vol. 2 issue 52
It’s rare that docu-mental publishes on Sunday, but that is the way things turned out in this week of ghosts, goblins, and now with this issue, astrologers. Today for many is known as El Dia de los Muertes — The Day of the Dead, also All Souls Day (although apparently, some calendars claim it is tomorrow). And of course, Tuesday, November 3rd, is our election.
What do all these events at this time have in common? It is not the spookiness, the goons, nor the horror, but the liminal. It is a time of the in-between, when what comes next is either a continuation of what was, or a chance to pass through a portal to what has never been.
And so, I thought it was time to offer something completely new and perhaps unexpected to my audience.
But first, a story.
Cum hoc ergo propter hoc
“Just because two things occur simultaneously does not mean there is a cause and effect,” the head of the National Cancer Institute once boomed at me from across his desk. “Cum hoc ergo propter hoc. It’s Latin for, ‘With this, therefore because of this,’ but it isn’t, and I don’t see why the authors of this paper want to say that it is, so this interview is not worth the time.”
The doctor glared at my video crewman.
Thinking quickly, I dropped the offending study I’d been sent to discuss with Dr. Rosenberg, and changed the topic to the latest research coming out of the NCI – research where cause and effect had been established, and which would go on to be covered widely – and so managed to get some footage of the doc, even if it wasn’t what I’d been assigned to cover.
Aside from the incident being a reminder that an alarming amount of crap science gets published and routinely makes it past those of us who should know better, even if I’d already understood that just because two things are true doesn’t mean they are causative – a core tenet of scientific research -- being reprimanded by one of the nation’s top scientists helped ensure the maxim is always top of mind any time I examine data.
Yet, I have found that over-emphasizing the need to prove causation also runs the risk of missing the bigger picture. Things we might perceive as true, and so accept as part of the fabric of our lives might never reveal to us their true “cause” despite the most painstaking evaluation. For example, I cannot prove a causative correlation between the rise of our reductionist materialism and our national epidemics of anxiety, depression, and suicide, but my observations that their trajectories correlate is are certainly worth study.
We can know how things work, without ever fully understanding why they do.
Put another way, we might not ever know why two things might be true, even if we can show that they happen simultaneously. In philosophy and religion, such analyses form the basis for questions of fate and fortune. Economics, history, and sociology also rely on noting how patterns and cycles might co-occur consistently, affording a fair degree of confidence in forecasting future trends, and thus alerting us to our choices in how we might respond.
In this interview with mundane astrologer Elisabeth Grace, whose newsletter tracks and correlates planetary movements with world events, I explore this notion of correlation vs. causation. Just as I believe there is a correlation between economic cycles and our mental health even if I cannot prove causation, Elisabeth knows how to correlate how the orbits of Saturn and Pluto to predict say, the rise of authoritarianism globally, and especially here in the US, even if she does not know why this is so. These kinds of correlative observations of world events and astronomical events form the core of the field of mundane astrology, and yes, it is an actual scholarly field, even at the university level in some countries such as the UK.
By the time I discovered Elisabeth’s work, I was already familiar with the work of Richard Tarnas, author of Cosmos and Psyche, the seminal work on mundane astrology. The tome tracks the orbits of the planets through history, drawing attention to distinct patterns of planetary transits occurring at the same time as historical events such as the rise and fall of authoritarian regimes, world wars, pestilence and plagues, and good stuff too like the Renaissance of the early 1500s and other re-births of the arts and humanities.
It’s part of his larger operating theory that these events are evolutionary, and are part of a larger plan that we do not know, but which involves the evolution of the Cosmos itself through its Psyche. Why this might be so, that is a mystery, but it calls him to wonder and suggest that our current insistence upon the reductionism of cause and effect means we are missing the larger point of our collective experience.
Why does Psyche want this experience? We do not know.
Tarnas is a student and colleague of Czech psychiatrist, Stanislav Grof, a pioneer of transpersonal psychology, especially the use of psychadelics such as LSD to lower conscious barriers in order to conduct as much as possible, an unfettered exploration of the human psyche. Tarnas and Grof, formerly of the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, now are both associated with the Department of Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness at the California Institute of Integral Studies, where they have written and lectured extensively about what they call the “enchanted world”, the cornerstone of their ultimate conclusion that the human mind is of the same “stuff” as the mind of the universe; that it is ultimately all one consciousness. Put another way, our human consciousness is a cosmic phenomenon, and does not arise from biological processes, but that biology arises from it.
As an aside… Tarnas’s research into the history of Western thought, world events, and planetary movements came after establishing that there were some in those early psychedelic studies who would have really “bad trips”, and others who would have positive ones. Also, sometimes the ones who had good trips would suddenly have bad ones. Why? After noting the correspondences between planetary movements and the study participants’ charts, Tarnas et al concluded it was because, essentially, sometimes the stars truly did not align in support of a person altering their mind/consciousness at that time.
To my way of thinking, the enchanted world theory is not the same thing as the Intelligent Design movement which seems to me to have become an Evangelical Christian flavored system of reductionism, claiming to have the universe all sorted out. However true to a scientific method geophysicist Stephen C. Meyer, creator of the Intelligent Design theory, himself might be, proponents of his pro-Intelligent Being Universe Creator theories seem to me to want to use his work to justify their belief in a masculine god and their entitled claim to the hierarchical status quo.
The levels of guilt, shame, and fear necessary to keep that “truth” locked in place is not only absurd, they are as nihilistic as reductionism, in that they demand stasis, which is of course antithetical to growth and change. It cuts across all areas of our lives: in religion it manifests as a fear of being alienated as a sinner at best, eternal damnation at worst. In science, it’s the fear of being wrong.
Whether sinner or errant scientist, there are very real punitive consequences, whether it be ostracization or zero grant money. Yet, none of these consequences seem to be handed down from heaven or up from the petri dish. The punishments are always distributed by other humans.
While Tarnas et al do not assign gender to the greater consciousness they say exists, they do insist it is there, and that human consciousness exists within it, that all is interrelated. If I am going to reject randomness, which I do, then with Tarnas’s findings as the larger context, it is far more possible to believe that each of our individual lives has meaning, and that even if we do not know what that meaning is, the search for it is in itself as important as any proof of causation to life because the journey brings us that much closer to the Source.
In that way, we can choose to imbue our lives with the fruits of what we learn, and know that it mattered that we valued the opportunity to direct our teensy speck of consciousness toward something of our own choosing, something of our own design, using both observational data and that of cause and effect to help us course correct.
Although the Harvard educated Tarnas is also the author of The Passion of the Western Mind (2000), a classic text in collegiate history programs nationally, upon the publication of Cosmos and Psyche (2006), he, like Meyer routinely has been, was dismissed and excoriated by the intelligentsia. In the Wall Street Journal, the reviewer seethes as though personally offended by Tarnas’s temerity to suggest an enchanted world view:
“Mr. Tarnas's examples steadily build into a game of free association that will try the patience of any reader burdened with sanity.”
He ends with this zinger: “Among the unexpected lessons to be drawn from Cosmos and Psyche is that the tyranny of science may actually be preferable to the tyranny of superstition. In any case, count your lucky stars it's not assigned reading.”
Okay, Mr. Smarty Pants. You can be the smartest guy in the room. Every room. All the rooms.
Meanwhile, in the aftermath of four years of our national Avatar of Id rampaging across the land, infecting some, depressing many more, and exposing the actual insanity of much of the rest, here’s me on the eve of our election, in my apparently deluded and idiotic state, reading Tarnas, along with works by the late Joseph Campbell and James Hillman, and others, and finding myself inspired to think of how we as a nation might move beyond our reductionist thinking at all levels of policymaking, especially in healthcare and medicine, without abandoning logic and reason.
Their ideas inform my closely held belief that policymaking which supports an explicitly purposeful view of life could offer important public health benefits and help staunch our rising tides of unrest, which the coronavirus has only exacerbated. After all, what is the point to life if there is no point to life?
With this in mind, it’s worth noting that while there is a trend among some Democratic leaders and pundits alike to say that this election is about reclaiming the “soul of our nation” – something I have been saying independent of these talking heads, because I really mean it – they also insist on Science, especially since science is what does convenient things like, say, effectively and predictably control pandemics.
Since the pursuit of causation is essential to stopping pandemics, I support the Democratic ticket. But as far as their claims to be the soul retrievers this country needs, I am skeptical. If these folks are going to say the word “soul” as though it is something desirable, that means it has value. Either the two –science and soul – work in tandem or they are incongruent, and if they are incongruent, then how can the Party logically claim to be invested in both?
The only way out of this dilemma I can see is to balance the causative with the correlative, and really mean it. In that way, the burden of reductionism is reduced, the pursuit of soul can be real, and both science and mystery can once again balance and support our sanity. If we allow ourselves that as a possibility, then hierarchical thinking will have to collapse.
What would policymaking have to look like then, if not one based strictly on cause and effect, deserving and undeserving?
For some, sadly, the answer will be found in conspiracy. But the magical thinking necessary to link non-causative, non-correlative events in order to make something “true” that isn’t, will only result in confusion, suspicion, and worse, dangerous delusions. The QAnon conspiracy is proof of this: it offers not one single demonstrable and replicable example of if A then B, nor is there any body of observational data that can even closely be said to correlate, and yet its adherents make wild claims and take just as weird actions to defend them. Same goes for the so-called deep state.
I don’t really know how re-imagining governance without hierarchy would work, frankly. When I was in college in the mid-80s, I was mightily confused by the then Zeitgeist of deconstructionism, where nothing seemed to fit back together once relativism, also popular among my professors, was injected into the equation. I still don’t see fully how to resolve that riddle.
But if not linear, and not relative, then what?
As we search for the answer, some of us will be wrong. That is the true way of science: experiment, evaluate, correct, repeat. Hierarchy prevents this; it robs us of the humility to ponder being wrong, stifles our curiosity, and inhibits asking new questions.
Yet, some, thankfully, persist.
In his brilliant and utile book Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli writes:
We are an integral part of the world that we perceive; we are not external observers. We are situated within in it…We are made up of the same atoms and the same light signals as are exchanged between pine trees in the mountains and stars in the galaxies. As our knowledge has grown, we have learned that our being is only a part of the universe, and a small part at that…
We believed that we were on a planet at the center of the universe, and we are not. We thought that we existed as unique beings, a race apart from the family of animals and plants, and discovered that we are descendants of the same parents as every living thing around us…Mirrored by others, and by other things, we learn who we are (emphasis mine).
Our popular thinking, and thus our policymaking needs to catch up to science. But science also needs to be rescued from hierarchy and returned to the boundless world of curiosity where I like to think soul lives larger and more fully than our puny selves do.
So, back to the astrology. Mirrored by others, and by other things, we learn who we are.
As described in excellent detail, complete with a PowerPoint presentation (a first here on docu-mental!) Elisabeth’s is a system with its own language developed in scientific pursuit of cause/effect knowledge that we began to discard when materialism took the reins, circa 1700 with Newtonian Physics. To the extent that there is any explicable cause/effect, it is that which is borrowed primarily from Aristotelean physics, although the study of the heavens predates Aristotle, stretching back approximately 5,000 years to Mesopotamian times. Astrology describes the how within the why, but leaves the why an open question. This forms the basic tension between fate and fortune, destiny and free will.
To my understanding, mundane astrology is not a personal system whereby the planets take an interest in either helping or condemning humans, so much as they are just connected energetically to life on earth because the material elements are the same: mineral, fire, water, gas.
Because it is a system of physics intended to logically demonstrate the interrelatedness of all matter, including that which comprises the planets and stars, and how regardless of the remoteness of things, all are in the process of becoming and decaying, but not in a vacuum, it does have logic.
Although science has moved past the old ways, maybe valuable knowledge was left behind. Plenty of ways of being and thinking that were at one time discarded in favor of materialism but now find themselves in the ascendant include what has become the multi-billion dollar hand crafts movement (think Etsy) as opposed to disposable goods, as well as the slow food movement which includes the resurgence of farm-to-table, sustainable agriculture in favor over industrialized farming.
Among the more telling shifts is as Rovelli intimates, the growing willingness among biologists and others who once mocked “anthropomorphism” to now admit that animals do indeed have intelligence, emotions, and systems of communication designed to express their need for love and connection.
These ways of detecting and delineating life were not ever proven wrong, just incompatible with one particular perspective, that of the extremely reductionist, strictly cause and effect one.
The world is complex, and we capture it with different languages, each appropriate to the process that we are describing. Every complex process can be addressed and understood in different languages and at different levels. These diverse languages intersect, intertwine, and reciprocally enhance one another, like the processes themselves. The study of our psychology becomes more sophisticated through our understanding of the biochemistry of the brain. The study of theoretical physics is nourished by the passions and emotions that animate our lives.
Think of science then as German, and astrology as French. Neither is wrong, both explain the world around us. Each exists in parallel, yet knowledge of one enhances the utility of the other. Or, as Elisabeth says, “Astrology is a language with its own jargon to explain human consciousness through space and time.”
Like Rovelli, I believe the human race on earth will eventually become extinct; should we remain dedicated to our materialism, this will occur sooner than it might otherwise have done, exhaustive of the earth’s resources as materialism is. But to suggest that because our race is part of merely a chapter of existence on a middling planet in a small solar system in a boundless universe, it should mean we might as well abandon any attempts to derive personal meaning from the experience distresses me, the way I suspect it distresses many of you.
My personal sense is that since we do not know what becomes of our consciousness when we leave this plane, we should attempt to imbue this opportunity to be separate from the All with as much meaning as possible, lest we find it turns out to make for a richer Cosmos.
Nature is our home, and in nature we are at home. This strange, multicolored, and astonishing world that we explore – where space is granular, time does not exist, and things are nowhere – is not something that estranges us from our true selves, for this is only what our natural curiosity reveals to us about the place of our dwelling, about the stuff of which we ourselves are made. We are made of the same stardust of which all things are made, and when we are immersed in suffering or when we are experiencing intense joy, we are being nothing other than what we can’t help but be: a part of our world.
By that logic, when we die, we don’t leave, we just shift forms.
Who knows what we then become and whether the knowledge we will have obtained will inform that new thing? Could what we do while we’re conscious precipitate how matter and consciousness takes shape when we’re “gone” (dead or extinct)?
If so, then the Why of Psyche’s How will have occurred through the existence of each one of us. Those of us who choose to ask why we are here, and then seek to answer that question in a meaningful way, perhaps we are the ones in whom there might be a faint glimmer of understanding of the larger Why as it unfolds. The sheer power of this possibility blows my mind.
I hope you enjoy Elisabeth’s illuminating explanation of how mundane astrology works. Below are all the time stamps to highlights of our discussion, including what we might expect from this election, and its aftermath, as well as resources for further information. This is available as both a podcast and a video, but the video has a nifty PowerPoint and lots of charts with explanations for how they work.
Thank you for reading. I am grateful to you for your support of this newsletter. Please be safe this week and throughout the rest of this epochal year. If you enjoy how I approach mapping our minds through these shifting times, and think others might like it as well, please forward this email to them or consider giving them a gift subscription.
Peace to every one of us,
6:00 Why might mundane astrology have utility?
8:30 No one knows why this works
17:31 The futility of "sun sign astrology"
19:20 Astrology is a language with its own jargon to explain human consciousness through space and time
21:50 Difference between Eastern, Western schools, and the misapprehension of Processions of the Equinox
25:45 The horoscope of Queen Elizabeth II as example
30:00 When we know what a person needs, we can predict how they will act
32:50 What is the "horoscope" of the US?
38:00 What does it say about the psyche of the nation and what might need to happen next?
43:00 The American Dream built into our psyche and our “tough guy” image
45:00 What might be the fate of the American Dream?
51:30 An explanation of mundane astrology in action
53:00 How planetary cycles of the 1960s impact us now; did they predict 2016 and 2020?
1:00:00 Was 2020 "necessary" and what now?
1:00:09 The NYT agenda to discredit astrologers, even when astrology predict they will discredit them
1:12:00 What can we expect in the US 2020 presidential election and beyond?
1:22:00 Do things look good for Kamala Harris?
1:25:00 How do things look for the next Congress?
1:27:00 What might happen to patriarchy and The Powers That Be?
1:34:00 Will the US stay in the same form? Will it break apart? What will the next 30 years bring?
Visit here for more information about Elisabeth Grace, or to subscribe to her newsletter.
For more about the Precession of the Equinoxes on earth, here’s a good explanation
Photo: Égalité devant la mort (Equality Before Death), 1848, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Musée d'Orsay
Errata: This post was updated on 11/1/20 to reflect a change from the word “correlative” to “causative”.