Sacred Order and Restless Saturn

“The problem with introspection is that it has no end.”
― Philip K. Dick

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Cosmos

Although we easily recognize that life on planet Earth, and perhaps elsewhere, is possible because of the regularity witnessed within the solar system and beyond, dare we call fate that which influences the individual by a similar ordering principle? If not, then why?

cos·mos1
/ˈkäzməs,ˈkäzˌmōs,ˈkäzˌmäs/
noun

It may be easy to intellectually separate the idea that life depends on order to sustain the planet and every living being, from the idea that our lives are also ordered, and therefore, to a certain extent, fated, but in what way does fate provide order?

We pride ourselves on the ability to make conscious choices as we become more aware and responsive to the constraints that bind us, and because the more we can make choices, the less fated and more free the act of choosing makes us feel. But, how do we distinguish between a free choice and a fated one? There must be something in which we measure and compare possible outcomes against in order to categorize our actions as free or fated.

Neoplatonic-Sun

In the study of astrology, these questions of power, forces of fate and will, naturally arise. And so they should if we are to afford ourselves an opportunity to wrestle with their distinctions and correspondence within our practice and understanding astrology’s purpose.

Where the ancients found the ideas of fate and fortune usefully aligned to the constraints more naturally severe and apparent, and where choices that were contrary to the order of the state or tribe were often punished either by human or natural law, modernity, with its technological advances, allows us the luxury of seemingly going it alone through choices that may not always benefit the tribe. We are much less dependent on the tribe for our survival. We are also much more distanced from exactly what it is that we are dependent upon. To the ancients, many of our choices would seem frivolous, extravagant and self-destructive as we increasingly lose sight of the importance of our choices and the victims of their consequences.

Qualities of Time

Scholars of the myth contrast two kinds of time, secular and sacred, rational and mystical, forward-moving time and timeless circularity.

Hillman, James. The Force of Character: And the Lasting Life. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The idea of eternal time also carries with it the sense infinitude, that reality, the cosmos, even with its orderliness, has no bounds, no separations, no limits, no beginning and no end. Does this idea of the eternal contradict the notion of a cosmic order? Are order and chaos then, secret allies? It’s fascinating to both imagine and come to a fuller acceptance that from the seemingly finite state of human existence, it’s only through the mind and the nature of our experiences that we can envision eternity and finite qualities of time.

Donato_Creti_-_Astronomical_Observations_-_07_-_Saturn

Perhaps it is the emphasis on secular time, the 9-5 habits where attention of the things of the world seduce and enslave us, that have left us with less and less capacity for the experience of eternal time. The more distant these time qualities become, the more the impulse to choose the fast-food of technology keeps the clock-a-ticking, cutting us off from any experience of the eternal. Precious and few are those timeless states granted to us.

“The notion of a separate organism is clearly an abstraction, as is also its boundary. Underlying all this is unbroken wholeness even though our civilization has developed in such a way as to strongly emphasize the separation into parts.”
― David Bohm, The Undivided Universe: An Ontological Interpretation of Quantum Theory

Everyday experience is bound by the limits of our senses, language, thought, culture and the limits of our place within the cosmos, all of which do more to suggest a real separation of experience into discrete parts known as days, hours and moments. We can however, accept that this form of orderliness, through the constancy of the seasons, planetary and stellar motions, and observed through the delicacy of their finely tuned parameters are necessary to sustain life as we know it. Our linear observations about the cosmos, are perhaps, through the very suggestion of limits and boundaries, the very thing, that ironically, give way to the idea of the eternal.

“I’m so tired… I was up all night trying to round off infinity.”
― Steven Wright

How then, do we get at the idea of the eternal, let alone an experience of something both sacred and eternal?

Représentation_ottomane_sphère_armilaire_-_XVIe

Within the seeming limits of human experience, there are for each of us, moments of discovery, insights, and understanding that bring coherence along with a sense of an expanding wholeness that we participate in; something transcendent, bigger and beyond the narrow confines of “me” and “you.” The more expansive one’s experience becomes, the less it seems to be only inside me, and the more it seems that we are all participants in something much, much grander than previously imagined.

My little ego, even if only now and then, may burst open, giving way to an expanded sense of self and other, transcending the time-bound constraints and acknowledge its smallness in comparison to a greater unbound whole. To the ancients, this feeling, or realization of a greater intelligence has been referred to by many names: One, Anima Mundi, Infinite, God, Cosmos, Eternal, Self, Divine. No matter how imagined, or expressed, this unbounded sensation is perhaps one of the most mysterious experiences of all, and yet impossible to share, and especially, to define. Language, we see, remains the map, not the territory.

How then, throughout the long trail of human existence, does this idea of the eternal persist, especially as it seems so fleeting?

“Cosmos” indicates a world formed by aesthetics. “Cosmetics,” derived from kosmos, gives the clue to the early meanings of the Greek word, when it was linked with the dress of women, with decoration and embellishment, with all things fitting, in order, furnished, and arranged, and with ethical implications of appropriateness, decency, honor. The aesthetic imagination is the primary mode of knowing the cosmos, and aesthetic language the most fitting way to formulate the world.

Hillman, James. The Force of Character: And the Lasting Life. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The aesthetic imagination, rather than seeking to quantify the cosmos, mapping it, saving it for later, for time, permits the immediacy of its ordering and thereby participates through a knowing of the senses that also permits the transcending of time and orderliness, all the while accepting the imposition of limits on all creation, human and otherwise. It is then, the persistence, the constancy of our experience that gives us faith that the sun will rise again, but also that I will one day cease to exist. The coming and going is indeed a fated participation of the cosmos; the ordering ways of the universe. Cosmic ordering itself provides the necessary ground of our being; as a place for transcendence into eternal time. 

(To be continued…)

I-Me-Mine

Is it the fear of what is other, the initial recognition of duality, that tempt us further into categorizations of duality? Is individuality, that necessary movement for freedom of action, what fosters a battle stance, a duality initiating all future duels?

Perhaps fear of the other must finally, as Jung suggested, reduce the gods to diseases, eliminating their autonomy, along with the autonomy of ideas, that now further reduces all human perception to the material causes of brain chemistry, neurons, or delusional thinking. Could we have moved from a world where once all was personified, to one where we’re not even sure of our own personhood?

“…the experience of the gods, of heroes, nymphs, demons, angels and powers, of sacred animals, places, and things, as persons indeed precedes the concept of personification. It is not that we personify, but that the epiphanies come as persons.”

Pan, Mikhail Vrubel 1900

“Epiphanies come as persons,” for us rarely, but to understand the truth of this we can look to dreams or art.

If you can possess your experience, all threats of “other” are “managed.” Filtering experience, we make sense of the world as fits our emotional state, religious viewpoint, cultural conventions, language skills, or whatever else fits the habits of our awareness. Barriers between us and the world are forged categorically: self and other, self and self (resistance even to unwanted thoughts and fantasies that have their way when all is quiet), self and world (especially the uncivilized worlds of forest, jungle, deep-sea and inner city). Sometimes, it is only through a dream or nightmare that we may be reached, and then, rather than hear a message, we might rather insist it was something we ate. 🙂

“When Pan is dead, then nature can be controlled by the will of the new god, man, modeled in the image of Prometheus or Hercules, creating from it and polluting in it without a troubled conscience.”

In their book, Pan and the Nightmare, Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher and James Hillman remind us of a historical account of Herodotus’ in which Pheidippides receives a message from the god Pan that saves Athenian democracy:

“Herodotus says Pan burst in on Pheidippides, cried out his name, and gave him a crucial message that saved Athens. The leaders of Athens believed Pheidippides, won the battle, and set up the Cult of Pan in Athens. Were the cunning and intelligent Greeks so deluded? Did all this come about because of the exhausted state of mind of a certain messenger who had a sudden bright idea and conjured up “Pan” to bless it with authority?”

Here Hillman mocks the modern prejudice which insists the phenomena of receiving messages from the gods is some form of delusion or power grab. I agree with Hillman that it is to the essence of the experience; that of being receptive to receiving messages, that remains relevant to us. What has modernity done for us by refusing to even entertain any such direct experience of the divine? Are we any wiser, safer, secure in our destiny, more civil in our interactions, more caring for home, city and planet for it?

I love the hints, suggestions, ideas and messages that come through experiencing the world as personal; alive, layered, varied, imprecise, whose purpose serves more than functionality. When fear provokes me into summarily dismissing a foreign way of looking at something, or a new way to hear an old idea, it leaves an unsettled feeling in my heart. That unsettledness, when attended to, eventually brings a gift of insight, understanding, compassion, beauty and love.

When ideas themselves can be seen as other, coming to us personified, as dream images do – without the threat of seeming like a foreign invasion, the desire to possess them and boss them around lessens. Their gravitas remain, but without weighing us down as their owners. If there is one gift I have received from spending time with Hillman’s ideas, it is this loosening and respect of fear, and an increase of interest in ideas for their own sake.

“Could we step back from our times, step out of the pretensions of the fearing ego who would bring every atom of nature under its control? Then we might realize again that we are not the source of personified gods. We do not make them up, anymore than we invent the sounds we hear in the woods, the hoof prints in the sand, the nightmare pressure weighing on our chests.”

As well, it is freeing when I recognize that others are also not the author of ideas. We may all be possessed by them, but who knows where their source lies?

Perhaps our need to possess ideas, shifting them away from an experience of the divine, comes from the absorption of polytheism by monotheism, and monotheism by scientistic materialism that takes monotheism one step further. If monotheism reduced the gods to one, separating divinity from the material world, materialism finished the job by removing altogether any notion of the divine, reducing the world to mostly dead bits and pieces bossed around by chemistry, math and physics.

But the shifting of states of awareness through the ages may be necessary, and the Greek imagination helps us to see Dionysus at work here. It may be Dionysus, the only god to have one mortal parent, that best represents the psychological style of modern consciousness, for he was both a god of the grapes, given to transcendent ecstasy, but also ripped apart by the Titans to avenge his father Zeus’ love of Semele, his mortal mother.

Can this myth tell us something about the modern tendency to reduce the world into bits and parts, along with a love of transcendent states, whether through drugs, alcohol, technology, apocalyptic visions or meditative states? Can we see the possessiveness in reducing the world to bits and pieces, and deadening it for the sake of control?

In slicing and dicing as we have throughout the last millenia, perhaps the resulting technology will come to serve another twist of fate. Through the transcendent impulse, we may see seeing, taking on a birds-eye view of not only our planet, but of the vastness beyond our understanding, which may foster in yet another Dionysian trait; a rebirth into another style of consciousness, one that expects variety, and without fear, experiences the divine everywhere.

All quotes, Hillman, James; Roscher, Wilhelm Heinrich (2014-10-09). Pan and the Nightmare. Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.