Twentieth Century Astrology
From Psychological Astrology to Archetypal Cosmology
Keiron Le Grice
Despite its incongruence with the mechanistic materialism of the dominant modern world view, astrology has undergone a renewal in popularity over the course of the last century, particularly since the rise of the 1960s counterculture. Initiated by the pioneering work of figures such as Charles Carter and Dane Rudhyar, the progressive reformulation of astrology has ensured a continued interest in the subject. Previously astrology’s language was somewhat antiquated; fatalistic and moralistic in tone, it gave the sense of a destiny set in stone, with personality descriptions more befitting the Victorian era. With the modernization of astrology, a new breed of psychologically oriented astrologers emerged, inspired by the nascent disciplines of psychoanalysis and humanistic psychology to bring greater depth, sophistication, and insight to astrological interpretations. Over the last thirty years or so, with the publication of many new textbooks, astrology has become far more widely accessible and it has become an important component of the wider “spiritual revolution” of our time.
The Development of Psychological Astrology
The dominant movement within astrology during the twentieth century, especially since the 1970s, has been “psychological astrology,” a term that refers to an eclectic group of approaches, loosely influenced by certain aspects of twentieth century psychology. The precursors of this new form of astrology can be traced back to the theosophist Alan Leo at the turn of the twentieth century, who, in a marked shift of emphasis, applied astrology to understand the traits and characteristics of the individual personality rather than to predict events. This development was carried forward by figures such as Charles Carter, John Addey, Margaret Hone, and Charles Harvey in the U.K., and Grant Lewi and Isabel Hickey in the U.S. In the writing of each of these authors, there was evidence of a shift towards a concern with the personal experience of the individual and a new focus on using astrology to increase spiritual awareness and insight into one’s life purpose. Reflecting the emergence of the modern individual self in the modern era, the twentieth century witnessed the development of a form of astrology geared towards understanding the character, innate potentials, and psychological dynamics of the self and of individual experience. A new form of astrology began to emerge, one that served, rather than precluded, the individual’s capacity for subjectivity, autonomy, and freedom of will.
In general terms, the modern reemergence of astrology can be seen as an expression of the wider spiritual transformation associated with the Neptune-Pluto conjunction of the late nineteenth century that witnessed a number of pivotal developments that have shaped the modern understanding of psyche and cosmos: Nietzsche’s proclamation of the “death of god,” the decline of the traditional religions, the resurgence of previously submerged occult practices, the emergence of depth psychology, the revolution in physics with relativity and then quantum theory (during the Uranus-Neptune opposition of the early twentieth century), and the influx of Eastern ideas into the West. Central to this process of spiritual and cultural transformation was the work of Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung, whose ideas were to have a profound influence of modern astrology, initially through the work of Dane Rudhyar and also directly through Jung’s own exploration of astrological thought.
Writing between the 1930s and the 1980s, Rudhyar initiated a revolution in modern astrology, pioneering modern psychological and spiritually oriented astrology in both its humanistic (or person-centered) and transpersonal forms—indeed, he was among the first to coin the term transpersonal. A polymath and prolific author, he drew together ideas from the emerging philosophy of holism, Hindu thought, Taoism, the I Ching, theosophy, and Jungian psychology to present his view of astrology as a way of self-realization rather than a means of prediction or character analysis. Rudhyar’s focus was on the place of the individual within larger wholes and cycles of time and on using astrology to provide spiritual meaning and purpose. The first definitive statement of his approach to astrology is given in his 1936 publication The Astrology of Personality. Here Rudhyar also incorporated Marc Edmund Jones’s system of Sabian symbols, which ascribes a specific symbolic meaning to every degree of the zodiac. In the 1960s, Rudhyar then launched humanistic astrology, which was concerned with using astrology to promote the fulfillment of an individual’s innate potentials. Later, Rudhyar distinguished this individual or person-centered level of application of astrology, as he called it, from a more advanced transpersonal level in which astrology could be used to help spiritually aspiring individuals transcend the limitations of the rational ego. The clearest statement of this later approach is given in The Astrology of Transformation.
Alongside Rudhyar, Stephen Arroyo and Liz Greene have been particularly influential figures in the rise of psychological astrology. Arroyo was deeply influenced not only by Rudhyar’s work, but also by his reading of Jung and American psychic Edgar Cayce. Writing in the 1970s, Arroyo provided some of the most perceptive insights into the nature and phenomenology of the astrological factors, especially in his Astrology, Karma, and Transformation. In effect, Arroyo gave Rudhyar’s spiritual approach to astrology a more contemporary, psychological voice, combining depth of insight with a more readily accessible style of presentation of his ideas.
Whereas the writings of Rudhyar possess a characteristic esoteric and explicitly spiritual style and focus, Liz Greene is more classically Jungian and psychological in her approach. Greene’s work is marked by a keen awareness of the personal and collective unconscious as primary determining factors behind individual experience. Her writing is also informed by a sensitive appreciation of the complexities of human relationships, of the dynamics of the family and early childhood conditioning, and of the deep mysteries underlying character, vocation, and individual destiny. Above all, with Greene, the astrological chart is seen in the context of the process of the development of personality. The birth chart is a developmental blueprint that details, from an archetypal perspective, the unfolding pattern of the individual’s intelligible character. Greene also sought to explicitly incorporate Jung’s focus on myths and archetypes into the practice of astrology—an approach also pursued by Tony Joseph in the U.S. before his untimely death in the early 1980s—thereby reconnecting astrology to its former roots in the mythic traditions of Greece and elsewhere. Of all modern astrologers, Greene’s work has also had the most significant impact on astrological education and training through the establishment of the Centre for Psychological Astrology in London and Zurich.
Other influential figures in the field of psychological astrology include Howard Sasportas (who often worked in collaboration with Greene) and Robert Hand, whose works include Horoscope Symbols, a comprehensive introductory text, and Planets in Transit, an equally comprehensive reference work for transit astrology. Hand’s approach, certainly in these two books, reflects a broadly humanistic style, with the recognition of the capacity of the individual to shape how the astrological factors could be expressed in the vicissitudes of personal experience.
Technical Developments in Modern Astrology
The major development in astrology in the modern era has, without question, been the assimilation of the outer planets—Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto—into astrological theory. As many authors have noted, the archetypal meanings associated with each of these planets were broadly reflected in the historical events and zeitgeist of the periods in which the corresponding planet was discovered: the discovery of Uranus coincided with the French, American, and Industrial revolutions, for example, and the discovery of Pluto with the development of atomic power, the rise of depth psychology, and the rise of fascism. Here again Rudhyar was the central figure, interpreting the discoveries of the outer planets and the corresponding emergence of the archetypal potentials of the associated planetary archetypes as a kind of teleological unfolding, an evolution of human cultural awareness, and a progressive disclosure of the deeper dynamics of the collective unconscious.
Another significant technical development in modern astrology has been in the understanding of the importance of midpoints. According to midpoint theory, planetary archetypes can be in potent relationships when the corresponding planets form midpoints, with one planet positioned halfway between two or more others. Often an analysis of midpoints helps to account for traits of character and themes of biography that an analysis of natal aspects by itself cannot. Major texts focusing on this area include the influential The Combination of Stellar Influences by Reinhold Ebertin and Working with Astrology by Michael Harding and Charles Harvey. Alongside midpoints, I should also mention here John Addey’s theory of harmonics, which emphasizes the importance of Pythagorean number symbolism in astrology (a lineage further developed by Charles Harvey’s work) and astrocartography, developed by Jim Lewis.(1)
More generally, modern astrology has seen moves to simplify astrological techniques with the introduction of keyword approaches to interpretation and a focus on common themes underlying the symbolism of planets, signs, and houses. In retrospect, one can see that the modern era has witnessed a great democratization of astrology. Aided by the revolution in computer technology, which makes biographical data and charts instantly available, and aided too by the mass publication of astrological textbooks, astrology has moved from the hands of a few practitioners into the hands of the many.
Philosophical Suppositions of Psychological Astrology
With the work of Rudhyar and Arroyo, in particular, astrology was elevated to the status of a spiritual path and it was liberated, to a large extent, from the superficiality, literalism, or fatalism of many earlier forms of astrology. Increasingly, in the 1970s and 1980s astrology became primarily to do with the inner world of the psyche and the spirit, not the outer world of mundane events. The birth chart was construed as a map of the psyche, a blueprint of the course of individual psychological development.
However, like depth psychology, psychological astrology was addressing itself to subjective individual experience within the accepted reality of a radically disenchanted cosmos in which matter, nature, and the universe at large were seen as unconscious, mechanistic, and essentially dead. Psychological astrology came into existence within a cultural world view that radically rejected astrological truth claims and denied outright the possibility that there could be any relationship between the patterns of human experience and the planetary cycles in the solar system.
Against this background, psychological astrology became subject to the same implicit philosophical limitations that initially shaped the depth and transpersonal psychology movements, such as a tacit, residual Cartesianism in which the human psyche was seen as separate from the external world. Although psychological astrology served the emergence and actualization of the modern individual self, like depth and transpersonal psychology it has at times also inadvertently fostered what Jorge Ferrer calls intrapsychic reductionism, reducing astrology to “nothing but” the expression of intrapsychic psychological dynamics. In psychological astrology, the basis of astrological correlations was often explained (if this issue was addressed at all) as a form of unconscious symbolic projection of the inner dynamics of the psyche onto an essentially neutral, or even meaningless cosmic order.
In general, however, despite the greater psychological sophistication of modern astrology, philosophical questions underpinning the working assumptions of astrology have often been overlooked. A notable exception is Richard Tarnas’s Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View, which directly addresses the place of astrology within the evolution of consciousness, culture, and the Western world view. After introducing an expanded theoretical framework for astrology, drawing especially on Jung’s later research into synchronicity, Tarnas then presents a detailed body of evidence pointing to a consistent and coherent correlation between the planetary cycles and the archetypal patterns of world history, from the Axial Age in the first millennium BCE to the present day, encompassing every sphere of human endeavor and every dimension of life—social, political, cultural, artistic, philosophical, scientific, and spiritual. Tarnas’s research, which is distinguished by the emphasis he places on the cycles of alignments of the outer planets, suggests the events of world history unfold in close accordance with the framework of thematic meanings associated with the planetary alignments formed during those times.(2)
Moving beyond the conceptual limits of conventional astrology, which has tended to be more literal and concretely predictive in its approach, Tarnas has deepened the philosophical and interpretive precision of the astrological perspective by drawing from the depth psychology of Jung, James Hillman, and Stanislav Grof. Tarnas has explicated the fundamental attributes of archetypal principles, which has given him a more comprehensive grasp of astrological correlations and, crucially, of the limitations of what astrology can actually reveal. Perhaps the most important of these attributes discussed by Tarnas is the inherent multivalence of expression of the planetary archetypes in human experience and the concomitant realization that astrology is archetypally rather than concretely predictive—an insight that implicitly characterizes and informs much of modern psychological astrology. From this perspective, any given astrological factor, such as a natal aspect, can manifest in a wide range of different ways while still remaining consistent with a central core of meaning. Accordingly, astrology’s proper concern is discerning the universal themes and principles evident in human experience; by itself it can reveal nothing of the specific form these universals will take when enacted in the particulars of life.
Future Directions: The Emergence of Archetypal Cosmology
Tarnas’s research has helped to establish foundations for the emergence of archetypal cosmology, a new academic discipline that is concerned both with empirical research into astrological correlations and with articulating a new world view or cosmology that can support and account for these correlations.(3) In many ways, archetypal cosmology represents a continuation of developments that began with psychological astrology—the recognition of the archetypal significance of the outer planets for understanding the deeper dynamics of the unconscious psyche, the recognition of the participatory role of the modern self in shaping the expression of the archetypal patterns studied in astrology, the use of astrology for providing psychospiritual insight and to increase self-knowledge. However, archetypal cosmology also aspires towards a greater empirical and philosophical rigor, drawing on Pythagorean and Platonic philosophy, mythic perspectives, depth psychology (Jung, Hillman, Grof), process philosophy (Alfred North Whitehead), and the new paradigm sciences (including the work of Bohm, Capra, Sheldrake) to seek to better understand and explain astrological correlations.(4) Crucially, archetypal cosmology situates psychological astrology’s emphasis on the individual psyche within a larger cosmological and metaphysical context. Like earlier forms of astrology, archetypal cosmology explicitly recognizes the existence of something like an anima mundi—the interiority of the universe at large. From this perspective, planetary archetypes are seen not as wholly intrapsychic factors merely reflected in, or projected onto, the planetary order of the solar system, but as cosmological and metaphysical principles shaping and informing both the inner and outer dimensions of reality. Psyche and cosmos are seen as intimately interconnected, as related expressions of a deeper underlying ground. Archetypal cosmology thus directly addresses, and seeks to overcome, the modern dichotomy between inner and outer, between the subjective human self and the objective cosmos. It seeks to make explicit the deeper unity between psyche and cosmos, microcosm and macrocosm, that has been the concern of astrological practitioners through the ages.
1. See John Addey, Harmonic Anthology (1976; repr., Tempe, AZ: American Federation of Astrologers, 2004); Charles Harvey, Anima Mundi: The Astrology of the Individual and the Collective (London: CPA Press, 2002); and Michael Harding and Charles Harvey, Working With Astrology: The Psychology of Harmonics, Midpoints, and Astro-Cartography (London: Arkana, 1990).
2. Rod O’Neal has called this approach to the study of history archetypal historiography. See O’Neal, “Archetypal Historiography.”
3. See Le Grice, “Birth of a New Discipline” for further details on the emergence of archetypal cosmology.
4. Many of these areas are addressed in my forthcoming book, The Archetypal Cosmos, which presents a theoretical synthesis of Jungian depth psychology and the new paradigm sciences in an attempt to develop a new world view to account for astrological correlations.
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© Keiron Le Grice 2010, All rights reserved