by Bradley W. Kochunas
If the abundance of books on a specific subject measures the pulse of popular culture, there is a seeming revival of soul as a topic of cultural interest. Four years after its release, Thomas Moore's Care of the Soul continued on bestseller lists, and his more recent work, Soulmates, has done well in its release. Moore's mentor, James Hillman, has seen his works reissued by a major publisher; and Hillman's colleague, Robert Sardello, has also witnessed his writing move into popular print. In addition, browsing the religion and New Age sections, the number of books with soul in the title appears to have increased markedly over the last several years. The immense profusion of these works suggests a renewed claim to bring soul back to the attention of the postmodern consciousness, to reawaken the sacred in our everyday lives.
Moore offers that what we suffer from is a loss of soul. But what is soul and what does it mean to suffer its loss? Following Moore and Hillman, I would like to keep soul vaguely defined, diffuse, and ambiguous, except to say that I do not mean the soul to be a theological entity or some kind of spiritual substance of the person. Rather, soul is more a perspective on things, the imaginative possibilities within our natures, that part of us that deepens events into experience.1 To quote Heraclitus (6th century B.C.E.), "You could not discover the limits of soul, even if you traveled every road to do so; such is the depth of its meaning."2 Therefore, rather than attempt to precisely define the meaning of soul, I would prefer to circumambulate and amplify it for understanding.
I would contend that soul's absence denotes a loss of depth, meaning, and attachment. In a society driven by disposable consumerism, we have lost a deep understanding of lack, of doing without, of making do, of abstinence, celibacy, solitude, restraint, and limitation. Americans tend toward expansive, growth-oriented, manic, Jupiterian lifestyles and leave no place for Saturnine melancholia. In an effort to increase the levity and leisure in our lives, we have neglected the gravity of existence. We move restlessly about, disposing of dwellings, vehicles, relationships, possessions; changing our beliefs, families, and lifestyles as easily as changing undergarments; and pursuing the fantasy of growth and progress.
We are by no means materialists as some would clamor, but rather we are spiritists who have little or no appreciation for the material world, while believing in the abstraction or idea of things with no attachment to the things themselves. We live in counterfeit and artifice -- processed foods that mimic real food, plastics that appear as wood grain and stone, pressed fiber masquerading as housing timber, spun oil having us believe it's silk. There is little appreciation for the real thing or for the time it takes to create and cultivate the real thing. This is the plight of a puer nation, the eternally youthful qualities of which are limitless possibility, highflying spirit, Promethean ethics, hubris, linear progress, adventurousness, and a strong-willed heroic ego. In America all we have to do is put our spirited minds to it, and we can achieve it.
The puer is a figure reflected in myth by Icarus, Bellerophon, Phaeton, Prometheus, the stories of The Little Prince, and the promiscuous Don Juan. These figures move in the realm of spirit flight, lacking any appreciation for the ordinary and the mundane. They are ungrounded, preferring the spiritual ascent to the mountain top, rather than a murky descent of soul to the common and humble realities of everyday life. We live in a culture split between mind and body, spirit and matter. When these are not intimately connected to one another, we find a disdain for matter, body, the feminine, and history, and we place a high value on spirit, progress, abstraction, and the future.
Marsilio Ficino, a 15th-century Renaissance philosopher, upon whom Hillman and Moore rely, places soul as the middle ground between these seeming polarities. In commenting upon mind, body, and soul's relation, Ficino writes: "We are easily moved by soul, first and foremost because it is the first mobile thing, mobile from itself and of its own doing ....It contains in itself all the middles of things, and is thus nearest to each. It is connected to all things, in the middle of these things that are distant from each other, for they are not distant from it."3
When soul is lost by a culture, there is nothing to connect mind and body, no middle ground to keep these realms attached. And thereby we suffer the untethered elevation of spirit and the degradation of matter as reflected in the deterioration of the environment, the despising of the body, shoddy materialism, the oppression of women, and substance abuse.
The archetypal perspective that holds a culture defines its philosophy, religion, and psychology. A puer culture provides us with a scientific philosophy, a solar monotheism, and a spirit psychology emphasizing ego, will, intention, mastery, and peak experiences.4 It takes on finer shades of subtlety in the notions of personal growth, problem-solving, and self-determination.
But what does all this mean for contemporary astrology? An astrology that moves forward focused upon self-mastery, personal growth, problem-solving, prediction, control, providing answers to life's problems, and simplifying our lives is an astrology that often neglects the longing of soul for attachment, complexity, repetition, otherness, meandering, and depth. It is an astrology used as one more weapon in the arsenal of the heroic ego in its move away from a soulful life.
I raise this issue of soul and astrology because of my position that astrology is an imaginal discipline that is more closely related to religion than it is to science; more related to poetry, fiction, and myth than to theorem, fact, and equation. Thus it should be taken less literally and more as a way of imagining the worlds.5 This has not been a prominent position in much of the astrological literature, which seems to emphasize the need to empirically prove the validity of astrology and champion it as an accurate tool for the prediction of concrete events. What I see when I look through the bookstore shelves on astrology are works that widen astrology, offering more and numerous techniques for this or that arena of practice. But I don't find the works that deepen this discipline.
Many of us recall Carl Sagan denouncing astrology as unscientific, and he is right. But what he failed to realize, as Rollo May pointed out, is that astrology has an entirely different basis than science. Astrology is myth and requires the language of myth for it to be meaningful to us.6 Each one of us carries within an image of our world, our imago mundi, and projects it into a more or less orderly universe, which becomes the stage upon which our fate is played out. To the extent that we are unconscious of this, we feel that life events are imposed from without rather than recognizing that we ourselves are the co-creators of our destinies.7
In the imaginings of astrology, this world image is the natal chart. It is both a literal map of the solar system and an imaginal map of our interior sky, a topography of the psyche. Astrology fantasizes an ecological model of humanity, viewing people as interconnected and interdependent expressions of a living cosmos, rather than a dead and mechanical clockwork universe. The same structuring principles and processes at work in nature are also at work in us, allowing us to see form and movement in our lives as metaphorically reflected in the movement of the sky. This living cosmos "speaks" to us through its symbolism, providing a rich framework for imagining a profound intimacy between ourselves and our environment. It is through engaging this map that we give voice to our deepest connections voices that are not always our own, voices that may sound foreign and other. Yet it is these inner figures, at play in sacred theater, that lay claim to us and clamor for our attention. These divinities, which are various facets of soul expressing its needs, bring us their stories over and over again. In listening to them, perhaps speaking as our symptoms and pathologies, we learn about soul. We cultivate the empathic imagination, and thereby, we extend soul back into the world.
The astrological map, as with all maps, is used for purposes of orientation. It may help us to discover something about where we are in life, about finding our center, getting our bearings, and perhaps, recognizing more clearly the wide meandering of our life journey. The natal map mirrors how we are, how the god/desses play in our lives. It is not the cause of what we have or will become. It simply reflects the archetypal realities through which we shape and are shaped by our world. As a map of our inner landscape, a soul image, it is best not used to predict concrete life events or to provide solutions to the problems of living. Rather, it asks us to explore the various fantasies in which we are engaged and perhaps leads us toward a life deeply enriched and possessed of satisfying attachments.
Yet the questions arise. What are the practical aspects of this soulful perspective? How can it be applied? Isn't that what all of us wish to know? The answers are not simple, as the very question emerges out of an heroic perspective. We want this to be another hard-muscled ego project that we can pin down, define, organize, and execute. A soulful approach is not that simple. There is a lot of wandering and meandering, false starts, roadblocks, going around in circles, all of which require us to have patience and tolerance for the strange and the foreign. We often need to sit with our charts and let them cook and simmer inside us. There is a time for incubation and waiting, for brooding and mulling, letting soul stir its own cauldron while we attend to the various divinities in our lives. That is what therapy is about for Hillman and Moore. The word therapy derives from Greek and has to do with waiting upon, attending, and serving the god/desses.
Returning soul to astrology means that we need to lose the heroic perspective. We may wish to reconsider viewing the chart as something to master and manipulate, to problem solve, or to use for personal growth. The chart as soul image has us, not we it. The ego's needs are not necessarily soul's needs. Progress, betterment, improvement, and growth may have little interest for soul, belonging more to the hero's fantasy. If we, with our clients, can attend to our charts, really engage them, tell stories about the mythological figures, play with the images that arise -- these are activities of making soul. Working with charts in this fashion is a slow process. Many clients, lost to the modern fantasy of more and better, will not have time for it. They want the quick answers, the sure bets, the minimal effort. But life is an alchemical process and with enough attentiveness and imagination, we see that change and transformation occur of their own accord. Clients can be enriched by starting where they are, rather than where they want to be.
As an astrologer, try speaking for the dark parts of the chart. Don't try to suggest to clients how they can change their muck or solve their problems, thus cheating them of their discomfort. Help them to find the gold buried within it, to find soul within the symptom. We are oftentimes too quick with our efforts to be helpful, relieving our own uneasiness, rather than sitting in the space with our client and stewing with them. It is necessary to examine our own need to help others, our own levels of discomfort with their distress.
Returning soul to astrology is not always an easy task; and it is only one move among many in using astrology. It can, however, bring a deeper level to our work. Take astrology seriously, but not literally. Soul moves at its own pace and cannot be rushed or forced, only presented with opportunities for its making. Perhaps we might consider the cultivation of imagination as the goal of astrological work. Explore the fantasies of the client -- the dreams, wants, wishes, desires, foibles, failures, and fears. And in this doing, this imaging of the concrete, we also concretize the imagination, spiraling soul back into the world.
This article was first published in The Mountain Astrologer Magazine, Aug/Sept. 1996 issue. For info or a subscription, go to www.mountainastrologer.com
References and Notes:
1. James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology, New York: Harper Row, 1975, p.x.
2. E. Wheelwright, Heraclitus, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1959, p. 58.
3. C. Boer, Marsilio Ficino: The Book of Life, Irving, TX: Spring Publications, 1980, p. 87.
4. Bradley Kochunas, "Drawing Down the Moon: An Exploration of Lunar Psychology," The Astrotherapy Newsletter, Fairfax, CA: The Association for Astrological Psychology, August 1990.
5. Bradley Kochunas, "Reimagining Astrology," The Astrotherapy Newsletter, Fairfax, CA: The Association for Astrological Psychology, April 1989.
6. Rollo May, The Cry for Myth, New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, 1991, p. 22.
7. H. Corbin, Avicenna and the Visionary Recital, Irving, TX: Spring Publications, 1980, p. 8.
©1996 Bradley W. Kochunas - all rights reserved
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