Book review: Sky and Psyche: the relationship between Cosmos and Consciousness (Reviewer: Mike Harding)

Author: Edited by Dr. Nicholas Campion and Dr. Patrick Curry
Abstract: Book review:
This has proved a difficult book to review, not just because a Zodiac of twelve authors have participated in its creation, each brings different concerns to the finished work, which embrace psychology, mathematics, art history, architecture, philosophy, anthropology and much else, but because it forces me to confront fundamental philosophical differences with the majority of its contributors, many of whom I know personally, and hold in high regard for their contributions to astrology, and from whom I have benefited. The papers represent a selection of those delivered at two conferences held during 2005; conferences I was unable to attend due to work commitments, and now have the unfair advantage of putting into print thoughts that would have been far better debated at the time.

In the penultimate paper (which perhaps should have come first, as it sets the scene so eloquently) Richard Tarnas clarifies much current debate with an account of modernity’s rejection of the human being as situated in a mysterious world governed by meaningful principles, in favour of an ego-driven, technological environment in which individual desire is the sole driving force. While his general analysis cannot be faulted, his fleeting reference to Nietzsche identified a door that was not opened. Nietzsche’s central thesis was that humanity had to re-evaluate its sacred ideas, and strip away all illusions. He predicted, accurately, that humanity’s reaction to this would be a retreat into Nihilism, which he called a ‘pathological response’ (God is dead, everything means nothing, so let’s give up). But Nietzsche challenged that attitude with his passionate belief in the fundamental power of the natural world and, like Heidegger, demanded that theory should be set aside so that the world could ‘show itself as it is’. While Nietzsche and Heidegger were exceptional scholars of the ancient world, drawing on much pre-Socratic thought (both thinkers essentially rejecting the Platonic above/below, timeless/temporal, theory/experience divide as quasi-Cartesian) their re-thinking of the past has led, in the hands of others, to both the very post-modern sterility that Tarnas describes, but also to new visions of the human being that Tarnas hints at in his closing paragraph. However, like many of the contributors, he primarily couches his views within the orthodoxies of neo-Platonism and Jungian psychology, and thus side-steps alternative readings. And herein lies my problem with this volume: there is virtually no engagement with the present, and the shifting nature of ideas. If Sky and Psyche are one, an ancient idea that Nicholas Campion invokes in his introduction, then what is happening now? After all, it is only in the now that we exist, albeit a now that simultaneously contains a shifting understanding of our past and our expectations of the future, which in turn are made possible, as Heidegger (and astrologers) claim, by the fluid nature of time.

Of course, there could come a speedy –and valid – response to my disquiet from many of the contributors, who might observe that they were essentially engaged in historical research. But research conducted within the astrological paradigm should contain astrology’s implicit assumption: that everything –including human thought- is in flux, and thus my world is fundamentally different from the world of the ancients. In Heideggarian jargon, we cannot disclose the world of the ancients because we are not situated within their time. Only the now can be disclosed because only in the now do we exist. And there is very little attempt to explore the now of Sky and Psyche within this volume. The Platonic response might be to suggest that there is within me some inchoate knowledge of essential forms, which I draw upon to make sense of their temporal equivalent, as if there is within me some sort of map that makes my immediate landscape partially comprehensible. But such a claim holds a conundrum. If I need something ‘inner’ to recognise its outer portrayal, then how can I recognise the meaning of the inner in the first place, or even know that it has any meaning at all? If we say that “I just do” then I could similarly recognise meaning in the ‘outer’ without any need for recourse to a hypothetical ‘inner’ to explain my understanding. Much psychological theory founders in similar waters, with concepts of unconscious processes, psychic mechanisms and so on, all allegedly framing conscious perceptions, but are post-facto constructs of its theorising.

I labour these points partly to bring to the fore the unquestioning nature of many of the papers: a particular truth is assumed, and is supported by evidence framed in a language that only engages with its own terms of reference, and partly to acknowledge my own struggles with the profound issues raised by the various authors. And profound they are. There is little doubt that the publication of Sky and Psyche is a considerable achievement, and along with Campion’s Culture and Cosmos journal is an important contribution to the history of ideas that inform some of astrology’s paradigms, though the volume tends to ignore others. To put it bluntly, there is little engagement with the lived experience of astrology –and, indeed, virtually no astrological examples. Yes, Liz Green includes some welcome charts, but their circles are encompassed by an unquestioned, and familiar

mythology. Has nothing of philosophical importance happened since the time of Plato (or before) has nothing taken place within psychology after lightening struck Zurich’s old oak?

This is not a demand for new techniques -which, at face value only echoes current scientism – but rather a call to explore the evolving nature of ideas. Both John Addey and Charles Harvey were convinced neo-Platonists, and from their work emerged theories of harmonics, of which little is to found amongst current astrological writings, yet both authors drew on the same Plato that informs the majority of this volume’s contributors, but were always tilted towards a horizon that has found little recognition here.

Of course, some contributors contradict a few of my complaints. Noel Cobb’s paper wickedly portrays the manner in which current politicians wish to extend their suspect mastery of the firmament with delusional aspirations for controlling space, and includes some beautifully written passages extolling the centrality of the geocentric worldview: this is our world, which we can revere or contaminate. In this essay he shares many of his personal experiences, and brings them vividly to life. And, as ever, Robert Hand attempts to bring together ancient modes of thought within a modern, and in this case mathematical model, one which demonstrates the manner in which abstract calculus disconnects us from out physical sense of the world, and offers an alternative, though one that requires considerable pondering as to its applicability within the ebb and flow of life. In his preamble he puts into parenthesis the question what is space? What, indeed! In his lectures to psychiatrists at Zollikon, Heidegger posed the same question. The transcript records that ten minutes of silence followed…

But to return to this volume, and its treatment of embodied space. While Angela Voss offers an illuminating, and beautifully illustrated essay on the capacity for statues to evoke the ineffable, not all contributors manage to catch the book’s central theme with the same clarity. Both Nicholas Pearson and Cherry Gilchrist generously share their moments of illumination, Pearson with an account of a personal journey of discovery and Gilchrist with a fascinating description of Russian shamanism. But Pearson makes no reference the volume’s theme, and Gilchrist offers only the most generalized account of sky and psyche for the shaman (that the layout of a house may mirror concepts of above and below and so forth) a theme which has been extensively explored by many philosophically-orientated anthropologists, and the omission of disparate views, even if forcefully rejected, seems at odds with academic endeavour. But she is not alone here, and perhaps this is how astrology is caught when it knocks on University doors seeking re-admittance after 400 years. There may be a hovering between scholastic demands, which are partially acknowledged, and a wariness of rushing in with a radically different world-view. Of course, I have been spared the tribulations of the book’s editors, who have tried so hard for so many years to hold the doors ajar against the weight of orthodox opinion, that I feel a disquiet at my various criticisms, but, nevertheless, they clearly surface here. In this volume the practice of astrology, which is implicit in the title, finds little voice within its pages, though it has ultimately been made possible by those whose lives have been dedicated to its cause. As ever, astrology, the bastard child of innumerable cultures, still seeks parental acknowledgement, and does not quite know which way to turn under the endless revolve of a sky that is mainly illuminated by the Sun and the Moon.

And here two papers really stand out, in that they capture the volume’s title most directly. Bernadette Brady’s examination of the astro-geography of Chartres cathedral and Jules Cashford’s exploration of lunar mythology. In her paper on Chartres Brady has distilled essential information and diagrams into a clear, and highly informative essay that really brings to life the ancient masons, and the manner in which the solar world may have informed their architecture. But, for me, the paper offered by Cashford steals the show. Though staying within the Jungian/Platonic paradigms, she is the only contributor who reminds us that our perceptions change over time, and that we can never claim to comprehend the sky/world of the ancients. Her theme contrasts Brady’s with its focus on the evolution of Lunar imagery, and she presents it within the poetry, mythology and iconography of various cultures, identifying both the similarities and divergences of the Moon’s enduring influence on humanity’s consciousness. And here this word -consciousness – which forms part of the book’s title- reminds us again that we are all moulded by the slow tread of time. Consciousness is a comparatively modern concept, stemming from Descartes, and only finds it way in common usage in the 17th century. Were the ancients ‘conscious’ – are we? – or has the invention of yet another abstract concept come between us and the immanence of the world that this volume aims to explore? If I see something in the sky that is meaningful for me, am I ‘conscious’ of this, or do I just see/experience it? Endless papers have been written on ‘consciousness studies’, without there being a single, clear definition of the subject’s enquiry. And such could be said of the astrologer, who sees/experiences the transient moments of transits as something that is shown and felt, but still defies, a clear analysis.

There is no doubt that its various authors have combined to create a book of considerable importance, and one that can be strongly recommended to astrologers, psychotherapists, and all who are concerned with trying to understand our place within the cycles and images of the world. All the papers are written with commendable clarity, and are well referenced; many have extensive bibliographies that urge us to further reading. While the ideas presented will have the greatest appeal for those whose life has been illuminated by Plato, Jung and similar thinkers, the uncertain readers will also find in this volume a richness of ideas, imagery, and accounts of life-experiences that demand recognition and thoughtful re-reading. Despite my various objections, I would urge serious students of astrology to engage with the thoughts and experiences of its various contributors, as I have tried to do, and offer their own response to what, for me, has been both an illuminating and a problematic text.
Publication: (Correlation, journal of research in astrology)
Publishers: Floris books, 2006
Issue: Vol 25 Number 1
Dated: 2007
Pages: 61 – 64

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