One might wonder why, in studying a natal chart, I speak of planet events, like aspect perfections and stations. The chart is pretty well defined by the moment of birth, in which all is captured as a still life, a snapshot of the solar system. Natal astrology is focused on this point in time, but I confess, this can give me a sort of cramped feeling. What if we stepped back to view it in a broader context? It’s worth a look.
If we zoom out from the natal chart and shift our attention to the planets in motion, the birth moment becomes the center of a wider time window, as if seen from a more distant vantage point. The dynamics of the near-birth period are captured as one event, the nativity, extending for several days before and after birth, containing all near-birth planet events. This is a rich context for working with the images that may emerge from the contemplation of these natal events, their coincidings in particular.
The study of coinciding near-birth planet events has become my main focus, at first because I was using them to search for recurrences of that same combination over the period 1500-2100, within that same brief interval between the coinciding events. I have used these recurrences to explore biographical parallels between duos (and trios) of a few dozen notable persons. These studies belong in a larger collection of biographical sketches that are tied together in interesting ways.
In Hillman’s writings I found needed insights into the metaphorical character and power of images. Let us consider one case study from a couple of years ago, before I thought in terms of images in Hillman’s sense. It is one of my favorites, given the coherent quality of the image that it ends up with.
Stanislav Grof is a Czech psychiatrist and a pioneer in psychedelic therapy, an icon in many circles for his early therapeutic work with LSD and as co-founder of the field of transpersonal psychology. Grof developed a “cartography of the psyche” based on his clinical work with psychedelics. Stan Grof and Rick Tarnas were colleagues at Esalen for years, where they used astrology in their therapies as an effective timing tool and source of insights.
As for my own astrology, I look for event-figures: planet events that coincide within a day or so, a configuration that might be repeated only once in many years. The rarer, the better; Stan Grof’s rarest event figure at birth (1931) has two other recurrences that led me to identify two of his potential kindred births, born with the same event-figure.
The first is M.C. Escher, the Dutch graphic artist, born in 1898, 33 years before Grof’s birth. Escher’s lithographs and woodcuts feature mathematical objects, interwoven figures, explorations of infinity, reflections, and other puzzling representations. His art is a powerful metaphor for Grof’s cartography of the psyche. They see self and world in new dimensions, perhaps with rare senses. This is how I came to think of Grof as the Escher of inner space. It shows in his use of visual arts in therapy to describe that space where the sublime and the underworldly often intermingle.
Looking back another 31 years for the previous recurrence of the same event-figure, we find Augustus Owsley Stanley, born in 1867, a Kentucky Governor and U.S. Senator. As it turns out, he was also the grandfather of Augustus Owsley Stanley III. Seeing this distinguished name made me laugh out loud. Owsley Stanley III was the first private individual to manufacture mass quantities of LSD. He was the sound man for the Grateful Dead; he kept all of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters well supplied with active ingredient. They called him “Bear.” I believe he’s the original artist of the Dead’s bear artwork.
The exceptional purity of Owsley acid surely endeared it to both therapeutic and recreational users at Esalen, while it lasted. Can’t you just imagine being at Esalen in the seventies, with Dr. Grof as your therapist-guide, and with some Owsley acid on board, having a wonder-filled journey, listening to a Grateful Dead album, getting lost in the M.C. Escher posters on the wall? We have here a complex image made up of parts from three different sources, actual persons no less, who each have their own stories.
The juxtaposing of these parts creates a unique image of the early days at Esalen. Having read Hillman’s From Types to Images, I think of context as the background of entanglements and implications that are played out in the mood and scene of a complex image. All the components are present here at once; I see a mood of wonder in this image, and a scene that could be elaborated with feelings, visions, and voices. This image already seems to present a mythical whole before any elaboration.
I will close with this Hillman quote:
“…now mind you, this is a myth and not a theory. So, you can’t prove it, you can’t disprove it, you can’t argue with it logically, you can’t argue with it empirically. All you can do is see what it does for you.”