Tag Archives: Richard Tarnas

Rethinking the Year in Natural Cycles

In his book Cosmos and Psyche the theorist Richard Tarnas discusses how a structured cosmology can affect the cultural narrative.  He focuses on astrology as a way to map changes in the global culture against recurrent celestial patterns. Through a mytho-poetic relationship to the celestial cycles he explores holistic relationships that bridge the gap between science and religion, microcosm and macrocosm.

In looking for sustainable systems our best guide is nature itself. We often forget that the calendar we follow is an inorganic tool, an artificial construct that has grown with the technological reification of our culture.

The Flow of Events

Calendars are used to measure the interaction of time and meaning, they organize our relationship with the flow of events. In seeking sustainable solutions we have to keep in mind that something as subtle as our understanding of the year affects our relationship with the environment.

This applies to our individual lives as well as to the way we order our communities. The cultural traditions of the world have long addressed this issue, and their explorations are outlined in allegories, mythologies, folklore, songs and symbols. By readdressing these lessons we can gain a valuable understanding of the natural cycles that our current calendars ignore.

Beyond the Pale

It may seem odd to consider astrology as a valid tool. Before we dismiss the thought, however, we need to take into account the ability for astrological symbols to carry narrative meaning in connection with the recurring natural cycles.

At the present time our general understanding of the calendar is based on economic cycles. In order to reconnect to the living systems around us we need to go beyond the pale and adapt new systems, or reconsider older systems, that emerge from an understanding of nature.

Rethinking our relationships

Something like Weiser’s Witches’ Almanac* is a surprisingly effective tool for this undertaking. There is a wealth of fragments from mythology, folklore, urban legend, weather lore and a calendar system that follows the lunar and celestial cycles.

Each page provides another opportunity to reexamine the world through a mytho-poetic lense. In the Spring 2011 – Spring 2012 issue Shannon Marks has a wonderful essay on Genius Loci, or the Spirits of Place, addressing a deeper way to understand our connection to the environment based on past traditions.

“Every locality has a unique character or atmosphere, its Genius Loci…Saint Augustine wrote a great deal about the subject, particularly pertaining to gardens. He declared that the gardener should seek to honor the natural landscape, remaining true to the aspect suggested by rocks, trees, rivers or hills.”

Examples from the past

Shannon outlines a perfect philosophical basis for permaculture and provides another avenue to explore sustainable ideas within the foundation of the cultural narrative. Western traditions have been mired in a revisionist model of the enlightenment that stunts our vision of life. By seeking out the roots of our culture we find intersections with the past that have been passed by or glossed over.

So much of our thinking on issues of sustainability and the environment focuses on futuristic narratives, by drawing upon mythology and older traditions we gain alternative solutions and valuable counter arguments that bring us closer to a true solution.

*Note: The folks at Red Wheel/Weiser were kind enough to provide us with copies of their Field Guide Series to spur our creativity and give us some meat for the Mythic fires.  Article originally posted at openmythsource.com

Axes to the Ladder of Light – Wrecked Rungs & Missed Opportunities

“As our most ancient Stone is not derived from combustible things, you should cease to seek it in substances which cannot stand the test of fire. For this reason it is absurd to suppose that we can make any use of vegetable substances, though the Stone, too, is endowed ‘with a principle of growth.

If our Stone were a vegetable substance, it would, like other vegetables, be consumed by fire, leaving only a certain salt. Ancient writers have, indeed, described our Stone as the vegetable Stone. But that name was suggested to them by the fact that it grows and increases in size, like a plant.

Know also that animals only multiply after their kind, and within their own species. Hence our Stone can only be prepared out of its own seed, from which it was taken in the beginning; and hence also you will perceive that the soul of an animal must not be the subject of this investigation. Animals are a class by themselves; nor can anything ever be obtained from them that is not animal in its nature.” - from The Golden Tripod, by Basil Valentinus

“The study of the organs will not teach us about the inner essence of man any more than the mere observation of the letters in a sentence can convey its meaning to one who does not know how to read. The only possibility of knowledge lies in sinking into one’s own interiority in order to follow from there the mysterious ways leading toward the material body.”from First Steps Toward the Experience of the “Subtle Body,” in Introduction to Magic, ed. Julius Evola

“Seek and ye shall find…”

The questions presented to the truth seeker are simple, “What truth is it that you seek?” and “Why do you seek it?” Science, as understood up until the triumph of rationalism, was a study of the unity of being. With such an understanding any starting point leads towards self study, the same mechanics that exist in the celestial domain are applicable to the individual consciousness if the proper meditation is followed.

There is much scholarly debate over whether the alchemists went beyond early chemistry, if their Art was more than a coded form of chemical lab work. This question seems to ignore the mindset of those who sought the Stone. Spiritual alchemy i s the Art of ancient chemistry applied to the development of the human spirit. It’s historical basis is implied in the thoroughness of the ancient conception of the universe and it’s unity.

What we all too often miss in historical analysis is that the end of the Great Work is the restoration of unity, the solution is succinctly given by Socrates, “Know thy self.” This self knowledge, however, is unified  with the knowledge of the whole.

Even if chemistry were the sole end, a deeper understanding of the Art always leads back to an understanding of ourselves. This is all too often lost in contemporary science, this sense of an in depth understanding of our own place in the discovery. The focus on material ends used to be known as vulgar mathematics, the study of number for material ends outside of contemplation.

Alchemy has been so overladden with alternative narratives, be they psychological, theosophic, therapeutic or general new age, it’s a welcome change that the historical roots are being more clearly exposed. The difficulty is in maintaining a clear picture of the Art and not allowing historicism to take away from it’s full exposition.

Every Art holds the potential to act as a ladder to enlightenment, but it’s very easy to take an axe to the rungs by cutting out the steps leading up to the end or by limiting the reach of the ladder. Every angle of analysis has to be properly aligned; giving too much weight to one over another creates an imbalanced view. Historicism is valuable for tracing the roots of ideas, for gaining a better understanding of their development, their affects over time, however it can be very damning to the search for the application of those ideas in practice.

Similarly too much focus on practice and self revelation can limit the full flowering of an idea. Without a clear view of the whole, including historical antecedents, we remain outside the organic development of life that can be traced through looking at the past. False teachers set themselves up on our lack of historical memory and much confusion comes from not understanding the basic origins of an idea.

We all too often throw out what could be reused or reawoken. I was recently struck by an article that Peter Stockinger posted regarding Raymond Lull’s Art of Memory. In it Chiromancy, or palm reading, is turned into a mnemonic device. Similarly when reading Richard Tarnas’ Cosmos and Psyche, what I found most revealing was his concept of reinvigorating the astrological cosmology with a sense of psychology, reformulating what is commonly considered superstition into a powerful cultural mnemonic device capable of acting as a tool for psychological therapy, very close to what Giordano Bruno recommends in his work, The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast.

In any interpretation the answers given to the questions presented to the truth seeker provide a guide to what will be discovered. We should be careful that our answers and our methods of seeking don’t blind us to the revelations that lay close at hand.