Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Planets and Archetypes 9

Remarkably, however, all of the archetypal qualities associated with the new planet do fit another figure in Greek mythology with extraordinary precision: Prometheus, the Titan who rebelled against the gods, helped Zeus overthrow the tyrannical Kronos, then tricked the new sovereign authority Zeus, and stole fire from Mount Olympus to liberate humanity from the gods' power. Prometheus was considered the wisest of his race and taught humankind all the arts and sciences. Every major theme and quality astrologers associate with the planet Uranus seems to be reflected in the myth of Prometheus with a somewhat uncanny poetic exactitude: the initiation of radical change, the passion for freedom, the defiance of authority, the act of cosmic rebellion against a universal structure to free humanity of bondage, the urge to transcend limitation, the intellectual brilliance and genius, the element of excitement and risk. So also Prometheus's style in outwitting the gods, when he used subtle stratagems and unexpected timing to upset the established order. He too was regarded as the trickster in the cosmic scheme. The resonant symbol of Prometheus's fire conveys at once a rich cluster of meanings ”the creative spark, cultural and technological breakthrough, brilliance and innovation, the enhancement of human autonomy, sudden inspiration from above, the liberating gift from the heavens, the solar fire and light, lightning and electricity in their many senses both literal and metaphoric, the sudden catalyst of the new, speed and instantaneousness, incandescence, sudden enlightenment, intellectual and spiritual awakening ”all of which astrologers consider to be connected with the planet Uranus.

Interestingly, the major theme of the astrological Uranus that was clearly relevant to the mythological Ouranos ”the association with the heavens, the cosmic, the astronomical and astrological, the starry sky ”can also be recognized as essential to the Promethean myth, visible in Prometheus's role as teacher of astronomy and science to humankind, his quest to steal the fire from the heavens, and his concern with foresight, prediction, and esoteric understanding. The same theme is evident in the essential Promethean impulse to defy limitations, to defy the weight and slowness of gravity, to ascend and liberate from all constraints, and, more generally, to move humankind into a fundamentally different cosmic position in relationship to the gods.

The extant astrological literature does not reveal the precise basis originally used to determine Uranus's astrological meaning in the course of the nineteenth century, when astrologers were relatively few and texts rare. The earliest texts from the beginning of the twentieth century imply that consensus on the basic themes and qualities had already been achieved for some time. It is possible that the unique (and, indeed, Promethean) character of the planet's discovery itself had suggested the nature of the principle involved ”the sudden breakthrough from the heavens, the unexpected and unprecedented nature of the event, the crucial involvement of a technological invention (telescope), the radical disruption of astronomical and astrological tradition, the overthrow of past limits and structures. However, the earliest astrological texts I could find that discussed Uranus referred only to the character traits of persons with Uranus prominently placed at birth, implying that the study of natal charts had served as the principal basis for Uranus's definition.

More recent astrological sources suggested that the historical period of the planet's discovery in the late eighteenth century was relevant to its archetypal meaning ”using the reasoning that the discovery of the physical planet in some sense represented an emergence of the planet's corresponding archetype into the conscious awareness of the collective psyche. In this regard the parallels with Uranus's astrological meaning were certainly clear: The planet's discovery in 1781 occurred at the culmination of the Enlightenment, in the extraordinary era that brought forth the American and French Revolutions, the Industrial Revolution, and the age of Romanticism. In all these coinciding historical phenomena, the figure of Prometheus is of course readily evident as well: the championing of human freedom and individual self-determination, the challenge to traditional beliefs and customs, the revolt against royalty and aristocracy, against established religion, social privilege and political oppression; the Declarations of Independence and the Rights of Man, liberty and egality ; the beginnings of feminism, the widespread interest in radical ideas, the rapidity of change, the embrace of novelty, the celebration of human progress, the many inventions and technological advances, the revolutions in art and literature, the exaltation of the free human imagination and creative will, the plethora of geniuses and culture heroes. Here too were the Romantic poets with their great paeans to Prometheus himself. If the age of Uranus's discovery were to be given an archetypal characterization, none seemed more appropriate than Prometheus Unbound.

I have taken more time here in explicating the case of Uranus in the midst of these otherwise brief initial summaries of the planetary meanings, as it was my early study of this planet and the significant discrepancies between its given mythological name and its subsequently observed archetypal associations that set in motion many of the conceptual clarifications and research directions that form the background of the present book.8 The parallels with the mythic figure of Prometheus were sufficiently suggestive that I began a systematic examination of Uranus in natal charts, in transits, and in historical cycles, to see whether such an archetypal identification or association deepened my understanding of the relevant phenomena. The parallels also suggested to me the importance of carefully thinking through the relationship between planets and archetypes, between the given mythological names and the observed astrological meanings, and, more generally, between the empirical evidence of synchronistic correlations and an archetypal dimension of being to which the correlations appeared to point.


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