Florence and the Renaissance Man


Recently I was fortunate enough to go to Florence. I turned this into a mini vacation, in Tuscany first (Pisa, Lucca and Montecatini Terme) and then Florence itself. Whilst the vacation was good, despite the crazy driving of the Italians (truly scary in their capacity to pull out of junctions and parking spaces at the side of the road with no indication) the real focus of the trip had come about through an opportunity created by a great friend who I trained in Psychosynthesis with from 1999-2002.

Already friends, training together, as the babies of the course (by age and therapeutic experience at least) far from wiping out the friendship as some on the training thought would happen – including the course director at times, mind you her comment when we turned up for the start of the second year was a surprised “Oh I didn’t expect you two to come back”! – Training together, alongside shared journeys into Kabbalistic magic, the Findhorn community in Scotland, Buddhism and writing (amongst other things…) cemented a shared creative drive. When as a student, I was struggling to complete my first homework in Evolutionary Astrology it was Keith that I turned too to help me think through the psychology of the birth chart on that depth level.

Keith, a Psychosynthesis Therapist working in a university and private practice, had the university support a trip to the Psychosynthesis conference in Rome in which he presented an excellent paper, Paradise Sustained, which can be read here – http://keithhackwood.com/paradise-sustained/

A paper that rather ruffled some of the expensive older Italian feathers: a Psychosynthesis community in Italy somewhat notorious for closed ranks. Will Parfitt (http://www.willparfitt.com/) who gave a keynote address at the end of the conference singled out Keith’s approach as representative of a future potential for the Psychosynthesis community. For those who wanted to there was a trip to Florence to the Psychosynthesis Institute, basically the old home and workplace of Roberto Assagioli. Keith had written to the conference organisers previously about his friend, an author and international speaker who could not make the conference but would love to see the homestead of Psychosynthesis (no actual lie…) and I have this good friend to thank for what turned into a profound encounter for both of us with the private papers of a renaissance man some of whose work has been wilfully concealed from the world. Even it appeared the very people who had trained us!

After an introduction and brief tour of the house by the group of women visiting and, it was revealed, organising a recently discovered batch of material from Assagioli’s private archive that had only been opened up because the attic room it was stored in had come in danger of water damage from a leak. These boxes were literally ordered into the basement to be stored away (the symbolism of the layers of the unconscious and the attempted repression is almost comical) and yet one writer in residence who was assisting could not help herself but have a look in the box. Thank you, Pandora.

As soon as we had grounded to the man’s study, the eclectic library (from Seth Speaks to clinical material, from James Bond to Yogananda) with the carved ship sporting the United Nations flag on his desk, we were allowed access to the archive – shelves of innocuous looking box files, like the side room of an old office. Immediately both and Keith and I were drawn to the line of boxes marked Spiritual Astrology and one by one we made our way through the ones that were in English, carefully preserving the order in which handwritten notes and typed essays were stored together.

The whole situation was strange. The room, unbearably hot, laid out like a miniature schoolroom with desks for the occasion; the growing sense of anticipation from the people facilitating us, our growing recognition that this was because this was the first ever time that people (outside of the managers of the estate) had ever been allowed access to this material…

Inside two things become rapidly apparent. One I had known on some level before, but it was an enlarged understanding, evident immediately: that Assagioli was not just a friend of Alice Bailey, or a student of the Lucis Trust material, but that he was a disciple; self-consciously a world server generating white magic thought-forms allied to the Buddha and the Christ as laid down in Bailey’s classic texts such as Esoteric Psychology, Treatise on White Magic and Glamour: a World Problem. The intensity of his dedication as a spiritual student and service orientated magician was interesting but nothing prepared me for the level to which Roberto Assagioli had studied and integrated astrology into his work.

There were pages and pages of handwritten charts. Assagioli died in his 80’s in 1974, decades before computer software and yet here were hundreds of charts of artists and politicians hand drawn for study purposes. Further in the box were the charts of family and friends, all transcribed in fountain pen, with incredible precision on thin paper with just the circle of the zodiac as a pre-existing template and his detailed notes on aspect grids and elemental balances within the natal chart. It soon becomes apparent that this is not a man who is simply expanding his studies of the Alice Bailey material, her transcript of Esoteric Astrology, but a serious astrologer who has put in hundreds of hours of detailed analysis of charts alongside substantial notes and essays on the spiritual meaning of the birth chart.

I was an astrologer before I began my Psychosynthesis studies and for years during my training I had tried to integrate the two perspectives, including intense dialogue with my teachers and exploration of the paradox of the therapeutic paradigm in which the ideal is the self-discovery of the client and the seeming difference of the astrological paradigm in which one utilises the chart to inform the client. So I am intrigued to say the least.

At this point a couple of the facilitators have noticed the change in the energy of the room where Keith and I are rapidly making our way through the material, note taking and occasionally photographing what we find. They seem excited on our behalf, as if we mirror some of their excitement, whilst at the same time there is a hush hush air about proceedings. In whispers, not to disturb other members of the groups work a Naturopath, and Ayurvedic practitioner and astrologer (one person, many skills) amongst the facilitators responds to my understanding that the founder of Psychosynthesis was an astrologer by adding that for the last decades of his life if you wished to work with him in therapy it was understood that you presented your birth chart beforehand. This was a professional astrologer, allying astrology right at the onset of the therapeutic process, Psychosynthesis (Soul synthesis) which he brought into the world.

This is something of a revelation to me. It has been recently well documented that Jung studied astrology alongside other divinatory systems (I Ching, Tarot) and synchronicity in later life, and that he would use the fruits of these studies with clients. Little or nothing has been documented on Assagioli in such a fashion. I have confirmed on my return that even the most well informed about the man, including writers and teachers on Psychosynthesis have no idea about this. Furthermore he is no dilettante of the subject, but it is a pre-requisite of therapy with him that the natal chart will provide a blueprint. He is a professional astrologer and that informs his work in parallel with the therapeutic process. In short, exactly what I am doing in the world. I have, completely mirrored his approach utilising the spiritual and karmic potential of Evolutionary Astrology instead of the Alice Bailey Astrology (which I did study alongside much of the rest of her material in my twenties prior to even knowing what Psychosynthesis was).


I must confess to still being a little shocked by this. Not by the man, it makes perfect sense to me that Assagioli would practise spiritual astrology, he was after all visited by Dane Rudhyar in 1936 – just two years before Mussolini (following a visit from Hitler) would declare the Psychosynthesis institute shut down for being actively pacifist – but that no one knew. Not that my trainers knocked my gift for astrology, though there were at times searching questions about its compatibility with an open therapeutic stance, but that no one knew this specific and explicit parallel with my own therapeutic and healing journey. There was maybe an unconscious knowing: when I finished my training my course director gave me a present; a photograph of Roberto Assagioli that looks down from the shelf onto the chair on which my clients sit. A photograph taken by Diana Whitmore, who was trained by Assagioli, and who had trained my director. She passed it on to me, as if in a tacit acknowledgement of a kind of lineage.

In the day before this experience, whilst Keith was still in the conference in Rome, with my partner I visited San Marco in Florence to see the Fra Angelico frescoes on the walls of the monk’s rooms there. Whilst staring intently at his image of the Christ resurrected in a cross I intuited the link between this vision of his aura and Assagioli’s famous egg diagram. I tested this with the naturopath and facilitator: “Did Assagioli have a favourite place in Florence?”, “He loved Florence”, “Was there a particular place it liked to sit or meditate outside of his home? “He loved the Fra Angelica frescoes at San Marco”. I had been tuned into the field of knowing that incorporated Assagioli’s thought-forms; as seemingly I might have been all along, before I even began my training and the at times apparent struggle to integrate a spiritual astrology with a spiritual psychology and therapy.

I have Keith to thank for this surprisingly revelatory experience – just as I do for our mutual somewhat less than sober decision at 27 (transiting nodal opposition) at another friend’s flat in Oxford during the period the friend was working on a nuclear fusion project (attempting to emulate the power of the sun rather than splitting the atom as in nuclear fission) to enrol on a Psychosynthesis Training in the first place! I fully intend to do some writing with Keith on the subject of Assagioli, Florence and Psychosynthesis/Spiritual Astrology. It was rather gratifying at one point whilst we copied Assagioli’s handwritten astrology notes that one of the facilitator’s picked up the book we had noticed on the shelf; the Psychosynthesis New Perspectives, edited by Will Parfitt and she began reading mine and Keith’s essay within it, Dancing the 12 Steps of Soul, on, you guessed it, the interface between Psychosynthesis and Evolutionary Astrology. You could not make this stuff up!

God Bless, Mark.