Dr. Richard Tarnas wrote a book in 2006 called Cosmos and Psyche. This week he was speaking about the book at the Vancouver Public Library and I went with a friend to hear him. I didn’t know anything about him except that my friend’s friend had thought he might be interesting. The title of the book and the blurb on the web site sounded intriguing and I had vaguely heard his name before – so we went.
I read an interview about the book on beliefnet when I got home and they quoted Richard regarding the value of astrology as it relates to our cosmology. In his talk he explained that the book is somewhat revolutionary in academic, scientific and philosophical circles because it is giving credence to astrology, a subject which has almost universally been ridiculed in those circles in the past:
The existence of correlations between the planetary cycles and human life makes it possible for both individuals and societies to understand better what archetypal energies are at work and at what time. This can help us be more skillful and aware as we engage in the activities of life. It’s like knowing the weather report before going out into the ocean to sail or surf. It helps to know where the winds and waves will be coming from.
But there is also a deeper advantage: Modern civilization pays a high price for living in a universe that it believes is random and spiritually meaningless. Nature is not honored but is instead exploited for short-term benefit. And a purposeless universe creates a sense of deep spiritual emptiness inside, which people try to fill with endless consumer products, so that the industrial technology producing those products is cannibalizing the planet. But as we know, you can never get enough of what you don’t really need. A new vision of nature and the universe as ensouled, as spiritually significant, would give a better ground for both moral responsibility and a sense of spiritual belonging.
You can check out the web site if you’d like to read more. It was affirming for me to listen to what he had to say this evening. At the end, I said so to my friend and he said that he would have thought that there wasn’t too much in what he said that I didn’t already know. Overall, I think he’s right about that – at least about the conclusions, not the details specific to his areas of academic expertise. What was affirming was that it was coming out of his mouth and not mine.
When I named this blog ‘Is there anybody out there?’, I wasn’t expecting the answer to my question to come so fast nor so graphically. Not only is ‘someone out there’, but one of those someones is publishing his thoughts in a well-researched and clear fashion.
At the end of his talk Dr. Tarnas concluded that he thinks that humankind is involved in a giant experiment. It is as well, in his opinion, that we disregarded the value of astrology when we did, at least in mainstream society, because it allowed human beings to discard the restrictive ideas of predestiny and consider ourselves masters of our own destinies. Now that we’ve had a go at that perception, and seen the pitfalls (hopefully), we can come back to the overarching, mythical aspects of astrology again, in order to appreciate what being individuated means within the context of an intelligent, caring cosmology that gives meaning to our choices.
He explained how he sees our western culture as being without intentional initiatory experiences for our young. I’ll quote him again from another article on the same site:
If all our youth are uninitiated, then of course all our adults are uninitiated too. When one turns on the television, virtually everything one sees is designed for the adolescent mind, of all ages: Pow! Zap! Boom!, explosions, aggression, superficial sex, incessant change, shiny surfaces, ceaseless growth, the new, the fast, the ever youthful, the momentarily exciting. There is no sense of the deeper meanings, the profundity of life, and that our actions today have enduring consequences.
The reason our culture does not provide such an initiation, however, may not just be that it has somehow simply been forgotten, or foolishly abandoned its traditional wisdom, and myopically asserted a mechanistic material world with no deeper spiritual purpose or significance. While true as far as it goes, this explanation does not do justice to a possibly deeper process that seems to be unfolding. For the very absence of initiatory rites of passage in our culture appears to have effectively created a kind of closed container, a psychic pressure cooker, an alchemical vessel that is intensifying the archetypal energies into a collective morphic field of explosive power. Perhaps the fact that our culture does not provide rituals of initiation is not simply a massive cultural error, but rather reflects and even impels the immersion of the entire culture in its own massive collective initiation.
I believe that humankind has entered into the most critical stages of a death-rebirth mystery. In retrospect it seems that the entire path of Western civilization has taken humankind and the planet on a trajectory of initiatory transformation, into a state of spiritual alienation, into an encounter with mortality on a global scale—from world wars and holocausts to the nuclear crisis and now the planetary ecological crisis—an encounter with mortality that is no longer individual and personal but rather transpersonal, collective, planetary. It is a collective dark night of the soul, a deep separation from the community of being, from the cosmos itself. We are undergoing this rite of passage with virtually no guidance from wise elders because the wise elders are caught up in the same crisis. This initiation is too epochal for such confident guidance, too global, too unprecedented, too all-encompassing; it is larger than all of us. It seems that we are all entering into something new, a new development, a crisis of accelerated maturation, a birth, an entrance into a profoundly different way of being in the cosmos.
I hadn’t looked at it as a transpersonal experience before and it was worth going to hear him for that thought alone. I have been casting about for a long time now trying to figure out what is going on with a great number of the the people with whom I have contact. IThey seem not to be interested in engaging the process of introspection. It has felt to me as though this is not specific to any individual but rather generally true of the mainstream of our society.
Dr. Tarnas’ talk gives me hope again because if people are uninitiated, I think they are unlikely to be interested in introspection. The uninitiated psyche might be so busy sorting out how to enter the adult world and determining who they are in it – initiatory issues – that they are too busy to have time for introspection. Perhaps the desire for introspection comes with having enough maturity to see a reason to reflect.
I don’t think we can be so categorical as to say that everyone is uninitiated. Conscious initiatory rites are somewhat rare but there are some people who have been initiated by crisis, although I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Of these, some get stuck in crisis without any redeeming initiation as the by-product. They are the walking wounded and therapists deal with them daily. Crisis-as-initiation seems to me to be a fairly hit-and-miss approach to what should be one of the building blocks for creating mature adults. Far from using our elders as the guides for initiating our young men and women, we have been marginalizing them and making everyone in society afraid of their impending elder years of wisdom.
As we were walking out of the library at the end, my friend’s friend who had suggested the talk shook her head and said to us that Rudolph S
teiner had been saying many of the same things at the beginning of the last century. I’m sure he isn’t the only one and we could all add to the list. I’m choosing to see the glass as half-full though and I think that perhaps there is a convergence of understanding coming from many different disciplines. When a perspective’s time has come it seems to sprout up everywhere, and many people claim ownership. I’m just relieved to see that the time has come.
I shall come back with more comments when I’ve found the time to read the book and not just respond to what he talked about tonight which is, after all, a brief review of a much deeper topic.