The transpersonality of Stan Grof

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.”

Hillman, on the Image, speaks to Archetypal Astrology

Though James Hillman had an ongoing personal interest in natal astrology, I have found few explicit mentions of it in his writings. Here is my favorite thus far, from The Soul’s Code:

There is in each of us a longing to see beyond what our usual sight tells us. A revelation of the invisible in an intelligible form leads us to the astrologer. (Hillman, 1996)

What I am seeking in Hillman’s work is not so much his astrological references as his writings on images, which I explore for insights relevant to archetypal astrology. What comes through in his attunement to the archetypal is a domain as intimate as a dream, in which the imagination does its work of image play. I find threads in Hillman’s writing with significant implications for natal astrology. The acorn theory is the most comprehensive of these, from The Soul’s Code:

The acorn theory proposes, and I will bring evidence for, the claim that you and I and every single person is born with a defining image. Individuality resides in a formal cause – to use old philosophical language going back to Aristotle. (Hillman, 1996)

This is a succinct statement of a philosophical ground that seems as fundamental to astrology as it is to his acorn theory. He describes the image a person is born with as defining the life, showing this through biographical accounts. I have been guided in my own work by Hillman’s statements on the topic of images. In his most recently published collection, From Types to Images, he describes in more detail the distinct features of an image:

…an image is nothing more than a complex depiction in any medium that is precisely qualified by a specific context, mood, and scene.

 By context I mean the psychological entanglement within a mood and scene. I could call this entanglement ‘resonance,’ ‘implication,’ or ‘depth.’ … Entangled in an image is its implication whose depth amplifies into the wide world. (Hillman, 2019)

Even though many of the images Hillman writes about are from dreams, these statements encompass also the “defining image” of a life; that is, its acorn. The astrological study of a nativity, unlike a dream, doesn’t readily provide an image; even so, I believe that the acorn can be actively imagined. I’ve drawn on Hillman’s thoughts about images to discover creative principles for my study of archetypal astrology.

Again, in From Types to Images, he describes the phenomena of images:

… I do want to suggest the peculiarity in an image. Images, you know, are very odd arrangements. They are heightened intensified moments.

All the events of an image occur together. Simultaneity contrasts with the sequential reading of narrative in which events follow one after the other. (Hillman, 2019)

How does one learn to see the defining image a person is born with? In The Soul’s Code, Hillman offers several instances of famous individuals such as the Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. I was delighted to find that Hillman chose to write about Bergman and was moved to compose a brief tribute myself.

On Bergman’s influence, director Martin Scorsese commented: “If you were alive in the 50s and the 60s and of a certain age, a teenager on your way to becoming an adult, and you wanted to make movies, I don’t see how you couldn’t be influenced by Bergman. …It’s impossible to overestimate the effect that those films had on people. It’s not that Bergman was the first film artist to confront serious themes. It’s that he worked in a symbolic and an emotional language that was serious and accessible.Scorsese on Bergman

In The Soul’s Code, Bergman’s childhood eccentricity is illustrated in his description of a pivotal episode:

At the age of 7 he was taken to the circus, an event that “drove me into a state of feverish excitement.” The crucial moment came when he saw “a young woman dressed in white, riding around on a huge black stallion. I was overcome with love for this young woman. She was included in my fantasy games and I called her Esmeralda. Under an oath of secrecy, I confided in the boy called Nisse who sat next to me at school. I told him that my parents had sold me to Schumann’s Circus and I was soon to be taken away from home and school to be trained as an acrobat, together with Esmeralda, who was considered the most beautiful woman in the world. The next day my fantasy was revealed and desecrated…”  

This fantasied love ended in heartbreak when teachers and parents heard about Ingmar’s secret, leading to severe disciplinary measures. In Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Quasimodo loves a Gypsy girl named Esmeralda. Whether young Bergman really meant to name his own fantasy lover after her, he could resonate with the hunchback’s helpless infatuation, and bemoan with him the cruelty of the world. This sounds like a Saturn-Venus story for any age or era.

I focus on two planetary aspect events near Bergman’s birth on 14 July 1918. Venus’ sextile to Saturn in Leo perfects (is exact) on 11 July, and the next day, Mercury conjoins Neptune in Leo. The Venus-Saturn sextile reveals a contrast akin to the story of Beauty and the Beast. And in young Ingmar’s story, Beauty is the acrobatic Esmeralda, who performs atop a great black stallion in the circus. Mercury with Neptune gives a sense of searching for what is unknown but compelling, embracing the mysterious object of this fascination, even declaring undying love and loyalty. It hardly matters how much fabrication is needed to maintain the illusion.

In The Soul’s Code, Hillman quotes from another of Bergman’s childhood memories, which begins with another black horse, from the golden age of cinema:

More than anything else, I longed for a cinematograph. The year before, I had been to the cinema for the first time and seeing a film about a horse. I think it was called Black Beauty. To me, it was the beginning. I was overcome with a fever that has never left me…”  

After considering Jung’s and Hillman’s thoughts on the creative imagination, I believe these aspects can be treated as facets of an image that has yet to show itself. This is imagining what happens when the images of these two aspects are juxtaposed, in the context of the native’s life.

The transpersonality of James Hillman

I have read several of James Hillman’s books, and considering his substantial influence on my thinking, he was one of the first subjects I considered for my ongoing series of case studies. His natal chart displays a wedge pattern, with Jupiter and Neptune closely opposed, the Sun trining Neptune and sextiling Jupiter. I was interested in finding another notable nativity, from a different decade or century, where the same planets are making the same coinciding aspects.

I find that comparing births that are distant in time is often more interesting than studying time or date twins. And even though this is not intended as a search for literal past lives, it still holds a certain intrigue. There is one 3-day period that caught my eye when I went looking for charts from the late 1800s, and that is 24-26 Sep 1888, when the same configuration of Sun, Jupiter, and Neptune that I just described is repeated. The poet T. S. Eliot was born on 26 Sep and his name certainly stood out; Eliot is Hillman’s first kindred spirit that I found.

The coinciding of the above three aspect events within such a brief period is unique to late Sep 1888, within the 600-year range I’m studying (1500-2100). This method is guided by rarity as one principle of selection and prominence as another. In view of this, T. S. Eliot was chosen from a list of about twenty persons with Wikipedia pages who were born within those few days.

Hillman was the first director of the Jung Institute; his training was in depth psychology and his interest in dreams was both therapeutic and theoretical, as evidenced in his archetypal psychology. Eliot was an alchemist with images and words, turning dreams and visions into poetry; Neptune is the planet most akin to dream life and poetry. Theirs is a kinship that feels pretty natural. They both loved writing and lived as American expats for a long time. They explored the pinnacles and depths of human experience; they shared a rare awareness. These quotations reveal closely related themes:

Poetry may make us from time to time a little more aware of the deeper, unnamed feelings which form the substratum of our being, to which we rarely penetrate; for our lives are mostly a constant evasion of ourselves. (Eliot, 1964)

The truer you are to your daimon, the closer you are to the death that belongs to your destiny… Perhaps this intimacy between calling and fate is why we avoid the daimon and the theory that upholds its importance. (Hillman, 1996)

If we may use dramatic metaphors to describe planetary events, we could say that an aspect is like a dialogue, or that a station is like a soliloquy. What then is being said between Jupiter and Neptune in opposition? It surely touches on those deep aversions to facing the daimon, the unknown and unnamed. Jupiter’s mission is to recognize and to name, to translate a mysterious sighting into familiar terms. Neptune, mother of mystery and symbol of the unknown, speaks in vague images and atmospherics. The Sun, as Nous, witnesses this exchange with its own aspect events and makes of this a guiding light.

Applying Hillman’s ideas on images from my earlier post about context, mood, and scene, this description begins to capture a facet of the defining image that is present at each of these births.

Another remarkable person born during a recurrence of the same aspect pair is Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950), “an Indian Hindu sage and jivanmukta (liberated being). He attracted devotees that regarded him as an avatar and came to him for darshan (‘the sight of God’). In later years, an ashram grew up around him, where visitors received spiritual instruction by sitting silently in his company asking questions. Since the 1930s his teachings have been popularized in the West, resulting in his worldwide recognition as an enlightened being” (Wikipedia, 2020).

I also am reminded of James Hillman’s long-term fascination with India and its polytheistic spirituality.

The theme developed above with quotes from Hillman and Eliot is plainly related to fear of death. The following quote from Maharshi makes clear how he related with death. In his chart Jupiter sextiles Neptune rather than opposing it. It sets a different tone from the other two:

Who am I? Not the body, because it is decaying; not the mind, because the brain will decay with the body; not the personality, nor the emotions, for these also will vanish with death. (Sri Ramana Maharshi)

Dr. Patricia Berry, Hillman’s former wife and co-founder of Archetypal Psychology, as it turns out, also has something in common with Sri Ramana Maharshi, sharing with him a Grand Trine at her birth between Sun, Uranus, and Neptune. Hillman’s connection to Maharshi was formed by the Sun’s aspects to Jupiter and Neptune, so he and Berry share only the Sun’s trine with Neptune. They were born with two distinct figures and Maharshi was born with both.

There’s more, though, besides the symbols. The events that make up each figure coincide so closely that it is a real rarity to find people who share them. For instance, Berry’s birth in 1943 was the first recurrence of the figure she shares with Maharshi since his birth in 1879. Hillman’s birth in 1926 was the second recurrence of his figure since Maharshi’s birth. Each recurrence yields a list of ten or so names to consider, on average. So, these are unusual coincidings.

I have no real knowledge of Hillman and Berry as a couple, but they seem to have made a prodigious team, while being very distinct individuals. The symbolism of their planets suggests the capacity for a high degree of mutual attunement. I hope to read about Berry in Vol. 2 of his biography.

This planetary commentary is essentially a gift from the cosmic artist/poet. If this is evidence of the working of imagination in the world, not just in my head, then what more could I ask for? To learn more about what it’s evidence of? This symbolic image communicates a quality that has its own aesthetic value; even its own rarity contributes to that value. What does it stand for, if not its own eternal validity? These are not just rhetorical questions for me; I often argue with myself about such things.

Announcing a Coincidings update in Planetdance

I posted this recently on the Planetdance FB group, to announce a new version of my astrology app, Coincidings:

The latest version of Planetdance ( includes a major update to Coincidings. In case you are wondering, this app enables you to search across the decades and centuries for counterparts, kindred spirits, or life parallels for the selected native. The dance of the planets provides the magical part.

The new version includes improved browsing, a new Chart menu item for recurrence charts, and new capabilities: it can now search for 3-event figures. The original version was limited to 2 events, and I still mostly use the 2-event figures (they are not as hard to find).

I have simplified the browsing of births near a recurrence. Now when you check ‘Browse Births’ it will automatically include only Wikipedia entries with a photo, so you can just browse the more prominent ones. The Wikipedia page will be displayed when you select one in the browser. If you want to see all entries, check both the ‘Browse Births’ box and the ‘Include All Births’ box.

I’m planning a tutorial for the new version, so meanwhile, please see the Help text for the Coincidings app. And there are three existing tutorials posted here on this blog that are still useful for demonstrating just what it is that I do with this app.

Thanks for giving Coincidings a try. I think you’ll agree, there’s nothing else like it, anywhere.


Coincidings Tutorial 3: Albert Einstein

With a week to spare before Albert Einstein’s birthday, here is a relatively brief tutorial, the third for my Coincidings app, that introduces my kindred birth findings for Einstein. It is also an attempt to improve the style and I hope that works as intended. It’s a narrow look at one part of Einstein’s nativity. Here is the link to the video:

Henry Corbin and Antero Alli: a study of recurrences

(This is from the James Hillman – Archetypal Psychology FB group)

I begin by juxtaposing two notable authors whose works have been featured on this forum recently. Only here have I heard of Henry Corbin, whose writing has fascinated me, and as I often do, I looked at the planet events near his birth on 14 Apr 1903, then searched over a long period for births that shared those same events. After a short while, I came up with a list of births around a recurrence of the same planetary figure on 11 Nov 1952. Turns out this was the very day of Antero Alli’s arrival. I have learned to pay attention to such things, and I look for parallels and analogies between lives.

We would hope to find some clues in the symbols of the planetary figure in question. Both nativities have the same two major aspects, a Sun-Uranus trine and a Mars-Neptune square. It’s not only that they have both aspects in orb natally; they both were born close to a recurrence of these coinciding aspect perfections within a day.

What does this mean? As soon as I try to put words to it, I reduce the experience. However, one must start somewhere. And in starting with what I have learned from reading these authors, it strikes me that I’m not only asking the planets for insights about these lives; I’m asking the lives: what can you tell me about these planets? There is a reciprocity at work.

I begin by asking, what is Mars’ challenge to embody Neptune’s mystery? This question came from my intuitions of a common thread between two lives. And the answer depended on finding pertinent writings to quote from. I finally found what I needed as Corbin describes ta’wīl:

Corbin: “In ta’wīl one must carry sensible forms back to imaginative forms and then rise to still higher meanings; to proceed in the opposite direction (to carry imaginative forms to the sensible forms in which they originate) is to destroy the virtualities of the imagination.”

This can be read as an insightful translation of Mars squaring Neptune in the context of Corbin’s work. But for Alli, I was lacking the right words until thankfully I came upon what he posted very recently on this forum, which says it all:

Alli: “In my Paratheatre work, images and visions often erupted spontaneously after certain exertions were met for feeling the body deeply. Most of the time, these images were personal and linked with familiar complexes but once in awhile, more charged images would surface carrying a greater presence of Otherness, as if they were more visitations than memories.”

As for the Sun trining Uranus, I follow my intuitions to ask, are these lives showing one’s loyalty to an eccentric path? This trine also could suggest a sense of communion with one’s daimon or angel. My next question is, how do these aspects coincide meaningfully? I do not have a ready answer for that.

In the course of my research, I came across this statement, deeply provocative to modern ears:

“… This is a kind of pathology of the heart wherein emotions substitute for feeling. In a correlative disorder, the intellect, the thinking faculty, also attempts to engulf the world within itself. Abstract words and concepts, theories and schematic, theory-driven visions all swallow the world the way possessive, complex-driven love swallows the Beloved. The great work then is to come home to yourself and let the world be the world.”

— Cheetham, Tom. Imaginal Love: The Meanings of Imagination in Henry Corbin and James Hillman

Cheetham’s statement enables me to affirm the way I approach a case study. If I had a theory about the recurrences I study, then successfully identifying someone as a ‘kindred birth’ could be taken as evidence in support of that theory. But that isn’t my focus, nor how I arrive at a better understanding of the case I’m studying. I have a method, not a theory; I’m still studying the glimmerings that arise when we juxtapose symbolic figures and persons.

Kindred Births: Christiane Amanpour and Bina Das

(I wrote this quite a while back and never posted it until now.)

Christiane Amanpour, CBE is a British-Iranian journalist and television host. Amanpour is the Chief International Correspondent for CNN and host of CNN International’s nightly interview program Amanpour. She is also the host of Amanpour & Company on PBS.

With Amanpour in the news recently — she has replaced Charlie Rose on PBS — this is a good opportunity to ask what it means to find births with common planetary patterns. A natal 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 what if we step back to view it in a broader context, and shift our attention to the planets in motion? The birth moment becomes the center of a wider time window in which we become aware of planetary events, like aspect contacts (perfections), planet stations and sign ingresses. This is similar to the horary viewpoint when it focuses on planetary events around the time of a question, only now we are seeing the natal moment in the context of near-birth events.

In the zodiac, the planetary aspects are based on the simplest geometrical patterns, and combine to form more complex ones. When planetary events coincide within 2 or 3 days of each other, they are also participating in a different kind of pattern that is time-limited. This pattern I will call an event-figure for lack of a better term. The point of using such a narrow time window for events is to first screen out all but the closest coincidings of events, and then to include only the closest birth dates. This method is well suited to working with untimed births or handling uncertainties in reported times, and has been developed with that in mind.

So I’m looking to find symbolically fitting parallels between lives with common natal event-figures. In this case, the figure includes a Venus station and a Mars trine to Uranus. There was a recurrence of these two coinciding events within a 3-day period in August 1911, with Venus going retrograde and Mars trining Uranus . The planetary symbolism of a strong female (Venus station) and a fervent revolutionary (Mars & Uranus) comes through clearly when we look at the biography of Bina Das (link below), who shares this event-figure with Amanpour.

Bina Das (Aug 24, 1911 – Dec 26, 1986) was an Indian revolutionary and nationalist from Bengal. She was the daughter of a well-known Brahmo teacher, Beni Madhab Das and a social worker, Sarala Devi. Her elder sister Kalyani Das (Bhattacharyee) was also a freedom fighter.

Amanpour, on the other hand, is confident rather than fervent, and expressed a streak of revolutionary energy in her career as a war correspondent. Her own revolution has placed her at the top of her field.

Here’s a link to the current pdf introduction to my kindred births work, with additional sections on details and research topics: Kindred births and planetary recurrences