In ancient times, the planets and the gods were one and the same. They are the forces that govern our characters, and as a wise man I did not have the pleasure of knowing personally said, "character is fate". It pays to develop a good relationship with the planets. To that end, let me share invocations that I have written to each of the personal planets, plus Jupiter and Saturn.
O Sun! Fill me with warmth, energy, and creativity. Sustain me in my sense of individuality, purpose, and personal authority. Teach me to shine!
O Moon! Bring me nourishment, comfort and security. Help me to see that my basic emotional and survival needs are always met. Teach me to give and to receive, to nurture and heal. Help me feel what whatever I need to feel!
O Mercury! Make me alert, curious, and perceptive. Help me to learn, to experiment. Give me the discrimination to use my knowledge effectively. Strengthen my memory and my senses and clarify my thoughts. Give me the gift of clear expression and speech that heals!
O Venus! Show me the beauty in the world. Help me to sense my own value, and that of others. Show me that life is indeed good, and that it is worth living and sharing. Help me bring harmony into the world!
O Mars! Give me courage, vitality and strength! Show me what I truly desire and empower me to act boldly and decisively to claim what is mine. Help me to guard my boundaries and to direct my anger and aggression in a way that serves the highest good. May true power prevail over force!
O Jupiter! Make me sensitive to life's deeper meaning. Give me true faith, founded in deep wisdom! I won't take the rose-tinted variety. Bring coherence to my soul! Broaden my perspective! Extend my horizons! Show me that life is full of possibility! Make me so grateful that generosity rises from me like the scent from freshly-baked bread! Bring me understanding, abundance and grace! Help me to be a conduit for wisdom and justice.
O Saturn! Give me the patience to make something out of this life! Show me my limitations, provide me the vessel, the canvas, the foundation... be my rhythm section! May I always keep one foot on the ground, in your honor. Help me to see fear as an important message. Give me the discipline to follow through on projects, to keep my commitments, to sharpen my skills. Give me integrity! Help me to be a steward of my body and environment. Give me the satisfaction of true achievement!
Archetypes are multi-dimensional, multivalent and infinite patterns by which both human consciousness and the the universe organize themselves. They are multidimensional, meaning we can experience them internally, in the mind or emotions, or externally in the physical world. They are multivalent, meaning that the same archetype may express itself in a number of ways. For example, the Mother may present herself to varying degrees in one’s actual mother, in the Earth, the Church, the mothership, the Moon, milk, cozy spaces, a friend, one’s hometown. Finally, archetypes are infinite, meaning that no matter how many expressions one might identify, there will always be more. Archetypes also exist (if “exist” is even the right word) in an eternal realm, which transcends the everyday reality of time and space. We can never directly experience an archetype, except in mystical or extended states of consciousness. These invisible energies require an interface: an archetypal image. In pre-modern times, we knew these as gods and goddesses: living presences shaping our psyches and our world. But even though God has been pronounced dead, these presences live on in all of the infinite expressions of life.
Speaking in image and metaphor, the arts can help us feel the archetypes most directly. We will take a brief look at the archetypal field of Pluto through Mary Oliver’s poem, The Lilies Break Open Over the Dark Water. Pluto relates to death and rebirth, the Underworld, destruction and regeneration, the instincts, transformation, elemental power, nature “red in tooth and claw,” mass movements, the blind Will, etc. Fundamentally, Pluto embodies the primal urge to transform through an ongoing death-rebirth process, involving decay, putrefaction, or incineration, followed by a spontaneous, instinctive emergence of new life.
Everything in the universe, whether in the human mind or heart, in the backyard, the classroom, the office, the ocean, the Earth’s mantle, or the galaxy partakes of the Pluto archetype. Mary Oliver paints a vivid picture of this archetype at work in her poem. In blossoming, the lilies, are “simply doing, from the deepest spurs of their being, what they are impelled to do/ every summer”. These beautiful, luminous, sweet-smelling flowers emerge from a foul, dark pool of decaying vegetation: “that mud-hive, that gas-sponge/ that reeking leaf yard, that rippling/ dream-bowl, the leeches’ flecked and swirling/ broth of life, as rich/ as Babylon”. The structure of the short, progressively indenting lines, the driving pile-up of images, the association of life and fantastic richness with putrid water make one feel Pluto’s power as life-force, as beyond politeness, as spontaneous and inexorable, and as uniting life and death.
The speaker addresses a person watching the lilies from the shore, “trying/ to attach them to an idea”. But the Plutonian nature of things is inscrutable: “the lilies are slippery and wild — they are/ devoid of meaning.” As with everything in this ever-flowing universe, the lilies behave precisely according to their nature, impelled into existence by the force of life itself. This energy will not be pinned down and summed up neatly in a concept. And yet, “there you are/ on the shore,/ fitful and thoughtful.” The person addressed is in the midst of their own Plutonian process, in resonance with the processes of nature. Though they cannot attach an idea to the lilies, their own emotional process is as “slippery and wild” as the lilies themselves. Just as the lilies emerge every summer, so this person’s sorrow emerges naturally and spontaneously, of its own accord.
The Lilies Break Open Over the Dark Water provides a brilliant example of the multidimensionality of the Pluto archetype, showing it at work in the processes of both nature and the human psyche. And though we cannot exactly assign a meaning to the lilies, or to anything in Pluto’s realm, we can bear witness to this process as it unfolds both within ourselves and without.
There is value in accepting provisional truths, while knowing that our minds necessarily fill in the gaps, making certain things up. We do not need to get hung up on whether something is real or not, in the usual materialist sense. Obviously this steers us perilously close to solipsism– the world of “alternative” facts, our current scenario where different people live in entirely different worlds, though they share the same physical space. Rational people are rightly scared of this nightmare and tend to retreat from anything carries the whiff of it. But we are already living this nightmare. What, then, does it have to teach us?
It can teach us that reality is, in fact, partly an illusion. Mystics have said this for millennia, and neuroscience seems to corroborate the "hallucinatory" nature of perception. The question we must ask ourselves is, how do we hold this? To we cling ever more tightly to our beliefs, ignoring anything which doesn’t fit our picture of reality? Do we throw our hands up in the air and give up, determining that it really all is a big, meaningless mess (itself a belief)? Or do we embrace the possibility that something may be deeply true, though we can’t know it with the type of certainty to which we have become accustomed? That in fact, to dive more deeply into our exploration of the universe, we must be willing to accept certain truths, even if they are not "real" in an absolute sense? We do this every day, with every perception we have and decision we make.
I advocate the latter approach, though our habits prefer the former. The usefulness of scientific rationality has convinced us of the unreality of other modes of knowing. It gives us a pretty fair approximation of total certainty. We see symbolic/ metaphoric, mythic/ spiritual ways of knowing, because we cannot grasp nor use them in quite the same way, as outdated, inferior, childish and superstitious. Rationalists, believing in a strictly dualistic reality, cannot abide non-rational ways of knowing: if something is non-rational, it must be irrational, and if it is irrational, it threatens the foundations of rationality. This mistaken and rarely questioned belief underlies the modern world view, so masterfully exposed by Richard Tarnas in The Passion of the Western Mind, and by Iain McGilchrist in The Master and His Emissary.
To admit the possibility of a larger order at work in the cosmos, as well as in the human world, we must learn to make the distinction between faith and belief. It is no wonder we have hang-ups in this area, given the history of the West, with its legacy of religious persecution, divine vs. earthly, strict notions of good and evil, Original Sin for the Catholics, and the True Word of God for the Protestants, followed by a Scientific Revolution which turned all of that on its head. Thus we have firmly-believing rationalists, and religious fundamentalists.
None of this is to deny the incalculable value of science, which continues to offer us wonderful insights and gifts. But, in pre-modern times we were able to accept things as true on faith alone, without needing proof. We didn’t need to wrestle with the nature of consciousness, with ideas of metaphor and symbolism. Science, and its doctrine of doubt, require proof. But, as Richard Tarnas and others suggest, we may be at a time where we are called to adopt more subtle ways of engaging the cosmos, which are open to the multiplicity of reality, the value of different ways of knowing. We must learn to hold the tension and inherent ambiguity that arises between these types of knowing, which require an intelligent faith, and rational modes.
Literalism and fundamentalism are the acid-reflux of a diet to rich in rationalism. Our current cultural predicament, swimming in "alternative facts" reflects this. Some believe that more data and more rationality will save us. A belief. These do nothing to address the underlying emotional states that provide the foundations for our concepts. This belief further splits humanity: the rational, the irrational, and everybody in between. These underlying emotional states drive us to build systems that are self-proving, self-reinforcing.
What am I proposing? A mature faith, requiring intelligent, reflective people to accept things provisionally, even if they cannot know them with absolute certainty. These truths are metaphorical and symbolic and they speak directly. Crucially, to do this does not entail the overthrow of science. Entertaining such possibilities opens us to the potential of true healing and meaning: healing not as being “symptom-free”, but rather as a state of wholeness; meaning not as a literal dictionary definition, but as a deep recognition arising spontaneously from our relationship to all-that-is.
We can speculate about the possible correlations between the mythic/ spiritual realms and the scientific realms, though this is especially reviled by most hard scientists today. I humbly ask them to get over it, because this is ultimately good for the imagination, and imagination is key. To do this in a mature way requires an acceptance of the primacy of metaphor and symbol— recognizing them not as “fake”, “fluffy”, or inferior to rational, provable knowledge, but rather as the only possible way into certain dimensions of reality, offering the possibility of aligning us with a deep and mysterious order at work in the cosmos.
Consider the universe as a piece of music. What does a piece of music mean? Perhaps it’s meaning emerges mysteriously from some combination of physical law and cultural conditioning, the peculiar art/ science of music theory, but most of all from the spontaneous creative and receptive aesthetic impulse. Still, none of these statements compares with the lived experience of a piece of music. Sometimes, our approach toward understanding the universe resembles a person examining piano keys to try to penetrate the mystery of a song.
Or, think of someone you love. Now think of all the scientific explanations for love. Group survival instinct, neurotransmitters and hormones, etc. Does that tell you anything of the experience itself?
I am all for the continued advancement of science, particularly in explorations of human consciousness. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that it could ever bring us more deeply into the truth of things than a well-held symbolic, spiritual perspective, which also provides a place for the scientific.