Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Why Things Go Wrong Under Mercury Retrograde

I don’t know if I’ve talked before about my theory as to why things go wrong during Mercury Retrograde (which occurs for 3 weeks, 3 times a year) but here it is: the world is not a separate ‘thing out there’. It is a product, to a large extent, of human consciousness. Think about it: our brain is hard-wired to make sense of the data coming in, and has created categories such as left and right, up and down, near and far, time and space, self and other, to make sense of it all. We all have the same hard-wiring, so we think this working model is more real than it is. This is not a philosophical head-game: if you read The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, which has case studies of dysfunctions in the hard-wiring, you will be left aghast and mystified by the constructed nature of all aspects of our experience.

‘Primitive’ peoples understood this relationship between consciousness and the world when they ceremonially greeted the Sun every morning, for fear it would otherwise stop rising. The world as we know it keeps functioning because we continually create it through paying attention to it.

Mercury is the Mind, and when Mercury goes backwards, our attention collectively shifts inwards. For those 3 weeks we are not paying quite the full attention to the world out there that we usually do, so the world does not work quite so well, and my broadband slows down. It doesn’t matter that I as an individual may be paying full attention, because the collective as a whole is not, it’s a bit more reflective and inward than usual.

This theme reminds me of Greg Bear’s Sci-fi book Blood Music, in which a scientist develops a bacteria that can perform logic. He injects it into himself, it develops self-awareness, and it takes over the scientist and gradually the rest of the human population. Because the world is increasingly being perceived by a different type of consciousness, things gradually stop working properly. The bacteria eventually triumphs completely and the world itself shifts onto another plane. It’s a chilling story.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Collective Folly and the Mutable Signs

As I write, Col Gaddafi is about to be toppled, amidst jubilation in Libya and pronouncements about the end of a tyrannical dictator from western leaders. But what is usually forgotten in the heat of this (for the West) ideological triumph, is that tyrants are usually there for a reason, the reason often being that a country is so riven by warring tribes that it is ungovernable except by a tyrant. This was the case in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Already, in the case of Libya, there is talk of the power vacuum and the many contending tribes.

History does not seem to teach the West to tread very carefully before supporting, or bringing about, revolutions with which it agrees ideologically. That is the trouble with ideas and ideologies: they often get given more importance than practical outcomes, and can cause more harm than good. (A lot of it because leaders are dishonest about their real motives.) I don’t know if Libyans will be better off or worse off without Gaddafi. At least the country was stable, and without NATO interference, Gaddafi might well have prevailed again.

In its fear of dictatorships, America has developed a political system that is also so riven by warring tribes that recently, at a time of crisis, the country proved nearly ungovernable. The country had been there many times before, but not at a time of such crisis, and not when Uranus and Pluto were so nearly squaring. We become that which we oppose, and in the recent debt ceiling crisis, America was effectively being dictated to by a small number of Republicans.

America’s political polarisation is fascinating from across the pond, because Europe is not so extreme. It seems to be largely the fault of the right-wingers, what used to be called the neo-cons, in the US. We saw it before with Bill Clinton in the 1990s, where the Republicans seemed determined to make it as difficult as possible for him to govern, to the extent of making America a laughing stock in the world. How far are these ideologically driven Republicans prepared to go to get their way? They, more than any straightforward economic factor, may be what brings America down. Bush was one of them, and his Presidency saw a weakening of America economically and militarily. All these Republicans achieved in the recent spat was a downgrading of America’s credit rating.

Uranus-Pluto brings about intense polarisation and crisis, followed by the collapse of old power systems and the birth of new ones. During the ‘Arab Spring’ earlier this year, Mars was in Aquarius, a sign of rebellion and democracy, and activating the bigger, underlying current of Uranus-Pluto. Now Mars is in Cancer, but square the ruler of Aquarius, Uranus, and again we have protests, in India and Israel. And a wave of mindless looting in the UK. And the end of Gaddafi’s regime and intense pressure on the Syrian regime. Again, would the Syrian people be better off with a revolution? One sympathises with the Syrian people, and with the Libyan people, and with the Iraqi people, but do we have the wisdom to know that intervention would be helpful?

I read an article about Folly yesterday, in relation to the Euro crisis. Folly was defined as something collectively decided, whose outcome is known to be at best problematic, but which is pursued anyway. The classic example was the wooden horse of Troy. The Trojans knew not to trust it, they had both oracles and common sense telling them. Yet because they so wanted an end to the war, they so wanted to believe that it really was a peace offering from the Greeks, that they accepted the gift. And that was the end of Troy.

The Euro also has the characteristics of Folly. How can you manage a currency if you do not have a proper say in how the economies to which it belongs are run? And if one of the countries belonging to the Euro gets into trouble, it cannot take the usual fiscal measures to get out of trouble, like printing more money and devaluing its currency. Nor can the European Central Bank continuously organise bail-outs, particularly when the larger countries, like Spain and Italy, start getting into trouble. So neither the ECB nor the individual countries themselves have full control over their economies.

One of the main factors that has led to the trouble in Europe is that some of the weaker economies like Greece, having joined the Euro, suddenly found themselves with much lower interest rates than they were used to and went on a borrowing spree.

So here we have Folly. Europe put itself in a situation whose outcome was very predictable, and which no intelligent individual, acting on their own, would have done. And yet collectively, Europe went and ahead and did it. Europe has paralysed itself in an entirely predictable way: the individual countries cannot act to save themselves, and neither can the collective act to save them.

The same with the US invasion of Iraq. Any intelligent individual could see that without careful post-invasion planning, there would be chaos and slaughter. Yet the collective went ahead anyway and created that chaos and slaughter.

Why do collectives, run by people who on their own are intelligent, do this? It can only be because we get caught up in collective hopes that are stronger than reason. You saw this in the election of Obama. I’m not saying he’s a bad President, but people got so caught up in a collective hope for a better future that rational discussion was often not possible. Fortunately, he hasn’t turned out too bad, but he could easily have been.

Can we see Folly in the charts of either the Euro or the Iraq War? In a way, yes. Astrologically, the cardinal signs are needed to begin something. Under the fixed signs you establish, and under the mutable signs you adapt and, if necessary, allow things to end.

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So generally you do not want begin things under a strong mutable signature, particularly the end of the mutable signs, when you really need to be allowing matters to end. And what do we find? The Iraq War was begun with the Sun at 29 Pisces, and with mutable Angles. And the Euro became legal with the Angles all at 29 degrees of the mutable signs! An unaspected Sun, showing a lack of leadership, didn’t help either. And as for that other Folly, the invasion of Afghanistan, with its entirely predictable long and unwinnable war, one chart I have is for George Bush’s announcement of the invasion, at 5am on 7 Oct 2001 in Washington. What we find are mutable Angles, with mutable Moon, Saturn, Venus and Pluto conjunct the Angles.

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This is classic astrology: you do not begin something under a strong mutable signature, yet Iraq, Afghanistan and the Euro were all begun under such a signature, and they went wrong. But particularly that 29 degrees of the mutable signs: it is remarkable that both Iraq and the Euro should share this. It seems to me particularly wilful to begin something at this sort of time. Astrology is a connected art, it’s not like oh they should have consulted an astrologer: if the astrology is saying don’t do it, then so will common sense be saying don’t do it. So I think the insight that astrology gives us here, particularly with Iraq and the Euro, is the sheer degree to which common sense was ignored in starting these events.

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Afghanistan also, but the mutability is not 29 degrees, and in a way America had to do something in response to 9/11. Iraq and the Euro, however, were not driven by events, they were undertaken entirely voluntarily.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Cameron's 9/11 Moment

Dr Johnson once said, in relation to the death penalty being handed out for sheep-stealing, that if you raise sheep stealing to the level of murder, then you reduce murder to the level of sheep-stealing. The same could be applied to some of the sentences being handed out as a result of last week’s rioting and looting in England. One person, for example, was given 6 months in prison for stealing a few bottles of water.

A sense of proportion is being lost. In the same way that a collective hysteria resulted in looting by many people who would not normally have stolen, so is the judicial response also proving to be to some degree hysterical. The politicians gave the judges the nod to be harsh some days ago. Yet David Cameron is now saying he is glad the judiciary feels free to hand out extra tough sentences, as though there has been no political involvement.

You learn a lot about collective behaviour at these times of crisis, and also about the real positions of the politicians who lead us through them. When Princess Diana died, we saw Tony Blair’s populist genius in his ‘people’s princess speech’, and we saw collective grief on a scale we had never witnessed before (that Tony Blair also predicted), much of it because a symbol had been lost.

When 9/11 occurred, Tony Blair the religious warrior emerged, prepared to go to bed (in the passive position if necessary) with whatever politician shared his views on good and evil.

David Cameron’s right wing instincts are currently on display. He has unreservedly praised the tough sentences being handed out, and while there is a case for these, there is not for the disproportionality.
Boris Johnson, the Tory Mayor of London, is also behind the judiciary, but it has always been clear there is a nasty right-winger beneath the bluff, jokey exterior. As in, for example, his reference a few years ago to pickaninnies, which basically means the same as ‘wogs’. Being loveable, clowning Boris, he got away with it.

It’s difficult writing about politics, because as soon as you criticise a politician, a lot of people assume you are from the opposite party and are being biased, and shame on you for using astrology to justify your political leanings.

My position is that who I would vote for depends. Generally I trust the Tories more to balance the books, and Labour more with social policy. At present, our national debt is huge, and could still topple us a few years down the line. I trust the Tories more than Labour to ensure this does not happen. I also think something urgent needs to be done about welfare spending, and I think the Tories are more likely to do something about it, though I might not always like their methods.

However, just as left-wingers can be mindlessly anti-capitalist (and capitalism is just part of human nature: we need it but it has to be controlled), so too do you get Tories lacking feeling for their ‘inferiors’. This is the Tories as the ‘Nasty Party’ (an appropriate play on ‘Nazi’). I don’t think it would be politically too difficult for David Cameron to give out a message of ‘tough but proportionate’ on sentencing policy, but he is not doing this, and it gives the impression of a right-winger bashing his inferiors.

This is David Cameron’s Mercury in Scorpio square to Moon-Jupiter in Leo. Moon-Jupiter in Leo has natural leadership abilities but also, at its worst, a sense of entitlement to rule, a sense of superiority and lack of feeling for those seen as inferior. But it is concealed by Mercury in Scorpio. Someone I know has Moon conjunct Neptune in Leo, without the Scorpionic concealment, and they are straight up that there are superior and inferior classes of people, that is just how life is, and that the credit crunch was caused by the lower classes spending too much! In a way this person is right, in that humanity, like a pack of dogs, is hierarchical: we wouldn’t for example have celebrities without it. But that doesn’t mean it corresponds to anything real. Of course there is such a thing as superiority when it comes to e.g. talents and achievements (and this is classically Leo/Capricorn), and it’s important not to let tall poppy syndrome get in the way of that. But that doesn’t make one person ‘better’ than another, let alone a whole social class better than another.

David Cameron’s Leo Moon is ruled by his Libra Sun, and it is the approaching Mars square to his Sun, and more immediately to his Libran Venus (popularity in a politician) that is governing his actions. Mars is currently squaring his Venus, and he feels he has to be aggressive (Mars) to be popular (Venus).

Mars, unsurprisingly, has generally played a central role in the riots and their aftermath. Mars is in early Cancer, in a t-square with Uranus and Pluto. That is heavy and explosive. All the planets in that t-square are now separating from each other, so the intensity is easing; but at the time of the police shooting of Mark Duggan, and the beginning of the riots, the t-square was applying, particularly from Mars. Astrologically, it was a tinderbox, that hard-aspected the UK Uranus-Asc conjunction and Sun-MC opposition. Hence their national significance.

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What seems to have been forgotten is that these riots were triggered by the police shooting dead a black man (who Boris Johnson might call a pickaninny). The police claimed the man had shot first, but people obviously didn’t believe them, and it turned out later that the police had indeed lied. They claimed the lie was simply miscommunication, but you don’t make a mistake about something like that. The police shoot dead a black man, lie about him having fired at them, and people riot because they rightly don’t believe the police. There was justified grievance on the part of the rioters here, and it’s the only course of action people have when the police are against them. Of course, the riots escalated into something else that the politicians can unreservedly condemn, but the part of the police in causing it has strangely been forgotten.

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When Mark Duggan was shot, Mars had just changed signs and was moving through the 9th House of the UK chart. The 9th House is the Law, and Mars is aggression – an instinctive planet in the instinctive sign of Cancer. It was probably spur of the moment, unlike airy Mars in Gemini, under which the carefully planned Norwegian slaughter took place. A policeman felt threatened and opened fire without thinking: that is what the astrology is telling us, particularly when you see that Mars is also in an applying square to Uranus and opposition to Pluto. We do know that an illegal firearm was recovered from the scene, and if Duggan was carrying it, then I think it’s his look-out if the police shoot him. But the police have already lied in a big way, so did they also plant the gun afterwards? At the time of the shooting, Mercury was stationary retrograde closely opposite retrograde Neptune, with both planets about to change sign. Mercury is the planet of communication, and with this aspect it is very hard to know where the truth lies (no pun intended.) It is certainly the aspect par excellence under which to tell whoppers, like the police did.

In itself, the shooting chart has a Mars-Pluto opposition lying along the Asc-Desc axis. So death (Pluto) as well as aggression (Mars) was intended on the part of the establishment (Capricorn)/Police (Sagittarius). The North Node was also conjunct the Ascendant, in the sign of Sagittarius (the Law/Police). This adds significance to the event. And the Asc was closely opposite David Cameron's MC, suggesting an important moment for his career. So I think attention will focus once again on the shooting, once the bigger, morally more cut-and-dried issue of the rioting has died down.

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The rioting began 2 days later. In a mundane chart, the Moon is the people, and here we see it in Scorpio in the 9th. Scorpio has a strong sense of justice/revenge, and in the 9th, it is the Law/Police with whom it has this grievance. Aquarius Rising shows the sense of rebellion. So this was how the riots began, even though they turned into something else. The actual aggression, Mars, was in the 5th, showing the part young people came to play. Being in Cancer, and opposite Pluto, reason was soon left behind.

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The UK Progressed Sun/IC is closely conjunct Cameron’s Moon, so this is a time when he can take a lead. The UK has a Progressed Mars-Pluto opposition that will be applying until the end of 2012, so further protests and outbursts of violence and rioting are likely. Some have described the rioting as Cameron’s ‘9/11 moment’. He has seized it, just as Mars conjoins the UK MC, as an opportunity to promote the social transformation, the ‘big society’, that is central to his political philosophy. The focus will be on less government and more local community involvement, and active intervention at an early stage in families locked into welfare and criminality. It could be read as a restatement of traditional Tory policy: less government, ‘on your bikes’ to those on the dole, and boot camps for young criminals.

This is just as Neptune is entering Cameron’s 6th House of work. A leader is a public figure, in some ways they ARE the collective, and I think you can therefore give a mundane interpretation to their charts. In this case, one meaning of the 6th House is ‘the working classes’. This could be read in an appalling way as redeemer of the lower orders, and as a Tory there’s bound to be a bit of that flavour, but it doesn’t mean he won’t do a lot of good. Neptune may give a more compassionate flavour than we experienced under Thatcher. In the UK chart, Neptune is about to pass over natal Pluto in the 5th House of children: we saw this transit in the riots, where most of the offenders were teenagers and young adults, and we will no doubt see a response in terms of government policy and intervention in the next few years as the transit progresses.

In an individual’s chart, a Neptune to natal Pluto transit may not be personally very significant. But a country ‘lives’ for so much longer, and being also a collective entity, these collective planet transits acquire a lot more significance. Pluto is also the country’s power, and the sign of Pisces reflects Britain’s naval power in 1801. You can also, rather fascinatingly, trace the rise and fall of the British Empire – its time as a world power - by the long Direct and Retrograde periods of progressed Pluto. For example, Prog Pluto was stationing at the end of WWII, and moved to retrograde in the 1950s: this was the post-war dismantling of the Empire. The Neptune-Pluto transit over the next couple of years is also like to mark one more downgrade in Britain’s place as a world power, which will complete as Neptune also passes over Progressed Pluto at 5 Pisces in a few years time. Just as people are often more real in failure than in success, so too do I think it will do Britain good to wear shoes that fit.

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We don’t know what David Cameron is like yet (just as we didn’t know Blair till 9/11), but with Pluto squaring his Sun over the next few years, and with the rioting providing an opportunity for implementing his social philosophy (which he has always said is his main political goal), we are probably soon to see what type of leader we really have. His Progressed Sun has just moved into Sag, trining his natal Jupiter: so his beliefs will be coming to the fore. And with prog Moon in the Prog 5th in Aries, these beliefs are likely to result in initiatives around young people.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

English Monsters from the Deep

It is interesting how unclear the reasons have been for the civil disorder in England. The worst is now over, even though the disorder has spread across the country, because London, which gave a lead, is now quiet. Forcibly so.

No doubt reasons will be given, but just the fact that we don’t really know says quite a lot. It started with alleged police racism in Tottenham, but turned into disorder by all sorts of people, burning down businesses and looting. The austerity measures are clearly an element here. And resentment against the Tory government. Last night 3 Asian men were run over and killed as they left a mosque in Birmingham. That seems like racism.

The point is that ‘reason’ has been left behind and we are dealing with something archaic and collective. People who would not normally riot and loot are doing so. The news showed quite unlikely people in the police cells.

This is what is fascinating. When the collective takes over, people’s usual sense of who they are switches off. It is exactly what happened in Nazi Germany, at a time, like now, of national insecurity. A responsible government opposes and contains these energies. The Nazis used these mob energies against the enemy within. Right now, the British government could, if it wanted, set up a pogrom with the greatest of ease.

It is a rare moment when the dark side of the collective rears its head, and people forget who they are. It is an amnesia, and in the coming months we will see interviews with many people saying they do not know what came over them. It shows how fragile is our civilised consciousness, even after decades of liberal democracy and what some might see as political evolution.

The rioters were just the tip of the iceberg. For every rioter, there were probably hundreds more who could have been drawn in if the circumstances were there, and thousands more who were tempted. The government will isolate the rioters off as an unrepresentative aberration; but in fact it is saying something big about the English collective unconscious. Nothing happened in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, and this shows we are separate races, that it was a racial, tribal phenomenon.

So firstly, there is such a thing as the English race. And secondly, something is going on in its collective unconscious. As in Nazi Germany, people are feeling insecure and powerless. Usually we see attacks on minorities in such circumstances. But what we have in this case is a new element brought in by a new type of society, the ‘consumer society’: greed. Looting has been so characteristic of this unrest, and it is probably a consumerised twist to the pogrom mentality.

The important lesson in these events is that they are saying something about the English collectively: our general nature beneath the ‘civilised’ surface; and something particular about how threatened people are feeling about present circumstances.

It is easy to put it ‘out there’ and just blame the rioters. It’s like in a family that is unconscious. The family neurosis is often embodied by just one member, the black sheep, putting it safely ‘out there’, so that nobody has to look at themselves.

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We saw in the 1930s how Uranus square Pluto gave rise to the same primitive collective energies to which each one of us is vulnerable, even if we let others do it for us. How many people are secretly satisfied by the rioting? Perhaps those who damn it most? Uranus square Pluto will be interacting with the charts of all the major powers in the next few years (including China, which has Sun at 7 Libra). We will be seeing a lot more of what we have been experiencing in England. Why in England right now? Because Mars has been in early Cancer, forming a t-square with Uranus and Pluto: this configuration forms a hard aspect to the UK Sun, MC and Asc at 7-10 Libra/Capricorn, and in particular to the UK Angular Uranus at 1 Libra, a planet of unrest.

The monsters of the old myths, like Grendel, live within us, and emerge when the protective shell of a secure society is weakened. What is happening in the collective now in England is a great moment for collective and personal self-knowledge.

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Thursday, August 04, 2011

Astrology and 2012

Astrologer Chris Brennan has written a piece opposing attempts by some astrologers to make 2012 the year of astrology. It's proved controversial:

Over the past few years a well-meaning group of astrologers called the Cosmic Intelligence Agency has led a campaign to “make 2012 the year of astrology.” Their goal is to use some of the hype surrounding predictions about the significance of the year 2012 to draw greater attention to astrology and the astrological community as a whole. At one point they even went so far as to see if they could lobby the United Nations in order to officially designate 2012 as the year of astrology.

I would like to respectfully point out that this isn’t a very good idea, at least in my opinion. Let me explain why. (more...)

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Tuesday, August 02, 2011


Sometimes I’ll get asked health questions. I’m not trained in medical astrology – in a way, I’m not trained in any sort of astrology – but I don’t usually let that sort of thing stop me. A bit of common sense and an understanding of symbolic thinking goes a long way. The other day someone asked me about their spine, and I went to the very useful Medical Astrology section on Wikipedia, and there it was, symbolised by the Sun. The Sun is also parental, classically the father, and I was able to tie together father stuff and spine stuff in a way that made a lot of sense to the person. Healing one involved healing the other.

Even I would balk at using astrology to recommend physical treatments for people’s ailments. I think that would definitely require training. But through its system of correspondences, astrology can give you strong clues as to the psychological component. Not, not psychological, that makes it sound like disease is just in people’s heads, which it’s not. It’s the soul component, what the ailment is saying about the state of your soul. There isn’t always this connection – sometimes a broken leg is just a broken leg, a cold can be just a cold. And you can’t insist on a connection. But sometimes the symbolism is too strong to ignore.

I’ve spent the last few months reading Patrick Harpur’s The Philosopher’s Secret Fire. There’s so much in it that I only do a few pages a day. Today I came across this section:

The rejection of Hades’ advances – the resistance to death – is the hallmark of modernity, and especially of our approach to medicine. Of all the technological developments which have changed our lives since the Renaissance, medical technology is perhaps the one we can point to with most confidence and say: “There, at least, things are getting better.”….

We are better than ever – so why do we so often feel iller? Why does spending on health increase every year, but we do not seem to be happier? Why are we beginning to question the benefits of longevity? Why are we now plagued by complaints which may not be life-threatening but which make our lives a misery and which doctors can do little about – unexplained headaches, chronic backache, stomach disorders; anxiety attacks, stress disorders and depressions; plus a host of ills that seem to hover on the border between mind and body, such as ME, MS, chronic fatigue, hyperactivity, allergies, asthma, eczema and other ‘nervous’ disorders? Why can we never rid ourselves of Big Killers – we may have done away with the Black Death, but now we have Cancer and Heart Disease?

There are lots of answers to these questions; but the single most neglected answer is that we have neglected soul, especially in the field of mainstream medicine whose materialistic presuppositions tell us that the body is all we have; that it is more or less a machine….

The daimonic tradition, on the other hand, tells us that the body is the physical expression of an individual soul connected to the Soul of the World and, as such, it is – like Nature – a citadel of metaphors. None of its expressions, including its symptoms and diseases, is merely biological. They are also imaginings which invite us to see heart disease, for example, as a sickness of the emotions, perhaps of the imagination itself, since these are traditionally seated in the heart; which invites us to see cancer as a revolt against the materialistic conception of the body itself, because cancer is like the body’s madness, the body turning on itself, eating into itself, as if to free itself from itself or free it from its own literalistic conception of itself.

From the daimonic point of view, the tiny agents of disease such as bacteria and viruses are, like subatomic particles, daimonic entities whose existence was postulated hypothetically – that is, imagined – before they were ‘discovered’. This is not to say that they do not exist; it is only to say that their existence is not only literal, even though we demonise them, ward them off and exorcise them in the literalised rituals we call vaccination, disinfection etc. Viruses in particular have been fashionable in recent times. They are blamed for more and more diseases whose cause is uncertain. They may be different viruses – or, more alarmingly, they may be the same viruses which have mutated. The elusive, shape-changing mature of viruses suggests that they are the usual literalised daimons.

Moreover, there is a dark suspicion that the mass of ‘wonder’ drugs we have invented do not necessarily cure diseases but suppress them. According to this view a disease is then driven deeper into the body, only to reappear later in another, more virulent guise – exactly like the daimons we repress at our peril lest they mutate into demons. The high incidence of cancer would, from this viewpoint, be conceived as the suppressed form of diseases that we no longer manifest.

Despite all our medical triumphs, a groundswell of grumbling has grown in volume over the last 40 years, a dissatisfaction with the materialistic and technological approach to our bodies, which has encouraged a lot of people to experiment with ‘alternative’ medicine and ‘holistic’ therapies – many of which are administered in as literal a way as conventional medicine, using a kind of spiritual ‘technology’ which equally ignores soul.

Nevertheless they do point to a growing feeling that it is insane to treat the body in isolation, as if it were the only thing we consist of. We watch the Holy Grail of Total Health recede ever further from us as we increasingly understand that that soul will never let us be totally well. Psyche constantly makes itself felt in psychosomatic disorders, in hypochondriacal feelings of dis-ease, in anomalous symptoms which chronically subvert the quality of our lives. It will always prise open a crack in our armour of health to let sickness in or to leach health, like a wasting disease, towards death.

Of course we should do what we can to avoid sickness and to cure it; but we should not let our Herculean efforts blind us to the inner meaning of sickness, the opportunities it is offering us for psychic transformation, for initiation, which is an engagement with death rather than its denial. Many of the daimons a shaman encounters are called by the names of diseases. He engages with them in order to know them and to enlist their help in the care, and cure, of souls.

The tendency of medicine to deny soul is present in its mythic foundations. Asclepius was the first doctor, taught medicine by his father, Apollo, and (some say) by the centaur Cheiron. But when Asclepius began raising the dead, Hades complained to his brother, Zeus, that Asclepius was robbing him of his subjects. Zeus killed Asclepius with a thunderbolt, but later restored him to life.

Here, in Hades’ complaint, we see medicine’s predilection for affirming natural life, denying the life of the psyche and refusing the soul its connection with death. Hence medicine’s emphasis on preserving life, raising up bodies at all costs, cheating Hades by depriving soul of its underworld dimension and keeping it in the upper daylight world.

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Monday, August 01, 2011

Astrology and Faith

A few weeks ago someone asked me if I had a faith and I was a bit stumped for an answer. I mumbled something about astrology and something about symbolic thinking, but I don’t think I made much sense. And then a couple of weeks ago I realised that when I die, I want a coin put in my mouth. I didn’t think it up, it came to me with a force. In ancient Greek and Roman times, a coin was often put into the mouth of a dead person so they could pay Charon the ferryman to take them over the river Styx into Pluto’s realm, the world of the dead.

As a modern astrologer, I am dealing with the Greek gods all the time. (Note classical astrology seems not to have been like this; the planets were not gods, but sets of principles. In this respect, I think modern astrology is a considerable improvement on the old.) These gods are what I ‘believe’ in. I didn’t choose them, they chose me, and they might seem a slightly ludicrous cosmology to hold to in 21st century Europe.

But nevertheless they are often present when I write, and who am I to judge the appropriateness of mythological powers? My astrological connection with the Greek gods helps me understand that something need not be literal to be real. When Pluto turns up, he is just as real as the desk in front of me. In some ways, he is more real, for he has a power and a presence that the desk does not.
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So going back to the question of faith, I don’t think I could say I have one, in the usual sense of a belief in the divine nature of some historical figure like Jesus or the Buddha that gives meaning to someone’s life. If anything is ludicrous, that is. How can we be sure of anything factual about these people, and why the big deal about someone who was around so long ago? Why are they so special compared to any number of people with good things to say, who are alive now? Jesus or Buddha as mythological figures with mythological power is another matter; I think people easily confuse these levels of reality, as we are trained to think that something is only real if it is literally true, in the sense of being external and concrete and material and provable as so.

But if you have the experience, like I do, of the reality of the Greek gods, who were never presented as fleshly, historical beings, then you are freed from the tyranny of religious faith in the sense described above. What gives life meaning is the sense of these presences working alongside you, without the need for a proven historical event to make them real.

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