In one of the happiest places on Earth, Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon, I picked up a copy of Richard Tarnas’s Cosmos and Psyche several years ago, and have delved into it three times since. I absorb as much as my limited brain cells can tolerate, let the knowledge percolate as I go about my daily life, and then take a breath and dive back in for another deep immersion into history, physics, art, social justice, scientific invention, psychology and the evolution of the human species as mirrored in the archetypal language of the planets. Spoiler alert: This book demonstrates that we live in a meaningful Universe, with a divine order revealed to us in the planetary cycles above and our perception of this order bearing witness as events are created and play out below. We are embedded in this meaningful Universe, Tarnas reminds us, being born of its spirit and expressing this spirit through our lives. “Each of us is a creative nexus of action and imagination,” Tarnas writes. We are “a self-responsible microcosm of the creative macrocosm, enacting a richly, complexly co-revolutionary unfolding of reality.” While planetary cycles tell us about important turning points in human consciousness, it is human beings themselves who carry humanity forward.
Tarnas begins his analysis of planetary cycles with Uranus, which he believes archetypally reflects the energy of Prometheus, the god who stole fire and brought it to humans. Uranus was discovered in the era of the American and French revolutions, and can indicate “the overthrow of past limits and structures.” A Uranian transit is often “emancipatory.” When Uranus and Pluto conjoin or when they are opposed, “Epochs in revolution” occur. The emancipatory energy of Uranus merged with –or opposing – the “elemental, instinctual, powerfully compelling” energy of Pluto reflect times when mass uprisings overturn the existing order for the purpose of bringing greater freedoms to individuals. The most recent conjunction of these planets, in the 1960’s, indicated the demonstrations and demands for Civil Rights, the growth of feminism, and the revolt of young people against fighting in a war created by their elders. As Uranus acted on Pluto, there was also a sexual revolution. It was also an era of scientific progress, as we broke through the bounds of earth and landed man on the Moon. We are currently in the last months of the waxing square of this cycle, in which many of the same struggles of the 1960’s are front and center in the public consciousness.
When Uranus is merged with Saturn, however, cycle of “crisis and contraction” occur. Saturn brings empowerment to revolutionary forces, but also to the reactionary forces. As old orders are brought, often painfully, to an end, new orders are born. A conjunction of these planets occurred in 1914, as World War I burst out of the cracks in the dying European orders. The Great Depression swept the world during the following opposition of these planets as financial systems broke down, and World War II opened unhealed wound from the first World War as Saturn and Pluto were in a closing square. The current Saturn Pluto cycle began in the early 1980’s with Ronald Reagan’s election – these planets often indicate “conservative empowerment – and the intensification of the Cold War. The opposition was in exact alignment from July 2001 – June 2002, mirroring the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and our descent into the War against Terror. We are currently in the waning phase of this cycle, and a new cycle will begin with the conjunction of Saturn and Pluto in January of 2020, indicating that an old order will be breaking apart and a new order will emerge from its ashes.
Everyone born before 2001 has been blessed to have lived through the epoch-making Uranus Neptune conjunction, the beginning of a cycle which Tarnas names as “awakenings of spirit and soul.” Neptune, he tells us, dissolves boundaries and merges separate entities into a unified whole. When this “pervasive” energy is blended with the awakening, emancipatory energy of Uranus, we experience a cultural shift, when a greater sense of the divine enters human consciousness. New religions and new philosophical movements are born. In our most recent conjunction, the New Age movement entered our culture, bringing greater awareness of the healing energies of spiritual practices and a recognition that all religions have important teachings. A sense that we are One World was built as the World Wide Web grew and great numbers of human beings on the planet became connected as they never had before with cell phones and social media. The news of natural disasters in any one place reaches all of us and reminds us that we are all dependent upon our Earth’s ecosystem.
Studying how these cycles have unfolded throughout history gives us a greater understanding of the themes which will emerge in future cycles. But astrology is “archetypically predictive,” Tarnas has famously instructed us. He writes that while most astrologers could see a collision of forces occurring at the last Saturn Pluto opposition, especially as a full moon created a grand cross with this opposition in September of 2001, no one could actually envision planes flying into the World Trade Center. While he recognized that technology would dissolve boundaries and create unity during the Uranus Neptune conjunction, he did not foresee the Internet. But, with astrology, we can understand the role of these events in the developing drama of human experience.
Richard Tarnas recently spoke to our astrology group in Seattle, and offered the hope found in Martin Luther King’s favorite quotation that “the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.” In the midst of the horror human beings can inflict upon each other, progress is being made, by one person making the courageous, the inventive, the loving, the outrageous, the inspired choice at any given time. In Cosmos and Psyche, Richard Tarnas directs us towards astrology as a vast window we can throw open to embrace a “deep-souled, subtly mysterious cosmos of great spiritual beauty and creative intelligence.”