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Astrology as a Spiritual Practice

June 30, 2018

By Becca S. Tarnas, PhD   

The archetypal dynamics of astrology indicate we live in a radically participatory, co-creative universe

Astrology is an ancient practice that has flourished in many cultures around the globe, and has evolved and diversified to bring forth numerous branches within the astrological tradition. In essence, astrology is the discipline of observing the significant correlations between planetary movements and the unfolding of human events in individual lives, relationships, communities, and throughout history.

Astrology is a spiritual way of knowing, and can be approached as a spiritual practice. The archetypal dynamics of astrology indicate that we live in a radically participatory, co-creative universe that is saturated with divine intelligence and care.

The branch of astrology known as archetypal astrology—pioneered by the cultural historian Richard Tarnas, in conjunction with his work with Stanislav Grof on non-ordinary states of consciousness and psychedelic psychotherapy—recognizes that the correlations observed between human affairs and planetary dynamics is of an archetypal character.[i]

The planetary bodies in our solar system each correlate with a different archetype, a character with a spectrum of interrelated qualities that can be observed through their multivalent manifestations in human experience. Planetary archetypes are functionally similar to the archetypes as understood by the depth psychological tradition, yet are also comparable to the pantheon of gods and goddesses central to many ancient cultures. Such archetypes can be understood through a variety of philosophical lenses, as they exhibit qualities comparable to Platonic Forms or Ideas, Aristotelian universals, Freudian instincts, Jungian psychological archetypes, and Whiteheadian eternal objects, to name a few, as well as the mythic deities of ancient religious traditions.

The archetypes are not thought to be imposed structures projected upon the physical spheres, but rather, “cosmic perspectives in which the soul participates.” As the archetypal psychologist James Hillman writes:

They are the lords of [the soul’s] realms of being, the patterns for its mimesis. The soul cannot be, except in one of their patterns. All psychic reality is governed by one or another archetypal fantasy, given sanction by a God. I cannot but be in them.[ii]

From the archetypal astrological perspective, the cosmos is structured and ordered according to these primordial principles, which permeate every level of being, from the depths of the psychic interior to the interrelational dynamics of worldly and cosmic events. Archetypal astrology is a continuously ongoing, universally visible form of synchronicity, what Jung describes as a meaningful coincidence between an inner and outer event.[iii]

Archetypal astrology can be understood as a way of spiritual knowing, a form of what the transpersonal theorist Jorge Ferrer calls “participatory knowing.”[iv] There are many ways of knowing beyond the intellectual knowledge of the mind: the body has its own somatic and sensual ways of knowing, the heart has emotional, relational, and empathic ways of knowing, the soul has imaginal, intuitive, and visionary ways of knowing.[v] Astrology too can be recognized as a form of participatory knowing.

The techniques of astrology are first grounded in an understanding of astronomical and mathematical data, which is then blended with what Hillman calls “the archetypal eye”[vi]—the capacity to read symbolically, to perceive archetypal qualities as they manifest in actions, events, conversations, art, politics, dreams, visionary and mystical experiences, and so forth. In the practice of astrology, human participation in the archetypal realm occurs not only in the archetypal manifestations in our daily lives, but also in our very cognition and interpretation of astrological correlations. Using astrological practice, we can observe archetypal manifestations occurring simultaneously in multiple realms of experience—in individual human beings and world events—irrespective of whether individuals are aware of the archetypes’ participation in their lives. From this perspective, one could say that every moment is a participatory event co-created with the archetypes.

If astrology is approached as a co-creative practice, or even as a spiritual discipline, one’s engagement with the archetypes can shape, to a certain extent, the archetypal manifestations in one’s life, or even the expressions of the archetypes themselves. With greater awareness of the planetary movements and archetypal combinations, the individual human participant can co-create a more emancipated reality through their own conscious participation. I want to emphasize that such participation is a co-creation, and is neither exclusively subject to the independent free will of the human nor solely to the fundamental principles of the planetary archetypes, but rather a constantly shifting relationship between these agential entities. It implies both a level of responsibility on the part of the human being, and a trust in the ultimate, dynamic creativity of the archetypes. This ongoing co-creative participation with archetypal reality can be approached as a spiritual practice, a daily engagement with the sacred forces at play within our lives and in our cosmos.

The primary aim of most contemplative spiritual traditions is not actually to have mystical experiences of the divine, but rather to be liberated by greater spiritual knowledge and to overcome self-centeredness.[vii] The practice of astrology can be an aid in this journey, because by understanding one’s astrological complexes and owning one’s psychological projections, one can become more self-aware and self-reflexive. Furthermore, by observing the correlation between your own experiences and the movement of the planets, one can recognize that one’s life is not encapsulated within the self but is embedded in, and participating with, the larger experience of the cosmos.

When we see the manifestations of the archetypes in realms beyond the individual, or even the human, we can recognize that spiritual meaning pervades the cosmos, and is not exclusive to the connection between humanity and the divine alone. Rather, the cosmos itself seems to be alive, aware, and participating with and between the human and the divine mystery.

The aim of astrology, as with other spiritual traditions, may not be to have a mystical experience of the divine, but such experiences can provide a deeper and more profound understanding of the archetypes in their multivalent complexity. Keiron Le Grice, an archetypal astrologer and depth psychologist, intimates the great power of such an encounter:

In deep psychological exploration, or in heightened moments of openness, receptivity, and inspiration, one can have a direct encounter with the archetypal realm in all its unbridled power and intensity, an experience that is distinguished by a sense of the numinous––of mystery and awe, of tremendous power rising through the body, of intense religious affect, of emotional arousal, of tingling nerves, of soaring moral uplift, of demonic strength or even evil, or of overwhelming beauty and a sense of rightness or truth. In such moments, it seems that one has truly stepped into the realm of the gods.[viii]

Beyond even the magnificence and power of what one has encountered, to recognize the astrological correlations between such a direct experience of the archetypes and the significant positioning of the planets at that time can deepen the profundity of such revelations.

The apt naming of the planets and luminaries—from the Sun and Moon, to Mercury out through Saturn—by the peoples of numerous ancient cultures indicates that they perceived a clear connection between the archetypes as planets and the archetypes as gods, although the names of the gods and planets together varied from culture to culture. In a discussion of archetypes and gods, Hillman alludes suggestively to their cosmic status in the very metaphor he chooses to describe them:

By setting up a universe which tends to hold everything we do, see, and say in the sway of its cosmos, an archetype is best comparable with a God. And Gods, religions sometimes say, are less accessible to the senses and to the intellect than they are to the imaginative vision and emotion of the soul.[ix]

From ancient gods to psychological complexes, the archetypes seem to have pervaded human consciousness in their multivalent expressions since the dawn of our species. From this perspective, archetypal astrology can be seen as a spiritual path, discipline, or tradition: one of many religions participating in the great mystery of divinity. The practice of astrology calls upon each of us to participate more fully in the spiritual unfolding of our lives, as we learn to become ever more conscientious co-creative partners in the great dance with the primordial archetypes.

Works Cited:

Ferrer, Jorge N. Revisioning Transpersonal Theory: A Participatory Vision of Human Spirituality. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2002.

Hillman, James. Re-Visioning Psychology. New York: Harper Perennial, 1992.

“Why ‘Archetypal’ Psychology?” In Loose Ends. Zurich, Switzerland: Spring Publication, 1975.

Jung, Carl Gustav. “The Psychology of the Child Archetype.” In The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. 2nd edition. Vol. 9, part 1 of The Collected Works of Carl Gustav Jung. Translated by R.F.C. Hull. Edited by H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, and W. McGuire. Bollingen Series XX. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1968.

Le Grice, Keiron. The Archetypal Cosmos: Rediscovering the Gods in Myth, Science and Astrology. Edinburgh, UK: Floris Books, 2010.

Tarnas, Richard. Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View. New York: Viking, 2006.

[i] Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View (New York: Viking, 2006), 68-69.
[ii] James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology (New York: Harper Perennial, 1992), 169-170.
[iii] C. G. Jung, “On Synchronicity,” in The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, vol. 8, The Collected Works of Carl Gustav Jung, trans. R. F. C. Hull, ed. H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, and W. McGuire, Bollingen Series XX (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973), p. 520, §969; Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, 61.
[iv] Jorge N. Ferrer, Revisioning Transpersonal Theory: A Participatory Vision of Human Spirituality (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2002), 121.
[v] Ferrer, Revisioning Transpersonal Theory, 121.
[vi] James Hillman, “Why ‘Archetypal’ Psychology?” in Loose Ends (Zurich, Switzerland: Spring Publication, 1975), 139.
[vii] Ferrer, Revisioning Transpersonal Theory, 127.
[viii] Keiron Le Grice, The Archetypal Cosmos: Rediscovering the Gods in Myth, Science and Astrology (Edinburgh, UK: Floris Books, 2010), 169.
[ix] Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology, xix-xx.

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About the author

Becca S. Tarnas, PhD, is a scholar, artist, and editor of Archai: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology. She received her doctorate in Philosophy and Religion from the California Institute of Integral Studies, with her dissertation titled The Back of Beyond: The Red Books of C.G. Jung and J.R.R. Tolkien. Becca received her BA from Mount Holyoke College in Environmental Studies and Theatre Arts, and MA in Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness at CIIS. Her research interests include depth psychology, literature, philosophy, and the ecological imagination. Her website is

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