“Tradition indicates that three levels of consciousness are available to us: simple consciousness, not often seen in our modern technological world; complex consciousness, the usual state of educated Western man; and an enlightened state of consciousness, known only to a very few individuals, which is the culmination of human evolution and can be attained only by highly motivated people after much work and training.”
So says Robert Johnson in the first words of his book Transformations and he goes on to explore Don Quixote (literally Sir Codpiece) as an example of simple consciousness and Hamlet (a text penned within a few years of the Cervantes marvel) as the entrance into the dilemma of modern consciousness. The possibility of an enlightened view is represented for him in Goethe’s Faust. Don Quixote literalizes his own perception and imagination and his resultant magical thinking is his joy and his exuberant downfall. He charges ‘giants’ that are windmills spinning in the sun in order to please his princess, a local peasant girl. Hamlet receives the message from the unconscious, from the archetype, the ghost speaks to him of hidden truth and yet this information sends him into the crisis of how to act to return the natural and correct order of things. He is crippled by the terror of the rotten state being also his family, the lingering smell of death on the family bedspread, the trauma of the primal scene as conceived of by the sensitive and absurdly youthful Freud – the thought of our parents in the act that made us. The modern man like Hamlet is anxious about his origins and at times terrified about the future: every ache is a potential cancer, every commute another joyless surrender to auto-pilot, a state that threatens to lead us for more of our lives than we may feel entirely comfortable in.
Astrology is a tool drawn into certain desperate service by what we might call, in an extension of Johnson, the Hamlet aspect of our being. We cling at times to the potential for meaning that the chart eludes to, some sense of direction. I remember a lady at a conference who had already seen several astrologers, before having a reading with me, all of whom gave out a bewildering range of advice, break down in tears of relief when I suggested that the could ignore what astrologers have to say about her and make up her own mind (the needed re-alignment of the will). At times the wrestling between the easing of anxiety and cosmic paranoia that astrology and its study can engender reaches a fever pitch – such as the discussion as to the meaning of 2012, the death of the Mayan calendar or a kind of apocalypse point on Dec 21st of that year.
In this fascination with ‘telos’, the sense of endings we can see ancient fears haunting the subconscious, an idea cogently argued in the oddly titled Catastrophobia by Barbara Hand Clow, ideas that dominated aspects of the ancient world (see the kinds of questions asked at the Delphic Oracle) just as it did the medieval imagination. This understanding of an atavistic process, an ancient fear reborn, can also open us to the way that it such ancient fears, in the way that they manifest now, have something to tell us of the modern dilemma. For every developer charging towards Antarctica (a Quixotic stance of a far less charming kind that the venerable knight of la Mancha) there is a friend of mine agonizing over the global crisis, the threat of mass extinction, the emerging energy crisis and our incapacity to stop killing each other… “what can we do?” – we angst over together in our shared communities, our fragile temporary autonomous zones (Hakim Beys’ term for an enclave of freedom from conditioning). For every business man with hand caught in the big dam pot of gold there is an environmentalist grappling over whether it can be ethical to blow up dams or whether peaceful action can prevail. Is it Martin or Malcolm folks? Gandhi was a beautiful man who changed the world – however his, probably beautiful written, letter to Hitler to stop what he was doing did not do the deed, the fat man with the cigar was needed there… (a product of the very system Gandhi was bringing down around him…). Are we Hamlet or Quixote when we buy our dream catcher from its mass production line and sit in waiting for the wisdom of an ancient lineage to speak to us, whilst the blood of said lineage backs up in the drains of our cities?
I could go on… but instead to move onto the third man in the life boat – Faust, as realized by Goethe – is a man who makes a pact with the devil to experience his every desire but ultimately and receptively (Johnson argues) rejects this pact for a more hard won truth. The subtleties of this text are worthy of a post in themselves and maybe that is what they will get at some point. We can say though, that the Faustian pact is in thinking we can have it all: we simply cannot sell this lifestyle to everyone, there is not enough planet and resources to go around. Somewhere we have to get off the rollercoaster, press stop on the holo-deck and stop thinking we can download Helen of Troy in a cheerleader outfit… We will be forced to reconsider: our holidays; our commute; the whole nature of the ‘burbs; not to mention our endless war-mongering and state sponsored terrorism. In this way we are like Faust…we have experimented with the highest level of human decadence and comfort and we have realized that we are still not satisfied, that the ultimate goal – real happiness – has still eluded us. For real happiness takes work, worth and honor, as the Toltec teacher Miguel Ruiz teaches – it takes impeccability of word – not lying to ourselves or others, not lying to ourselves folks… so much harder than it sounds – to stop the inner voice, to stop the I am great/I am crap dialogue… wow the relief would create near atomic energy levels in this confused entity! Is this part of the new energy resource we are seeking – not a techno savior to lead us into ever more fecund consumerism but an inner shift into a more direct awareness of ourselves as dwelling, as participating in this world?
The end of the world is not coming in 2012 or in any real sense we can imagine any time soon, said world that we are referring to cannot even be known by us in the linear phase of our understanding. This is the paradox of Kant’s categories, or of the Tantric Nath sage Nisargadatta Maharaj when asked by a western student about how can we save the world – he rubbished the idea that said student could even see the ‘real world’ and that by implication the unknown real world did not require saving. What we are trying to save is the way we see the world, the way we relate to it. We are engaging in a meaningful subjectivity that is so radical because it calls us into direct participation with the living world, the real presence. I have not entirely worked out how this participation stance impacts on what I imagine to be an astrology of liberation, it is an ongoing process. It does involve elevating the potential of the birth chart from the dualism and anxiety of the endless self-questions, what should I do? Not that it is a problem to use the chart for self-discovery, this seems in many ways the best way, but that this discovery is a process of layers and many intrinsic leaps in consciousness – so what do I do? Has something of what am I? Or how do I be? In this way we are not walking around the badly carpeted halls of astrology conferences subliminally hoping that one of the many confused speakers present will take responsibility for a moment for our own journey. Only that we might share that journey with them for that moment, and that through the dim light of our shared humanity we might re-imagine life in accord with the symbolic potentials in the chart. Aware all the time how we project the dreams and nightmares of the past onto that strange map, and how in seeing their strange twisted shapes we might learn more of how we live in what Rilke called our “interpreted world”.
When it comes to 2012 our self-consciousness can cripple us (like Hamlet) or through genuine awareness, honesty and effort to stay with our own integrity it can liberate us (as in the end of Faust). Which is it to be? For no amount of yearning is going to see us go back to a romantic idyll and whatever kind of world the generations that follow us end up living with this is no simple return to Eden… nor will it be the Hell of the End timers… What it will be is what we make it… hand in hand with the Soul of the World.
IMAGES: Don Quichote (1970), Hamlet Stabs Polonius (1973) (from the Hamlet Suite), Le Vieux Faust (1969) (from the series Faust – La Nuit de Walpurgis) all by Salvador Dali.