Rick Archer: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of conversations with spiritually awakening people. We’ve done nearly 600 of them now. And if this is new to you, and you’d like to check out previous ones, go to batgap.com, b a t g a p, and look under the Past Interviews menu. This program is made possible through the support of appreciative listeners and viewers. So if you appreciate it and would like to help support it, there’s a PayPal button on every page of the site. And there’s also a page that explains other ways to do it if you don’t want to use PayPal or have any problem with it. My guest today is Richard Tarnas. Richard is a professor of psychology and cultural history at the California Institute of Integral Studies, my alma mater in my next lifetime, in San Francisco where he founded the Graduate Program in Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness. He teaches courses in the history of ideas, archetypal studies, depth psychology, and religious evolution. He frequently lectures on archetypal studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara and was formerly the Director of Programs and Education at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, where he studied with Stanislav Grof, Joseph Campbell, Gregory Bateson, Houston Smith, and James Hillman. He received his PhD from Saybrook Institute in 1976 with a dissertation on LSD psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, and spiritual transformation. He is the author of, I’m going to show the books here as I name them. He’s the author of The Passion of the Western Mind, the History of the Western Worldview from the Ancient Greek to the Postmodern, widely used in universities. His second book, Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World Order, received the Book of the Year prize from the Scientific and Medical Network, and is the basis for the upcoming documentary series, The Changing of the Gods. He is the past president of the International Transpersonal Association and served on the Board of Governors for the CG Jung Institute of San Francisco. So welcome, Richard.
Richard Tarnas: Thank you, Rick, for having me.
Rick Archer: Great to have you. What’s happening with that video series, documentary series?
Richard Tarnas: The documentary series Changing of the Gods, they’re in their final stages of editing. It’s a 10-episode series. And I know they’re going through the final polishing of editing, integrating the music and soundtrack to the kind of level that is appropriate for the public. They’re in their last stages. I think it’s going to be later this year, 2021, that it will be coming out.
Rick Archer: Good. And it will be what, on YouTube or on some pay per view?
Richard Tarnas: I think they’ve got a distribution. Honestly, because I’m not making the film myself, I’m not privy to all that. But I believe they’ve got a special way of making it available. Rather than going through Netflix, they have another kind of independent way of doing it that they’re very pleased about.
Rick Archer: Ok, should be interesting.
Richard Tarnas: If I could just mention one slight correction in the title for Cosmos and Psyche, the subtitle is Intimations of a New World View, rather than Intimations of a New World Order.
Rick Archer: Oh brother, it says New World View right here. That’s a Freudian slip if ever there was one.
Richard Tarnas: I only bring that up because, of course, a new world order very much brings back memories of certain American foreign policy imperatives that I didn’t necessarily subscribe to.
Rick Archer: No, I agree.
Richard Tarnas: I’m working much more at the level of philosophical, religious, and cosmological worldview.
Rick Archer: Yeah, it says View and my notes here. That’s such a, kind of a conspiratorial phrase these days, it’s kind of in the zeitgeist. So I just slipped up.
Richard Tarnas: Yeah.
Rick Archer: I was thinking, as I read, as I was telling you earlier, I’ve listened to 10 or 12 hours of your other talks and interviews and read quite a lot of things. I’m trying to sort of distill it down to what to me would be the most interesting things to talk about. And I want to make sure that you get to do the same and that we, between us we cover those aspects of your work that most inspire us both. One for me, which is a sort of a distillation, I think of what you’re trying to say in Cosmos and Psyche, and correct me if I’m wrong, is that consciousness or intelligence is fundamental to the universe, pervades it and can even be seen to comprise it, such that nothing is random, accidental, or arbitrary, and everything is infinitely correlated. So that’s one key point. Right? You agree with that?
Richard Tarnas: Well, I put it slightly differently. It’s definitely in that direction, in the sense of that we live in a kind of pan psychic ensouled universe, that it’s intelligent and spiritually informed and at some deep level conscious, though not every expression of the cosmos is equally conscious, as we all know. But I don’t think I would say that there’s nothing like random, accidental. I don’t think that we’re living out a blueprint that has every single detail predetermined. I think we live in an open universe and the cosmos is itself a continuing, as I understand it, a continuing, evolving creative act. And that creativity brings in a certain amount of unpredictability, it’s bringing together multiple movements, and infusions, and impulses in each moment of our consciousness as well as in every other part of the cosmic panoply of other consciousnesses. So there’s a certain amount of, there’s a play in the system. There’s a kind of creative unpredictability that is crucial, in my understanding, to the human adventure. If we were just living out a kind of predetermined structure of fate, that would be a less interesting adventure for sure. And even though I think there is a constant interplay between underlying karmic factors, underlying archetypal and cosmological structures, and evolutionary stages and so forth that take place collectively, as well as individually, there are all sorts of structures that we’re working within, but it’s more like jazz music, or rock and roll, or blues where you have certain formal structures, chordal structures, harmonic architecture as it were. And then within that larger architectural structure it’s up to us what melodies we sing, what dances we dance, perhaps the genres are, to some extent, shaped by our culture and our, the epoch we’re living in. But I deeply believe that there’s a certain element of human agency, of autonomy, of creative freedom. And that’s where our moral responsibility comes in, as well as the playful dimension artistically and so forth.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I completely agree with you. And when I say random or nothing is random or accidental or arbitrary, I concur with everything you just said. But it’s sort of like if man is made in the image of God, then I think both we and God are doing improv and that when Robin Williams did improv, he obviously had certain learning and experience and he spoke the English language. And so there were certain skills and traits that enabled him to do that. And yet, it was a fluid spontaneous thing and adaptable to what the audience, how the audience responded and so on. Even a random number generator, I would say, which by its very name is random, it functions on the basis of certain laws of nature, and the way computer chips are made. And if you get down deep enough in anything, you find pure intelligence permeating everything and orchestrating everything. But I don’t for a minute think that everything is predetermined or set in some rigid way.
Richard Tarnas: Right, right. I didn’t, I only was trying to
Rick Archer: Clarify those terms.
Richard Tarnas: Clarify in terms of my own, because it’s easy when bringing in whether you have a sense that there are stages or structures of the evolution of consciousness, or if you believe that there are karmic factors that work in human affairs collectively, as well as individually. If you believe that there are archetypal astrological factors that play a role in our lives, it’s rather easy to slip into a fatalistic or predetermined way of looking at it. And I wanted to kind of hold that dialectic or that tension of opposites between the creativity and the order that’s constantly at work or at play in our lives.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And you need both. You need certain stability and structure and order. And then also creativity. If you had all of one or all of the other, you’d either have rigidity or chaos, it seems to me.
Richard Tarnas: Absolutely. The Thomas Kuhn world.
Rick Archer: I was just thinking that as you were saying that.
Richard Tarnas: Yeah, one of his books is called the Essential Tension. And he’s recognizing, of course, his whole theory of the structure of scientific revolution is an interplay between normal science, which is more structured and you do your research and you do your thinking within the structure, the enduring structure of certain assumptions, certain frame of references that are passed on pedagogically and from scientists to students and professors, etc. But the great scientific breakthroughs, the innovations, whether it’s Copernicus or Darwin, or the tectonics revolution, whatever it happens to be involves a kind of Promethean creative act, a kind of revolution that takes place. And there has to be that creativity, that questioning. But if you just have nothing, if Copernicus or Darwin didn’t know their tradition really well, if Copernicus hadn’t really studied the science and history of astronomy from the ancients through the medieval period, he could never, his theory would have been a flash in the pan, but he was able to ground it in the tradition knowledgeably. And the same thing with Darwin. Same thing with Jung or whoever, they were working with that essential tension. Yeah. And if the established paradigms could be flipped with the arrival of every new bit of information, again, we wouldn’t have any stability or everything would be chaos. So there’s a certain value in there being resistant to anomalies, right? Then when the anomalies become overwhelming, they eventually have to shift so it’s kind of stability and adaptability, kind of counterbalancing each other, as I see it. And yeah, that’s perfect. And I think it was Kuhn himself who put it that the sign of a really powerful new theory is the degree of resistance that it gets
Rick Archer: Yeah.
Richard Tarnas: from those holding the old paradigm. Because if it were not seen as a powerful theory, then it would not gain attention.
Rick Archer: It wouldn’t be threatening.
Richard Tarnas: It wouldn’t melt the resistance or wouldn’t create the resistance. That’s something that somebody like Rupert Sheldrake, who I know you’ve also had on your series here and is a good friend, he, of course, met with tremendous resistance and has all these years pretty consistently from particularly both the British and the American kind of conventional scientific establishment. And I think that’s the exact measure of his cogency, and how well he knows both the tradition and the anomalies that he is coming up with a new hypothesis about.
Rick Archer: Since we’re on this theme, why do you think it is that materialists are digging in their heels so desperately? And why is it they feel so threatened by the suggestion that consciousness is fundamental and not merely a product of the brain?
Richard Tarnas: Very good question. And I think there’s a number of factors. To some extent it’s a matter of almost like typology. Some people have more, let’s call it epistemological armoring, more resistance to either new ideas, or new ways of framing their universe. Or they have more of a psychological investment in the theory that they’ve been working with all their lives. They may have a professional investment, they may have many professional papers written that take for granted the materialistic worldview. So,I think part of it can be seen as psychological, biographical, career, professional issues. But I think there are deeper things happening as well. I think materialism as it came into the ascendant in the course of the Enlightenment, for example, the European Enlightenment, the radical Enlightenment of the 18th century, in particular, more in France than almost anywhere else, but also in England to a great extent. And that mechanistic materialism offered a way of definitively holding the power of Christianity and the theological and religious practices and the power of the Vatican and all sorts of things that had been overthrown or certainly began. A revolution began very powerfully in the 15th-16th centuries, the Reformation. And then even the Renaissance was playing with it, to some extent, but particularly with the Reformation, it breaks into many different ways of enacting Christianity. But the power of the monarchical Catholic Church was at that point fragmented and much more free thoughts started coming in. And then you get the scientific revolution, which offers a way in which the European mind was able to agree on something while the wars of religion were tearing Europe apart. And so here was a perspective that would be available to anybody using their own empirical and rational capacities. Anybody could look through the telescope and see the results. All the different features of the modern scientific ethic offered a way out of the almost suicidal clashing of different forms of Christianity that was tearing apart Europe, so that was a factor. And then there’s the whole, really deep level of emancipation from the belief in hell, the belief that there is a cruelly judging God overseeing every action and thought, and that if you screw up, you can go have eternal damnation. And while the telescope and the Newtonian, Cartesian, and subsequent theories opened up a cosmos that seemed to eliminate the possibility that at the center of the Earth was hell, which was the medieval belief, as you can see, in Dante and so forth. And while it didn’t show the angels, and God out in the heavens, and certainly in any literal way, that’s the disenchantment there. Suddenly, the cosmos is seen as being just matter in motion, no deeper meaning, it’s not focused on the Earth. The divine order is not being expressed through the celestial, the divine intelligence is no longer being shone through the movements of the planets, and the Sun and Moon around the Earth with the Earth as the focus of divine and cosmic attention. It’s just suddenly the Earth is spinning out into a cosmic void. But at the great liberation of humankind, to be able to chart its own destiny, and to frame its future according to human values that took this life seriously. And that helped people let’s say, embrace their physical, their erotic existence, without guilt, or all sorts of things that were part of the Enlightenment’s attempt to liberate itself from what it saw as the oppressiveness of the church and the medieval period, and that the price that was paid for that, of course, was that by freeing our cosmology from our ontology like as in materialism, from there being no spiritual dimension that was being expressed through it. It freed the modern mind from one particular interpretation of the spiritual order of the universe, but in doing so, it seemed to eliminate the possibility of there being any spiritual order. It just erased the whole spiritual dimension as being anything other than the projection of human consciousness which itself was just an accidental epiphenomenon of the complexity of material evolution, which isn’t a very strong basis upon which to believe in spiritual values. And so we have both the crisis of modern spiritual alienation combined with the new freedom that was opened up by human beings living in an open universe that was not predetermined by an angry God.
Rick Archer: And we also have huge technological innovation and transformation of the world through that and destruction of the world through that. So do you think that we now may be, not only on the verge of, but in the midst of a transformation that’s as significant as the Renaissance, as the Scientific Revolution into something entirely, not entirely new, but perhaps something which incorporates the best of objective science with the best of subjective or mystical traditions?
Richard Tarnas: There certainly are many signs of something like that happening. And of course, depending on the interpretive lens that you approach the daily news with, or take in the zeitgeist, you can see signs of encouragement in that direction or signs of despair because of the spread of hatred or racism or the conviction that, or the power of corporate commodification of the environment, of human beings continuing at such a rapid pace. My sense is that the climate crisis, even to some extent the pandemic, but the climate crisis is, of course, the larger, looming epic destruction of the entire Sun azoic biosphere. And this level of destruction and extreme change that is being constellated for so many human beings around the world, and right in this very moment whether it’s social, it’s economic, it’s in gender, it’s in race, it’s in class, is all related to the larger Earth community and all the species that are being threatened or made extinct by our by human presence and industrial civilization, etc. There’s something like a descent going on, I think, in our time; a descent out of the previous confident, modern sense of progress, civilized progress through human reason, and perhaps through capitalism or through democracy, certainly. And all those convictions are now being questioned and reconceived and what do we want to preserve and what is so problematic that we might be destroying the foundations of our human future? There are so many signs that in a way, humanity is going through something like a spiritual emergency or what Stan Grof called a spiritual emergency, emergent (he was playing with the words emergency and emergence). You can also see it as being very much like a near-death experience. And we’re facing mortality on a planetary scale. We’re facing a deep deconstruction of our old identity, who is, what is the human being? We went from being the crown of creation to now many conscientious, thoughtful people look upon the human species as being the most problematic species on the planet that is causing the whole tremendous harm like a cancer or a malefic virus. And so, this deep questioning of who we are, of our identity, the physical suffering, the spiritual alienation, the facing of mortality, these are all classic signs of an initiatory rite of passage. All these things like Joseph Campbell or Eliade would have discussed in terms of structure of the great rituals that have informed indigenous traditional societies, archaic ancient mystery religions, and so forth. They had and have these initiatory rituals in which the individual is taken away from the collective, from the community, from the young boys taken away from the tribe, or from the mothers, and is put through a crisis in order to become a shaman. Or the whole generation of boys or girls are put through a transformational crucible of experience that’s quite intense that involves facing death, it involves kind of destroying one’s old identity. And out of that separation comes the possibility of, reek of connecting to the deeper purposes, and meanings, and forces that are at work in life and death, and in doing so it allows in the movement from the dying into the rebirth a coming into the world in a way that allows us to see ourselves as being part of a larger unfolding whole that we have a kind of mature responsibility for, like thinking seven generations, hence, instead of just the current quarterly profit report. You could say our modern society is to some extent constituted by people who have not gone through initiatory rites of passage transformations, and in some sense, are still locked into a very short-term adolescent mentality that is causing great, great havoc to the world. There are no adults in the room, or at least very few, at the level of the levers of power.
Rick Archer: Yeah, adolescent mentality is a good phrase. I’m lucky to have made it through my adolescence alive. And many people can say the same, and I sort of have the feeling that in a way all of humanity is kind of in its adolescence now, or we’re behaving like crazy teenagers. And hopefully, we’ll make it through this without killing ourselves. A couple other thoughts I just want to throw in there, and I’ll let you respond. One thing I’ve always found fascinating is that when you think back to any previous time the 1920s, or the 1860s, or the 1600s, or whatever, people living in that society just kind of took for granted the world in which they lived – it’s normal things are just like this – and they couldn’t really imagine how different things might be even in the not-too-distant future, much less 100, 200 years later. And I often think that about our world, and what changes might be just around the corner, or even 100 years from now that we’re not even conceptualizing, we don’t even foresee. Go ahead and riff on that before I say anything more.
Richard Tarnas: I certainly agree that there’s an acceleration of history that’s very tangible, we can all feel it. To some extent, time seems to accelerate as we get older. I’m sure you have the experience, not unlike me, that our birthdays seem to be happening every three months now, rather than the nice long year that used to separate when we were young. I think there’s also a collective acceleration of history that’s happening that even the young feel. And of course, our technology, not only the advance of technology, but even the very quality of our experience, let’s say as mediated by the computer, the internet, the digital media, social media, the rapidity of the images. If you turn on to watch a basketball game and the advertisements come on, the number of images and narrative shifts per 15 seconds is astonishing compared to what it was even in the 1960s or 70s. Things are definitely accelerating, which is not unlike what people have experienced. I worked for many, many years with Stan Grof. We both lived at Esalen Institute together and worked there starting in 73-74, and have taught together for some 40 years. One of the things I definitely learned from him is the importance of the perinatal process; the death rebirth level of the deep psyche that people seem to access when they go into deep self-exploration through methods that activate the deep unconscious, whether it’s by use of psychedelics or holotropic breathwork, or certain forms of meditation, etc. And one of the things that seems to happen in the later stages of the reliving your birth, you’re also encountering what feels like your death. Partly it’s the death of, you don’t quite realize it when you’re in the middle of it, but it’s the dying of the womb that you’ve been in; the dying of the old, the aquatic life that you’ve had in the prenatal state. And the unity with, not only the maternal womb, but really the sense of unity with everything, you’re in an undifferentiated unity with nature, with the great mother, with the universe. And suddenly, you’re being expelled and isolated in a quite overwhelming way. And as that process reaches a climax prior to birth, there tends to be a tremendous kind of acceleration like an increase of volume and intention. The famous, in the Beatles Sergeant Pepper album where they have
Rick Archer: A Day In The Life where the thing goes…[humming].
Richard Tarnas: Yeah, very powerful. It was something that George Martin, the great producer for the Beatles, put together at the suggestion, I think, of John Lennon. But in any case, that captures that sense of we’re moving up to a kind of almost unsustainable level of accelerated tension and that’s happening right now to a great extent. It’s combining with this feeling that I was pointing out before about how in initiatory rituals you’re the shaman to be, the boy that’s put out onto the ice in the igloo by the Northern American shamanic teacher, and is put into isolation for like an entire month, doesn’t get to see anybody, is just given a little water and a little food every once in a while into the little ice hut that they’re in. And they go through a lot. But during that, there’s something about our current condition that was partly constellated by the modern mind, which is to have a separated human consciousness from the cosmic community of subjects that we’re part of. In other words, we became the only conscious purposeful being in a vast cosmos that, to our knowledge, had no other conscious purposeful beings capable of meaning, capable spiritual, moral aspiration, and so forth. This conviction, which is part of the materialistic worldview, has created a deep sense of alienation. But it’s a gestalt, it’s a particular filtering out of a lot of data, and an imposition of a particular frame of reference on one’s experience. It represents a kind of archetypal complex in a way. And I think that complex is part of a larger process of unfolding, that there’s an initiatory unfolding of humanity. This is partly a conviction of faith on my part, of trust in the cosmos, of trust in my, of the deep psyche that we all, the kind of cosmic anima mundi that we all participate in. I think it’s also something that I am inferring from a lot of evidence. I think there’s a lot that makes sense to me, and it makes sense to a lot of other people too, that we seem to be almost being prepared to go through something that will create the possibility of a participatory, enhanced relationship with the larger community of being. That’s my hope. And it’s not a slam dunk ritual where all the elders are in the middle of it too, instead of the elders aren’t controlling it from outside the tribe, outside the initiatory ritual. We’re all in it together. And so we we’re just kind of seeing through a glass darkly.
Rick Archer: Yeah, one thing that might differentiate it from the initiatory rituals of traditional cultures is that in those, the young people going through the initiation rites knew that that’s what they were getting into. It was probably explained to them, okay, you’re gonna go out in this igloo, or you’re gonna go up on this mountain top, and you’re not gonna have any food or whatever, and they knew what they were up against. I think perhaps the whole society is going through such a thing now. And yet, the vast majority of people have no idea that that’s what they’re going through. So their preparedness or their ability to go through it is seriously compromised. A lot of people are having a real hard time of it.
Richard Tarnas: Yeah, we, in a sense, by having a society that has not had sacred rites of passage as part of it means that we can’t recognize the larger pattern that might be unfolding. And if you think about the fetus and the child, the little baby that’s being born, they haven’t necessarily had preparation either cognitively about what’s happening. Suddenly, this seemingly all-nourishing cosmos that I’ve been in all my existence is contracting, and it’s making things unbearable, and now it seems to be expelling me right out as if I’m the most negative thing and worthless. And all those feelings tend to get activated when people relive their births. That perinatal dimension is quite a powerful threshold of psychological and spiritual transformation.
Rick Archer: Have you ever relived yours? Has that ever happened?
Richard Tarnas: Yes. Yeah.
Rick Archer: I haven’t, but I was just curious. I can imagine it as you describe it. In fact, I was born by cesarean, so I didn’t have to go through all that.
Richard Tarnas: But even with cesarean, you’re…
Rick Archer: You’re all of the sudden, there’s bright lights and noise and yeah, getting spanked.
Richard Tarnas: Yeah, and there’s a tremendous sudden rupture of being and separation from the universe that you’ve been embedded in. So much depends on after that point, so much depends on the presence of the loving reception that you could get from your mother, from your parents, and family. There can be a kind of healing that can happen of that rupture to a great extent, but we still all have the birth at different levels of trauma inside us. And Stan Grof has done a brilliant job of showing how certain historical collective tendencies seem to be an acting out on a collective scale of perinatal anxieties, projections, impulses. I know your listeners, probably a good number of them will know of Grof’s work, and they can explore that there.
Rick Archer: Yeah. Okay, so let’s shift a little bit to, or maybe a lot to what you discuss in Cosmos and Psyche. I admittedly have never had a good head for astrology in any form. My wife is pretty good with Jyotish, the Indian astrology. I learned a lot in reading a good portion of your book. One thing that I got from it, is that, and you can use this as a springboard to say much more, but that the planets are not causative, and certainly not through some kind of gravitational influence or something like that. But rather, the whole thing is like this giant sort of coherent or synchronistic clockwork and what’s happening in the macrocosm just happens to correspond in certain ways with what’s happening on an individual level or societal level. You can probably clarify the way I’ve just described that, but that has very interesting implications in terms of what the universe actually is and how it’s actually working. So take it from there and elaborate a bit.
Richard Tarnas: Sure, yes. In terms of the clock metaphor that is sometimes suggested, when we see that it’s 2pm on the clock, the clock is not causing it to be two o’clock, it’s indicating it, it’s reflecting it. And from the astrological point of view is, it’s not that the planets’ positions are causing us to be a certain way, this person to be nice, and that person to be angry, or this person to have a bad week, or a year, whatever. It’s that, as Plotinus the great Neoplatonic, founder of Neo Platonism (probably the greatest of the ancient classical philosophers after Plato and Aristotle) described how he saw astrology work both against the skeptics, but also against those astrologers who believed in a fatalistic interpretation of the astrological correlations. And he said, the stars are like a script, a language that is written out in the heavens because everything in the world is full of signs. The whole world is pregnant with signs, and symbols, and meaning, and everything is interconnected. And then he says, as has been said, everything breathes together. And I love that phrase, ‘everything breathes together’ because it suggests a living animate universe that is kind of organically, spiritually meaningful all the way down. It doesn’t just start at a certain species, or with a certain complexity of brain organization or something like that, but that we, the human consciousness, the human brilliance and imagination, and spiritual aspirations are the universe’s consciousness and intelligence and spiritual aspirations, as expressed through us. We’re not separate from it, and in a way, this is a superior metaphor, this more organic one: everything breathes together. It’s superior to a clock metaphor because of course, the clock is very likely to be interpreted in a sort of Newtonian Cartesian manner, the clockwork universe that could be pretty mechanistic. You could have a deist interpretation of it where there’s God the clockmaker. But it’s a much more of a mechanistic metaphor than I believe the astrological evidence could support. The astrology suggests that we live in an archetypally meaningful universe in which the movements of the planets and the Sun in relationship, the movement of the Earth in relationship to the planetary movements and in relationship to the Sun, the Moon around the Earth, that there is a kind of unfolding of geometry of meaning that seems to be focused on this Earth in a certain way. Maybe not only on this Earth, but for those of us on Earth who have to kind of cultivate a capacity for what James Hillman calls the Archetypal I, like a capacity for symbolic discernment, for a kind of ear for the music of the spheres, so to speak. It’s just a kind of capacity for symbolic discernment that you would get if you were a good student of literature or of poetry or film. In some sense, astrology represents the need to bring together the sciences and the humanities in order to comprehend the geometry of meaning that’s unfolding, but it’s not that the planets are causing things to happen. They’re more, as I was talking earlier, they’re more like providing us with a sense of the great chordal structures that we all participate in with the world transits, and then each of us with our own birth chart, and we get our personal transits as the planets come into different relationships to where the planets were at your birth. We seem to carry certain archetypal potentials that, as it were, symbolized in the positions of the planets and Sun and Moon at our birth. We unfold those in the course of our lives. And it seems to me that that metaphor that I was describing or analogy earlier in our conversation, where it’s up to us what music we’re going to, what songs we sing, what dances we dance to these chordal structures that the planets are symbolizing. But I don’t think astrology is concretely predictive. I think it is archetypally predictive. It gives us a sense of the larger gestalts or frame matrices of meaning that these powerful, multivalent archetypal principles represent. Saturn and Aphrodite, Venus, Mars, etc., they each have their own kind of cosmos of meaning that has both shadow and light, profound and trivial expressions. It’s up to us how we express these.
Rick Archer: I like that phrase that the universe is breathing or something, was that it?
Richard Tarnas: Yeah, everything breathes together.
Rick Archer: Everything breathes together. As I see it, as I said in the beginning, the whole, we’re just swimming in an omnipresent ocean of intelligence, and that you can think of the universe as one, living, breathing being, and all these substructures being like organs and cells within that being, galaxies and solar systems and planets and so on. If you think of it that way, then you can’t possibly think that everything is just dead, insentient matter, and it’s like just billiard balls bouncing around – you just sort of have to see it as alive. And so it’s not a stretch to discern meaning in the movements of planets and their relationship to people and cultures and so on. It obviously takes a lot of study and thought to see the specifics of that meaning, but the fact that there could be such meaning is not a great leap of faith.
Richard Tarnas: Yes. And the cultivation of the capacity to perceive the meaning is a lifelong journey, in a sense. And I like Goethe’s, the German poet/scientist, idea that the development of certain organs of perception actually play a role, we require those organs to be able to perceive realities that we would otherwise be blind to. And so the reality that we know is a kind of co-created fruit of our attitude towards the world as well as the world’s revelation to us. They go together in a kind of mysterious, unitive way.
Rick Archer: Yeah, you quote Newton in your book as having exclaimed to God, I think thy thoughts after thee. I’ve often sort of liked the phrase that we are sense organs of the infinite, we’re kind of like organs of action of the infinite. Somewhere in my notes I have you here suggesting that, here we go: “The theory of a Copernicus, a Newton, or an Einstein is not simply due to the luck of a stranger, rather it reflects the human mind’s radical kinship with the cosmos.” In other words, ideas bubble up in the minds of receptive people when the cosmos wants them to be expressed given the stage of the development of that particular culture.
Richard Tarnas: Right. The individual who is kind of mediating the breakthrough for the culture is in some sense selected, as it were, by the unfolding universe to be the agent of this breakthrough, to be the expression it. And people or that person can have images and dreams or visions that kind of lead them forth, or they will meet certain people, or read certain books at just the right time that opens up a certain path that helps get them to the destination. It does seem to be a kind of mysterious process by which the universe is leading us, each of us, leading us forth to flower. I like Jung’s idea of individuation which is that each of us and this is also the case for the great scientific, or philosophical breakthrough, that each of us is on a journey of individuation by which Jung did not mean that we were just getting separate from the crowd and becoming an individual. That’s part of it. But he also had in mind that what we are doing ultimately is a good synonym for individuation is flowering. That we, and just as the redwood tree in my backyard, or the mallard duck that has just landed in the pond, they represent different flowerings of this same universal stuff. It’s becoming itself in its own way. But it’s not like your intelligence and mine and whoever’s listening to us, we’re not like potted plants in our separate isolated pots. We’re not, what’s Alan Watts’ term? We’re not skin encapsulated egos. We, each of us as plants as flowers, as in the universe has flowered in a Rick Archer way in you, and in a Richard Tarnas way in me, and in a Jane Austen way in Jane Austen. And each of us is planted in the soil of the Earth, not in a potted pot, where we’re all nurtured by the same cosmic soil and roots. And they’ve been inflected in particular ways for each of us, in ways that help us flower in our particular proper form that’s peculiar to us, that’s unique to our journey. We’re all expressions of this cosmic intelligence that you alluded to.
Rick Archer: Yeah. I love that quote from your buddy, Brian Swimme: leave hydrogen alone for 13.7 billion years and you end up with rose bushes, giraffes, and opera. To me, that is a beautiful reference to the fact that the universe seems to be a big, giant evolution machine. It has this evolutionary trajectory or impetus, and it just kind of keeps pushing and evolving forms more and more capable of reflecting and expressing the infinite intelligence at its basis, its essential nature.
Richard Tarnas: That’s right. Brian is great. We were kind of part of the philosophy cosmology and consciousness program from the beginning when I started it in 1994. Sometimes we co-taught courses together. We taught one called Radical Mythos Speculation. And in some sense, he has always represented that part of our graduate program that has moved from cosmos to psyche. And I represented the movement from psyche to cosmos because I came out of the depth psychology tradition, Jung, William James, Stan Grof, and others, and Hillman, were all major kind of teachers and influences. While Brian was coming more from the cosmos, the direct cosmological background. He got his doctorate in mathematical cosmology, but unlike many practicing scientists, he had an intuition that the universe was sacred through and through. And that his consciousness and our consciousness are expressions of an evolving, explosively creative universe, rather than the more conventional perspective that in a way he’s been kind of battling against for all his life. And his influences, of course, are Thomas Berry, Teilhard de Chardin, Alfred North Whitehead, and so forth.
Rick Archer: Yeah, to me, it’s just hiding in plain sight. Look at a cell under a microscope or even an inanimate thing under a microscope and look at or understand it really deeply. It’s just this marvel of orderliness and creativity and intelligence, and we’re just functioning in that, swimming in that, as I said earlier. But we take it for granted, just walk down the street and just look at all the grass. If you actually looked at a blade of grass closely enough, you’d be astounded at what you’re actually walking past.
Richard Tarnas: That’s right, that’s right, so much depends on whether we have eyes to see or not. I went through a kind of awakening to the natural world in a new way maybe 10-12 years ago, just starting to see the squirrel on the tree or the tree itself, and its leafing were carrying the same, that I also was coming out of the same evolving vitality. And that the fence lizard and the squirrel and the bird and I and you, we all have these four limbs, two of which are done this way with our arms forward and then the legs backwards. And the development of the cranium and all these different ways. Or the tree itself, and it’s reaching out with its branches, its limbs and the leaves to pull in the nourishment of the Sun and just starting to feel its vibratory living, ensouled presence and how I was kin. I was kin to everything there. That sense of kinship was so much more radical than I had had before that. One can easily as a philosopher or someone who’s interested in human culture and psychology and so forth, one can perhaps too easily think of, or just get focused on the human project. And suddenly, I was deeply, deeply interested in every stage of biological evolution and how homo sapiens as coming out of the primate lineage, and that the primates are part of the mammalian class that’s part of the larger vertebrate or chordate phylum who are close cousins in the next order over. I just found it as interesting now to know how I am related to the horse or to the hawk as I was to know how I was related to a certain cousin or uncle. It was just a whole other field.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And I think if we take it a step deeper, we could say we’re just as related to the rock or to the mud puddle or whatever. There’s a verse in The Gita which says, the sage sees the self in all beings and all beings in the self. I think that all beings in the self includes not only beings, but everything. Because the great sages described that everywhere they look, they see the self; they see the divine intelligence shining through the rock or the tree or the Sun or anything else they perceive. It’s all one wholeness; Brahman, if you will, and that thou art. We’re evolving toward that from a fragmented view to that holistic view.
Richard Tarnas: How would you say, in your own journey, that you kind of came to some of these deep realizations that you have, such as that you just shared?
Rick Archer: Well, I started meditating about 53 years ago, and I’ve been doing it two or three hours a day ever since. I’ve also been thinking about it, and talking about it, teaching about it, and just kind of dwelling on it. I think there are two steps to spiritual development: one is experience, and the other is understanding. And they kind of complement and supplement one another. That’s the project I’ve been on for most of this life.
Richard Tarnas: I think that you’ve highlighted something that’s so important which is a practice. To have had, to sustain a practice that long, to be faithful to it. It makes certain things possible that aren’t possible with a momentary revelation as powerful as the revelation might be, to be able to ground it, embody it, bring it into your life, it takes a longer journey. Were there any particular books or teachers or circumstances that kind of set you on your path?
Rick Archer: Yeah. Well, first of all, in the summer of ’67, I took LSD for the first time, and that was a revelation just to see for many reasons that you understand. But also to just understand the perspective that, whoa, the world isn’t the same for everybody. It’s very different for each person. And so, the name of the game seems to be to actually change the way you perceive it, not just to change the world. I was reading Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert’s Tibetan Book of the Dead interpretation that night and trying to figure out what Bardo we were in and stuff. But anyway, I stayed on that track for about a year and ended up messing myself up and dropping out of high school a couple times and getting arrested a couple times. And after that, one night I picked up Zen Flesh, Zen Bones by Paul Reps, you may remember that book. And it’s like, three in the morning, I’m reading this book, stoned on something rather. I thought, wow, you know, these guys are really serious, and I’m just screwing around. And if I keep on like this, I’m not gonna live very long, or it’s not going to go very well. So I thought, that’s it, I’m gonna quit drugs, learn meditation, and I learned Transcendental Meditation, and see what happens. So I did and right off the bat it was very beneficial. My life changed quite dramatically very quickly. Soon I was back in college and getting a job and I was a teacher within a couple of years. And I just carried on ever since. But it hasn’t been a great heroic discipline or anything because the experience was always so gratifying, particularly in contrast to what I’d been through. Each sitting of meditation has been blissful and rejuvenating for the most part, and it’s just been this progressive incremental growth over the years.
Richard Tarnas: That’s great. What a blessing. I think that you could see how other contemporaries of yours could have had some of the same experiences and then gone on a different path.
Rick Archer: Some did. Some died.
Richard Tarnas: Yeah. Yeah. And so to have had, whether it was the karma or the grace that would kind of intervene in that way, and have you read a certain thing at a certain time and get a certain awakening. And still, you had to act on it still, you had to. But I think the deep psyche, our deep soul, the spirit, the cosmos, however we want to think about it, the divine, it gives little signals that we can be alert to. Some of those signals could come in with the power of Paul being knocked off his horse on his way to Damascus, but others are more subtle and you have to pay very close attention to this subtle music that you might have easily missed, but then you kind of listen carefully and tease it out and follow it. I think, again, it’s a relationship. It’s a relational back and forth between you as an individual consciousness and the whole that is calling you to connect with that in some deep way. It’s a kind of, it’s a journey.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And there’s always been a sense, in varying degrees of clarity, but kind of ever ascending, that it’s not just about me and what I can do to make myself happier. It’s more like, how can I serve, how can I be, Lord, let me be an instrument of thy peace. And very palpable, sometimes that there’s some kind of cosmic role to play, some sort of evolutionary role to play and that there’s a deep gratification in playing it. I know you feel that same way. I’ve heard you talking about writing your books and the other books you have in you, and you feel like you need to sort of get them out while you’re still able to. There’s definitely a sense of what can I contribute to the evolution of the cosmos or to humanity in what you’re doing.
Richard Tarnas: Right, yeah. It’s almost more important than food. I mean, just to be able to attend. In fact, I too often postpone or suppress my hunger feelings because I’m so into what I’m writing about, or reading, or thinking about that I actually have to remember to keep the physical side of me attended.
Rick Archer: That’s great, yeah.
Richard Tarnas: Nourished as well. I’m just curious. You’ve had, I know, a good number of the people that you’ve interviewed over the years thinking about, you mentioned Stan Grof. And of course, Rupert Sheldrake who I saw you do not too long ago.
Rick Archer: Maybe a couple years maybe.
Richard Tarnas: Yeah. And I’m curious, as you look back upon all of these many interviews, are there any that sort of stand out as being especially illuminating, exciting, unexpectedly brilliant? Or anything that you can recall out of your vast library of interviews?
Rick Archer: Oh, I hate to show favoritism.
Richard Tarnas: Right. Right. Yeah, I know what you mean.
Rick Archer: If you look on the BatGap past interviews menu, there’s one for most popular interviews in terms of the number of views on YouTube. And there’s some good ones in there. That wouldn’t necessarily be the way I would rank them, but that seems to be what appealed to the most people. But remember in high school where you watched movies about amoebas, and you’d see this amoeba sort of going along, and there’d be a little particle of food, and it would kind of engulf the food and digest it and then they would go after another particle? I kind of feel like I’m an amoeba, and each guest is like a new particle of food. There’s just something enriching, it fills new chinks in my, new gaps in, or enlivens new areas in my understanding and experience to kind of dive into the world of each new person that I interview and immerse myself in it as much as I can over the course of a week and then have a conversation with them for a couple of hours. There have been a number of them, and a number of them have become very good friends. I’ve just formed this network of friends around the world that I never would have met if I hadn’t been doing this.
Richard Tarnas: Yeah, that’s great. It’s a very, it’s such an enriching thing personally, I can imagine for you. And I think there’s something that…
Rick Archer: Well, think of yourself teaching college all these years and all these wonderful students that you’ve interacted with. I’m sure that they’ve enriched you as much as you’ve enriched them. Not that I’m in a teacher-student relationship with the people I interview. It’s a different dynamic, but similar principles.
Richard Tarnas: Yeah, yeah. In my case, they’re graduate students, doctoral and master’s students. But over these 30 years it’s definitely like Heidegger said, the teacher is the person in the room who is learning the most.
Rick Archer: Yeah, exactly.
Richard Tarnas: Stan at Esalen would invite each, he would have twice a year for a month he would have these month-long seminars where he would invite people like Fritjof Capra, or Houston Smith, or Anne Armstrong, or Jean Houston, or David Bohm, Rupert Sheldrake, and so forth. And maybe there might be a half dozen really great teachers that would come in each month. And so yeah, there was just such, you’re just constantly being enriched by this exchange of new ideas.
Rick Archer: It’s such a blessing for you to be able to hang out there for as long as you did, so immersed in it. Boy, what an experience.
Richard Tarnas: Yeah, that was a great blessing. And it was just totally, I had read, when I was an undergraduate at Harvard, in the late ’60s, I’d read an article in the Harvard Crimson, the headline was, After Harvard, Esalen?
Rick Archer: Yeah, you took off the question mark.
Richard Tarnas: I think I might have been the only person who read it that actually went to Esalen and stayed there. But, it was really my graduate school. And I took in as certainly as much as I received in Cambridge, I received in Big Sur over those years, but in a totally different way. One thing I appreciate about your deep dive into each person you’re interviewing, where you just immerse yourself for a week or two in their writings, their interviews, and so forth, is that I can imagine that you come away from that week, and then the conversation itself, with a sense of just that your soul has been expanded and enriched in a deeper way than if you just read one book, or had one sustained conversation. That can be a lot, but it’s different. I know that my life has been greatly changed by whoever, whatever thinker that I was being deeply inspired by to kind of read everything. I read everything that Tolstoy or Dostoevsky ever wrote, or it could be Jung or it could be Charles Taylor for me right now these days. And it’s just such an illumination that you get by having that deep dive rather than a shallow exposure.
Rick Archer: It stretches you. I remember last summer I interviewed Donald Hoffman, you probably know Donald. And anyway, he’s a fascinating guy, very brilliant. I spent a whole week just kind of like walking in the woods for a couple hours every day listening to talks that he was giving and then reading his stuff in the evening. I felt like I really had to stretch to understand what he was saying. My head almost hurt at one point because I was just really stretching to get this guy, but by the end of the week, I felt like I got it. I understand what he’s saying. We had a great conversation. It really, like you were saying, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, reading all these people, it stretches you. I took a writing program years ago, ’85 or so, and they say if you want to be a good writer, read Shakespeare, read Dostoevsky, read the great writers, and it sort of, it seeps into you.
Richard Tarnas: Yeah, yes. I’ll teach a course or a class or give a talk or a workshop once a year to my students called The Art and Discipline of Writing. I think it’s really because we’re particularly trying to cultivate in the people that are studying these ideas, also the ability to articulate those ideas in a way that the intelligent general public can hear them and understand them. So not to write just for within the jargon of a narrow academic specialization, but rather to reach a wider audience.
Rick Archer: I think that’s actually in a way an advantage for me in that I don’t have an academic background. I don’t have a really extensive education. I can kind of serve as a step-down transformer, in a way, in talking to some of these people, an intermediate between a general audience and somebody who is a heck of lot smarter than I am.
Richard Tarnas: Yes, but your point of how important it is to study the masters of the art that you want to become good at. I like the idea of Jane, if you read Jane Austen’s language, it’s so amazing. I remember John Kenneth Galbraith said that he always read some Jane Austen just before he began his days writing.
Rick Archer: Prime the pump.
Richard Tarnas: Yeah, it’s just that she has such a mastery of language, a clarity of thought, and every single word is perfectly chosen. Each sentence fits into the paragraph, each paragraph into the larger chapter. It’s got that kind of intelligence that if you take it in each morning, just read a few pages before you start. It helps to cultivate similar capacities in oneself.
Rick Archer: Yeah, you entrain with her intelligence.
Richard Tarnas: Right.
Rick Archer: There’s a saying, that to what you give your attention grows stronger in your life.
Richard Tarnas: Right, right, which is something to keep in mind if one might be tempted to binge watch something that’s not particularly high quality. That would be important. Also, there’s the problem of we need to face the shadow side of existence and of our own shadows, and at the same time, not get swallowed by it. Nietzsche talks about that, how you can gaze into the abyss too long and it can kind of swallow you. It takes a certain balance, discernment about how to open oneself and attend to the sides of existence that we might not really, that we don’t want to see. Yet, at the same time, to not become swallowed up by it, where you lose the capacity for hope, to have that larger kind of healthy balance of life.
Rick Archer: Well, if you take a handful of mud and drop it in a glass of water, you pretty much muddy up the water. But if you drop it in a bucket, then you don’t muddy it so much. If you drop it in a swimming pool, then you don’t muddy it so much. If you drop it in the ocean, it just dissolves. So I think that while exploring the shadow, we need to, at the same time, move in the direction of oceanhood in terms of our consciousness,
Richard Tarnas: Yes.
Rick Archer: in terms of our awareness. Then we’ll be able to dissolve this stuff and not have it pollute our psychology.
Richard Tarnas: That’s right. Yeah. I was thinking about a Rumi poem the other day where he talks about not only are we the drop part of the ocean, but the ocean is in the drop. We’re not just in the ocean, the ocean is in us. We’re the whole and that’s why when one does deep meditation or has a certain kind of revelatory, psychedelic experience or something like that, one can enter into, one feels that one is entering into the cosmos itself. You’re not just inside your subjectivity.
Rick Archer: One way of putting it is God is in everything and everything is in God. I want to do an abrupt gearshift here because there’s this British philosopher named Jules Evans. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him. And just yesterday or the day before he sent out an email. I’m on his email list, a newsletter in which he sort of said that he has been a secret astrology believer for years, but he’s having some real serious doubts. And he mentioned you in the article, and in a complimentary way as sort of the intellectual of the astrology world. I emailed back and forth with him a little bit, and he wanted me to ask you a couple of questions. So I’d like to ask a few, kind of more skeptical questions about astrology for the sake of those who might be feeling skeptical. One thing he said, there’s so many books explaining how astrology is supposed to have this, you’re able to interpret it this way, and it’s able to predict that or whatever. But he feels there’s a paucity of information about how it’s actually supposed to work. And the way he put it, and we’ve already kind of covered this, but we can cover it again a little bit, “does he really think these giant rocks emanate particular energies over particular areas of our life? If the universe, God, were so intelligent, why would it bother making one rock represent love, another rock represent communication?” and so on. Why would, and then in a related thing, why would God put our fate on the lines of our palms? And are these planets supposed to be alive, to be gods? I think that was the original idea. And the entire system is founded on the fact that the constellation of Libra looks a bit like a scale, and someone thought Mars looked angry because its soil contains a lot of iron oxide which is red. So you can see where he’s coming from.
Richard Tarnas: Sure.
Rick Archer: How would you respond to those things?
Richard Tarnas: Well, there’s a lot packed into that. One thing I would point, I like Rudolf Steiner’s idea that everything physical, everything material in the universe is an expression of a spiritual being. There’s a spiritual dimension to everything. Rupert Sheldrake has a whole line of thought going about is the Sun conscious, which is a very interesting question given the physics of it, and the complexity of it and so forth. I don’t myself have a kind of x-ray vision into what, I’m not a clairvoyant to be able to see what is it about Mars or Venus or Saturn or Neptune that has this relationship to these great archetypal principles that can be experienced as gods and goddesses as they were by the ancients. Or as kind of Platonic universals or Platonic archetypal ideas, cosmic principles, as Plato would have seen them. Or as Jung sees them as these deep psychological principles that are part of the collective archetypal unconscious that is actually embedded in the material universe as well and isn’t just human. What is it about the planets that they can be correlated with? I think it has to do with we all have a sense that the heavens are numinous. I think even the most disenchanted astronomer who, nevertheless, passionately goes to the next full solar eclipse because there’s something, they’re pulled by the power and beauty and the kind of cosmic magnificence of it. Anytime we watch a dawn or a moonrise or a sunset, or see an extraordinary, like a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter and the Moon in the sky. There’s something numinous about it. We sense that there’s more going on than just rocks that are reflecting light. Or there’s the human response to it needs to be attended to, that that’s not coming out of nowhere. The idea that those are just rocks up there is to some extent, an abstraction from our full experience. And I think of astronomers and mathematicians as being, in some sense, serving at the altar of the cosmos. They’re drawn to it, they might not put it in explicitly spiritual terms, but they often do. The sense of wonder, the sense of mystery, the sense of this has a spiritual meaning for me. I think even the disenchanted mechanistic scientist is, in some sense, serving an ensouled cosmos. Taking matters seriously is an important part of our evolutionary journey, because part of our evolutionary journey was to go through a differentiation where we took just the spiritual as being important. The material was seen as being nothing but illusion or something to be transcended as soon as possible, or it’s a valley of tears where we’re being morally tested, but the only thing that counts is the afterlife and so forth. I think in some ways the evolution of human consciousness has entailed a reconnecting to the value of the material world, of the physical, natural world, which our indigenous societies from the ancient past, but also of the present, have been carrying that capacity of experiencing the value of this life and this in the natural world, but in an ensouled way. I think astrology is carrying that deeper, longer-term human intuition that the universe has both a physical and a soul dimension, a spiritual dimension. And why wouldn’t the universe, in its incredible intelligence, be willing to give us indications of its meaning. We have the word meaning, that’s a tricky word like what does meaning mean? Well, one of the things that meaning means is that something means something, someone, some conscious intelligence is signifying something, is communicating something, I mean this. And if we live in a meaningful universe, then the universe is a universe that is communicating meaning, and it can communicate it through the movements of the planets, through the cycles of the Sun and the Moon. It can express itself through its meaning, through the patterns of animal movements, of the birds, that the Native American can read. Life is telling me something right now, this is how, and the people who can read palms or tea leaves or whatever. Everything in the world is full of signs. The universe is symbolic through and through. It’s pregnant with meanings and purposes. So that being said, it is still an astonishment to me that astrology works. It’s a daily revelation of wow, that the universe, in my book, Cosmos and Psyche, I kind of packed in countless synchronicities, basically of patterns that are quite compelling, both in terms of convergences of very similarly patterned events in many cultures across the world at the same time, but also in diachronic ways according to, in coincidence with the cycles of certain planets as they come into conjunction or opposition. All of those represent a kind of a revelation of the universe’s deeper intelligence and spiritual and ensouled depths. That it is using the movements of the planets in relationship to the Earth to at this point to help awaken humanity to the fact that it’s embedded in an intelligent cosmos that cares about the Earth and that cares about each human being on it, each being honored, each moment is in some sense a focus of cosmic meaning. I think that’s a deep message and it’s similar to what happens in human life when we have experiences at major, critical thresholds of our life like facing death or births or moments of great spiritual transformation, synchronicities tend to occur. Meaningful coincidences seem to converge with an unusual potency, both in number and in quality. Those synchronicities seem to kind of accelerate like communications from the deep psyche to, I think of them as helping to orient us and to remind us that we’re not alone in a certain way. But, in terms of the astrological, Jung called astrology, it’s synchronicity on a grand cosmic scale in some sense, it’s one way of looking at it. And why would synchronicities be coming in to the modern mind that has been living in a disenchanted universe for the last several hundred years? Well, it could be that the modern mind is going through a critical threshold in which it, in some sense, needs to awaken out of its slumber of feeling that it lives in a disenchanted, mechanistic universe of just rocks and gaseous planets and so forth. And instead, that we are participating in a magnificent and a magnificently intelligent, spiritual mystery.
Rick Archer: Yeah, beautiful. One way I come to terms with all this is to take Rupert’s question, “Is the Sun conscious?” and rephrase it slightly to say, the Sun is consciousness, everything is. Everything obviously seems to have a material existence to it, but there’s a range from the gross material through various subtler strata, down to pure consciousness or pure intelligence. Now, that’s all-pervading, but then things arise as forms in specific locations. And whenever there’s a significant form like the Sun or Neptune or anything or even a small insignificant form of wildflower – it’s not insignificant, but a small thing – it’s not only what meets the eye on the surface level, but there’s a whole range of subtler levels to its existence. Intelligence permeates and orchestrates that whole range and exists in its purest state at the foundation of it. But I’m getting a little long-winded here. You could say that every gross form has a subtle counterpart or a subtle body, and a significant form like the Sun, and even flowers. They say that there’s a flower Deva, or something that’s in charge of that flower. But a major thing like the Sun or a planet would have, it seems to me, a rather powerful or profound subtle body. So you can kind of actually get back to understanding why the ancients thought of these bodies as gods, the Sun, the Moon, all these different things. Obviously, it’s just the Sun is a fusion reaction and the Moon is a big hunk of rock and so on. But on the subtler levels, we could just take this as a conjecture or hypothesis, on subtler levels there could very well be an intelligent entity as it were, that is embodied within that gross form. If that’s true, if we think of it that way, then it might help to understand astrology better because we have all these powerful, intelligent entities sort of doing a dance around us and being reoriented in relationship to us. I don’t know if we want to get back to thinking that they’re influencing us or that the whole thing is just part of a larger sort of clockwork and we’re part of the dance too, but it’s easier perhaps to see how their positions relative to ours might be significant.
Richard Tarnas: Yes, I think what you’re talking about in terms of maybe the subtler levels, they are much more than just these material objects. There are modes of consciousness that I think ancient humanity had easier access to, and that some of us can access in nonordinary states of consciousness. All of us can when given the grace to have that kind of an epiphany. We can experience them that way, it’s a type of empiricism, it’s not like only conjecture. It can be a felt experience in quite a vivid way. So yeah, I can sympathize with your friend’s state of questioning, even though he’s drawn towards the, it seems like he’s been drawn very much towards, something about the astrological disclosure has been drawing him for a long time.
Rick Archer: Yeah, he’s been into it for decades but he’s just beginning to, he’s going through this period where he thinks, yeah what have I been doing this for?
Richard Tarnas: Yeah, well, I think it was kind of the reverse sequence for me but with, for both Stan Grof and myself, even though at Esalen just about every imaginable esoteric, spiritual, mystical path and discipline and perspective was being taught at one time or another during the years we were there, but astrology seemed like kind of the last one that we were thinking we would take deeply seriously. But we were working on a particular, many philosophical and scientific breakthroughs take place when you’re dealing with a problem, and you’re trying to come up with a way of meeting that problem. In our case, the problem was in the area of psychedelic therapy. Different individuals could take the exact same substance, the exact same dosage level and have radically different experiences. In the case of LSD, it could be one person could be in heaven, the other person could be quite literally in hell or, and everything in between. And that person can have an existential, desperate panic attack while another person is experiencing being nourished by the exquisite beauty of life that suddenly he or she can see. Both Stan and I were questioning is there any way that we can get some intimation of how a person might respond in advance because the stakes are high if you’re working with a patient population, how they’re going to respond to these powerful substances. But none of the standard psychological tests like the Rorschach or the Thematic Apperception Tests, the TAT, or the MMPI – none of them had any predictive value for understanding either how two individuals might respond to the same substance, but nor the same individual at different times. Because as you know, you can have a very different experience three months from now or a year from now than the one that you had today using the same substance in the same dosage level. So someone at Esalen, in one of our workshops or it was actually one of Stan’s month-long seminars, who was an artist, but who had studied astrology for many years said in his experience, people’s ongoing daily life experience as well as major crises and breakthroughs and so forth, the timing of those seems to correlate with where the planets are relative to where they were at a person’s birth. And he convinced us enough to be where we learned how to calculate the birth charts and calculate transits. We had very good records for our own LSD sessions as well as we had, Esalen was such a kind of living laboratory of people going through transformational experiences that we just had so many, we had such a great database to draw on. We did the calculations and then we looked at the astrological textbooks about what kinds of experiences are likely to happen under this transit versus that transit. The correlations were so consistent and so impressive that it made us start studying it more systematically until we came to realize that this was like, as Stan said, archetypal astrology is like the Rosetta Stone of the human psyche. It allows, it provides us with a way of reading the deep, it connects the deep unfolding geometry of meaning of the cosmos to the archetypal language of the human psyche in a way that allows us to track both our own kind of lifelong dispositions, but also our ongoing shifting archetypal dynamics of our lives and also to see it at the collective level. That’s the thing that the Changing of the Gods documentary series is going to focus on, is the collective historical level, what was going on in the ’60s? And why is there so much, such a close relationship between what happened in the ’60s and what’s been going on recently over the last several years? And how does that connect to the French revolutionary epoch, and so forth? So yeah, we found that the collective or world transits were extraordinarily important for understanding even psychedelic experiences, too.
Rick Archer: If you think of it when that documentary series comes out, let me know and I can provide a link to it on your BatGap page.
Richard Tarnas: Okay, that’s a good idea.
Rick Archer: Here’s a couple of questions I came up with that I’ve just been wondering about it. If we send people to the Moon or Mars and children are born there, would we be able to devise astrological systems to suit those locations?
Richard Tarnas: Well, of course, it’s all speculation, but on the basis of what we see on the Earth, the location on the Earth seems to play a role. For example, I was born in Geneva, Switzerland, and at the time, and it was pretty close to noon, all the planets and the Sun and Moon at that point were positioned in a certain way relative to the horizon. But if I’d been born right at that exact same moment, same day, but in New York or in Johannesburg, I would have a whole different. I mean, many things would be the same, the geometrical alignments of the planets relative to each other would be the same, but relative to the horizon of the Earth and the vertical axis, they would shift depending on where you were on the Earth. Those changes are visible in terms of the correlations. A person who has a planet at the midheaven tends to have certain archetypal energies related to that planet a little more. They express themselves in certain, often very public ways, or in ways that are more related to one’s work in the world, etc. The reason I bring this up is that if we were to imagine someone born on another planet, we would have to be measuring the planetary positions, the other planets, and the Sun and perhaps multiple moons if you’re dealing with Jupiter or something like that. You’d have to measure that according to the relative positions to that place on Jupiter or on Mars. Then there’s the whole question of the Earth seems to have a certain character. It’s gotten the rebirth of the name Gaia over the last half century and even a certain quality. One of my other colleagues, Sean Kelly, is just publishing a book on coming home to Gaia, and a kind of emergence of a planetary consciousness seems to be happening in certain ways, which I see as part of this initiatory rite of passage and death rebirth experience that we’re going through. But would living on Mars have a different meaning? Would your foundation be different because it’s Mars rather than the Earth? I would think so, but I couldn’t, it’s all speculation. I think it’s an interesting question, but not one that I have the slightest sense that I would, could give an authoritative answer.
Rick Archer: Yeah, we’d have to be speculating. But I would think that every planetary system in the universe, if astrology is valid, would have its own astrological system based upon the configurations of the star or stars and planets in that system. By the same token, it would almost seem that perhaps galaxies, or clusters of galaxies, or super clusters would have their own astrologies that correlate with events in their respective time and distance scales.
Richard Tarnas: Yeah, that’s right. Yes, and it could be entirely different structures of meaning, just completely. Terence McKenna used to say that the search for extraterrestrial intelligence out in the universe by tracking radio signals is like trying to look for a good Italian restaurant out there. Why radio signals? It could be many different ways in which other intelligences in the universe might want to communicate or the way in which they communicate. I think we have to keep a pretty open mind about what’s out there.
Rick Archer: Yeah. All right. So let me ask a final question. And maybe I could get you to prognosticate a little bit. We’re all wondering what the world is going through, and where it’s going to end up in 5, 10, 20 years. You and I are 71. And, if we’re lucky, we might live, real lucky, we might live another 30 years. So how do you see things going both in terms of your understanding of history and the changing, changes of cultures throughout history? And in terms of your understanding of astrology, putting those together, do you have any ability to sort of prognosticate a bit about the coming decades?
Richard Tarnas: I can see in terms of the current decade that we’ve just entered in to that we’re coming out of a very powerful and challenging Pluto Square Uranus in the sky. It’s the first alignment of what we call dynamic or hard aspects since the 1960s of the same two planets from ’60 to ’72 or so when they were in orb, as we say, in range of an exact alignment that correlates with these archetypal expressions in human life. It’s like these big archetypal waveforms seem to come in during certain alignments of the planets. And we’re right now in a quite a dramatic transitional stage involving three of the planets Saturn, Uranus, and Pluto, and all in hard aspect. It’s a critical time. These are typically transits when crises tend to happen. It’s volatile with tensions of opposites. There are like volcanically intense evolutionary pressures, pressing for the radical reconfiguration of all life structures. That’s basically the way to summarize kind of what we’re going through right now in terms of the world transits. But what’s interesting is that starting roughly around 2023-24, those two planets are going to, Uranus and Pluto, will move into a trine relationship which is a 120 degree more harmonious configuration when the same energies of kind of evolutionary drive and movement towards change, breakthrough, experiment, etc. tends to happen in a less fraught way than we’ve been going through for the last the decade. And depending on, everything depends on the present, like how we respond to these critical energies that are constellated right now. That will set, that will create the foundation for whatever can unfold over the rest of the decade. So much will depend on the degree to which humanity will respond to the present need. And I have to say, the last three months have been encouraging compared to the preceding four years in our country, the United States. To finally have some modicum of sanity and competence and compassion in the White House is very encouraging. And even though we might want more, even more to be able to unfold, let’s say in terms of shift in our environmental policies and corporate policies, and so forth, tremendous amounts of work need to be done in terms of economic, social, ecological justice. That being said, I remain hopeful that in a sense, the crisis of conscience that our country and many other countries in the world have gone through in recent years, combined with the kind of vital emergency that the climate crisis is producing for our collective consciousness could produce a significant transformation. The fact that there is this pressure for change, I’m hopeful that we could reorient our way of being in the world on the basis of a kind of moral and psycho spiritual transformation that many people have been going through. Even under the COVID pandemic circumstances there’s been, I think, a lot of self-reflection that’s been going on. People in seclusion, maybe doing a little more thinking about what’s important in their lives and how they’re going to live their lives. So it’s very difficult. I think it was Mark Twain who said, if you ever get the urge to predict the future, you should take a nap. I take that advice as being very wise. So I am not in a position to predict the future, but I have a sense of hope. I see hope as playing a role, not just, it’s not like a kind of rational optimism on the basis of our best evidence. Hope is more of almost like a spiritual virtue that you have to cultivate. It reflects, I think, a sense of the universe’s capacity for love and therefore our capacity to trust in its unfolding in ways that we can’t predict, in ways that we can’t see on our horizon right now. We need to act to the best of our ability with what we can see right now, but with perhaps a certain trust in the cosmos, trust in life, that allows us to take the chance to do things that might not have their reward in our lifetime. That might bear fruit only under certain circumstances in a future decade or future centuries.
Rick Archer: Yeah, seven generations.
Richard Tarnas: Yeah so, I think hope can be seen as in some sense like a seed that we can plant in the future that can draw us toward it. Or you can see it as the future planting a seed in us that we cultivate and we move towards actualizing through the hard labor of life. Each of us has to do it in a different way. We each have to kind of pay attention to the intimations that we get in our psyche of, in our soul’s life about what is calling us, what feels right for us to do. Where do we feel a certain joy? Where do we feel that life is most vitally alive, engaged in our in our being? And those are probably the ways that life is asking us to flower. So maybe that’s a good place to end.
Rick Archer: Yeah, no, that was a great answer. Very wise and nuanced. So wonderful. I really appreciate it. Let me just show your website on the screen here. It’s cosmosandpsyche.com, is it, or?
Richard Tarnas: Yes.
Rick Archer: Cosmosandpsyche.com. I’ll be linking to it from your page on BatGap. So thank you so much. You were, using my amoeba analogy, you were a very nourishing morsel to engulf.
Richard Tarnas: Thank you. Glad to be of service and hopefully others who hear our conversation will find some value in it.
Rick Archer: Yeah, please give my regards to Stan Grof, and, if he remembers me.
Richard Tarnas: Yes.
Rick Archer: And Brian Swimme. And tell Brian anytime he wants to come on, just let us know. Haven’t had him on the show yet.
Richard Tarnas: Okay, I wilI. I’ll pass it on in both cases. All right, take care.
Rick Archer: Thanks, Richard. And thanks to those who’ve been listening or watching. You know the drill batgap.com. Go there and check out all the menus, and you’ll see what’s what. I don’t want to keep Richard any longer. Who is next week? Oh, a very interesting Sufi gentleman from South Africa will be my guest next week. So stay tuned for that. Thanks again, Richard. Bye, bye.
Richard Tarnas: You’re welcome. Thank you. Bye, bye.