now the winds of change are howling once again, as the Western form of practice pioneered by those Greek-literate Egyptians - the form that we today are still most familiar with - collides with the post-literate communications technologies of the Digital Revolution. These new technologies are changing astrological practice because they're changing you and I by re-configuring the way we perceive the world, the way we think, and the very form of consciousness itself.

Technology accomplishes all this by extending our senses, brains, and nervous systems in new and often poorly-understood ways. Your high-speed rail link, for example, is extending the reach of your foot. Your smartphone or tablet is extending not only the visual field of your eye, but the range of your ear as well. Your computer is both extending the operational capabilities of your brain AND providing the global techno-culture with its most powerful metaphor not only for mind/brain interaction but also, for better or worse, for the very definition of human nature itself! I say 'for better or worse' because this whole transformative process does have its shadow side. For more on this I suggest you view the three one-hour programs from the BBC available at: http://thoughtmaybe.com/all-watched-over-by-machines-of-loving-grace/.

The result of all these sensory and cognitive extensions is a transformation in what neuroscientists call your experience of 'peri-personal space', meaning: the way you experience yourself in the world. When you log onto the World Wide Web, your personal nervous system instantly merges with the global nervous system, and the whole world becomes your body. Little wonder that more and more of us today feel like citizens of the Earth, rather than citizens of any particular country; and why when we watch those images of some atrocity being perpetrated in a distant locale, we feel like it's happening to us.

The Digital Revolution may even be responsible for your interest in astrology. Prior to 1965, attendance at major astrological conferences in the USA usually numbered less than 50 participants. In 1972, when the American Federation of Astrologers met in Dallas, they had over 2000 attendees - most of whom were well under 40. Why such a sudden surge in youthful interest after centuries of dwindling interest?

OUR BRAVE NEW WORLD
We know that human perception isn't just a passive registering of the world, but an active constructing of a world. Our brains select certain stimuli to process from a much fuller range of incoming information. So we really do create our own realities, even if it's all done largely beneath the threshold of our awareness. In a similar vein, when the psychologist Charles Tart began his ground-breaking work with altered states of consciousness (ASC's) in the 1960’s, he posited a normal state of consciousness (NSC) as a baseline. After ten years of research, he realized that there is really no such thing as an NSC. In other words: we all live in varying degrees of ASC all the time!

The philosophical term for such perceptual magic-making is: 'participation'. The Literacy Revolution gradually turned human participation away from the incredible richness of the natural world - with which it had been engaged for over 100,000 years - and directed it towards the linear, sequential array of alphabetical signs on the written page.

But today the non-linear, simultaneity of electronic communications - the Digital Revolution - is re-directing our participatory engagement back to the larger world. Referring to the youth culture of the 1960's - the first generation of Westerners to have grown up in homes where both a radio and a TV were simply part of the furniture - the anthropologist Edmund Carpenter observed: "Young people today want a participation mystique with the cosmos." (Edmund Carpenter, They Became What They Beheld.)

Now a participatory entanglement with the cosmos is precisely what the practice of astrology is all about. So many of us who came of age in the 60's had no problem whatsoever taking astrology's ability to do this quite seriously - despite the fact that our doing so made our literacy-conditioned elders more than a little uncomfortable. We believed that if we just explained ourselves properly, these literacy-conditioned minds would understand why we were so enchanted with a practice that they had relegated to the boneheap of history.

How wrong we were! What we didn't understand at the time - and what most astrologers today still don't understand - is the extent to which the delineating (i.e., 'to put in a line') and objectifying (i.e., 'to make an object of') psychology of literacy works against any kind of participatory entanglement other than with the written word. Most of us, after all, had just spent the majority of our young lives immersed in an educational system whose sole aim was to foster the skills of literacy, and wherein learning to think in the disentangled paradigm that these skills condition was the ultimate goal.

So when in my electronically-incubated intuition of the interconnectedness of all things I was drawn to astrology, I quite naturally pursued my new interest in the manner I'd been taught to do by my literate education. What choice did I have? I didn't understand any of this in those days. How else could I possibly have proceeded except in the way modeled for me by all those generations of literate thinkers and astrologers that had preceded me? So I simply carried on, and assumed that my alphabet-entrained manner of astrological thinking was universally human rather than what it really was: uniquely literate.

RE-SETTING OUR ASTROLOGICAL MIND-SETS
It's now clear to me that putting all the time and energy I did into my astrological studies gave me a vested interest in not only the information I had acquired but, even more significantly, in the way I had acquired it. For a very long time, the literate mind-set hadn't been a problem because it had no competition. But that's no longer true because now we're in one of those rare moments in time when technological change requires that we re-set our conditioned mind-sets.

The way you, I, and all techno-cultured humans today think isn't the way humans have always thought. It's just that we've been thinking in the way we now do for so long that we've come to assume that it's just the way it is! This is what the term 'mind-set' means. Our minds, and by resonance our entire fields of consciousness, have been 'set' in a particular form or manner of operating by specific determining factors in our cultural environment.

Of course there are always personal factors that make each individual set unique. But underpinning these personal variations, like the bass-line in a musical score, is a powerful cultural template. This template is very complex and multi-layered, but two factors dominate. The first is the grammatical architecture of our 'mother tongue' - the language we learned first, and employ the most. And the second is the conditioned perceptual bias of the dominant communications technology.

For a very long time now, the mind-set of anyone who's been educated in the Western fashion has been fundamentally shaped by the common grammatical structure of the Indo-European family of languages, which includes, but isn't limited to: English, German, Dutch, French, Spanish, Italian, and Greek. We'll discuss what this means, and how the grammar of our language influences our approach to astrological practice, in the postings entitled: Language I&II.

In addition to language, the Western-educated mind-set has been strongly influenced by the experience of alphabetic literacy. Like language, the alphabet is a technology. Working in synergy, language and literacy have been entraining your and my perceptual and cognitive faculties since the day we were born. Together they’ve produced a form of consciousness that we call: the 'literate paradigm'.

For 2000 years now, the literate paradigm of human consciousness has found expression in the literate paradigm of astrological practice. Even though we're no longer living in the literate environment, virtually everything we have access to in the way of astrological information today - in books and magazines, online, or by way of personal instruction - has been colored by the literate manner of thinking. The history of Western astrology, as we currently understand it, is the history of literate astrology since all the astrologers of record are the authors of books. Do you really think it’s pure coincidence that the astrologers of the book 'read' astrological charts and call doing so a 'language'? 

Since most Eastern astrologers today have also been 'educated in the Western manner' - matriculated through a curriculum designed around alphabetic literacy - what I'm suggesting here applies as much to them as it does to Western practitioners. And in the special case of Jyotish (Vedic astrology), both Sanskrit and Hindi are members of the Indo-European family and therefore share a common perceptual and cognitive bias with many Western languages that only serves to reinforce the unique psychology conditioned by the experience of alphabetic literacy.

Neuroscientists today like to refer to the brain's 'plasticity', meaning: its operational flexibility. If our neurobiology is capable of supporting different expressions of mind - as the concept of plasticity possibly implies - what else besides ignorance or habit is keeping us from exploring the possibility that astrological thinking can proceed in ways other than we currently understand? 

WHAT'S THAT ELEPHANT DOING IN HERE?
Any mass communications technology - like, for example, the alphabet - becomes a structural element of culture to the degree that it becomes pervasive. When it does, it becomes a functional environment. Members of the culture swim in this environment like fish do in water; and it's as invisible to its constituents as water probably is to the fish. When some new technology becomes even more pervasive, the 'environment' re-arranges itself to reflect the nature of the new technology. Our psychology and manner of thinking adapt to the new environment, and our consciousness morphs into a new form.

This hasn't occurred in the West in a very long time - which is why it's so difficult for us to understand what's happening, and why we're seeing the 'disaster syndrome' response becoming more common. Millions of fear-based individuals retreating into fundamentalist belief systems - be they religious, political, or economic - is one end of the spectrum; and the other end is the increasing number of individuals retreating into electronic hallucinations: "getting lost in that hopeless little screen." (Leonard Cohen, Democracy.)

Even though our perceptual faculties are now completely immersed in the new digital environment, our minds are still deeply enmeshed in the old thought-habits of literacy. For many of our interests today - such as, for example, philosophy and science - the dis-entangled nature of the psychology of literacy isn't a problem because these interests are themselves creations of this psychology. But astrology's different, and here's why...

Humans have been astrologically attuned now for a long, long time. Exactly how long? One compelling piece of evidence is known as the ‘Venus of Laussel’. This bas-relief carving was done in the Upper Paleolithic somewhere between 20,000 and 27,000 B.C.E. - at a time when, in Nicholas Campion’s words: “a simple, archaic astrology, as embodied in the goddess figurine, was part of a wider ecological religion” (Nicholas Campion, The Dawn Of Astrology.)

In this carving, the goddess is noticeably pregnant. Her left hand rests on her ballooning belly; and in her right hand she holds a crescent-shaped bison horn inscribed with thirteen notches, believed by most scholars to be a simple lunar calendar. If this archaeological inference is correct, then the Venus of Laussel is our first indication that humans are becoming aware of a correlation between celestial and human rhythms, and proof that some expression of astrological awareness has been part of the cultural life of Homo sapiens now for at least 22,000 years.

And yet our modern form of astrological practice only began to emerge in the 2nd century B.C.E. - which is slightly more than 2200 years ago. So if we were to apply a baseline of, say, five generations per century, then we today would be members of approximately the 110th generation of 'literate' practitioners. Projecting the same baseline back to 20,000 B.C.E. would suggest then that the literate form of astrological practice is a mere 10% of our entire history! So what were those first 990 or so generations doing for the remaining 90% of the time that astrologically aware humans have been contributing to the development of culture?

The point I want to make is that the practice of astrology didn't originate as a product of the literate paradigm in the same way that philosophy and science did; but it's been processed through the literate paradigm and fundamentally changed by it. The fact that a pre-literate form of astrological awareness once flourished, and did so for thousands of years longer than the current literate form has done, is very much the elephant in the literate astrologer's study.

So why is this particular elephant so important? Why should we in the 10% on this side of the Literacy Divide pay any attention to what the 90% on the earlier side did? Because for reasons we'll soon see, reasons that are completely unique to the Digital Revolution, the only thing that can give us practical clues to who we're becoming in the electronic aftermath of literacy's untidy demise is an understanding of who we were prior to its spectacular ascendancy.

IT'S A BRAND NEW DAY
The literate world-view reached its peak of influence in Western culture in the latter half of the 19th century. Throughout the first half of the 20th century it plateaued. In 1965, under a rare conjunction of Uranus and Pluto (‘shocking transformation’), IBM released its first commercial computer, and the Digital Revolution was officially launched.  Now it’s fifty years later, and the electronic environment grows stronger and more pervasive by the day.

And yet in the midst of all this change, the literate paradigm of astrological practice still appears to be going strong. Observing the field, one would think that the established paradigm was doing just fine. The shelves in the metaphysical section of bookstores are full - even if the stores themselves are closing in record numbers. The astrologically-based academic programs are expanding, and the number of astrologers with the letters ‘PHD’ after their name is increasing. 

In the practice itself, for better than thirty years now, the focus has been on the restoration of the literate record and the refurbishing of the literate form of practice. But in the culture at large, it’s a very different story where, one by one, the institutions of the literate world-view are all collapsing like the empires of summer do each year in the first frosts of autumn. 

The internal integrity within the field of astrology during the current literacy-driven renaissance has grown noticeably stronger. But whatever hope the astrologers of the book have had that by cleaning up our own act we might win a greater degree of acceptance by mainstream Western culture does not appear to be being born out. The truth is that astrological practice never has had a very good fit with the literate paradigm of thinking anyway, which is why astrology has always remained something of a pariah. 

What's most ironic is that astrology's greatest curse in the literate environment - its chronic outsider status (remember: it was the child of a very different environment) - may just turn out to be its greatest blessing as the vacuum created by literacy's implosion intensifies. Time will tell whether or not the concerted effort to rescue the literate paradigm of practice will be successful, and what in the end this might actually mean.  

A new form of astrological practice uses the form it’s replacing as its content. Just as long ago the literate form took the old archaic practice for its content, the post-literate form will now take the literate practice for its. It’s important you understand that I’m not talking about jettisoning the literate form of practice. I’m just suggesting that we need to repackage the information in a form that’s more congruent with our digital environment.

The fact that astrology was thought, languaged, and practiced differently once before means that it could be thought, languaged, and practiced differently once again. Does the possibility that we could enfold the information contained within the Western astrological tradition into a medium of communication that teaches us how to be more in harmony with nature, in a way that re-entangles us rather than dis-entangles us, intrigue you as much as it does me? If so, the you just might want to keep reading.


February 15, 2014

THE BIGGER PICTURE

The Venus of Laussel, as it is known today, is a bas-relief that was crafted in the Upper Paleolithic approximately 22,000 years ago, and discovered on the wall of a cave in southwestern France in 1911. This stylized rendering of the Goddess is the first archaeological evidence we know of that human beings are becoming astrologically aware.

However, if the discoveries of the geologist Dr. Daniel Natawidjaja reported on by Graham Hancock are verified (see http://www.grahamhancock.com/forum/HancockG9-Mystery-Lost-Civilization.php), this date may turn out to be way too conservative. But for now, we can call the artisan (or artisans) who created the Venus of Laussel the West’s first astrological practitioner(s).

If we were to assume then that there have been approximately five generations of practitioners per century since then, it would mean that you and I are members of the 1100th or so generation of astrological practitioners in the current cycle of humanity.

Now 1100 generations certainly does comprise a substantial tradition! However, the kind of astrological practice that you and I today might recognize only began to emerge about 2200 years, or 110 generations, ago - which is a mere 10% of the entire tradition. What then were the first 990 generations, including the artisans of Laussel, doing as their practice for the 90% of the time that astrologically-interested persons have been contributing to the development of human culture?

THE PAST IS ANOTHER WORLD
According to our astrological historians, they were generating ‘omens’ and ‘portents’. Now it is certainly true that the oldest material in the literate astrological record consists of pithy aphorisms such as: ‘When Mars rises in the east at dawn, and the Moon is dark, the king should watch his back’. But come on! Isn’t this so-called 'omen material' merely the first generation of literate astrologers’ memory of what the 90% were doing? It's it what was left when all was said and done; more akin, therefore, to a desiccated husk rather than the living kernel?

To try and distill 20,000 years of human astrological awareness down to two enigmatic words is hardly an acceptable answer to my question. It’s roughly equivalent to those hapless monks in Walter M Miller’s science-fiction classic A Canticle For Leibowitz who, in the aftermath of nuclear holocaust, find what they believe to be a valuable relic of the incinerated civilization. It’s a scrap of paper that says: “2 lbs. bagels, 1 lb. lox.”  

Gloria Steinam once observed that the reason we call the time of our earliest ancestors ‘pre-history’ is so that we don’t feel like we really have to give it serious attention. Such bias is understandable, however, because a formidable barrier of sorts really does stand between us and the First People. It’s a consciousness barrier of sorts. We’ll call it: the ‘Literacy Divide’. The invention of the Semitic alphabet around 1600 B.C.E., and its gradual but relentless dissemination, changed the paradigm of astrological consciousness and practice, by changing the paradigm of human consciousness.

For the purposes of this posting, the word ‘consciousness’ means: an individual’s, or a group’s, qualitative manner of being-in-the-world. Human consciousness and mass communications technology co-evolve in complex symbiosis, with technology determining the cultural matrix or environment of consciousness. When the Literacy Revolution created a new environment, consciousness adapted its form. 

So if the 10% of us on this side of the Literacy Divide are one kind of human being and astrologer, and the 90% on the earlier side another, why should the 90%’s manner of practice be of any more than historical interest to us? Because those of us alive today find ourselves at a second great divide: the Digital Divide; and there’s good reason to suspect that the form consciousness will take as it adapts to the inclusive, electronic environment of the emerging global techno-culture will be more structurally congruent with the original pre-literate form than with the more recent literate.

Perhaps this is why techno-culture finds the indigenous world so fascinating; and if this formal alignment of the pre-literate and post-literate forms of human consciousness is news to you, perhaps you should visit (or re-visit) the communications theorist Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media (1964), and the anthropologist Edmund Carpenter’s They Became What They Beheld (1970).

So where am I going with all this? When astrologers today discuss the ‘history’ of our practice, generally what they mean is our literate history. After all, the first significant astrologers of record are all the authors of books. In other words: ‘history’ is pretty much what the literate 10% have done. So if we’re going to try and integrate what the pre-literate 90% were doing into our definition of astrological practice, we’re going to need to look at history in some way other than the conventional narrative of ideas, events, and personalities we’re accustomed to. We need a much grander vision that we currently have.

So let’s try looking at the situation in a different way. The history of Western astrology as we’ve know it to date, our literate history, is contained within a larger and more inclusive history of Western consciousness. This overarching pageant of consciousness began with a long but very stable pre-literate phase, passed through a much shorter and more volatile literate phase, and is just now entering an as-yet-unknown post-literate phase. So here's an analogy to help you put this all together...

BACK TO THE FUTURE
Imagine for a moment that the collective consciousness of all 1100 generations of astrological practitioners – what we might call the ‘long body’ of astrological awareness - is a rambling old house. The main floor has many rooms, each attractively furnished in the style of a recognizable historical period. These rooms represent all the diverse schools of Western (i.e., literate) astrology – from its beginning some 2200 years ago, right up to the present day. 

The current residents of the main floor are well aware that their whole domicile sits on the foundation of an old stone cellar - which symbolizes our pre-Western, or pre-literate, origins. But they’re not at all sure what’s really down there because a profound perceptual gulf separates the contemporary astrologers of the book from their most distant ancestors. Their conditioning is so deep that they’ve come to assume that the literate form of human consciousness has been a constant throughout astrology’s long history. If any of them even make the effort to peer down the dimly lit stairway, which they rarely do, all they see staring back are primitive reflections of their own selves – youthful, naive Western astrologers in face paint and feathers, if you will.

For exactly the same reason, it’s difficult for the current residents to appreciate the emerging post-Western paradigm of astrological practice, symbolized by a new second-story addition to the house that’s still under construction. This unfortunate situation is further exacerbated by the fact that the house has a rather odd architectural detail. The stairway to the new upper-story addition doesn’t begin on the main floor, where one might expect it would, but in the cellar. So if anyone wishes to visit the new addition, they can only do so by first passing through the old cellar. 

In other words: the only way to appreciate the emerging post-Western paradigm of astrological consciousness and practice is to understand its pre-Western roots. Why? Because the forms of consciousness associated with the old cellar and the new addition are more structurally congruent with each other than either is with the form that currently defines the main floor.

FIRST ASTROLOGER
Just as the Western tradition of astrological practice is an expression of the literate paradigm of human consciousness, the pre-Western practice was an expression of an earlier ‘archaic’ paradigm - the core feature of which was an instinctual at-one-ment with the natural world. 

Like ourselves, the First People were aware of their world and each other; but we suspect that they were not self-aware in the same highly individualistic way that we are today. In both the Iliad and the Odyssey, for example, Homer makes it quite clear that the pre-Classical (think: pre-literate) Greeks neither experienced their own bodies as integrated units, nor themselves as the source of their own decisions. 

The tribe itself was the matrix of thought, emotion, and consciousness, rather than the individual. Obviously there were unique human beings with singular capabilities and talents. But one’s personal sense of identity wasn’t as much based on these distinguishing qualities as on experiences of community. Prior to the change in human psychology precipitated by the Literacy Revolution, the basis of individuality in our modern sense - the carefully cultivated private point-of-view - simply didn’t exist. The grammatical architectures of many traditional indigenous languages don’t even support this possibility. For example: in Tzutujil Mayan, there is no verb ‘to be’. So the only way someone can say “I am” or “I exist” is to describe to whom, or to what, they belong.

The First People translated their experience of at-one-ment into a cultural context that earlier we termed ‘shamanist’, meaning: constructed around the institution of shamanism. 22,000 years ago, when First Astrologer was falling in love with the Moon, the affair took place in the shadow of an unprecedented burst of extraordinary shamanist creativity. 13,000 years earlier, cave artists had suddenly stopped drawing simple geometric shapes and had started producing more sophisticated animal and human figures. No one is quite sure what precipitated this change, or why First Shaman was probably the driving force behind it; but as Graham Hancock argues so skillfully in his book Supernatural, the discovery of psycho-integrative plants may have been the prime factor.
 
It would seem likely then that First Shaman was already there and waiting for First Astrologer to arrive, and that the two paths became intimately entwined quite early on. In Shamanism: The Neural Ecology of Healing and Consciousness, the anthropologist Michael Winkelman argues that the worldwide distribution of shamanism is not simply a result of cultural diffusion, but an indication that shamanic awareness is an adaptive biological response hardwired into the human brain. Perhaps the same could be said for astrological awareness, since First Shaman may not always have been First Astrologer, but First Astrologer was always and everywhere First Shaman. 

The mythical image of Chiron - Greece’s enigmatic half-human, half-horse King of the Centaurs - gives us further insight into the nature of this ancient at-the-roots bond between astrology and shamanism. For the indigenous tribes of archaic Greece, as for shamanist peoples everywhere, humans were but one small evolutionary step away from their animal origins. Animals, in effect, were their spiritual teachers. When the paleo-anthropologist Birute Mary Galdikas was asked what she had learned from a lifetime spent living amongst the native orangutan population of Borneo, she smiled and said: “Serenity.” First Astrologer and First Shaman both would probably have agreed with her, since the animal at-one-ment was obviously the existential prototype for the human at-one-ment.

Half-animal, the First People were totally immersed in sensory experience or, as the historian Giambattista Vico puts it in The New Science of History (1725): “buried in the body.” There is no reason to suspect that their senses reported anything significantly different to the brain than ours do today; but anthropologist Edmund Carpenter thinks that the archaic brain processed the report quite differently. No one sense dominated all others in the way that - primarily because of literacy - the sense of sight does today. In Carpenter’s terminology, our senses are currently ‘synchronized’ to sight, whereas the First People’s were ‘harmonically orchestrated’. (See Edmund Carpenter, They Became What They Beheld.)

It’s not exactly the same, but our closest equivalent to orchestration would probably be the sensory synesthesia that can sometimes occur under the influence of psychoactive agents - which, as anyone who has experienced it knows, produces a very different experience of sensory awareness.

WITH HALF OUR BEINGS IN THE SPIRIT WORLD
Buried in the body, the First People thought as all animals think: in images, impressions, sounds, and smells, rather than in the concepts and language-conditioned abstractions that we are accustomed to. When Venus rises as the morning star, astrologers today rarely take the time to enjoy the visual opportunity it presents, much less attend to any associated sounds, smells, or tactile impressions. For us, it’s predominantly an intellectual exercise, mediated by an ephemeris and filtered through habituated linguistic frames. But First Astrologer did attend to the actual event, and then used the information gleaned from her or his bodily awareness to organize the First People’s experience as effectively as we today use the conceptual information we’re interested in to organize ours.

First Astrologer’s neo-cortex — the thought and higher-function area of the brain — was probably fully developed; but she or he lived more consistently in the paleo-mammalian emotional and the reptilian instinctual centers. The preponderance of sensation and emotion this probably was responsible for is why Vico argues that the First People were more like passionate poets than wise philosophers, and why First Astrologer’s emerging skills of pattern-awareness consisted more of ‘participation in’ rather than ‘observation of’. And because the reptilian brain is the seat of ritualistic behavior, First Astrologer channeled all this participatory sensuality and emotion into shamanist ceremony rather than intellectual system.

There is one more way that the haunting image of Chiron can help us to understand First Astrologer’s unique psychology. In the shamanist worldview, the Human-world communes with the Spirit-world through the Animal-world. So, a creature half-human and half-animal is a being in intimate contact with the Spirit-world. The Spirit-world is a possibility that is very difficult for anyone steeped in the divided psychology of literate culture to even entertain. Everything that the First People attributed to spirit, we today attribute to mind or energy. Perhaps these three words are operationally more similar than they may initially appear. The First People knew the spirits through their effects. Isn’t it exactly the same true for the terms we prefer since , to the best of my knowledge no one has actually energy or mind either?

Any of us today can learn to visit the Spirit-world in the same way First Shaman did by educating (from the Latin educare: ‘to lead out’) the imaginative faculty. Anthropologists call this spirited, imaginal way of being-in-the-world: ‘animism’. Perhaps Chiron’s discovery in 1977 heralds a time of reconciliation with the spirits as the post-literate paradigm of consciousness becomes increasingly dominant. It’s already happening in some quarters. 

Commenting on his own work, The Spell of the Sensuous, David Abram writes: “In contrast to a long-standing tendency of Western social science, this work has not attempted to provide a rational explanation of animistic beliefs and practices. On the contrary, it has presented an animistic or participatory account of rationality.” 

In a somewhat similar vein, the psychologist Arnold Mindell confesses in The Shaman’s Body: “Until now, my identity as a psychotherapist has made me hesitate at the point of the spirit world...for fear of being misunderstood. However, my inner and outer lives can no longer tolerate such one-sidedness. I must drop my personal history and reputation to write this book.” 

And in a recent conversation, a neuroscientist friend recounted bringing up the topic during a discussion with a young, highly-trained physicist. “Spirits?,” the young man queried. “Oh! You mean independent entities in the topological field!”

As the term ’animism’ denotes, the First People experienced the spirits as the animating principles of everyday life rather than in any way associated with notions of transcendent experience, or ideas pointing away from the sensory world. The origins of our word ‘mystic’ is a perfect illustration of how the psychology of literacy changed things. 

The word comes from the Greek mystes, a term used to denote initiates of the Eleusinian Mysteries, who are depicted in surviving frescoes making their inward journeys at the culmination of the annual pan-Hellenic rite with their heads covered by scarves.

The world-famous rite survived until 400 AD, when Alaric and a contingent of elite Roman troops sacked the 2000 year-old shrine. So even beyond the Classical era, when literacy was becoming more and more common, Greece’s ‘mystics’ too were still buried in their bodies. In Aristophanes’ play, The Frogs, for example, the ‘mystical aura’ is the odor of a burning torch. “It is this atmosphere, the sensuous quality of a nocturnal festival, that this word ‘mystical’ here evokes for the Athenian of the 5th century: his ‘mystical’ experience is a specific festive rite.” (Caroly  Kerenyi, Eleusis.)

The historian of consciousness Owen Barfield calls this at-one, embodied, and communal way of being-in-the-world: ‘the Original Participation’. The form of astrological awareness and practice birthed by the OP remained remarkably stable for thousands and thousands of years; and then everything changed. Why?

THE LITERAL INTERPRETATION
The alphabet was invented by Semitic scribes in 1600 B.C.E., and carried to Greece by Phoenician traders in 800 B.C.E. Just three centuries later, Greek culture exploded in the flowering of intellectual creativity that it’s long been famous for.

The dissemination of alphabetic literacy fundamentally altered traditional patterns of human brain activity. Earlier forms of literate expression - such as the hieroglyphs native to dynastic Egypt  – tended to engage the holistic and imagistic capacities of the brain. The sequential nature of the alphabet, however, began to utilize the brain’s more linear proclivities. Such a significant change in habitual brain function, a re-molding of its plasticity, was the physical platform for a change in the form of human consciousness.

Alphabetic literacy undermined the archaic paradigm of human consciousness by conditioning a new paradigm. Martin Heidegger calls its defining characteristic ‘the subject/object split’: a polarizing of human experience into a ‘subjective’ perceiving self and a perceived ‘objective’ reality. Learning to stand back from the letters on the page helped humans learn how to stand back from the rest of the world.

The Literacy Revolution transformed the practice of astrology, but not in the slow evolutionary way one might expect. The new form of practice appeared quite suddenly, as if something had jump-started it - and something definitely had. Traditional Egyptian astrology coming up from the south had collided head-on with the Greek alphabet, brought down from the north by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C.E.. The result was ‘Hellenistic' astrology, the world’s first literate form of astrological practice.

“Within the short span of a hundred years or so, the rather minimal legacy from Babylonia and Egypt was totally transformed, and an entirely new body of astrological doctrine came to light. This fervent period of intense astrological concentration resulted in a veritable cornucopia of new astrological concepts and practices. These included such basic matters as aspects, the concept of rulership, the meanings of the houses, transits to the natal chart, and synastry…. We can assert that Hellenistic astrology effectively constitutes the birth of Western astrology.” (Robert Schmidt, “The System of Hermes: A Report From Project Hindsight,” The Mountain Astrologer, June/July 2004, emphasis mine.)

In his manuscript entitled On The Mysteries, the Neoplatonist Iamblichus tells us that the astrologers who first translated the traditional Egyptian understanding into Greek were all trained in Athenian philosophy. The literacy-based education they received in the academies left in the wake of Alexander’s conquest dramatically transformed the way these astrologers thought, languaged, and practiced their ancient art. The Greek alphabet was ultimately responsible for the destruction of the ancient astrological ritual, and laid the cornerstone for the prototypical modern astrologer: the astrologer of the book.

Today the subject/object split has become so pervasive, and its psychology so deeply ingrained, that we tend to equate it with consciousness itself. The phenomenologist Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) argued that it’s no longer possible for anyone educated in the Western manner to think in any other way. And since most contemporary practitioners of Jyotish (Vedic astrology) have also been ‘educated in the Western manner’, the literate paradigm is now firmly entrenched in this and most other forms of Eastern practice as well. Vedic techniques may have the thousands of years of undisrupted continuity that Western astrology sadly lacks; but it's not accurate to say the same for the consciousness of its practitioners. 

When we think objectively we formulate concepts and create representational systems. In other words: we re-present our experience to ourselves in an orchestrated construct of ideas, and then assemble those ideas into ‘systems’: conceptual integrations of specific parts into functional wholes. We think conceptually and systematically about the physical world when, for example, we propose a scientific hypothesis. We conceptualize or systematize meta-physically when we devise esoteric, philosophical, or astrological explanations of the world, or when we articulate psychological typologies. 

The content of physical and meta-physical systems may differ profoundly; but the objectifying manner in which each is thought is exactly the same. Thus when we today think astrologically, we do so by fashioning objective models of reality. Whether we’re presenting a portrait of a client, a profile of a business, or making generalized predictions for the coming year, we all think, language, and practice our astrology in the manner determined by the subject/object split.

THE DIGITAL ASTROLOGER
Whenever I discuss the psychology of literate practice with other astrologers, the most common reaction I get is: well, what else is there? As long as we stay within the literate paradigm, there is nothing else. And if our history were confined to the literate paradigm, there would be nothing else. But as our discussion so far should have offered ample evidence of, there’s so much more to our past than we currently understand or know how to appreciate!

The Literacy Revolution transformed the practice of astrology by transforming the astrologers themselves. ‘Homo sapiens’ became ‘Homo literatus’. This remarkable mutation would be of no more than historical interest if it were not for the fact that the Digital Revolution is right now changing us as profoundly as the Literacy Revolution changed our ancestors. ‘Homo literatus’ may still not get it; but she or he is already in the process of becoming ‘Homo technologicus’.

Information technologies functionally extend the human brain, and interact with its plasticity, in ways that reconfigure both personal and collective consciousness. Exactly as the Literacy Revolution was responsible for the demise of the archaic paradigm, the technology of the Digital Revolution is, right now, undermining the literate paradigm.

"The computer and the Internet will once again reconfigure the brains of those that use them. Typing is a two-handed activity that requires input from both sides of the brain. Writing requires only the dominant hand. The use of a mouse by the right hand necessitates the activation of right-hemispheric visual-spatial skills. The World Wide Web and the Internet are not linear, they are holistic. All ancient deities associated with webs and nets were goddesses. Many of the processes we use to operate a computer are inherently feminine." (Leonard Shlain, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess.)

The subject/object split is rapidly breaking down because the perceptually-entangled nature of our digital environment no longer supports it. Philosophy is completed; and science is being forced to move beyond objective thinking in order to deal with the paradoxes of quantum reality. Teachers are stretched beyond their resources dealing with students who read poorly, can barely write a coherent sentence, and could care less. The sequential, in-depth thinking characteristic of literacy is giving way to multi-dimensional, associative hyper-linking. In a New York Times op-ed, the humorist Garrison Keillor observed that young minds today range across the info-sphere: “like a hummingbird in an endless meadow of flowers.” 

Many today see nothing but disaster in literacy’s awkward demise. But not everyone applauded its debut either! Socrates, for example, feared that the written word would stifle his students’ ability to internalize his oral teachings. So given the radical implications of the Digital Revolution, might not a new understanding of astrological practice be called for once again – a post-literate understanding that’s as different from the literate as the literate was from the original pre-literate?

THE RE-FORM-ATION BEGINS
It's become increasingly clear that, for all its gifts, the subject/object split is directly responsible for our mushrooming ecological crisis, our incessant commodification of the natural world, and our societal sanctioning of predatory capitalism. What really is global climate change except a message that there will be increasingly serious consequences if we don’t re-learn to experience our selves and our world as a unified field?

This doesn’t mean that we have to abandon our hard-won ability to think objectively; only that we train ourselves to step in or out of the split at will. Ever since his death in 1977, philosophers in the West have been discussing Heidegger’s urgent call to ‘overcome’ the split by learning to think without objectifying. But this requires a practical vehicle; and few have comprehended how to actually do it for lack of an appropriate one. The practice of astrology, however, is a natural. Because it was done in a unified way once before, why couldn't we use it to learn how to practice in this way once again?

Therefore, to antidote the toxic side effects of the split the digital astrologer thinks, languages, and practices in a way that's consciously designed to re-member the unconscious at-one-ment of the Original Participation. Barfield calls such an intentionally undertaken effort at reunification: ‘the Final Participation’. This is largely a matter of new form, rather than new content. As our own history demonstrates, any new form of practice uses the form it’s replacing as it’s content. Just as the literate form employed the archaic practice, the digital form uses the literate practice as its content.

A new form of practice means a new way of encoding and communicating astrological information. This is why the emergence of experiential astrology - which is exactly that: a new way of communicating - in the past 30 years has been so important and so prescient. And because we still have such an unconscious and vested interest in our accustomed literate forms, the reason why it's also been so very misunderstood, and more often treated as entertainment. Experiential astrology is multi-sensory; literate astrology is all about the eye. Anthropologists have long recognized that different cultures often encourage different sensory balances; and that when members of cultures with different sensory orientations come into contact, they will be inclined to be suspicious of each other.  

In response to a question posed to him personally as to why humans always seem to resist new paradigms, the neuroscientist Karl Pribram pointed out that survival requires that we protect our accustomed operational frames. But then, in a sort of ‘let-him-who-has-eyes-see’ aside, he adapted a quotation from the physicist Max Planck: “No one convinces anybody of a new paradigm,” he said. “The old generation dies, and the new generation takes over.”