Mythology, Jungian Psychology and Astrology
This article explores the relationship between these three fields, and can be read separately by anyone interested in them. (It should be especially interesting to devotees of Carl Jung.) It is, however, also chapter 13 of a book I wrote some time ago, exploring whether there might be any truth in astrology.
To put what follows in context for new readers, here is a summary of the book so far, all chapters available on Medium.
In the first part, I developed a worldview derived from Jungian psychology and quantum physics, which would allow the possibility of astrology. This was summarised at the beginning of part 2 in chapter 9.
During my research I had come across a book called Hymns to the Ancient Gods by Michael Harding who, although believing in astrology, was putting forward a completely different explanation, in essence trying to remove all traces of spirituality, by denying the existence of archetypes, and arguing against the Jungian concept of synchronicity. He said that what appears to us as meaningful coincidence is attributable to astrological factors (celestial mechanics, the movements of the planets).
In chapter 10 I offered a general critique of this book. In chapter 11 I then went into more detail, defending the Jungian concepts of synchronicity and archetypes. In chapter 12 I discussed some extraordinary coincidences, in an attempt to understand what was the best explanation for them. This article carries on from there, continuing my defence of the Jungian concept of archetypes as the best explanation for astrology. I do this by comparing the practice of astrology with mythology, and discussing their relationship with Jungian psychotherapy.
(For a guide to the whole book so far, please see Astrology near the bottom of this page of my website.)
13. CAN MYTHOLOGY AND PSYCHOLOGY HELP?
I believe that many of the examples of coincidences in the preceding chapter are too incredible to allow pure chance as an explanation, and that we therefore have to accept that there is a mysterious, hidden organising intelligence involved in them. In many of the cases it is very hard to see how the movements of planets (Harding’s celestial mechanics) could be responsible, and I therefore suggest that the alternative explanation of the archetypes and synchronicity is more likely. If these are indeed valid concepts in their own right, however, this still leaves the question of whether or not they are the actual explanation for Astrology. It will be impossible to find a definitive answer to this question for it lies in the remote depths of the collective psyche, but I’ll try to make a few tentative observations.
It is tempting to think that because the archetypes and Astrology both suggest a quasi-divine influence upon the dynamics of the psyche and the structure of personality, that there must be some connection between them, that they are interrelated, rather than seeing them as in competition with each other. That would fit with my own personal experience. For example, as I described in the introduction to Part 1, I went through an intense period of transformation, lasting six months, under the influence of what I would call the archetype of Initiation, and during this period I was bombarded by synchronistic (and other paranormal) events. During this period I had no knowledge of Astrology; it was only later that I discovered that this period coincided with my ‘Saturn return’¹.
The best question might be therefore, how can the concept of the archetypes be helpful in understanding astrological realities? Michael Harding, however, because he is so convinced that Astrology is the ultimate explanation for just about everything, chooses to attack the Jungian idea, instead of seeing how it could help him to plug the gaps in his own theory.
To try to penetrate a little further into this issue, I am going to consider briefly the meaning and role of mythology in cultural history, since I believe that it is another obvious expression of the archetypes, and may therefore be relevant to Astrology. Not everyone subscribes to that view, however, preferring to believe that myths are just a load of silly old stories, invented by primitive minds, primarily as an attempt to explain natural phenomena. Once one has investigated the subject a little more deeply, however, it is hard to maintain such a point of view. At the other end of the spectrum we find statements like this: “The mythical narrative is of timeless and placeless validity, true nowhere and everywhere… Myth embodies the nearest approach to absolute truth that can be stated in words”².
This would be high praise indeed if myths were the creations of the human mind. These alternative explanations seem more likely:
- James Hillman: “Just as we do not create our dreams, but they happen (his italics) to us, so we do not invent the persons of myth and religion; they, too, happen to us. The persons present themselves as existing prior to any effort of ours to personify. To mythic consciousness, the persons of the imagination are real”³.
- Luis Alvarado describes myths as “spontaneous creations of the psyche…, soul’s way of explaining ourselves to ourselves and our universe to ourselves”⁴.
From this perspective the existence of the great mythologies sits uncomfortably with the theories of modern science. It is incomprehensible that the brain, from a materialistic/reductionist perspective, could spontaneously come up with such bizarre, yet profound, stories — and I feel sure that researchers have not yet identified which part of the brain is responsible for myth production, even if they thought that this was an area worthy of investigation.
On the other hand, it is hard to see how astrology in Harding’s terms could be responsible for mythology, even though they are linked together by the names used, for it is difficult to believe that these extraordinary stories were planted in human consciousness by the movements of the planets.
My hypothesis will therefore be the standard Jungian one, in line with Coomaraswamy and Alvarado, that myths express a superior point of view, that they are truths, mediated by the archetypes but whose source is possibly the Self, so profound that they appear almost to be inspired by something divine. This description would also apply to some big dreams, and has a strong resemblance to my hypothesis about how astrology works. If it is true therefore, it will be useful to consider the relationship, if there is one, between mythology and astrology.
Interesting material on this question can be found in Michael Baigent’s book From the Omens of Babylon⁵. He follows Jung’s line on the basic concepts of the collective unconscious, the archetypes, and the primordial images (p78), and in his preface makes this interesting point: “The mythology of such a nation (Mesopotamia) is entwined with its magic and astrology: all are reflections of the nation’s psychological reality” (Pxii).
The following passage comes from pages 78–79. At the places marked * I invite you to substitute the word ‘astrology’ — I suggest that you will find that the text makes equally good sense, at least from the astrological perspective that I have been advocating. He begins by making this direct connection between the two:
“The mythology of a nation can be viewed as its reflection in the mirror of the heavens. For myth* mirrors the hidden side of a nation: the tales of the gods* are the tales of a nation’s unconscious life expressed in symbolic form. Through myth* a culture seeks to understand and accept the reality within which it lives. These myths* arise out of the very deepest layers of the masses and the individual’s psychic make-up; they are a symbolic expression of the psyche’s innermost processes”.
“The inherent strength of myth* lies then in the emotional power which is released within each person through a personal recognition of, and personal resonance with, these emergent archetypal patterns”.
He is leading towards this very rich climax: “The tales of heaven are, in reality, tales of earth. Mythology forever connects these two realms and, of course, astrology’s basic premise rests upon this connection. Events in heaven foreshadow events on earth. Indeed, the art of astrology itself can be seen as a means of working with mythology in a practical way”.
This is a fascinating conclusion, suggesting as it does an intimate link between astrology and mythology, even though each can be studied in its own right. If the latter is a manifestation of the archetypes⁶, then I would suggest that astrology is too. This is also exactly the position of leading astrologer, Stephen Arroyo: “(Joseph) Campbell states that there are three essential functions of myth: ‘to elicit a sense of awe’, ‘to render a cosmology’, and ‘to initiate the individual into the realities of his own psyche’. …The proper use of astrology fulfills all these three functions… Astrology, as it has for ages past, provides a vital and practical mythology for our times”⁷.
He also says: “In both astrology and mythology these universal principles constitute the main field of study, the difference between them being that, whereas mythology places its emphasis on the cultural manifestations of the archetypes in various patterns, astrology utilizes the essential archetypal principles themselves (his italics) as its language for understanding the fundamental forces and patterns in both individual and cultural life. There is historically a strong interrelationship between the myths of a particular culture and the type of astrology it has developed” (p28).
Carl Jung made extensive reference to mythology in order to illuminate his psychology. In the same context, it is reasonable to point out that the language of Astrology and Analytical Psychology are sometimes indistinguishable, so that they might equally well illuminate each other. I have already given several examples of this in the work of Progoff and Jaffé in chapter 9. Here are some further examples which concentrate on the therapeutic process.
Stephen Arroyo: “Jung has said that he used astrology in many of his cases, especially with those people whom he had difficulty understanding: ‘As I am a psychologist, I’m chiefly interested in the particular light the horoscope sheds on certain complications in the character. In cases of difficult psychological diagnosis I usually get a horoscope in order to have a further point of view from an entirely different angle. I must say that I have very often found that the astrological data elucidated certain points which I otherwise would have been unable to understand’ (from a letter to Prof. B.V. Raman, September 6th 1947).
“In an interview with the editor of a French astrological magazine, Jung stated: ‘One can expect with considerable assurance that a given well-defined psychological situation will be accompanied by an analogous astrological configuration. Astrology consists of configurations symbolic of the collective unconscious which is the subject matter of psychology: the “planets” are the gods, symbols of the powers of the unconscious’.
“In the same interview, Jung stated that the innate psychic predisposition of an individual ‘seems to be expressed in a recognizable way in the horoscope’. In many of his writings, Jung emphasized that astrology includes the sum total of all ancient psychological knowledge, including both the innate predisposition of individuals and an accurate way of timing life crises: ‘I have observed many cases where a well-defined psychological phase or an analogous event has been accompanied by a transit (particularly the afflictions of Saturn and Uranus)’ ” (p 33–34).
In the same book Arroyo reveals the close relationship between the aims of Astrology and Analytical Psychology: “…a way of understanding our fundamental nature, discovering our place in the universe, and helping us to live in a creative and fulfilling way” (p29).
He also quotes other writers in similar vein:
- Dane Rudhyar: “The art of interpreting the cyclic ebbs and flows of the basic energies and activities of life so that the existence of an individual person… is seen as an ordered process of change, a process which had inherent meaning and purpose” (p23).
- Zipporah Dobyns: “It offers insight into areas of which the subject often knows little or nothing… repressions, values never consciously verbalized, ambivalences and conflicts projected into events and relationships and never consciously faced. It offers clues to unrealized potentials, talents, natural channels for integration and sublimation etc.” (p34).
I suggest that, although these quotations are actually referring to Astrology, they could just as easily apply to Jungian therapy. The same conclusion can be drawn from other writers Arroyo quotes:
- “Astrological techniques can become as valuable to the depth psychologist as dream interpretation” (Edward Whitmont, a Jungian psychiatrist, p34).
- “Astrology should be used as ‘an adjunct of psychology and psychiatry’ ” (psychologist Ralph Metzner, p35).
If all these writers are correct, and I believe they are, that Jung’s Analytical Psychology, which is meaningless without the concept of the archetypes, and Astrology are two means to the same end⁸, the implication is that it is possible, at least theoretically, to obtain everything that Astrology can achieve without any need to study it or make reference to it directly (although it can facilitate and enrich the understanding of the psychological journey). This is clearly a ridiculous thing to say if Astrology is the ultimate reality and the archetypes are an erroneous concept, and mythology, their offspring, is meaningless. It makes sense only if they are complementary routes to the same reality⁹.
Liz Greene to my knowledge represents the most complete synthesis of the ideas that I have been discussing in this chapter. As well as being a professional astrologer, she is also a Jungian analyst, and slips effortlessly from one language into the other. When appropriate, she talks about the birth-chart in terms of fairy-tales and mythic figures, providing insightful links between them. I will give her the last word on these themes: “I have a very strong conviction that if you are an astrologer you cannot isolate astrological symbolism from the broader fields of myth and fairy tale. Astrology is not a pure, isolated subject. To try to understand an astrological symbol, we can enter into it mythically as well as interpreting it analytically”¹⁰. Here, in the clearest possible terms, she says that dreams, Astrology, and myths emanate from the same source: “Images appear in sleep which are characteristic of the horoscope and of the signs which are strongly tenanted; and these images are in turn the images of myth”¹¹.
If all the writers I have quoted in this chapter are right, that would be the clearest possible indication that the archetypes are the source of Astrology. Is it really credible that our dreams and the ancient myths can be the product of the movements of the planets?
(Footnotes follow the Appendix below.)
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).
In the next article in this series, I’ll discuss the alternative viewpoint of astrologer Dennis Elwell, who is critical of attempts to associate astrology with psychology, including Jungian, and psychotherapy. Before I do that, I’ll mention some more information about astrologers who identify closely with Jung’s thought.
Dane Rudhyar is probably the outstanding example. His groundbreaking book The Astrology of Personality¹² can be seen as a synthesis of the two areas of thought, and was the first time this was attempted. In his words: “We are above all stressing values and using a terminology which are found in C. G. Jung’s works, because we are deeply convinced of their inherent validity, and also because they dovetail so remarkably with the general set-up of astrological symbolism” (p98). Among other things, he discusses the importance of dreams, outlines how he thinks the planets relate to the three ‘areas’ of the psyche outlined by Jung (the collective unconscious, the personal unconscious, and the conscious), and clearly relates his astrology to the Jungian individuation process, most succinctly here: “Every birth-chart is the mandala of an individual life. It is the blue-print of the process of individuation for this particular individual” (p122). Here he goes into more detail: “There is a fundamental space-orientation which remains as a permanent ‘Image’ of individual selfhood, and this is the most important factor in an astro-psychology which deals, not primarily with external events, but with the innate potential of individual existence in every human being. The purpose of this astro-psychology is to help the person to actualize this innate potential, to bring what is only possible to an, at least, relatively complete state of fulfillment” (Pviii, his italics).
Rudhyar’s work has made a deep impression on other astrologers, and initiated a new trend in Astrology. Thus A.T. Mann says: “A few brave individuals in the early part of the twentieth century have almost single-handedly brought astrology into the modern era. Foremost of these is Dane Rudhyar, who has brought a unique insight to bear on astrology and integrated it with other important areas of human concern… (He) combined astrology with the fledgling psychology to create a ‘humanistic astrology’. His pioneering has led to many astrologers training as psychotherapists”¹³. Paul Clancy (founder and editor of American Astrology) says: “Rudhyar’s Astrology of Personality is the greatest step forward in Astrology since the time of Ptolemy. It represents the birth of a new epoch”¹⁴.
Examples of other astrologers influenced significantly by Jung or Rudhyar are:
- Stephen Arroyo, who says that he began to study astrology following “a deep immersion in the writings of C.G. Jung”. He also refers to “Jung’s incomparable scientific investigations”¹⁵. On the same page he describes Rudhyar’s book as a major influence on him.
- Liz Greene, discussed above in the main article. I will devote a separate chapter to her work later.
- Karen Hamaker-Zondag, who “for several years studied the connections between Jungian psychology and astrology, aided by a series of dreams in which she ‘saw’ their connection”¹⁶.
- Alan Oken: “Jung’s work with archetypes lends itself very well to humanistic, astrological interpretation as does Assagioli’s work in Psychosynthesis. As in traditional and fundamental astrological teachings, both these psychological systems deal with the ‘law of correspondences’ (or ‘as above, so below’) and strive to relate the macrocosmic and microcosmic in terms of the human existence”¹⁷.
1. And while researching this book I found a similar idea in Luis Alvarado: “The task for our imaginary client is to create a conscious connection to Hermes/Mercury. The Saturn transit makes this so… This being a journey, we may find that Mercury begins to fashion the journey for both client and helper. Synchronistic events begin to happen. Mercury becomes the catalyst in a psychic chemical reaction” (Psychology, Astrology and Western Magic, Llewellyn, 1991, p216).
2. Ananda Coomaraswamy: Hinduism and Buddhism, New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1996, p6 and p33, n21.
3. Re-Visioning Psychology, HarperPerennial, 1992, p17
4. as footnote 1, p52
5. Arkana, 1994
6. Compare Luis Alvarado: “Carl Jung in his landmark work Symbols of Transformation paired myth and the archetype, and assigned to myth a psychology. Jung used mythological motifs to understand how archetypes shape our lives. He realized that the myth was a key that could unlock the gates of the collective unconscious as mythological motifs have an incredible consistency throughout differing cultures worldwide… Jung came to realize that the archetype and the mythological motif are one and the same” (as footnote 1, p35).
7. Astrology, Psychology, and the Four Elements, CRCS, 1975, Pxvi.
8. In this context Dane Rudhyar says that Astrology is the male element (that which gives the formula) while psychology is the female element (that which gives the substantial contents). (Source Astrology, LouiseMacNeice, Aldus, 1964, p227; the original reference is not given.)
9. I am an example. As I explained in the Introduction to Part I, I achieved significant psychological breakthroughs using Jungian psychology, especially dream analysis, and did not use Astrology. Given what I now know, I would not say that this was the only route possible, although it seemed like that at the time. James Hillman leans in my direction: ‘Dreams are crucial in any therapy of depth, any therapy that would make soul and not only build ego’ (Re-Visioning Psychology, HarperPerennial, 1992, p33). Astrologers like Dennis Elwell would disagree. They also want to “make soul”, but, needless to say, they prefer the route of Astrology.
10. with Stephen Arroyo, New Insights in Modern Astrology, CRCS, 1991, p46
11. The Astrology of Fate, Mandala, 1985, p170
12. 1936, my copy Servire/Wassenaar, 1963
13. The Future of Astrology, Unwin Hyman, 1987, Pviii
14. ibid., quoted on p11
15. Astrology, Karma and Transformation, CRCS, 1992, Pix
16. as footnote 13, p129
17. ibid., p147