Saturday, April 13, 2013

"At the Crossroads: An Astrologer Looks at These Troubled Times"--Review

By Brian George

“The first man must have seen auguries everywhere, he must have trembled at each step that he took.”—Giorgio de Chirico, 1913

I was a great admirer of Jessica Murray’s book “Soul-Sick Nation; An Astrologer Looks at America,” which I regard as one of the most incisive, intuitive, and provocative analyses of the escalating crises faced by the US in the first decade of the 21st Century. I eagerly awaited her next book, “At the Crossroads; An Astrologer Looks at these Turbulent Times,” which was published in June of 2012. In the months that I have been savoring this work, again and again I have found myself—quietly—exclaiming, “Of course, of course, that’s it!” When an author is able to enter into the secret chambers of the Zeitgeist, it is as though she is also reading your own deepest fears and dreams and thoughts.

Murray refers to herself as an “archetypal astrologer”: Astrological transits are analyzed less in terms of their purely personal and predictive aspects and more in terms of the alchemical challenges that they pose. She writes, for example, ““As the transit of Neptune (spiritual yearning) to the US Moon suggests, beneath America’s panic about the economy is a malaise that has nothing to do with the material world. Clients who visit an astrologer these days and insist that all they want to talk about are ‘practical’ issues like their 401Ks are missing the point. As distressing as the financial facts are, the deeper issue is of psycho-spiritual health.” Astrology is predictive, yes, but this has to do with the arrangement and rearrangement of archetypal scenery on the stage. Every stage-set is provisional, and we act within a tiny cone of light, beyond which we must learn to see.

At each moment, a particular thing is waiting to occur—like a half-formed sentence in the unconscious of a writer—yet it is we who must translate impulse into action, and, by pulling a focused image from the Rorschach blot of forces, determine what this moment means. “Astrological archetypes work as an interpretive schema because ‘real life,’ just like dream life, is a flow of symbols. An angry dog barking at you on the day of a Mars transit is a symbol. So are big collective happenings like political movements, oil spills, and tsunamis.” As in a dream, each image has both an inner life and a certain open-endedness: The dream comes fully into existence only as we tell the story of it, which we are simultaneously in the process of enacting in our lives. I would refer to this as the primordial mode of vision: No event is so trivial that it cannot be seen within the context of an archetype. Conversely, no archetype is so great that it has ceased to have a moment by moment involvement—and even, perhaps, interest—in our actions.

James Hillman, in “The Soul’s Code,” writes, “Maybe the invisibles are interested in our lives for the sake of their realization and as such are inherently democratic: Anyone will do…The angel has no way of descent into the streets of the public common except via our lives. In the film ‘Wings of Desire,’ angels fall in love with life, the street life of ordinary human predicaments.”

For the archetypes are just gods that have not yet put on our clothes. Once doing so, they may no longer be able to read by the light of their own bodies, and fall victim to the next fad in full daylight spectrum lamps.

In the mid-1980s, I had a roommate who was very excited by his discovery of Jane Roberts, who, in “Seth Speaks,” was the originator of the meme that “we create our own reality.” This was the phrase that launched a thousand weekend workshops. At the time, however, I was surrounded by quite a number of occultists and ceremonial magicians—a plethora of competing Maguses—so that this idea did not have the impact on me that it did on many others. It did not seem especially challenging or unique. Early on, I came to regard the phrase as a kind of marketing slogan, like “You’re In Good Hands With Allstate” or “Things Go Better With COKE.” The imposition of one’s magical will upon the world did not strike me as a worthwhile goal. I was far more interested in Matthew Fox’s “Creation Spirituality,” and the idea that we are the “co-creators” of the cosmos, whose role within the scheme of things is both key and mercurial. It is this emphasis on the interplay between self and cosmos, in which neither term is more important than the other, which also excites me about Murray’s work.

If our proper role is to serve as catalytic agents in the drama of “world creation,” “world centering,” and “world renewal,” as many Mesoamerican cultures believed, then we should not be especially preoccupied with the fulfillment of our personal desires. We have bigger fish to fry, and, at any moment, the Earth might suddenly be pulled out from beneath us.

Even though, from about the age of 20, I have been fascinated by—if not obsessed with—the idea of time cycles, I tend, for the most part, to shy away from any type of linear predictions. It’s not that we can’t get a good sense of which archetypal forces are in play, but rather that, once we invest our energy in a particular year or date—such as 2012—it can too easily become a blank projection screen for all of our subconscious contents. It is here, indeed, that a trap has been set for us, if we desire to become full citizens of the Commonwealth of the Zodiac. In “At the Crossroads,” Murray does a terrific job of impartially charting the interplay of microcosmic and macrocosmic forces that conspire to create the shifting stage-set we inhabit. To some extent, this may be because she does not hesitate to give darkness credit for playing a central and quite necessary role. As she says, “Out of respect for the mystery of free will,” we should not “second-guess the energies afoot. There is plenty of fear in the air, and we should avoid it like the plague.”

If we desire to respond to the planetary crisis not with fear but with curiosity, “We cannot do this,” writes Murray, “unless we loosen our allegiance to the literal significations of the archetypes. Indeed, many astrologers see the literal level of events as being merely the universe’s ploy of last resort: the means by which the cosmos gets its point across when the recalcitrant human mind fails to comprehend it any other way…For those who believe that everything in life is a symbol, even catastrophic events can be seen as invitations into an unprecedented state of possibility. To view global warming and its attendant Earth changes this way is to see that an infinite number of potential scenarios are at our disposal. The years ahead start to look not like an ending, but a beginning: a tabula rasa.”

In analyzing the pathologies of our cultural moment—a moment that has been millennia in the making—I never feel that Murray is acting out of unresolved psychic conflicts, that she is trying to make herself seem important, or that she is manipulating data to prove some predetermined point. Too often, I find that writers give in to the temptation of using metaphysical concepts as the accessories of a lifestyle—the trap of “spiritual materialism” that Chogyam Trungpa spoke about. Subtle insights become grand CGI illusions. Their fears: a species die-off; their hopes: a paradise that is always just about to happen. They would like to be rock stars, but have somehow ended up as gurus, and, not having come to terms with the real but limited function of the ego, are constantly lecturing others on the need for shattering it altogether. Murray’s work, on the other hand, is the antidote to claustrophobia. It is bracing and, quite naturally, vast. As I read it, I can feel a wind from the edge of space begin to leak through all of my windows. There is nowhere to hide, and yet, curiously, nothing that needs to be hidden. Wounds and all, we are free to be the Promethean children that we are. For the sky is, indeed, a mother.

The sky is tolerant, and it is possible that she knows the end to every story, as do we, in our less combative moments. For better or worse, we must keep to the schedule that she has set.

Given our tendency to project our thinking in straight lines, or, to put this another way, due to our habit of seeing “with” and not “through” our eyes, we might like to imagine that we are “evolving” beyond the personal, whose vehicle is the “ego,” and that, once a critical mass of enlightenment has been reached, we will simply fix, transform, or transcend the planetary crises that we face. Perhaps we will; then again, perhaps we won’t: We act upon a stage-set where no results are guaranteed. But if we do not “create our own reality,” as this is conventionally understood, Murray nonetheless reminds us that we did, before birth, choose to experience our lives exactly as they are, and with whatever peculiar mix of forces are in play. She writes, “As meaning-seekers regarding these intimidating transits, we walk a fine line. We must neither lapse into unrealism about their severity, nor forget that although the trends they suggest are immutable, their specific manifestations are not.” Our attitudes do have some degree of importance, after all. We cannot use them to create “ex nihilo,” but, by finding the balance point of the forces now in motion, we may be able to determine how the megaliths were raised, and, again, with our hands, begin to shift them as they hover.

We have work to do. In front of us, we see footprints that we had left there long ago. If we fail, as well we might, our failure will most probably be due to a split-second lack of attention, and yet success will not in any way depend upon the accident of our survival.

Our freedom of action is moderated by our willingness to learn how to read. Far easier said than done, of course! How odd that simple things, which pertain to our primordial function in the world, can now seem almost infinitely complex, while complex things, which pertain to the development of a technological dream world, can seem, due to all of our dead habits, infinitely simpler than they are. By remembering how to read the language of the stars, and by adapting to the open-endedness of the challenge posed by the archetypes, we might, as Murray says, be able to “respond, rather than merely react, to these turbulent times.”

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