The Depth Psychology of Shamanism and more...

 
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The Depth Psychology of Shamanism

I have a strong interest in both astrology and shamanism. And at the moment it's the latter that I'm writing more about. And I have a shamanic blog that's been on a bit of a backburner, but now I've started putting a lot more on it and building a (free) subscriber list. So if you are interested, go to www.shamanicfreestate.blogspot.com and you can sign up at the top right of the page. Meanwhile, here is one of the articles from that blog:



In 1997, I was organising some shamanic journeying at a small festival in the UK, and the space was packed for each session, like 70-80 people. The word shamanism had a buzz to it, and I think it still does, even though it can also be a cliché.


But the buzz was genuine, and I think it was about people wanting a taste of the Otherworld, something which has almost become a race memory, because it has been so squeezed out by religion and then science. But it is still there in us, this desire for an untrammelled experience of Spirit, that feels ancient, and that is not hedged around by dogmas of what is and is not possible.

It is Spirit that ultimately teaches us about Reality, not humans and their books. Shamanism – a recent, western phenomenon – is about that return to a direct experience of Spirit, that connects us to a universe that is so much more than the literal, material universe of modern science.

That taste of the Otherworld is, for some, enough as an accompaniment to their regular existence. For others, it is not enough. Or we may think it is enough, but the spirits have other ideas!

And this is where the idea of the 'shaman' comes in. A slightly problematic word, as it carries connotations of spiritual stature, which ain't a good thing to claim. And a shaman is technically also a healer and diviner, a spirit consultant.

But the spirits can drag us kicking through that initiatory journey without the end result being a healer. You may end up as a counsellor, or an artist, or a stand-up comic - or as Mozart: what was it that spoke through him if it wasn't the Otherworld? Or you may be nothing in particular that you can put a name to! You just have that look in your eye that says I've been somewhere else.

As Leonardo da Vinci said: “Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”

Or as the Ancient Mariner said:
 
"I pass, like night, from land to land;

I have strange power of speech;

That moment that his face I see,

I know the man that must hear me:

To him my tale I teach."

The Ancient Mariner
The archetypal event has become, for us, the shaman's illness, which will often bring him or her to the gates of death or madness, and once she has accepted the wishes of the spirits to be a vehicle for them, he recovers.

And I think this illness, this trial, this ordeal, needs to be interpreted broadly within our shamanism, even though the original definition was quite specific. And I think we need to be quite broad too about 'the spirits'. Yes, some of us will have guys upstairs that tell us stuff, or who work through us. For others, it may just be this other place in us, and when we speak or act from it, there is some kind of deeper wisdom or insight there, that may not even make sense to us at the time, but we learn to trust it. The so-called 'mid-life crisis' (which can go on and on - see The Middle Passage by James Hollis) has a resonance of this type of ordeal.
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As an astrologer, I encounter these trials in the form of Neptune and Pluto acting on people's charts. I had my own experience of Pluto for much of the 90s: after 10 years running Buddhist institutions, I was unable to do anything for several years. Anything I tried to do wouldn't work. And it was like the plug on my life-force had been pulled. I realised that it is not 'I' who lives, it is something from deeper within that calls the shots, and it was saying we're not going to let you carry on in that wilful way, we're going to fuck with you until you listen to us. And there was this deep, magical pull towards that other voice. 

Abdominal Surgery



At the same time, I felt like I’d had major abdominal surgery, and that I’d been brought about as low as I could be, to this faraway place. And after a few years I had a dream telling me to pursue shamanism - as well as something else, which was a trick dream that catapulted me out of my old life.

And since then there has always been this place within me that is a kind of dark wisdom, that I can forget about sometimes, but when I'm coming from there I am aligned with my life. It is the glittering eye of the ancient mariner. And in the last few years it's been happening all over again, but under Neptune's rule, and I'm still in the thick of it, so I can't say too much. But it's been like this overwhelming call that I haven't quite known what to do with.

Pluto with his hellhound
The classic story behind Pluto, who is Lord of the Underworld, is that one day he abducted Persephone, daughter of the nature goddess Ceres, who went into mourning and the earth went into permanent winter. Eventually it got sorted, but Persephone was by now Pluto's wife, and spent half her time in the underworld.

So this is a good way of understanding the shaman's illness. There is another side to life, beyond what is presented to us by society, and you can be taken there forcibly by the demands of the spirit, which has no regard for conventional niceties and sanities. And in a deeper kind of way, you grow up, move on to the next stage - as did Persephone, in becoming Pluto's wife.

A traditional society understands this ruthless dimension to Spirit. As Holger Kalweit writes in Shamans, Healers and Medicine Men: 

“The suffering and exhaustion that accompany a vision quest do not correspond to the mild and gentle style of modern psychotherapy. Westerners do not want to have to exert themselves to solve their problems.” (p102)



And Goethe understood what happens if you resist the call:

“And so long as you haven't experienced this: to die and so to grow, you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.”

So this initiatory journey that the shaman undergoes isn't just about acquiring magical powers under duress. I don't think it is like that. The main emphasis is on the development of psychological depth, in the sense of moving beyond the narrow, conventional self that tells us how to live, and whose rules are shared by the other members of society. That kind of living is 'normal', it gives a kind of psychological security to many people, and it is necessary for the stability of society.

But that ain't what the shaman lives by. No, he/she has another loyalty, a deeper loyalty, that is not to the rules and 'shoulds' of the tribe, but to the spirits, to the daimon, to the Otherworld, to the Jungian Self. And that other place to which we have our loyalty is more real, for it recognises that the world isn't what it seems, it is not to be taken at face value, for it is only one pole of existence, the other being the spirit world, and these 2 poles are profoundly interconnected. The world is not an absolute, it is fluid.

So it is this loyalty to the Otherworld that is the real qualification to be a healer - or whatever. It is the shaman's wholehearted response to the imperatives of the Otherworld and its values that make him/her a shaman. Once you have that new basis to your life - that look in your eye - then the spirits will allow you to be a healer, or require you to be.

Of course, this is a kind of ideal scenario, because we are human, and we fuck up, and sometimes people have real healing abilities who seem in other respects to be such messes.

But the principle remains, and it is the 'depth psychology' of shamanism referred to in the title. It involves a radical turning about, so that the guiding principle of our lives becomes not what society expects, nor is it based on our personal desires, but on a commitment to something beyond us, that also is us, and that is more real than a purely conventional notion of existence ever can be.

It is a completely different basis for living, and that is why the shaman's illness can take him/her to death's door: the conventional, which is so deep-rooted, has to die. It can almost be like I cannot continue to live like I have been, so how can I live? And the answer is there within, and always has been.
     
 


Saturn-Pluto and the UK's Ornery Mood

So the big astrological event for the UK in the next couple of years will be Saturn-Pluto in Capricorn opposite the UK Moon. This transit will also be part of the Brexit chart next year.

Economically, I think one meaning of this conjunction is the power (Pluto) of the big corporations (Saturn/Capricorn), and the struggle by national governments (Saturn/Capricorn) to contain these transnational beasts. Trump's taking aim at Amazon is a good example. The UK, now on its own, will be more vulnerable to these corporations: do what we say, or we'll take our business elsewhere. That may also mean we become a haven for them. But it may not be quite as simple as that.

Because politically, the UK is ornery right now. We were told to vote remain, and did the opposite. We were told to increase Theresa May's majority, and we did the opposite. And in both cases there was a desire for change. By the older generation and by the unemployed in the EU referendum. And by the young people who voted Corbyn in the recent general election. 
 
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Either way, we are pissed and we want something different. Add to that the Remainers who are pissed like nothing you have ever seen..... 
 
I think that politically, leaving the EU is going to be comparable to the end of WWII, when a radical government was voted in. People will feel grateful to Theresa May for steering us through troubled water, her enactment of a decision she did not vote for. But she will be out on her ear at the next election.

Right now, we are in the stormy unclear waters that you get in the middle of a Pluto transit. But underneath that is a deep desire for change, coming from all sides, as yet inarticulate, but ready to burst forth as we leave the EU harbour. Under the last Saturn-Pluto conjunction in Capricorn, Martin Luther nailed his theses to the church door and began the Protestant Revolution. Saturn-Pluto is the destruction (Pluto) of the establishment (Saturn), as well as its empowerment.

So watch this space. I think soon after we formally leave the EU next year, Theresa May will find her position as leader untenable. It's going to be a hell of a general election, there is so much waiting to be unleashed from all sides. And least of all will we want to be bossed around by the likes of Amazon and Google and Facebook. We are so not in the mood. And it may set a precedent for other countries.
     
 


The Chart for Brexit

This is the chart for actual Brexit next year, alongside the UK 1801 chart. Can we be astrologers about this, and not let our love or hate for Brexit interfere? For this reason it may be the most testing piece of astrology we ever do. There is unlikely to be anything so divisive again in our lifetimes. Will you be able to look your grandchildren in the eye and say, "I didn't let Brexit stop me reading the stars, because the stars are even more important than Brexit?"

CLICK TO ENLARGE
There will be a lot of Mars around: Mars conjunct the Desc in the Brexit chart; and Brexit Sun in Aries conjunct the UK Desc. And we will have recently emerged from a Mars Return, Mars being the ruler of the UK Desc. This gives a threefold message of a strong new start in foreign relationships, which if we are doing this thing, is what is needed. 

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Then look at the natal UK Moon, the people, at 19 Cancer: conjoining it will be the North Node, opposite will be the Moon, Saturn and Pluto. This a historic turning point. The UK will be starting to emerge from the dark tunnel she is currently in, as Pluto opposes her Moon, in which we no longer know who we are. Hence the minority government.

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But with Neptune opposite the MC of the Brexit chart, the theme of an uncertain direction may continue for some time, even though a new sense of national identity will be beginning to emerge. Moon-Saturn-Pluto are in the 2nd House of the Brexit chart, suggesting our sense of who we are becoming will have an economic base to it.

Scorpio Rising, along with Brexit Moon conjunct Brexit Pluto, and UK Moon opp Brexit Pluto give a threefold message of power. A claiming of a new power to live, which will be necessary.

The UK Progressed chart will be a few months shy of a Progressed Lunar Return, which stacks up the message of a new start for the people. And about a year shy of Prog Sun in Leo conjunct Prog Jupiter in Leo. Now there is a feelgood factor, a sense of self-expansion. Or maybe it's grandiosity? Take your pick.
     
 


Uranus-Pluto, Authoritarian Governments and Brexit

Xi Jinping
There is a worldwide shift towards authoritarian government: Putin has been at it for some time, and now Xi Jinping in China is making himself leader for life, his opponents having been silenced on corruption charges. Trump, of course, is an authoritarian personality, offering simple solutions to complex problems. There is Erdogan in Turkey, and the rise of the far-right in Germany. This is the outcome of the Uranus-Pluto square. There was the same political shift in the 30s, after the last Uranus-Pluto square. These 2 planets shake everything up, they bring in a new paradigm, and it leaves people deeply uncertain. And that leaves room for leaders who offer to supply the missing certainty.

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And what about the anomalous, Uranian UK? We seem to have moved in the opposite direction, from a majority party ruling the country up to 2010 when the square began, to an era of coalitions or wafer-thin majorities. We don't know who we are any more, we are living in a sea of uncertainty as opposing sides in both politics and in the population battle it out over Brexit. We still don't know what's coming next. I think the seeds of the new will become clearer in the autumn, as Pluto moves forward to make his final opposition to the UK Moon, having hard aspected the Angles, Sun and Nodal axis also in recent years. Those seeds will find expression over the following few years as Saturn conjoins Pluto. What a work-out. For now, we just have to accept Pluto's Underworld. More than that, embrace it. Pluto won't let you resign yourself to him.
 
I run into trouble over Brexit. And I think part of the problem is that I approach it psychologically rather than politically. It fascinates me that the UK chart has Sun/IC in Capricorn, and Moon/MC in Cancer. That is a huge emphasis along an axis, and to me it describes 2 personality types within the country, one of whom voted leave and the other who voted remain. It's simplistic, probably, but still very interesting to me. I voted leave, in a moderate kind of way, but I can see good reasons for voting either way, and the astrology seems to confirm that.

A friend who voted Remain pointed out that the prospect of leaving has brought up a lot of fear for people, because we don't know where we are headed. Of course, he is right, and one moment's consideration of Pluto opposing the UK Cancer Moon would have told me that. Cancer loves the European tribe to which we increasingly belonged, and I think it is grief as well as fear that they are experiencing. And being a water sign, that is why leaving is such an emotive issue.

I think the Capricorn Leavers need to recognise the depth of emotion that has been stirred up in the Remainers, and not expect them to just 'get over it'. It sets the lie to the stereotype of the cold Englishman, and is something Capricorns can learn from. At the same time, I think Remainers need to stay close to what they are feeling, instead of projecting it onto Leavers and caricaturing them as Little Englanders, racists, ignorant etc. It is very unpleasant to be on the receiving end of that kind of name-calling.
 
The Caricature
It's fascinating what Pluto brings up. The national psyche is on display. We are all engaged on an individual level, as never before, with what is happening in the collective, and will probably never see again in our lifetimes. And, here is a crucial point, Brexit is not about right and wrong. Pluto does not think like that: his concern is the necessity of change. As long as we think one side is right and the other wrong, we cannot understand the astrology, and we cannot understand what is happening.
     
 


Is Astrology Scientific? Causal vs Mythological Thinking


I don't know where to begin with this one. Astrology News Service, which claims to be sponsored by august bodies such as the American Federation of Astrologers and the National Council for Geocosmic Research, is rejoicing that more Americans think astrology is scientific than did a few years ago. It reminds me of the time the Sun newspaper took a poll of its readers as to whether Princess Diana had been murdered, as if those readers were qualified to make a judgement.

It's not just that. Anyone whose studies astrology quickly comes to see, in my opinion at least, that astrology is NOT a science, not in the modern, narrow meaning of the word. Nor are poetry and music and psychotherapy and a lot of other things.

That's why I said I don't know where to begin unpicking this one. Astrology sometimes needs saving from its friends rather than its enemies! Though personally I think those enemies can be a good thing, they keep us on our toes.

It would be interesting to find out what people mean when they say they think astrology is ‘scientific’. What they really mean, I suspect, is that they think astrology works, but science has such epistemological authority for them that saying astrology is ‘scientific’ amounts to the same thing. 1000 years ago they might have said they thought there was room for astrology in the teachings of the Church, and I can’t see there’s much difference in the two statements.


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I think what overlap there is between astrology and science is incidental, because their ways of thinking are inconjunct. Science is based on cause and effect and repeatability, along with an explanatory mechanism (except for the privileged disciplines of Evolution and Psychiatry). Astrology is based on sychronicity, "the experience of two or more events as meaningfully related" (Wiki). In this case, earthly events and heavenly events.

Astrology is not based on cause and effect, you could call it 'mythological thinking', it is how early people thought. They would, for example, see some unusual behaviour in nature and reflect that it must therefore have a meaning for them. (Source: Chippewa Cree friend). I think that the reclaiming of this way of thinking is potentially astrology's most important contribution to the world. Astrology in itself is a rather specialised and improbable subject that I don't think will ever be mainstream. But I love it :)

Like Bremainers and Brexiteers in the UK, and Democrats and Republicans in the US, astrology and science need to learn to live with each other. I don’t think, however, that it is an equal relationship: astrologers can understand how science sees the world, but science finds it much harder to understand astrologers. We need to be patient, even indulgent. After all, we see reality through all 4 elements, whereas science concentrates on Air and Earth as means of knowledge, it is limited. Its basic method tends to disregard Fire and Water as means of knowing and valuing. The proper place for science is that of a speciality within a more all-encompassing culture that includes astrology. Causal thinking needs to take its place within the broader context of mythological thinking. 
(First published 2014)
     
 


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