“A million zeros joined together do not, unfortunately, add up to one. Ultimately everything depends on the quality of the individual…”
A is for Astrology: Sign, Signal and Symbol in the Natal Chart
Symbols are not signs. Signs tell you where to go. For instance, how many miles from Portland to Seattle. Signals warn you of something – workers in the road or fog ahead. Astrology searches for signals, and as often as not, misinterprets them as signs.
Symbols are multivalent. Their whole point is that there is no single point or meaning. Symbols then point to many meanings but are not that meaning. The Cross, for example, speaks of sacrifice but it is not a mere equivalent for sacrifice.
Symbols enrich us most when we participate in their life through the co-creation of their meaning. We bring something to a symbol that we do not to a sign. That attitude or orientation which we bring to a symbol is the most appropriate when we encounter the natal chart of an individual – an individual whose value and significance is irreducible.
Ordinary language is, in these terms, a system of signs. When you ask a friend to meet you at the bookstore you are not speaking symbolically; your friend does not have to decipher something to get hold of you later that day!
When we turn to symbolism we are turning toward the mystery – embracing it, even. In the deep encounter with the image we are left having to work, to ask questions, to discover something of the living symbol. This is the true parallel of reading a horoscope. It is like having a favourite poem – living with the magic in an ongoing fashion. It is ultimately unlike a shopping list, or the definition of a term that we have to “look up” – and more critically, get right.
More than this, we are moving beyond the personal into the transpersonal. For as Jung noticed, when we come to the deepest point of what he called the “personal unconscious” we head into the mysterious territory of the collective unconscious. And it is in that realm that archetypes universal to the human condition arise.
“From the unconscious there emanate determining influences…which, independently of tradition, guarantee in every single individual a similarity and even a sameness of experience, and also of the way it is represented imaginatively. One of the main proofs of this is the almost universal parallelism between mythological motifs…so far as the collective unconscious contents are concerned, we are dealing with archaic or—I would say—primordial types, that is, with universal images that have existed since the remotest times.” Two Essays in Analytical Psychology, Carl Jung.
What Jung observed initially in the fantasies of schizophrenic patients became something he believed was a universal phenomenon: that at the heart of the various religious and mythological tradition there were universal forms of experience. Patterns of behaviour and meaning that were primordial to the human condition and its ability to read symbolic meaning. It is from this dimension of our experience that the power of the signs and planets and houses of astrology derive their numinous fascination and complex meaning.
The very essence of the symbol-making factor of the human imagination derives from the archetypes or platonic forms of the collective realm. The very meanings of the patterns in the natal chart arise from the same fecund realm. How we discover and live with symbols and the nature of certain primordial symbols themselves, from Jung’s perspective, derive from a transpersonal collective layer of experience. This realm contains the archetypes as well as the original promethean fire which allowed us to dream of experiencing and interpreting those archetypes.