Astrology by Hand Week 21
Last week, I said that we would begin to get to the bottom of the question of where this language of nature comes from, and we will do that. However, I do want to say one thing about this before we go on. The phrase ”language of nature,” with ”language” in the singular, is not quite accurate. There are many versions and forms of the language of nature that are as different as English and Chinese, and it is not a matter of whether one of these is more accurate or ”correct” than another. They are all valid for some things. For example, each of the various divinatory techniques, such as tarot, astrology, geomancy, I ching, etc. constitutes its own form of the language of nature. And within each ”language” there are dialects such as medieval astrology, as opposed to modern Western astrology or Jyotish. Again, the language model suggests to us that each of these dialects is also equally valid, although possibly each has different strengths and weaknesses of expression.
The Languages Are Many, But Not Arbitrary
The language model also tells us something else that is important. The structure of any particular language is not arbitrary. Within a language there are rules that a language must follow, or the language cannot function. While these rules may take many and varied forms, they must be present. That means that we cannot arbitrarily make up a symbolic language any time we feel like it. Such a language must arise gradually out of the consciousness of a culture combined with whatever that other thing that we are looking for as a source may be.
The Language(s) of Nature and the Collective Unconscious
In week three of this column, I mentioned that many people, especially Jungians, have sought the language of nature within something like Jung’s collective unconscious. I mentioned at the time that the problem with this notion is that, for the most part, it would confine the language of nature to a system within the human psyche, that is, such a language would have no existence anywhere outside of the human mind. The histories of astrology and magic both suggest that these languages do have an existence outside of the human mind, or at least the human mind as modern thinkers think of it.
If we could expand the idea of the collective unconscious to something that exists outside of the human mind, something we experience together because it is ”out there,” this would begin to account for these languages. This could also be accomplished by another similar, but somewhat different route. We could say that the human mind and all of its parts are local manifestations of a mental power that is spread throughout existence in some way. This is more the route that traditional occultism has favored.
Another Possible Difficulty with the Collective Unconscious Model
In his book Eye to Eye, Ken Wilbur (Shambala Books, Boston, Massachusetts, 1996) describes what he calls the ”Pre-Trans Fallacy.” This is the tendency on the part of many thinkers to confuse that which is preconscious with that which transcends normal consciousness. For example, a Platonist would regard archetypes as coming from a transcendent realm of super-consciousness, whereas a Jungian would regard them as coming from a realm that is preconscious (or subconscious). For the moment I am not going to try to sort that one out, but I expect to later on when I have proposed a model for what I believe is going on. Suffice it to say that for the present, a pure Jungian model for the origins of our languages would seem to force them to have their origins in something that is of a lesser order of consciousness than the typical human mind. Are the gods (as the ancients would have called these archetypes) unconscious? This raises another question; are they persons? That, too, I want to hold off on for the moment.
A Model of How Things Are Dating from Late Antiquity
There is a text written in Hebrew that dates from somewhere between the time of Abraham and the tenth century A.D. More conventional historiography places its earliest possible date as somewhere in the second century A.D. It is the Sepher Yetzirah, or Book of Formation. Aryeh Kaplan, in his commentary on the Sepher Yetzirah (The Sefer Yetzirah, Samuel Weiser, York Beach, Maine, 1990 where Sepher is spelled Sefer), actually refers to it in several places as a very early text on astrology. But it is not a text on astrology that is anything like what we would expect. It is very obscure and deeply mystical. It is usually said to be a description of the creation of the universe as embodied in the Hebrew alphabet, and it is one of the oldest texts that make up the body of Judaic mysticism known as the Kabbalah.
In the midst of this text there occurs a model of how the universe is constructed that seems oddly modern in its way of representing things, and yet incredibly revolutionary in its implications. We will begin with this text in our next installment.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rob Hand, author of Planets in Transit and other works, is now involved in the translation and publication of texts regarding ancient and medieval astrology through ARHAT Media Inc.