Are There (Hidden) Archetypal Patterns in Our Lives? — Part 1
This is the first of a series of articles on a weird topic. The overall purpose is to try to persuade readers, to quote the physicist J. B. S. Haldane, that: “the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose”. That’s not the physical universe as conceived by materialist scientists, rather all the hidden stuff that lies behind it. It is an exploration of the strange world of astrology, numerology, extraordinary coincidences (synchronicities), i.e. hidden organising factors beyond the material level of reality — ideas which, if true, might literally drive a modern scientist addicted to rationalism mad.
It is also, however, the first part of a chapter of a book that I once wrote, investigating whether there might be any truth in astrology. (All the previous chapters are available on Medium.) This chapter is so long that I thought it would be better to divide it into sections, in the hope that more people might be tempted to read it. Here is a brief summary of where this chapter stands in the overall scheme.
I outlined in part 1 of the book a worldview which would allow the possibility of astrology. This was a synthesis of ideas from Carl Jung’s Analytical Psychology, specifically his theory of archetypes, and modern developments in quantum physics. (This worldview is summarised here.) At some point during the writing of that I came across a book by Michael Harding, Hymns to the Ancient Gods. He is an astrologer who rejects the Jungian concept of archetypes as an explanation, and attempts an existentialist, physical explanation, based on celestial mechanics, thus advocating astrology without any spiritual dimension. So far in part 2, I have been critiquing this approach, and this latest chapter is the latest, and penultimate, episode in that debate. (For a guide with links to everything published on Medium so far, see the bottom of this page of my website.)
This was chapter 14 of the book, and was entitled:
CAN WE RESOLVE THIS TORTUOUS DEBATE?
Nothing of what I have said will impress Michael Harding; he will think that I have fallen for all the errors that have plagued the history of astrology. He believes that celestial mechanics are the primary reality, a position that I find unsustainable. He would possibly argue that, by discussing the issues raised by Paul Davies’ book The Cosmic Blueprint¹, (in this earlier article), I have introduced material of doubtful relevance to the debate, since he understands astrology merely as cyclical repetition of patterns stored in a collective zodiac, and does not address the more metaphysical issues that I find important. So let us spend some time conducting the debate on his terms, and restrict ourselves to a discussion of the nature of patterns.
Both Jungians and Harding agree that our lives are shaped by underlying patterns, and that events in the world are also generated by them. Perhaps some readers will not have noticed any evidence of this, and will therefore not agree immediately, but one well known person who would is Paul Simon. He actually named one of his early songs ‘Patterns’, one verse of which runs as follows: “From the moment of my birth to the instant of my death, there are patterns I must follow just as I must breathe each breath. Like a rat in a maze the path before me lies, and the pattern never alters until the rat dies”; and the song ends thus: “Like the colour of my skin or the day that I grow old, my life is filled with patterns that can scarcely be controlled”.
This is the type of material with which we are dealing — although it is hopefully not necessary to take such a pessimistic view of the phenomenon. If readers are sceptical, believing instead that there are no patterns, or that what appear to be patterns are in fact random coincidences, nothing I say will convince them. However, in what follows I am going to make the assumption that the patterns are being generated in some way, are therefore not the product of random, accidental processes, then consider how to account for them if this assumption is correct. That is also the viewpoint of the authors discussed.
It seems to me that these are the possible explanations:
- If one adopts a materialist/atheistic position, but nevertheless believes in these patterns, one would have to assume a physical explanation. The important question then becomes, where would the information to generate these patterns be stored? The most likely answer would be in the genes, possibly in the brain. Alternatively one would have to say it is not stored anywhere, that it is just in the nature of the universe to produce patterns, which is basically Michael Harding’s position.
2. Other explanations from scientific sources are:
- Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of morphogenetic fields, as expounded in his book The Presence of the Past². In simple terms, the theory suggests that there is a collective memory bank, which is therefore somewhere that the information for patterns could be stored. Every event or idea generates a field, which can subsequently be tapped into. The essential point here is that these fields are not physical in nature³. Sheldrake’s idea is roughly the equivalent of what Jung called the collective unconscious, and in Harding the collective zodiac. (His theory is discussed both by Harding⁴, and Ken Anderson⁵.)
- a quantum physics explanation. If particles can act intelligently, as they appear to, then perhaps they are capable of generating patterns. It would be more likely, however, that the patterns were being organised by some kind of planetary or universal mind. This would make sense alongside James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis, that the planet, and perhaps the universe, are living beings.
3. The Jungian view is that the patterns are the result of the activity of the archetypes, blueprints in the form of energy, a level of creative ideas beyond the psyche but mediated by it.
4. Astrological explanations would run as follows:
- patterns attributable to astrological factors are the result of correspondences between inner and outer realities, the movements of the planets being one of these. This is the spiritual/mystical perspective on astrology and, in that the archetypes are an ‘inner reality’, is an astrological paraphrase of the Jungian viewpoint.
- the patterns are caused by the return of the planets to previous configurations (thus celestial mechanics), which then influence human life in some way we do not as yet understand. This is the core of Harding’s position and, in that it is causal, can be described as being in some sense scientific.
This seems to me to exhaust the alternatives. They are not of course mutually exclusive; there may well be some overlap between them, so that the explanation for a particular pattern may be a combination of some of these factors. The best thing to do now is to examine some examples of patterns, and seek to understand which of these explanations best fits them. Since this will be impossible to prove conclusively, I shall try merely to point to the ‘common-sense’ answer, as it would appear to an observer without any preconceived opinions.
In the Channel 4 Witness programme about astrology on June 18th 2000, Dennis Elwell claimed that in 1987 he saw in the charts a planetary configuration, “an eclipse contacting Jupiter and Neptune”, strongly reminiscent of the one which preceded the Titanic disaster. He went on to say: “Under the coming together of those type of planets there will be trouble on the ocean-waves”. He wrote to the company P&O asking them to try to prevent a similar disaster. Their response was predictable, saying that it was difficult to respond to such “nebulous advice”. Ten days later their ship the Herald of Free Enterprise rolled over.
This is a clear example of an astrological pattern which could be explained perfectly by Harding’s ideas, with no need to relate it to theories of archetypes; the pattern is in the heavens, and the expected earthly event duly occurs. (The archetypal explanation would include the influence of Neptune, symbolising the god of the sea, and so on. Interestingly, Elwell states in the programme that he himself, despite examples like the one just explained, has never believed in the direct influence of the planets, and subscribes to the interconnectedness/quantum mechanics theory of astrology.)
There are, however, many bizarre examples of patterns which do not so easily allow a simple astrological explanation. In order to explore this issue more deeply, I will again refer to the books of Tony Crisp, Ken Anderson, Alan Vaughan (as I did in an earlier article), and the compilation Best of the Fortean Times⁶. Here are some coincidences involving accidents:
a) “Mrs Sue Alton was riding with some friends along Pilgrim’s Way, a footpath near Dorking when her horse bolted. She was thrown headfirst against a five-foot-tall stone monument, and was killed almost instantly. The monument had been erected in 1873 to mark the spot where the Bishop of Winchester, Samuel Wilberforce, had fallen on his head and died when his horse put a hoof in a hole”⁷.
b)“On 27 May 1817, Mary Ashford, twenty, was found dead at Erdington, (near Birmingham.) On 27 May 1974 the strangled body of Barbara Forrest, twenty, was found at Erdington… Forrest’s body was found in long grass near the Erdington children’s home where she worked as a nurse, about 350 metres from the spot where Ashford’s body had been dumped. And 26 May in both 1817 and 1974 was not only a Monday but a Whit Monday. The pattern of the girls’ movements just before their deaths was similar. Both had visited a friend earlier in the evening where they had (both) changed their dress to go on to a dance. Both women had been raped before being murdered. They had died at about the same time. The man arrested for each murder was named Thornton! Both were acquitted”⁸.
c) “Erskine Lawrence Ebbin was knocked off his moped by a taxi and killed in Hamilton, Bermuda. It was the same taxi with the same driver, carrying the same passenger, that killed his brother Neville in July the previous year. Both brothers were 17 when they died, and had been riding the same moped in the same street. Ah! but history never quite repeats itself — the time of both accidents differed by (only) 50 minutes”⁹.
What are we to make of such stories? Examples a) and b) have a lot in common in that a pattern of events is repeated after a long gap, although b) is much more detailed. In a) astrology could be the explanation in that there may have been a repeated pattern in the heavens after 114 years, a number with no obvious archetypal significance. Astrology, however, normally deals with people, and here it is the place that provides the coincidence. A possible explanation would therefore be that the place itself somehow retained a tendency to repeat the event, the occurrence of the accident somehow conspiring in its reproduction. This seems to fit well with Sheldrake’s theory, although Harding’s astrology is also a possible explanation. Charts are usually thought to refer to people, but they can also be drawn up for events, for example a marriage or the foundation of a company. If we had exact times in this case, we could construct a chart for the original accident, or possibly for the time that the statue had been dedicated, say. The subsequent accident may therefore have corresponded to a progression derived from this chart.
The same Sheldrake/Harding option could also be said for b), yet here astrology seems less likely, in that we have the additional impressive factors of the repetition of date, and name of the accused. In general the positions of the planets do not repeat according to anniversaries, so the calendar (date, Whit Monday) seems to be more important. I would also suggest that it is unlikely that the planets can somehow be responsible for the name of a person being arrested.
In example c), however, even though the pattern of a repeated accident is the same, which fits in well with Harding’s description of Astrology as being based on cyclical repetition, it seems to me very hard to attribute it to astrological factors. The time of the accidents differed by only 50 minutes in successive years. The positions of the planets do not repeat in line with the calendar, so the total charts for the moment of the accident and the birth charts of the brothers would be unlikely to be similar, although some partial configuration is possible. There is the further complication of the involvement of the same driver, the same passenger, (that is to say, two other charts) and the same street. (Given that the two dead people are brothers, some bizarre genetic phenomenon cannot be ruled out. It seems unlikely, however, that all these exact details could be encoded in this way. On the face of it, because of the great complexity, it seems unlikely to an outsider that any organising element at work here is astrological, although it cannot be ruled out, since there may have been an extraordinary coincidence in which material in the charts of the four persons overlapped.)
The fascinating astrologer Dennis Elwell might just be the one who could uncover the mystery. He says:
- “There are layers upon layers of meaning. Every fact is connected with other facts, each of which in turn connects with yet other facts, and so on, in an ever-branching tree”.
- “In this way chart is stacked on chart, to give a sort of graded sieve through which manifestation descends in progressively greater detail…”¹⁰.
Elwell is the author of The Cosmic Loom, from which those quotes are taken. That title gives a strong indication of the factors that might be at work in the examples given here, and in the even weirder ones that will follow.
In the next article I’ll discuss some strange patterns involving names.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, and politics. All these articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here).
1. Unwin, 1989, as discussed in chapter 11.
2. HarperCollins, 1994
3. For example, Sheldrake says: “Chemical or physical disturbances of the nerves can affect behaviour, just as disturbances of genes and proteins can affect morphogenesis. But behaviour is no more programmed in the nervous system than morphogenesis is programmed in the genes” (p159).
4. Hymns to the Ancient Gods, Penguin, 1992, pp 67–69
5. The Coincidence File, Blandford, 1999, pp 43–53.
6. This is a magazine which dedicates itself to stories of bizarre and unusual occurrences. The book is published by Futura, 1991
7. as 6, p 18
8. Ken Anderson, Coincidences: Chance or Fate?, Blandford, 1995, p 127
9. as 6, p 18
10. The Cosmic Loom, Urania Trust, 1999, p 258, p 281