Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Shamanism: Being vs Doing

(Also published at my other blog In the early 80s, after university, I decided to live in a Buddhist community. This was a great disappointment to my father, who had assumed I would have a stellar career that he could be proud of. On
one visit back home, he got a bee in his bonnet about what Buddhists ‘do’. I didn’t really have an answer, as it hadn’t occurred to me to think like that. And the more I couldn’t answer him, the more incensed he got, because for him it was a simple matter, with what should be a simple answer. He kept repeating along the lines of well plumbers fix pipes, poets write poetry, what do Buddhists do? I tried saying stuff about meditation and ethics and enlightenment and all that, but it was nothing he could understand in terms of doing. I was, as it happens, working in a Buddhist vegetarian restaurant, but that, of course, wasn’t a general activity of Buddhists that I could invoke.

Black Elk
Buddhism, like any spiritual path, is essentially an attitude to life, on the basis of which the ‘doing’ happens. For us shamanistas, this attitude is well-expressed by Black Elk:

“Hear me, four quarters of the world - a relative I am! Give me the strength to walk the soft earth, a relative to all that is! Give me the eyes to see and the strength to understand, that I may be like you. With your power only can I face the winds.

Great Spirit, Great Spirit, my Grandfather, all over the earth the faces of living things are all alike. With tenderness have these come up out of the ground. Look upon these faces of children without number and with children in their arms, that they may face the winds and walk the good road to the day of quiet.

This is my prayer; hear me! The voice I have sent is weak, yet with earnestness I have sent it. Hear me!”

I haven’t found this attitude so fully expressed anywhere else but in what we in the West have come to term ‘shamanism’. Attitude is the wrong word, because it is not something added on. It is a way of being, a beautiful and loving way to relate to the earth, that is also true and real. It is based on how things are. And in bringing humans ‘down’, as we might see it, to the level of the elements and other forms of life, it elevates us, it shows us how to be noble human beings.

And for me, this is the essence of shamanism.

The Wikipedia definition reads: “Shamanism is a practice that involves a practitioner reaching altered states of consciousness in order to perceive and interact with a spirit world and channel these transcendental energies into this world.”

This is a definition in terms of doing rather than being, and it is typical of us westerners to come up with such a definition. It is like saying a Christian is someone who performs miracles. OK, technically the shaman is a special type of person who can do the healing stuff, or rather his spirits can. But shamanism has come to mean our western re-interpretation of indigenous spirituality: the healing work is just a special instance of that broader engagement. And for the traditional shaman him/herself, the healing work takes place in the prior context of this sacred but natural connection to the world, without which the healing would be unthinkable.

So I think that shamanism is not to do with whether you can do healing work or lead ceremonies. Shamanism is a context, a context of profound gratitude and relatedness to the natural world. These days, the world is something we take from. But the traditional (and more adult) attitude is that it gives to us. That is the basis. And it’s not the natural world in just the modern, material sense: it is that, but more, it gives us the power to live, and it is the spirit world. Spirit and matter are the 2 poles of life, inner and outer, if you like.

But it is hard to get away from doing definitions. Maybe it always has been. Material existence presses hard upon us, it can seem like it is all there is. One of the main functions of the shaman is simply to remind people about spirit. In my mid-30s I realised that the power to live was not a given, it was something that could be taken away from me. And it had been taken away from me because I had not listened to the call of my spirit. It was a deep turning around for me, my eyes turned inward to a place that was alive and beyond any words or dogma. And at that point I had very little definition of myself in terms of doing. I was being dragged through a deep lesson in being.

So it is this way of being, which is sometimes just an attitude because it’s the best we can do, that matters. That sense of profound connection to the natural world, for me, is occasional, if at all. I enjoy the natural beauty of the beech trees outside my caravan, and I enjoy watching the sheep eat, and sometimes my breath is taken away by the sight of the horses in the field beyond. But when I read other people writing about the importance of feeling our identity with the natural world, I easily feel wrong-footed, like I only have a faint glimpse of it. I also feel wrong-footed when people write (usually in their intros to their healing services) about how they’ve been seers, or something like that, since childhood. I know I certainly wasn’t. (Though I confess I’m slightly suspicious when people do that.) And then of course there are indigenous people, and I’m certainly not the real thing in comparison to them. Maybe I’m just human, and need to forgive myself, and remember that others probably feel, and have always felt, the same way.

Protestant Work Ethic
But the main point here is that more than ever, we live in a 'doing' culture, and we easily define shamanism in those terms, and when we do that we have missed the point. The term 'shamanic practitioner' seems to me to carry some of this bias. 'Doing' is easily the enemy of being, as it devalues being, says that if I can’t measure you, then you are nothing. Astrologically, I call it the western negative Saturn (see my astrology blog). It’s deeply rooted in western culture, I don’t think we can help but do it. It’s a dark spirit we carry with us. Being able to take a holiday from it sometimes is itself an achievement.

What matters is the sense of appreciative connection, firstly to ourselves and then to the natural world and its people and to that thing beyond, however we experience it. If a calling to do healing work, or whatever, comes in as well, let it come to you, don’t seek it out. I don’t think it likes being a day-job.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

What makes Shamanism Real?

(Posted at my other blog, I’ve been trying to write a bit of copy to advertise the shamanic healing I do, and it’s not proving easy. I would like to write a load of stuff talking about traditional shamans and what they do, suggesting that I am somehow in that timeless lineage, and that what I do echoes back to the dawn of time etc. But I can’t bring myself to do that, because I don’t think it's true.

I’ve had a fair bit to do with a Chippewa Cree guy who used to come and stay with me over a period of 7 or 8 years, and he did teachings and told stories and ran sweat lodges. We used to have great metaphysical conversations over breakfast, and he said that what I do would be described as a ’personal medicine’ within his tradition. And he also felt the inner connections from which I was speaking when I talked astrology, even though he knew nothing about the subject itself.

But that is the extent of my connection to a living tradition. And I want to be real about that and not bum it up into something it isn’t.

I think that living indigenous traditions are both an inspiration and a burden for us modern westerners. We can be too eager to make the indigenous link to what we do, even if it’s just by implication. And not to put too fine a point on it, I think it is often a bit bogus -  though we may not realise it, because our teachers may have in turn talked in those terms. Mine certainly did, though they hadn’t had much to do with indigenous people. OK, your spirit guides might tell you stuff – I knew one guy whose guide was giving him Lakota teachings, and they were good teachings, but in my book you can’t then say they are Lakota. And I don’t think it’s enough to visit someone in the jungle for a few days – valuable as that might be – and then add it to your CV as indigenous cred. I think the real stuff gets transmitted through getting to know people, and that takes time.

And what I think all this comes down to is the search for authenticity, and what we think of as authenticity, in a time when our own traditions have broken down.

Pluto abducts Persephone
In my opinion, the only thing that is authentic is inner experience, and that is something that is usually hard won. It takes many years. It takes being dismembered so that what is essential can shine through. I am currently being dismembered for the 2nd time (or, as a dream woman told me recently, I am undergoing my ‘second psycho-synthesis’). And I am 58. The first dismemberment was in my 30s. Pluto abducted me into his Underworld. These things have happened to me, I have not chosen them. I still feel like a hot-headed mess a lot of the time. But at best, it means that when I do astrology readings, the symbols come alive, and something real and charged comes out of my mouth. And it also means that I get taken over by a wonderful beast who heals people.

So it is this that is real, not any connection to indigenous people. And – here is my point – I think we can to a degree disempower our own gifts by seeking validation through a supposed connection to indigenous people.

What we do needs to stand alone. We moderns have our own spirit connections. Shamanism is what we do, not what indigenous people do. Shamanism may be inspired by what they do, but for most of us the link is tenuous in real terms.

I’ve been an astrologer for many years, and something I noticed about the astrological world is that it is very accepting of all sorts of different types of astrology. Apart from the odd traditionalist, you don’t get people suggesting that this is real astrology and this isn’t. And the shamanic world similarly seems welcoming of all sorts of different types of shamanism. But it also sometimes seems to me a bit overly-concerned with what is real shamanism and what isn’t. 

Of course you don’t want too many people claiming to be shamanic healers who may have some ability, but who haven’t gone through the years of personal training that are usually necessary to do it with integrity. Though I suspect that flakey - or even dark - element has always been part of the picture. But that’s not what I’m getting at here: it’s the sense that our shamanism is more real if it has an observable link to an indigenous tradition, which isn't that different to Christians quoting from the Bible. And I think there can be an element of wishful thinking, that gets passed on from teacher to pupil.

What I suppose I’m rooting for here is that we need a way of describing what we do without the validating references to indigenous peoples, valuable and profound as their example can be. One of humanity’s weaknesses is an attachment to the past, as though that was somehow more real and validates what we do now. We live in a unique time where it is possible to drop all that and start afresh. Now is a melting pot, where there is room for original inspiration. Our spirit guides know what to do, they're on the case, they can do this thing if we don't get in the way too much.

Friday, April 29, 2016

This World, The Otherworld and the Self

Modern Shamanism is an attempt to re-create the spirituality of
indigenous peoples. It is hard to say how successful it is in that. What I think we can say is that if we listen to nature, listen to ‘the spirits’, listen, perhaps above all, to ourselves, we won’t go far wrong. It is this listening, this paying attention that is timeless. It is in itself a transformative, magical act.

It is also what has been lost. Nature reminds us of who we are. Yet there is little space for nature in urban life. And the voice of the collective is also very powerful, telling us how to live our lives, what makes us a ‘good’ person, what makes us a ‘bad’ person, what is sense and what is nonsense – and listening to ‘spirits’ generally comes under the nonsense, if not sectionable, category.

Shamanism could be seen as the act of listening to ourselves at all levels, and with that comes something that is uniquely ourselves, and with that comes the power to live.

The connection to the spirits that is made in shamanic journeying and other practices is also the connection to the imagination and the intuition – a level that is both deeply ourselves yet beyond us, connected to the whole web of life and matter.

Shamanism gives an initiation into the Imagination – capital ‘I’, a connection to the Otherworld, without which we are not fully human.

So the creation of an individual self lies at the heart of Shamanism, a self that does not exist without a deep connection to something beyond itself. It is hard to know how much room there is/was for this individuality in indigenous societies. No doubt it depended. But the pressure just to survive can demand conformity. In the West, we have been part of a large collective for a long time, a collective that for 1000 years has veered towards fundamentalism, whether of a Christian or scientific materialist bent.

Fundamentalism occurs once you think there is only one reality. I once asked a Chippewa-Cree friend if his people got fundamentalist about their own creation myth, and he said that was difficult, because they had several creation myths, some of them contradictory! For this reason I think it is good that children are taught both evolution and creationism: both these ‘isms’ can think they are the only reality and, like the Chippewa creation myths, it shows children that there is more than one way of looking at things. (Personally, I prefer creationism, because it at least has a transcendent reality.)

Shamanism itself can of course veer towards fundamentalism, just like anything can. At the heart of that veer is our very human need for certainty – ‘this is how it is’ – and we look for it in creeds and teachers or in a rigid sense of our own rightness, or the rightness of our spirit guides. Here's a test: how do you respond if someone disagrees with your 'spirit guide'?

This is where the ‘this world’ aspect of shamanism needs to come in. It is not enough to have a deep connection to the Otherworld. We need an understanding of our own psychology and the ability to dis-identify from it. In the American Indian stories you get Wisahitsa, a character who is always getting into trouble because of his own self-importance. So the Indians (as they call themselves, not ‘Native Americans’) spoke to and were helped by the spirits, but they were also, it seems, trained in human psychology.

So Shamanism needs to involve the cultivation of both the ‘this world’ and the ‘otherworld’ aspects of the personality. You could say that shamanism needs psychology, while psychology needs shamanism.

Part of the beauty of shamanism is its emphasis on direct experience. There is very little in the way of a particular worldview that can be turned into an ideology. The key is not to take things literally. Don’t, for example, take the idea of the upper world, middle world and lower world literally, as a cosmology that if embraced strongly will somehow bring one closer to the world of indigenous peoples.

Literalized reality presses very strongly upon us these days in the form of ‘facts’. Science doesn’t have creation stories like every other tradition before it, it has ‘facts’, how things ‘actually’ happened. My Chippewa Cree friend saw evolution as a story, not a ‘fact’, and that is how I try to treat all of science: a set of stories, useful stories in many cases, but still stories.

What we have lost is the reality of the inner world. Shamanism is an initiation into the ‘inner’ world. When that world is awake, the outer world becomes more relative: it is a manifestation of mind, of consciousness, it does not need to be taken so seriously any more.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Why Donald Trump will be the next US President

If Donald Trump becomes President of the USA, he will be the first to do so who has neither held political office nor been in the military. BUT he has been the star of a long-running reality TV show (The Apprentice), which nowadays gives the necessary gravitas. This as Saturn (reality, political leaders) squares Neptune (show business). And, as they say, politics is show business for ugly people - or at least, for people with strange hair styles.

To judge whether someone is likely to get elected as a leader, I look for 2 things: firstly, is their chart being empowered by transits, not just at present but during their subsequent term of office? And have they got more charisma than the other guy? It sounds ridiculously simple, but it always seems to be the guy with the charisma who wins. Clinton vs Bush sr, Bush jr vs Gore, Obama vs Hillary/McCain. Charisma is the ability to connect with people, it is a Venus quality, and the guys you don't like can have it just as much as the guys you do like.

First of all, Hillary Clinton. We don't know her birth time, but with her Sun at 3 Scorpio and her Moon at the end of Pisces (and Venus in mid Scorpio), she has no major transits coming up (maybe to her Angles if we knew them, but that alone probably isn't enough). So my first prediction is that Hillary will not be the Democratic candidate, let alone the next President. Transits apart, she doesn't have the charisma factor either - a lot of people find her hard to like, even if they agree with her politically.

Hillary has Venus in charismatic Scorpio, but it is square to Mars-Saturn-Pluto in Leo, giving her a hardness and aggression that overwhelms the Venus - her charisma probably only peeps out at quiet moments when there are no battles to be fought.

The only other serious Democratic contender is Bernie Sanders. There is some doubt over his birth time, but even so his Sun is experiencing an opposition from Neptune, and his Venus-Moon opposition has hard transits from both Uranus and Pluto. So this guy is in the game, and will probably be the Democratic candidate. If he does become President, it will be just for one term, as his transits will run out of steam, as will he, being nearly 80 by then.

Bernie Sanders
Then of course there is Donald Trump. He has Saturn hard-aspecting his Sun and Moon and North Node through to the end of 2017, and then Neptune starts to move in on his Sun, Moon and Node, admittedly from some distance, but that can easily be enough.

This is the man who wants to ban Muslims from entering the US, and to build a giant wall along the US-Mexican border. This is very Saturn. He also wants to 'make America great' again (as if it wasn't already the world's most powerful country) and this theme of redemption points to the future influence of Neptune on his chart.

Neptune is also influencing Sanders' chart, and it is more immediate, but here the meaning is I think to be found in his feeling for the ordinary American struggling to survive in the face of the greed of Wall St and big business. Neptune is also associated with socialism, which Sanders leans towards. He does not present himself as a redeemer in the Neptunian personality-cult sense that Trump does.

Donald Trump
Trump is the latest representative in the lineage of paranoid politics in the US, that whips up a fear of enemies from within, that began with the Salem witch trials, then continued later with a fear of Catholics and the Irish, then the Communists in the McCarthy era and now the Muslims, stirred up by Trump.

One of Trump's great strengths astrologically is that his Sun-Moon opposition in Gemini-Sag lies along (or near enough) the US Asc-Desc axis (Sibly Chart), while Trump's Desc at 29 Aquarius is 2 degrees off the US Moon at 27 Aquarius, making him very close to the American people, they feel he is one of their own. Sanders does not have this close connection: he is therefore more like an outsider looking in, able to see in a way that Trump can't, but he doesn't belong like Trump does. Trump is  a wasp (the German Drumpf family), Sanders has Jewish ancestry.

Trump is a few weeks older than that other wasp, George W Bush. Both have North Node in Gemini conjunct Uranus, describing the maverick, charismatic, right-wing quality they share. Both are from wealthy backgrounds, giving the sense of entitlement that can come with Leo Rising (which they also share), that perhaps makes it easier to dismiss others not just as inferior but as enemies.

This election is taking place in the closing stages of the Uranus-Pluto square, which has been with us since about 2009. This square traditionally brings political extremes (the last square was in the 1930s). In the UK we have it with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour party. He is very popular, very left wing, and generally seen as unelectable.

And in the US both Trump and Sanders are at the extreme end of their respective parties. Like Corbyn, Sanders is very popular. But he is socialist, and the American electorate doesn't do socialism.

This year we also have a square from Saturn in Sag to Neptune in Pisces, that impacts on the US Sibly Asc at 12 Sag. And we can see both planets in the campaigns of Sanders and Trump. In the case of Saturn, Sanders wants to see proper governance of big business and to rebuild the infrastructure, whereas Trump plays of the fears (Saturn) of foreigners (Sagittarius) and wants to build walls. It is also the Saturn opposition of 9/11 (which also strikingly impacted the US Asc-Desc with Saturn-Pluto lying along it), so it is a time when fears can be played on. And it is Trump who has the close relationship with the US Asc.

So for 5 reasons, I think that Trump will beat Sanders: he has more personal charisma (Sanders has more integrity, but that's not the same thing); his chart is far closer to the US chart; America doesn't do socialism; the fear factor is big and probably decisive right now; and it is the Republicans' 'turn' after 8 years of a Democratic Presidency.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Wishes and Prayers

I've just started another blog at There's a mailing list on it if you are interested. Meanwhile here is the second post. Happy New Year!

In my last piece I said that I put shamanism - or it put itself -  on a back burner in the early noughties. That was true inasmuch as I stopped doing stuff and ran with astrology instead. But not true inasmuch as I was around someone doing it, though the guy concerned would not have used the word 'shamanism'.

We moved into a new house in Glastonbury in 2001, and I had the wish that a Native American teacher would turn up. And turn up he did, a few months later. A friend had rung saying there was this guy over from Canada who was a story-teller, teacher etc and was looking for places to run events from, so we said yes. And for the next 8 years or so Chip (as I shall call him) and/or Fish (his pupil) visited twice a year and did story-telling, teaching, sweat-lodges, pipe-ceremonies and individual counselling and healing. As well as some great conversation round the table.

So why did he turn up in the first place? Was it just because I wanted him to? I'm sure the bigger picture was playing its part, and there's nothing I can say about that. And I like sensing that dimension - which is most of everything - about which I have nothing to say, and never will. As Chip used to say (speaking from the Chippewa-Cree tradition), our individual human consciousness is tiny compared to the consciousness of the universe, so how can we individually know more than a miniscule amount about the universe?

That just seems to me so sane compared to the modern attitude, inflated by technological success, that sets human consciousness at the pinnacle of knowledge.

So yes, the bigger picture played its part. But I'd also wished he'd turn up. And looking back, it was a wish in the form of a prayer, though I didn't put it to myself like that, and that is also why Chip turned up.

It wasn't just a fancy, it was more of a desire that had a depth and sense of congruence to it, it felt right. And I think that is how prayers work, as in what we do in pipe ceremonies and sweat lodges and wherever else. There needs to be deep feeling involved that is beyond narrow personal desire. If you like, there needs to be a transpersonal element that connects to the wider web of all-that-is. And that gives it power. And it does not need to be 'realistic': that can just get in the way. A prayer is what comes out of our mouths spontaneously and in a heartfelt way. Who are we to say what is and is not possible? Spirit is beyond time and space: shunting things around on the physical level is the least of its problems. Getting us intransigent humans to look at ourselves and act in what is our own best interests is the really difficult problem!

Some people say don't think about your prayers in advance, because they need to be spontaneous. Personally I say dwell on them, think on what you really want for yourself and for others, and those wishes will grow inside you, so that when you are in the ceremony your words will have more power. And when your words have that power, how can there NOT be a response? When we feel something deeply, it connects us to the universe.

But we also need to be open to what that response might be. I know someone who used to treat her prayers like a shopping list, and say them in the full confidence that she would get exactly what she asked for, and as far as I could see, she rarely if ever got that. We may be specific in our prayers, and I think we need to be specific. And then open to the outcome, to the response, because there is something that knows more than we do that is responding.

Friday, November 13, 2015


NB I published this piece a few hours before the Paris attacks took place. I'd had an idea come to me about the way we project our own fundamentalism onto Islamic State, and I realised I had a blog to write. But the timing is interesting, as though the idea had drifted in to my mind from the collective.

Medieval Christianity got us in the way of thinking that there is only one reality, and we have continued to think in that way since modern science superseded Christianity. Thinking that there is only one reality is a definition of fundamentalism.

It all comes back, according to one theory, as to whether a religion arose in the jungle or the desert. In the jungle there are many realities, and you get polytheism. In the desert it is much more like one reality - the sand, the blue sky and the scorching sun - so you get monotheism. Which of course isn't always fundamentalist, but it lends itself to it more easily.

Christianity and Islam both arose in desert countries.

It can be hard to see our own fundamentalism in the West. I guess it's hard for anyone to see their own fundamentalism, as it's a shadow quality, one that we don't want to admit to. You just think that what you are seeing is the truth, the way things are. "Of course God didn't create the universe, there is no evidence for it; whereas there is plenty of evidence for the Big Bang." It depends HOW you think that: some are quite happy to think that and let others have their own views, whereas others - the 'New Atheists' -  want to root out religion wherever they find it. 

Others may not go that far, but when you hear the mocking tone as soon as you mention e.g. tarot or homeopathy (which in my view are essentially divinatory rather than scientific), then you know you haven't just got disagreement - which is fair enough - but a degree of fundamentalism. And that mocking tone is very common, it can be almost de rigeur amongst some academics.

The real fundamentalists, of course, are over there in the Middle East, particularly in the form of 'Islamic State'. Or, as even the BBC calls them, 'so-called Islamic State'. Or, as David Cameron calls them, 'ISIL' - a name they stopped using a while back. Either way, the official line seems to be to refer to them in such a way as to suggest we cannot possibly take these people seriously.

Which is understandable, even desirable, but it is also a case of collective projection. It is hard for us to see the extent to which we view our own form of knowledge - science - as the only form of knowledge, and our political system - democracy - as better, as superior, as more evolved, the only acceptable system. No, we are tolerant and fair, we seek real knowledge and a better world. 

Witch Hangings
It is people like Islamic State - and Islamists generally - who are the real ignorant fundamentalists. Of course, particularly in the USA, there are plenty of Christian fundamendalists (Europe having exported many of its religious extremists to the New World several centuries ago), as well as scientific fundamendalists, but at least they can unite in pointing the finger of intolerance at IS.

And we are right in thinking all these things about IS. They really are all these awful things that we say they are. 

But we also enjoy judging them, disapproving of them, it makes us feel superior - well, some of us, at any rate - and that, I think, can be the sign that we deny those same qualities in ourselves. And it's an unconscious process. People are sincere in their hypocrisy. When we disapprove, we are saying to ourselves that we have none of those qualities in ourselves. But we do. We all have tendencies to fundamentalism, intolerance and violence.

Ironically, IS is an almost direct creation of the West, it is a shadow thrown up by our own imperialism - it is therefore part of us rather then just something 'Other'. It went something like this. Iraq was ruled by its Sunni minority. The West ousted the Sunnis and put the majority Shias in power, the 'democratic' solution. The Shias then discriminated against the Sunnis (because they are not an 'advanced' democracy like America and the UK), and the Sunnis fought back in the form of IS. This was predictable in advance, which is why I say IS is an almost direct creation of the West. IS, it seems, was created by ex-officers from Saddam's army, who knew all about fighting, and they put Al-Baghdadi as the figurehead, to give it religious legitimacy. At least, that is one story of how it came about.

IS has a very powerful idea behind it - the re-creation of a Caliphate stretching across the Middle East and beyond - so its origins will quickly be engulfed by mythology. (Rather like 9/11 was).

IS - or even the Taliban - versus the West is the latest version of the the old struggle between Islam and Christianity. Historically, they seem to be as bad as each other. Islam had been encroaching on the Byzantine Empire - which was Christian - for centuries before the Crusades began. When the West invaded Iraq, like it or not, it was carrying this mythology of the ancient enemy. You can either be conscious of it or unconscious of it, and if you deny that history - as a politician has to, at least in public - then it becomes unconscious.

Nowadays we do not call our Islamic enemies 'infidels'. We call them 'terrorists', which amounts to the same thing. In reality, we are engaged in a power struggle with Islam in the Middle East, just as we were 1000 years ago, and just as we did then, we de-humanise the enemy. Just as they de-humanise us.

The 1st Crusade occurred in 1096, and its immediate aim was to allow pilgrims access to the Holy Land, which had been denied to them since it came under Muslim control; its ultimate aim was to re-unite the 2 branches, East and West, of Christendom.

1096 was the aftermath of a Uranus-Pluto conjunction in Aries. Uranus-Pluto hard aspects, which occur every 40 years or so, herald periods of radicalism and power struggle. The conjunction is the most formative of the aspects, and Aries, as the 1st sign of the zodiac, begins things, by going to war if necessary. The Crusades began something - the power struggle between western Christianity and Islam - that continues even now.

The actual crossings of 2 outer planets churn up what is underlying, but we often don't see the results until a few years afterwards. Like the 11th century Uranus-Pluto conjunction. And like the Uranus-Pluto square of the late 20s-early 30s: Nazism came in its wake. And the conjunction of the mid-60s: the summer of love and many of the protests followed afterwards.

And it's the same now. Uranus and Pluto finished squaring in early 2015, soon after IS made its first big gains, but the real battle is only just beginning. 

And the main point I want to make is that Islamic State - 'so-called' or otherwise - is not just evil and 'other': it embodies tendencies that we all have, and more than that, it arose almost directly out of us westerners acting on those same tendencies, creating a situation of mass slaughter in Iraq: has IS killed as many people as the 250,000 or so killed by the sectarian fighting in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Evolution vs the Perennial Philosophy

I don't believe that consciousness 'evolves'. Evolution is a 19th century abstraction that we impose on our experience. And I'm suspicious, because the primary mechanism for evolution is 'survival of the fittest', a harsh and unforgiving ethos that merely reflects the capitalism of the day. A Creation Myth (for that is what it is) that justifies the worst in human nature.

A few months ago I had a dream in which I saw a speckled moth, beautifully part of and belonging to its surroundings, and at the same time I understood that evolution as we know it told us virtually nothing about how this moth came to be.

I'm not a creationist. You could say I'm a metaphysical agnostic: I just don't know how these things come to be, and I don't think they can be understood in any simple 'rational' way.

I think that Evolution is generally understood mythologically rather than scientifically. This is because most of us haven't seriously studied the evidence, yet so many accept it as a fact that you don't seriously question. It is therefore mostly a belief. We accept it because it tells a story about how we came to be, that is more acceptable nowadays than the Biblical creation myth. We accept it more for emotional than intellectual reasons.

There is nothing wrong with this. We need stories about the world that are emotionally appealing. It has always been this way. These stories contain truths about existence, and ideally you need some of them to contradict each other, just so we don't think we are in possession of the 'one truth'.

The problem with evolution as a story is that it twists life into a brutal struggle, and reduces the scope of existence to the visible, material world. (As quantum physicists have asserted, it is consciousness, not matter, that is primary.) Evolution is a story posing as an unassailable fact, that continues in an inverted form the brutal creation myth of the Old Testament.

It is this resonance with what came before that contributes to the emotional appeal of evolution. Intellectually we are satisfied because evolution opposes the religion we have left, emotionally we are satisfied because it resembles that religion, with the added bonus that humans are now at the top of the Great Chain of Being instead of somewhere in the middle.

It is because of this emotional appeal that Evolution is firmly accepted as a theory on the basis of evidence that would be laughed out of court in most other scientific disciplines. There is more direct evidence, for example, of homeopathy working, but again for emotional reasons, that evidence is frequently rejected.

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No-one has seen evolution occur, the most we have directly seen is a bit of adaption to circumstances, which is not the same thing. The evidence is partial and circumstantial. Something has gone on, we know that from the fossil record. And DNA studies show that all forms of life on earth are closely related to one another, which is a wonderful result.

But how a whole new species arises is not understood. Assuming it is consciousness, not matter, that is primary (though that statement itself suggests a divide between matter and consciousness that I don't think exists), I think new species are dreamed into being by consciousness, as much as they are generated by physical processes.

Though to what purpose they are dreamed into being is a mystery, part of the Great Mystery, the unknowability of existence.

This piece was prompted by an article by astrologer Glenn Perry, in which he sets the development of astrology in the context of a purported 'evolution' of human consciousness, in which he (wrong-headedly) declares "It must be emphasized that human awareness at this stage (4000 B.C.-1500 B.C.) was still quite dim, more like a toddler’s consciousness than a modern adult human."

Evolution has become central to the way we think about life, and it is natural to take the step of thinking of evolution as not just a physical process but as a mental/emotional process.

Evolution implies progress from an inferior stage to a superior stage of life. It is not just saying that change occurs - which would be fair enough - but that there is a value to it that makes the later stage in some way 'better' than the earlier stage.

It is one way of making sense of human history, but I think it is hard to get away from the implication that we are more 'advanced' than our forebears. I don't think this is justified, and if you junk that idea, then I think you have to junk the whole idea that human consciousness 'evolves'.

I used to have a Canadian Indian friend visit (yes, they call themselves Indians, not native this or that) and he was brought up speaking the language of the Chippewa Cree and immersed in their stories and philosophy. One thing that impressed me was their subtle understanding, through the stories of Wisahitsa, of the human ego and the tricks it gets up to: one of those tricks would surely be the self-important idea that we are 'superior' to our ancestors! Philosophically the tradition is keenly aware of how unknowable the universe is, refusing, for example, to take a position on what happens after death. And their philosophy and psychology is set in the richly imaginative context of the traditional stories, which my friend was able not just to tell but to expound on their meanings.

The usual patronising evolutionary story is that early people had their wonderful participation mystique with nature, which we have lost, but that is the price we have had to pay for the development of self-awareness, individuality, a strong ego and rationality.

In "The Passion of the Western Mind", astrologer Richard Tarnas says that it has been the task of masculine consciousness to forge its own autonomy and then come to terms with the great feminine principle in life, and thus recover its connection with the whole. This will constitute "the fulfillment of the underlying goal of Western intellectual and spiritual evolution." (p442)

In "The Philosopher's Secret Fire" (pp 263-6), Patrick Harpur takes issue with this position: "Evolution is a spirit notion which soul does not recognise. Traditional societies do not evolve. They live within a mythology which contains all imaginative possibilities, Earth Goddesses no less than Heraclean egos... Because we are changing, we think of ourselves as evolving. We are not. We are literalising the old myths...  If the rational ego is to disappear it is more likely to be destroyed by the ricochets of ideologies made in its own image."

My experience with my Indian friend suggested to me that early peoples are NOT lacking in rational egos - if you think about it, they needed to be a lot more creative and thoughtful than we need to be just to survive, apart from any philosophical sophistication they may have had - but rather, that ego has not become divorced from a sense of participation in nature.

As the poet Ted Hughes said: "The story of mind exiled from Nature is the story of Western Man."

I think that is the real story.

I think there are perennial truths about existence that have always been available to people from the earliest times, along with elements in our nature that can take us away from those truths. And the big truth we have lost is a felt sense of our participation in nature. What has gradually developed over the last few thousand years - ever since Plato and his separation of 'ideal forms' from nature - has been a massive loss of soul.

For a great exposition of this theme, see Anne Baring's book The Dream of the Cosmos. She explores this idea in the context of a well-researched account of the shift from lunar to solar mythologies.

There has been dazzling technological progress, and in a way it is natural to assume that makes us more 'advanced' than people who do not have that technology - as if we personally invented it! But I don't think it has made us more whole as humans.

What has developed has not been the rational ego - that has always been there - but the rational ego divorced from nature. Nature as something we can separate ourselves from and look on dispassionately, out of which has come at least as much harm as good, as the environmental crisis testifies to.

I think it is possible to view much of the technological progress of recent times as a mad dream created by an out-of-control rational ego. We didn't need all this technology for tens of thousands of years. It has been produced by a crazed mind, crazed because it has lost its roots in who it is.

The world we live in needs re-dreaming. We need to recover the perennial truths of existence, in which we are participants in, rather than observers of, the cosmos, and use that as a point of balance.