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Book extract

Jung & Astrology

(Chapter 4)

Jung Sings
- The Symbolic Attitude -

Once Jung had found his No.2 voice, he was free to give full expression to the charm of his third house Moon in Taurus, sextile and mutual reception a sixth house Venus in Cancer. This configuration symbolises the diseased woman but at the same time it is Jung's ability to move the soul and heal the sick. There is a lovely story which illustrates this. A village schoolteacher, a "simple young girl" suffering with insomnia, was sent to him by another doctor. Jung explained to her that she needed to relax, just as he did when he went sailing, but she did not understand him and then,

as I talked of sailing and of the wind, I heard the voice of my mother singing a lullaby to my little sister as she used to do when I was eight or nine, a story of a little girl in a little boat, on the Rhine, with little fishes.

Without knowing why, Jung began to hum what he was saying about the wind and the sails to the tune of the lullaby. His original description of this incident, told to a French newspaper, carries a delightful wordplay,

J'ai chantonne ces sensations. Et j'ai vu qu'elle etait enchantee.
(I hummed those sensations, and I could see that she was enchanted.)

Two years later, Jung met the girl's doctor who told him that following this single visit, her insomnia had been completely cured. Jung could not say how this had happened,

How was I to explain to him that I had simply listened to something in myself? I had been quite at sea. How was I to tell him that I had sung her a lullaby with my mother's voice? Enchantment like that is the oldest form of medicine. <1>

At sea, following his hunches (Sun in Leo square Neptune on the third). He sings his mother's lullaby (Moon in Taurus) which she had sung to his sister (Moon in Taurus in 3rd), a song of a girl in a boat (Venus in Cancer). This is his No.2 voice, an irrational and instinctive move which charms, enchants and heals (3rd and 6th).

The mysterious healing power of words and song has been known from antiquity, and Jung gives an example from ancient Egypt. When a man was bitten by a snake, the priest-physician read to him from a script in the temple library the story of Isis and her son Ra. Isis had made a poisonous worm and hidden it in the sand, and the god Ra had been bitten by it. He suffered terrible pain and was threatened with death. This story was read to the sick man as a cure, and Jung interprets it as showing the ability of an image or symbol to mobilise the healing powers of the unconscious. This is the mysterious working of mythopoeic thought, the same strange process by which Jung's lullaby had cured the girl of insomnia. He is aware of how absurd this seems to western thinking:

We could not imagine that the reading of a story from 'Grimm's Fairy Tales', for instance, would cure typhoid fever or pneumonia. <2>

Jung suggests that the ancient practices of story telling and singing may have had a healing effect because they gave voice to universal or 'archetypal' psychic situations. The motif of the snake, as in the story of Ra, is familiar in many cultures. By evoking this universal image through the story of the god's snakebite, the sick man is connected with something other than himself. He is no longer isolated and alone and becomes conscious of the archetype at play in his own situation:

if he is shown that his particular ailment is not his ailment only, but a general ailment - even a god's ailment - he is in the company of men and gods, and this knowledge produces a healing effect. <3>

A sense of connection with the sacred is an issue for individuals not only in times of illness, but at any time of crisis or self-development.

For Jung, the use of symbols involves this same connection with the sacred. They can bring about a healing process because they bridge the conscious and the unconscious, and Jung terms this process the 'transcendent function'. This may be activated by both collective, cultural symbols as well as by purely personal images produced by the individual. The puzzling nature of a symbol such as the Cross, or an absurd image from a dream, sets off a struggle to 'make sense'. The symbol's meaning continually eludes definition and "vexes intellect by being no one thing" so that the individual feels that his or her will is blocked. In this situation, all psychic functions may become activated, allowing the unconscious to 'break through' so that a change of conscious attitude becomes possible.

A symbol therefore has a special function. It is relational, linking consciousness and the unconscious, and therefore "shapes and formulates an essential unconscious factor". We know that we do not know something and invest the symbol with the possibility of revelation. Hence the symbol is "the anticipatory designation of a fact still essentially unknown" <4> and the best way we can formulate this unknown psychic factor is through the symbol. Unlike a sign, a symbol is inexhaustible because all its meanings can never be known. In the case of a collective cultural image there is a "known" part accorded by convention which allows the conscious attitude to set up a relation but beyond this, there is something unknown in the symbol each time we encounter it. Living symbols are therefore "pregnant with meaning" <5>. As soon as this "unknown" is considered to be known and has been laid out and formulated, the symbol becomes 'dead' and

merely serves as a conventional sign for associations which are more or completely known elsewhere ..... An expression that stands for a known thing always remains merely a sign and is never a symbol. <6>

Jung completes his definition with a further simple but essential statement:

Whether a thing is a symbol or not depends chiefly upon the attitude of the consciousness considering it. <7>

Some individuals have a developed sense of the symbolic and others do not have it at all. This is because the symbolic attitude is

only partially justified by the behaviour of things; for the rest, it is the outcome of a definite view of life endowing the occurrence, whether great or small, with a meaning to which a certain deeper value is given than to pure actuality. This view of things stands opposed to another view which lays the accent upon actuality, and subordinates meaning to facts. <8>

This means that any event or situation may be open to symbolic interpretation if the observer assumes or intuits that it metaphorically signifies something else, some other possibility not yet known. For example, if my central heating breaks down on the day I begin an important new venture, I may wonder if this has something to tell me about being out in the cold. Such an attitude allows the reality of omens and they cannot 'exist' without it. The world and its events and objects 'speak' to an individual in a non-rational manner. Jung's analytic practice seems to have been rooted in this intuitive and divinatory movement. He worked from home and in the summer he saw people in his summer house overlooking the lake. Any particular occurrence which took place during the session - a gust of wind, a flight of birds, a little creature rustling by - might be taken up as an omen for the client <9>.

It is a natural step from the reading of these spontaneous and unbidden omens <10> to their active induction. A diviner, bidding an omen, takes the further step of actively seeking to bring to light an unknown factor in the situation. The symbolic attitude therefore lies behind the heads and tails toss of a coin but it can make use of any ready-to-hand object in order to 'bid' an omen. For example, a female friend and I once got lost in a forest, having gone there with a new acquaintance who, as we learned to our cost, liked to play practical jokes. When we were deep in the forest, he ran off and left us. We were strangers to that part of the country and did not know our way. We assumed that we would naturally find our way out and tried this path and that, but no opening appeared. We grew cold and tired and began to frighten ourselves by thinking that this man could be quite mad after all and that he might pop up suddenly from behind a big oak tree with an axe and a crazy grin. What could we do? We decided to divine our way out. We chose a flat stone and gave it a top and a bottom. Approaching a path, we asked the stone, should we go this way? Top we go, bottom we don't. Gradually, following the stone, we found our way through the forest. As we emerged into a country lane, an angry farmer confronted us and told us we were trespassing.

Later, I was intrigued that this act of divination should be juxtaposed with trespass. In our western culture, divination is derided and dismissed. The symbolic attitude described by Jung is most commonly found in the worlds of therapy and healing. Outside of these circles, it is acknowledged but not treated seriously and even within such circles, divination is something of a private indulgence, rarely openly discussed. Many individuals give a nod to their starsign in the paper, a weird coincidence or a moving dream, but few will seriously admit to allowing their conduct to be guided by such signs. Divination has no public political place and we would not expect our leaders to make known the omens before embarking on wars or other national enterprises. Whatever great men do in private, it remains publicly unacceptable to have a US President throw the I Ching, follow a dream or listen to an astrologer, as the stir over Ronald and Nancy Reagan's astrological advisor readily revealed. Jung lamented that even eastern cultures had stopped divining about affairs of state. The Japanese had

obviously learnt so much from the uprooting and corresponding madness of the white man that they no longer consulted the I Ching before and during the war. In the first World War Japanese statesmen always consulted it in important affairs of state. <11>

There is a political dimension here because the use of divination can threaten political authority and power <12>. Collectively observed, planetary omens have an autonomous authority which puts them beyond political suppression, as Herod discovered with the Star of Bethlehem. The sky remains a dictator-free zone and the observation of its phenomena has given astrologers a common language of symbols spanning millenia, races and cultures. An astrologer observing the sky from a Bablyonian watch-tower, or one journeying to Bethlehem or yet another looking up from Waterloo Bridge, all might share a core emotion if they saw Jupiter conjunct Saturn <13>.

The hippy boom during the Sixties with its rather sentimental New Age consciousness has done little to bring divination in from the margins of respectability. Paranormal and psychic experiences are still widely dismissed as meaningless - "only" a dream, "just" a coincidence, "merely" your imagination - but as any magazine editor will tell you, articles on the occult boost sales. We live in an ambivalent situation, refusing to allow the occult a serious intellectual place despite its enormous popular appeal. It is understandable why divination is unappealing to more intellectual thought. It points to a reality which has no place in a rational world <14>. The diviner's world is perplexing, full of the confusions, laminations and delusions which are similar to those found in psychotic states, and diviners are not renowned for their intellectual clarity. Most act on faith and see no point in questioning their practice, with the result that occult literature is generally philosophically narrow and uneducated. The lack of discrimination amongst its practitioners means that all occult phenomena tend to be lumped together. Dreams, omens, coincidences, the uncanny, UFOs, rebirthing, I Ching, Tarot, tea-leaves, astrology - what's the difference? They all become opium for the masses, popular cults which sell magazines and keep the wife happy. Serious students of the paranormal are forever trying to get a foot in the academic door. The tiny band of scientific researchers i the astrological community attempt entrance by proving astrology through science but this 'serious' research only achieves any standing by adopting approaches which are inherently alien to the phenomena they are investigating <15>.

However, the pushing under of divination is not simply the result of modern science and rationalism. Established religion also has a vested interest in its suppression. The official line from the Church of England remains firmly against astrology and there is a continuous campaign by Christian Fundamentalists against astrology and all forms of the occult. This has been marshalled effectively to prevent courses in astrology in some adult education institutes, and rears its head from time to time in less official channels. It seems hardly credible that during the 1980's in the town centre of a London Borough I should be refused photocopies of astrological charts by the manager of a printing shop, one in a major chain of such shops. I was handed a written statement which explained that astrology was "devil's work" and called upon me to repent.

Jung has achieved a great deal by making the mythopoeic and divination more acceptable to both science and religion. His work, such as his Foreword to the Wilhelm translation of the Chinese oracle book the I Ching <16>, has helped create an intellectual atmosphere in which divination is less taboo. Alongside his theoretical 'structure of the psyche' and the naming of certain experiences in a new, psychological language, - archetypes, shadow, soul-image etc. - he was prepared to allow his conduct to be guided by divination. Jung asked the I Ching whether or not he should write a psychological commentary on it, and when it warned him off, he did not do so. He also appears to have allowed it, on occasion, to determine whether or not he should accept a new analysand <17>.

Jung himself was acutely aware of the western prejudice against divination. He disagreed with a correspondent who wanted to set up an I Ching Institute, warning that if the I Ching was to be introduced to westerners, it would need to be done under the subterfuge of science,

such a thing has to be done with the utmost care in order not to arouse a flood of most pernicious mis-understandings If you want to avoid the disastrous prejudice of the Western mind you have to introduce the matter under the cloak of science. <18>

His success has extended to some factions of the Church and Jungian thought has become a ground on which religion and the occult can meet. I was struck by one small instance of this a few years ago during a debate on astrology as a 'popular religion'. Liz Greene, the astrologer, argued her case for astrology using Jungian terminology whilst the clergyman argued a case for Christianity, also inspired by Jung! <19> Whatever the Church's official position, religion itself is becoming psychologised and both individual clergymen and practising Christians are more open to the astrological worldview when it has been channelled through Jung's ideas. If these can breach the centuries old hostility between Christianity and the occult, then Jung has achieved no small thing. In this secular age, the so-called 'popular religions' like astrology have been uncomfortable laying claim to the religious and the spiritual. The religious philosophy in their work is often poorly expressed and so often pivots us into a mish-mash of karma, soul-growth and reincarnation. Jung understands divination from the diviner's point of view and to encounter him in the "lands of darkness" is to discover a voice which rings true and is unafraid to speak of their "rich booty". Cloaked in psychological terminology, Jung has been readily accepted as one who can give voice to paranormal experience and the sense of a 'fate' or occult law at work in our lives.


How do Jung's views on the symbolic attitude relate to astrology and the way its practitioners work with and understand their symbols? Their intricate symbol system gives astrologers a highly developed "symbolic attitude", consistent with Jung's definition. They perceive and "hear" the world through their symbol system. For example, a client might say that he has been burdened with responsibilities of late, his father has been ill and he failed to achieve an ambition at work. He might also say that he feels isolated and empty and yesterday he stupidly locked himself out of his house and bashed his knee scaling the back wall. For the client, these events and feelings are the unhappy circumstances of his life and they are not at all symbolic. To the astrologer who knows that this man is twenty-nine, they are indicators of the Saturn Return. The astrologer is therefore the one with the symbolic attitude who hears the world through astrological symbols and he or she extends this symbolism into the world at large so that everything may be perceived within the astrological frame of reference. The purpose of this act of 'translation' - world becoming symbol - is that it enables the astrologer to make connections which could otherwise not have been made. Action may then follow or new insights might arise on the basis of those connections.

Individuals who have a symbolic attitude find that they experience odd events and meaningful coincidences in uninvited and unpredictable ways. Astrology offers an organised and sophisticated frame of reference through which to explore such 'unbidden omens'. This sometimes involves a direct experience of the sky itself. Certain of the more striking planetary configurations such as the Mars - Jupiter conjunctions showing for many weeks night after night give a strong sense of the 'signs of the times' at a collective level. Such showings can also refer more specifically to individual situations. Once when friends and I were leaving a lecture, we stepped out into the street and a Moon - Mars conjunction was immediately visible in a clear night sky. At the same moment, we heard shouts and realised that an argument was going on along the road. It quickly broke into fisticuffs with a whole bunch of people fighting on the pavement. At the time, one person in the group was living with domestic violence (Moon - Mars), but retrospectively, this showing presaged a period of aggression for several of us involved in a common endeavour. There is a Moon - Mars conjunction every month, frequently visible, and people don't necessarily fight each other in the street at that moment more than at any other. The key factor for us was that the conjunction and the fight were perceived and witnessed by us, the astrologers, and by their co-occurrence were seized upon as significant. Without such an assignation, neither the Moon-Mars nor the street fight would have 'meant' anything further. <20>

The symbolic attitude is not called into play in dealing with all our everyday trials and tribulations. Those who find everything symbolic are like badly tuned radios. They crackle, wow and flutter, believing that the most trivial of incidents must 'mean something'. Jung terms this affliction 'running along with the unconscious'. In astrology, craft horoscopy not only opens up the symbolic attitude but it also provides a discipline and sets limits to stop the individual from this mindless 'running along'.

With even a little astrology, it is possible to observe the transcendent function of the symbolic in a variety of everyday situations. For example, a friend phoned for a moan one Saturday morning, following a difficult week at work. She had been setting up a deal for a big visual aids order which guaranteed the client a delivery date for a conference on the coming Monday. During the previous week, a printing machine had gone on the blink and no sooner was it fixed than there was a power cut in west London. She re-scheduled everything and by Friday, it looked just possible that she would meet the deadline. She was out of the office that day but left instructions with her boss to carry out the laborious process of punching holes in 4,000 transparency mounts. The boss, however, had skipped off early, telling a secretary that he had left the machine ready for the transparencies. The friendly secretary tried to help out by punching in some of the holes and felt pleased to have completed quite a number of them by the time my friend returned around 6pm. Yet on inspection, it was discovered that the machine had been wrongly set and that the mounts were misaligned. To get the order ready for Monday's conference, my friend would have to go in to work over the weekend.

At that point, the Bull in this patient Taurean emerged. She flew into a rage and literally charged around the office, thumping objects and shouting at everyone. It took her a good twenty minutes to calm down and, in despair, she went off to meet someone for a night out. However, her annoying day was not yet over. When she returned home, the passage light in her flat had been turned off by her flat-mate. This irritated her because she had been burgled several times and usually left a light on when there was no one home. When the flat-mate returned, their discussion got out of hand and they ended up having an unpleasant row. Now, come Saturday morning, here she was on her own at work, her weekend in ruins. She had promised to go with another friend that afternoon to buy some Venetian blinds and could not change the arrangement. She would have to go into work on Sunday and by now, she was well in to one of those deep, gloomy Taurean moods.

As she narrated her tale of woe, I began to hear these events in a different - an astrological - frame of reference. They were uncannily described by a Lunar Eclipse which had taken place on the Friday evening, within about an hour of her rage around the office <21>. This eclipse had fallen on Jupiter in her natal sixth house of work and the symbolism described the events of her week. The two great creative forces, the Sun and Moon, are the 'lights' of the heavens and when they conjoin at an eclipse, a light is put out. A great dragon in the sky swallows one of the forces of creation, so traditionally eclipses are an ill omen. Things go wrong, they are plunged into darkness; we lose sight and become blind. And what had happened to my friend? She began her week with a visual aids project and planned to end it shopping for blinds. In between, the machines went on the blink, there was a power cut, misalignments, a blinding rage and an argument about leaving lights on or off. My friend is not an astrologer and, being a Taurean, she needs fairly solid proof before she is persuaded that there is anything in it. Yet the fact that the eclipse took place at precisely the same time as her explosion in the office is her kind of evidence.

So what is happening here, when we bring the symbolic attitude to bear on such everyday misery? As an astrologer I am able to give further consideration to this piece of symbolism and it becomes possible to see these annoying events in a much broader context. She had just about had it with this sixth house bread and butter job she was doing, and she was planning to leave to finish law studies. The eclipse of her Jupiter indicated to me that her passage in this might not go so smoothly. This prophetic note to the eclipse turned out to be relevant because, despite being offered a place on the course, her financial position meant delaying her studies and sticking out the job for another year. Her natal Jupiter - law studies - was indeed eclipsed. However, what matters far more than the possibility of prediction is that the symbolic attitude and the astrology allowed our conversation to open into discussion on her current path in life. She could view her miserable week, not simply as a disconnected series of frustrating incidents, but in relation to far more vital concerns. Towards the end of our conversation about the eclipse, she remarked, unwittingly, that she felt a lot "lighter" now.

We seem a long way here from depth psychology. However, the symbolic attitude, articulated through the astrology, brings individuals a connection with the cosmos. In my friend's case the eclipse, a great cosmic factor, is found to be directly relevant for her. She is thereby connected with something beyond herself, and this brings a sense of meaningfulness. The story of the eclipse was not her story, but it becomes her story, and this process is somewhat akin to being taken to the temple to hear the story of Ra. This does not necessarily make astrologers priests, but it does allow that diviners and those with a symbolic attitude are acting as channels or mediums for the sacred.

This raises fully the question of astrology as divination. Unlike other diviners, astrologers divine with more than a stone, more than a coin, more than a pack of cards. Their act of divination spreads the heavens and assigns symbolic significance to the most awesome, untouchable and non-personal of objects, the planets and the stars themselves. However, whereas most astrologers recognise the ability of their symbols to curiously allow a shift of consciousness, a change of attitude, a metanoia, not all of them consider astrology to be a form of divination. Those who do realise that when they draw up a horoscope for a birth, a horary question or an event, they are 'bidding' an omen or divining. Not only do some consider astrology to be a science which deals with the planets as 'energies', but many dislike the concept of divination itself. Within astrology, such well-respected practitioners as Dennis Elwell seek to divorce astrology from " hand-reading, the Tarot, witchcraft, the I Ching and the rest of the gypsy band" <22>. Astrology as divination, with its implicit connection to the occult, is not an image which the professional, modern astrologer enjoys and it has been rejected by those who seek to "professionalise" astrology. It is understandable why astrologers, seeking respect and recognition for their activities, should wish to give the occult a body swerve and differentiate themselves from it through science or psychology.

However, there may be a deeper reason for this ambivalence. If astrology is a form of divination our attention turns to the question of the nature of symbolism, and its dependence upon the act of interpretation. Most astrological authors - psychological or otherwise - do not question the astrologer's encounter with the symbol or discuss the problematics of interpretation. It is assumed that, given some keywords, a bit of practice and that ever mysterious and illusive pinch of intuition, then the act of interpreting symbols is a straightforward affair. So often, we do not follow Jung's caution on symbols and fall into mere "word pictures", explanations which kill off the living symbol. Whether Saturn is the principle of limitation or of the Shadow makes little difference if, even before we encounter it in the chart, we believe that we have already laid out its meaning. The symbol is not a sign and, notwithstanding its historical 'core meaning', given by convention, the individual must still struggle to "give birth" to its meaning in each unique situation. It requires the consciousness and attitude of the observer to breathe life into the symbol.

Sensitive astrologers have always intuited this truth, but Jung has offered them a way of talking about it. Lindsay Radermacher has been one of the few astrologers to have taken up this challenge, and in discussing the nature of interpretation, she describes an experience of the difference between 'live' and 'dead' symbols. She once cast a horoscope for the moment of seeing a fox, an incident she felt was significant, yet the symbolism did not come alive for her and she could understand nothing from it. As an illustration of how charts can be 'dead', she then used this chart during a public lecture. Somewhat to her consternation, the chart sprang to life during the discussion when the audience began to see extremely pertinent fox symbolism in the chart. Remarkably, the chart also began to describe the audience itself, doing this. As if this wasn't enough, when she returned home that evening, she discovered in her dictionary of symbols that the fox is thought to be cunning because in order to catch its prey, it pretends to be dead! <23>

This is a typical foxy astrological trick. Of their nature, symbols reveal the unconscious and therefore repeatedly surprise us and lead us in a different direction to the one we consciously imagine we are taking. Astrology never quite behaves itself and what is more, these tricks of symbolism demand that the astrologer considers his or her participation in relation to the interpretation of the symbol. If we follow Jung's understanding, astrology as divination involves the participation of the one interpreting the symbols because, as we have seen, this is essential to the definition of the symbolic. A symbol is dependent on the "consciousness of the one considering it". In this light, it becomes possible to see why astrologers might not wish to see astrology as divination. It is much safer to give astrology and the birthchart some kind of objective or even 'scientific' status because then the astrologer can take the role of observer and avoid the dilemmas of participation.

In practice, most astrologers 'sort-of' realise that they are not in an objective position because it is they who bring the chart to life by their interpretation. However, a double complication sets in for individuals who have the symbolic attitude. In a world in which the central heating system "speaks" to you, an individual is in danger of the psychotic collapse of boundaries and of omnipotent thinking - everything is simply a reflection of 'me'. Anyone with the symbolic attitude therefore needs a rational language form to provide a framework of meaning. Both the systematic framework of astrology and Jung's rational structuring of the psyche serve this function in their own ways. However, having such a rational language is no guarantee of a safe harbour. One finds in any symbol system that the jungle creepers sneak their way in there, too, binding the individual into the dark lands. The symbols not only reflect him or her but they do so in tricky, foxy, unconscious ways. The rejection of astrology as divination is not separate to the refusal to engage in the problematics of symbolism. Taking an objective stance in astrology may be to reduce the uncomfortable No.2 world of the soul by adopting a No.1 voice.

The implications of Jung's work with divination and the paranormal have been largely ignored by astrologers. Given their reserve, most astrologers borrowing from Jung have taken either his ordering structure - the shadow, the persona, etc., - or the colourful imagery which he himself took from mythology and alchemy. However, linking up the planets and signs with Greek myths and alchemical stages is by no means the same as having a symbolic attitude which is brought to bear in an act of astrological divination. The 'science' which saved Jung has also rescued astrologers from the wilds, and this is what has enchanted them. Yet Jung himself was uncertain about what psychology could bring to astrology:

Obviously astrology has much to offer psychology, but what the latter can offer its elder sister is less evident. <24>

As we shall see, what has become evident from the state of psychological astrology is that some of the most important questions that Jung's psychology could put to astrology have been ignored. The elder sister has been turning a deaf ear to the lullaby sung by Jung in his mother's voice.

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© 2010 Maggie Hyde