Life, the Universe, and the Evolution of Consciousness as Spirals
This is part of my unpublished book on Astrology, the fifth chapter of part 3. While taking a break from writing new material (see this article), I am using the opportunity to try to complete this project. (For what has preceded please see this list.) Part 3 is not so much about Astrology itself, rather the implications if there is any truth in it. In simple terms this means that we need to adopt a worldview completely different from the current dominant scientific paradigm. My suggestion is that we need to return to the pre-Enlightenment worldview which served humanity very well for thousands of years. (The term ‘Enlightenment’ to describe what has happened in the last 300 years I find somewhat ironic.)
Therefore in the first chapter of part 3 I associated Astrology with what is known as the Perennial Philosophy. I continued on that theme in the following article. Then in the previous two articles (click here and here) I explored the thinking of ancient and indigenous peoples, showing that they had highly sophisticated spiritual and religious worldviews, contrary to what the modern ‘scientific’ worldview would have us believe. In this following chapter I suggest that the future of humanity might in some sense be a return to these worldviews of the past, but at a higher turn of the spiral.
chapter 23: SPIRALS
I have made this rather lengthy digression (as explained above) from the main topic of Astrology because I wanted to show that the so-called ‘primitive’ people were not quite so stupid, superstitious (and all the other insults thrown at them) as is often said. Through Fritjof Capra’s Tao of Physics it is now well known that the worldview which Western science has struggled to arrive at in the twentieth century (quantum physics) was already known to Taoists, Hindus and Buddhists over two thousand years ago. I believe that I have now shown that QMAP, derived from two disciplines which Western culture has only managed to arrive at in the last hundred years, was also the world-view of the ancients and indigenous peoples. (QMAP — Quantum Mechanics + Analytical Psychology is the worldview which I believe would make Astrology possible, as outlined in part 1.)
In both cases we have to ask the question, how did they know? How can it be that ancient peoples arrived at the same conclusions as the most sophisticated modern physics? It is hard to believe that they were formulating speculative theories; they must surely have been articulating their psychological experience. The assumption is made nowadays that the nature of consciousness in ancient times was the same then as now, that the world appeared to original people as it does to us, and that they could have come to the same conclusions about the nature of reality, but were prevented from doing so by their gullible and superstitious nature and their lack of the requisite technology.
This way of looking at things, however, does not allow for any concept of the evolution of consciousness — nor of course for the possibility that they may actually have been right. At an earlier stage this may simply have been how things were. Peter Roberts seems to agree: “The difficulties of ‘discovering’ astrology through a strictly empirical approach are so formidable that such a source for astrological lore is very unlikely… Thus we have the extraordinary paradox (that Michel Gauquelin proves what the ancients believed), and yet the kind of investigations they could have mounted would not have yielded correct findings. The only credible explanation is that the ancients had an alternative means of acquiring knowledge of the subtler influences”¹. Compare:
- Stephen Arroyo: “Modern man’s feeling of separation from the natural world and lack of identity with the cosmos explains why astrology has to be ‘proven’ before many people will accept it as a valid science or art. Almost every culture that we know of had some form of astrology; and this is not attributable to their lack of modern ‘enlightenment’, but rather to their immediate sense of unity with the cosmic environment”².
- William Sullivan: “As long as the modern study of human prehistory has existed, it has been founded on the bedrock assumption that the intricate, repeating pattern of the world’s early civilizations… arose out of human nature, and not from the disseminated results of individual human insight”. “Why (was) this system of thought (Astrology) so readily accepted by peoples all around the world?… What, then, was so compelling in this worldview that it motivated so many of the earth’s people at one time to align their destiny with the stars and their fate with the wanderings of planetary deities, each with the same assigned powers and characteristics? If there was not something about this system of thought that carried a genuine spiritual perception of the phenomenal world, then why, even after its demise, do we find respectful reference to it in all later religious traditions from Judaism to Buddhism, and from Christianity to Islam to Hinduism?”³.
I intend to challenge this modern assumption, and by way of preamble I would like to draw your attention to what I consider to be one of the most important psychoid archetypes, the spiral. In his book Celtic Design, Spiral Patterns⁴ Aidan Meehan says: “Spirals have caught the human mind since the Stone Age at least. They have symbolized life to so many civilizations down the ages that spiral patterns have become a pan-continental heritage” (p11). He traces the history of the spiral in human art from 5,000BCE, and does indeed show that it has fascinated the human mind all down the ages. And for good reason! The spiral has symbolized life, and indeed is life. Although ancient peoples could not have known, the shape of the DNA molecule, which contains the pattern for an organism’s growth, thus the blueprint for life, is a double-helix, thus similar to spirals.
Our galaxy is also spiral shaped, as Lyall Watson explains: “By rights there should be no particular pattern to this rotation, no visible or persistent arrangement of stars within this arena. But there is. Our galaxy, like others in the neighbourhood, is carefully choreographed. It has a stable and beautiful spiral structure, with arms of stars sweeping out in graceful curves like those of a Catherine wheel”⁵.
Therefore, on both the microcosmic and macrocosmic levels, life adopts the shape of a spiral, and also in other manifestations in between:
a) On a large scale the course of the earth’s journey through space describes a spiral, in that the Sun is moving toward the constellation of Hercules at a speed of 12 miles per second while the earth circles around it. (I no longer remember my source for this. Please see the note by Timothy James Lambert — click on the star.)
b) The quantum physicists Bob Toben and Fred Alan Wolf hypothesize that the whole universe may actually be a single electron, albeit moving very fast; when they draw its likely path it is a spiral⁶.
c) On a smaller scale Lyall Watson points out that water and air are fond of spirals, and is so impressed by the spiral formations of nature, for example the shell of the chambered nautilus (a living fossil) which “adds on progressively larger chambers along a curve that forms a perfect logarithmic spiral”, that he becomes almost poetic: “Spirals are the natural curve of life and uniform growth. They are always growing and yet never cover the same ground. They are the only form of curve in which one part differs from another in size, not in shape. Spirals work both ways, coming from and going to their source. They define and illuminate what has already happened, as well as leading inevitably on to bigger things and new discoveries. They are the explanations of the past and prophecies of the future. And the best of them… conform to a ratio of exactly 1:1.618034, which alone amongst curved lines can be extended to infinity… Spirals seem to be inevitable. They are the perfect symbols of change and growth, of order within chaos, of opposites which are nevertheless the same”⁷.
So the spiral is an absolutely fundamental principle in the structuring of matter. If you accept my argument from earlier (not in this article), you would therefore expect this archetype also to influence the psyche. Jung in fact describes the individuation process as following a spiral pattern: “The way to the goal seems chaotic and interminable at first, and only gradually do the signs increase that it is leading anywhere. The way is not straight but appears to go round in circles. More accurate knowledge has proved it to go in spirals: the dream-motifs always return after certain intervals to definite forms, whose characteristic it is to define a centre. And as a matter of fact the whole process revolves about a central point or some arrangement round a centre, which may in certain circumstances appear even in the initial dreams. As manifestations of unconscious processes the dreams rotate or circumambulate round the centre, drawing closer to it as the amplifications increase in distinctness and in scope. Owing to the diversity of the symbolical material it is difficult at first to perceive any kind of order at all. Nor should it be taken for granted that dream sequences are subject to any governing principle. But, as I say, the process of development proves on closer inspection to be cyclic or spiral”⁸.
I can also give two examples of books which have explored in detail the spiral as a model for the evolution of consciousness: Edith Schnapper’s The Spiral Path of Spiritual Psychology⁹, and Jill Purce’s The Mystic Spiral¹⁰. (Another example would be Miriam Samos [Starhawk] who, although she does not explore the concept in detail, chooses to call her study of modern witchcraft The Spiral Dance¹¹.)
Edith Schnapper describes the spiritual journey thus: “(The pilgrim) has entered the paradoxical world of the spiral way where, in passing time, the return to the source, offering cyclic renewal, merges with the ladder of perfection, the graded ascent to new levels of awareness… In delineating this spiral way here we too have to follow the same motion pattern; this means that we have to take account of a graded progression, moving spiral wise and thus incorporating the return to familiar experiences which, however, change their meaning and purpose every time a new round of the spiral is completed” (p7).
In similar vein Jill Purce calls the spiral “the path we have followed to reach the same point on another winding”. She continues: “Time itself is cyclic, and by the spiral of its returning seasons we review the progress and growth of our own understanding”. She also thinks that there is an archetypal level responsible for this structuring: “Many formations in nature, although both constituted and caused by dissimilar phenomena, are not only similar to look at, but have identical mathematical descriptions. This would suggest that together they form a higher overall order outside that limited by our concept of linear cause and effect. The spiral movement which creates a centre and a ‘whole’ is also that which — combined with gravitational contraction — creates the solar systems, their suns and planets. The galaxies too are probably created by the inward spiralling of interstellar gas…” (p8). She then makes the leap of suggesting that that which structures matter also affects the psyche: “this order, reverberating down into the microscopic and subatomic levels, both structures and reflects our consciousness” (p9). (Compare River/Gillespie: “Spiral forms, which are found all over the world in rock and art and ancient artifacts, hint at an understanding of the spiral as synthesis of both linear development and circular return. More accurately than either the wheel or the straight line, the spiral gives us an image for a process of rediscovery on an ever deepening and wider level”¹². The idea of time as circular and cyclical is also strong in the Native American tradition¹³.)
What does it mean that an individual’s development follows a spiral pattern?
Psychologists say that babies do not experience themselves as separate beings, do not distinguish between themselves and their mothers, are not aware of boundaries. They are thus in a kind of mystical participation with the world that I described in chapter 19 in relation to primitive peoples. Jungian writers describe this original state of identification as an experience of the Self. This paragraph from Edward Edinger is particularly helpful in that it brings in two other authors: “Jung originally described the phenomenology of the Self as it occurs in the individuation process during the second half of life. More recently we have begun to consider the role of the Self in the early years of life. (Erich) Neumann, on the basis of mythological and ethnographical material, has depicted symbolically the original psychic state prior to the birth of ego consciousness as the uroboros (a mythological image depicting a circular snake eating its own tail), using the circular image of the tail-eater to represent the primordial Self, the original mandala-state of totality out of which the individual ego is born. (Michael) Fordham, on the basis of clinical observations of infants and children, has also postulated the Self as the original totality prior to the ego”¹⁴.
He elaborates thus: “In earliest infancy, no ego or consciousness exists. All is in the unconscious. The latent ego is in complete identification with the Self. The Self is born, but the ego is made; and in the beginning all is Self… Since the Self is the centre and totality of being, the ego totally identified with the Self experiences itself as a deity… This is the original state of unconscious wholeness and perfection which is responsible for the nostalgia we all have towards our origins” (ibid. p7).
... and then goes on to describe the first five years: “It is a time of great freshness of perception and response; the child is in immediate contact with the archetypal realities of life. It is at the stage of original poetry; magnificent and transpersonal powers are lurking in every event” (p11).
...and later life as follows: “It is generally accepted among analytical psychologists that the task of the first half of life involves ego development with progressive separation between ego and Self ; whereas the second half of life requires a surrender or at least a relativization of the ego as it experiences and relates to the Self”. This, however, is not the complete picture for “the process of alternation between ego-Self union and ego-Self separation seems to occur repeatedly throughout the life of the individual both in childhood and in maturity. Indeed, this cyclic (or better, spiral) formula seems to express the basic process of psychological development from birth to death” (p5).
These quotations give a good flavour of the relevant issues. Particularly in the description of the first five years we can clearly see a parallel between the state of mind of the child and that of the primitive tribes discussed earlier. This is a point agreed upon by the above-mentioned writers:
Edward Edinger: “Children share with primitive man the identification of ego with the archetypal psyche and ego with outer world. With primitives, inner and outer are not at all distinguished” (p11).
Erich Neumann: “In the beginning is perfection, wholeness… The beginning can be laid hold of in two ‘places’: it can be conceived in the life of mankind as the earliest dawn of history, and in the life of the individual as the earliest dawn of childhood… Not only is the psyche open to the world, it is still identical with and undifferentiated from the world; it knows itself as world and in the world and experiences its own becoming as a world-becoming, its own images as the starry heavens, and its own contents as the world-creating gods”¹⁵.
Jill Purce: “This is the spiral process by which not only individual man but the cosmos itself becomes realized; for it represents the course of evolution. Thus in the early days of humanity, as in childhood, there was no separation between ourselves and the outside world, until we, individually or as a race, became self-conscious…” (p9).
It has often been noted that in the womb every baby goes through all the previous stages of human evolution. Michael Fordham explains: “The fact that students of embryology have shown that the development of the bodily organs does not follow the simplest route but a devious one analogous to the course of evolution has given rise to the concept that the life-history of the individual organism (ontogeny) recapitulates the evolutionary history of the species (phylogeny)”¹⁶. Edinger, Neumann, and Purce are clearly pointing to the idea that the same process is true at a psychological level, so that what is true for the individual is also true for humanity as a whole — in effect that the part enfolds the whole, or that the microcosm reflects the macrocosm. (Compare A.T. Mann: “This view of astrology… implies that every human carries the entire biological and spiritual history of life within. During gestation we experience the entire grand creation of humanity at an accelerated rate and retain traces in our soul, body and mind of the early stages of biological development, and the deepest and most primal instincts, urges and myths, a collective unconscious from which we draw in being in the world. During childhood we repeat the evolution of consciousness within the family, stage by stage, until we reach the present moment”¹⁷.)
This therefore brings me back to my starting point, for in my opinion the world did not appear to primitives as it does to us, but they were somehow prevented from seeing it by their superstitious nature. They were simply at an earlier, but nevertheless real and valid, stage in the evolution of planetary consciousness. Even though we now see this as a ‘childlike’ state, they expressed their reality how it appeared to them, in the same way that we as children expressed our inner world.
If we accept that we can learn about the evolution of human consciousness by studying the development of the individual, then it is possible to make some predictions about the next planetary stage. This is how Edinger describes the process necessary for psychological health: “Repeated experiences of alienation continue progressively right into adult life. One is constantly encountering a two-fold process. On the one hand we are exposed to the reality encounters which life provides, and which are constantly contradicting unconscious ego assumptions. This is how the ego grows and separates from its unconscious identity with the Self. At the same time we must have recurring reunion between ego and Self in order to maintain the integrity of the total personality, otherwise there is a very real danger that as ego is separated from Self the vital connecting link between them will be damaged. If this happens to a serious extent we are alienated from the depths of ourselves and the ground is prepared for psychological illness” (p12).
Does this last sentence not describe exactly the current state of a planet where a third of the population are ruled by an atheistic, Marxist ideology, and where many other nations have adopted inadequate religious visions devoid of spirituality, and an often blinkered and arrogant science — the so-called Age of Reason, the ‘pinnacle’ of Western civilisation? The so-called Enlightenment was not necessarily wrong in itself. It was presumably a necessary stage in the evolution of consciousness. What is wrong, however, is to see it as the ultimate development of which we are capable, not just as part of a process from which we shall have to move on.
Fortunately, however, there is some cause for hope for, just as this state of alienation does not have to last in the individual, neither should it last in the species as a whole. The course of evolution is spiral-shaped. This means that consciousness evolves in such a way that after a period of time it seems to return to a previous state. That of course would be true if it were merely circular; because it is a spiral, however, the return does not tell the full story. The new state is similar to the previous, but has reached a higher level. Therefore, in order to heal the planet, we need to re-experience our primitive state at a higher revolution on the spiral, by re-establishing the connection between the over-rational ego and our psychological roots in the irrational Self. We must not surrender the gains (scientific knowledge and technology) won by ego-separation by merging once again with the Self, but do have to renew ourselves through contact with it.
One way we can achieve this is to integrate some of the lost wisdom of ancient civilisations into our modern way of life. To some extent we can see this spiral effect already happening since quantum physics and Analytical Psychology are leading us towards a worldview that was held several thousand years ago, but which we have lost touch with. Since Astrology flourished everywhere in those times, might it just be one part of that wisdom that we need to rediscover? In the words of Stephen Arroyo: “We need to rescue that solid tradition and revitalize it, I feel. The great German writer Goethe… said that one must labour to possess what was inherited. You have to work hard at making the inheritance your own... T.S. Eliot said much the same thing, when in The Four Quartets he wrote, ‘We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring, will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time’. …So you explore and explore and explore, and suddenly you’re right back where you started. But it looks new, because suddenly it’s illuminated through your experience”¹⁸.
Rather than dismiss the beliefs of primitive people as nonsense, we should rather look upon them as an extraordinary opportunity to study the archetypes, the nature of consciousness in the psychoid universe at an earlier stage of evolution. (Jung for example, understanding all this, went to live amongst primitive tribes, in order to study and appreciate their way of life.) As we have discovered, the modern view (of at least some quantum physicists) is that matter and psyche emanate from a common ground; the idea that they are essentially different is an illusion. (Carl Jung in collaboration with physicist Wolfgang Pauli called this the Unus Mundus. This idea can also be called dual-aspect monism.) At an earlier stage in the evolution of consciousness it was highly likely therefore that matter and psyche did not appear so differentiated. Consciousness would have been much closer to a more direct experience of the inner world of the psyche with its archetypes. As astrologer Dane Rudhyar says: “(Primitive man’s) entire life is an experience which is at the same time psychological and physiological, because he is as yet hardly able to differentiate the outer world from the inner, the objective from the subjective. He is so completely one with nature that he constantly finds himself dissolved into natural phenomena…”¹⁹.
In that state of mind it would be much easier to have a direct intuitive insight into the processes of creation. As Timothy Freke and Dennis Renault say: “What appears to be superstition… is often actually ‘super-perception’. It can be modern man’s lack of spiritual sophistication that makes indigenous people seem ‘primitive’ to him”²⁰. It is also fair to say that the further back one goes in history, the fresher in the memory these processes would have been. What we now think of as myths, silly fabrications created by ignorant people to explain things they could not understand, may in fact be a superior point of view, not just in an allegorical, mythological sense, but literally.
Earlier (in a previous chapter) I mentioned that the Aborigines call the archetypal level the Dreaming. They also refer to a period of past history by the same name, or alternatively the Dreamtime, for example:
“In their myths mention is often made of a time (the Dreaming) before men had peopled the continent when the Sky Heroes were forced to confront such changes”²¹. (As explained in a previous article ‘Sky Heroes’ was the name the Aborigines gave to the archetypes.)
“Not until the period of TJUKUBA or Dreaming and the mysterious appearance of Sky Heroes, either from inside the earth itself or from an ill-defined upper region, did the landscape take on a truly cosmic significance and attain to Form. At the conclusion of the Dreaming period the Sky Heroes disappeared from the face of the earth leaving in their place their personalized ‘signatures’ in the guise of topographic landmarks, contour variations, trees, animals — in fact, all manifestations of life on earth”²². (This extraordinary assertion perhaps gives some insight as to why modern man has so lost touch with the psyche, the archetypes, and with animism.)
I would suggest, despite the unusual mythological language, that this is a precise description of the psychoid processes I discussed in chapter 5. Deep insights like these were presumably the source of their animist worldview, the heretical idea apparently being rediscovered by modern scientific thinking. As physicist Danah Zohar says: “Through the insights of quantum reality we find ourselves brought back full circle to our own more ancient perceptions and philosophical roots”²³.
In conclusion let me draw your attention to this passage from Principles of Native American Spirituality, which shows that these peoples clearly have a complete grasp of this whole topic:
“According to our modern, linear, ‘myth of progress’, once we were primitives like the Native Americans and other ancient peoples; now we are sophisticated and civilized and ‘better’. But, for the cultures of the world with memories of the ‘Old Ways’, rather than progressing to something ‘better’, we have ‘fallen’, and now live in an Age of Darkness, a sad time of separation from spirit and disconnection from the simple, natural harmony of life”.
“According to the myths of the Primal Peoples, however, time moves in a circle, not in a straight line, and this Age of Darkness will pass, returning to a new Golden Age. Perhaps it is the memories of the ‘Old Ways’, held by the ancient peoples of the world, that can lead us to the Golden Age of the future: to go forward, we must first look back”²⁴.
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 of those articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here). My most recent articles, however, are only on Medium; for those please check out my lists.
- The Message of Astrology, Aquarian Press, 1990, p160
- Astrology, Psychology, and the Four Elements, CRCS, 1975, p5
- The Secret of the Incas, Three Rivers Press, 1996, p167, p336
- Thames and Hudson, 1993
- Dark Nature, Hodder and Stoughton, 1995, p11
- Space-Time and Beyond, Bantam, 1982, p45
- as footnote 5, p10
- Psychology and Alchemy, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968, para 34, p28
- C.W. Daniel, 1985
- Thames and Hudson, 1974
- HarperCollins, 1979 and 1989
- River, Lindsay and Gillespie, Sally: The Knot of Time, Women’s Press Ltd., 1987, p42
- Brown, Joseph Epes: The Spiritual Legacy of the American Indian, Crossroad, 1982, p4, p49, and p118
- Ego and Archetype, Shambhala Publications, 1972, pp4–5, referring to Neumann’s The Origins and History of Consciousness, and Fordham’s New Developments in Analytical Psychology
- The Origins and History and Consciousness, Bollingen, 1970, pp5–6
- New Developments in Analytical Psychology, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1957, p28
- The Future of Astrology, Unwin Hyman, 1987, p87, p88
- The Practice and Profession of Astrology, CRCS, 1984, p146
- The Astrology of Personality, Servire/Wassenaar, 1963, p7
- Principles of Native American Spirituality, Thorsons, 1996, p25
- James Cowan, The Elements of the Aborigine Tradition, Element, 1992, p14
- James Cowan, Mysteries of the Dreamtime, Prism Press, 1989, p25
- The Quantum Society, Bloomsbury, 1993, p24
- as footnote 20, p22