Milky Way

Astrology, Dreams and Animal Totems

June 2010

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Going into A Deeper Underground Pool of Meaning and Resonance

In the first two posts in this series, I have been exploring the premise that interpretation of the symbolism of a birthchart from the traditional standpoint is really only the point of departure for an astropoetic exploration that goes much deeper than that. The exploration begins by identifying sensory and emotional correlates to the experience of a given transit to the natal chart – in this case, a natal Mercury-Mars square being triggered by transiting Mars conjunct natal Mercury and square natal Mars. It then extends to the identification of a pattern, which can be tracked through a cyclical history of similar transits. The pattern, however, is only the conscious portal to a deeper underground pool of meaning and resonance.

In this post, we will wade into this pool to see what else we can discover.

Exploring the Unconscious Dimensions of Soul Space

Quoting again from the original presentation of this material in my book, The Seven Gates of Soul: Reclaiming the Poetry of Everyday Life (pp 364-366):

"Now it is time to go back into the same cyclical history for additional clues that are less obvious to the conscious mind, but somehow still resonant within the context of this pattern. Just as Freud, Jung and many other psychologists have used dreams as a point of entry into soul space, so too can dreams correlated with a given cyclical history be used as a point of entry into a deeper understanding of the pattern. In June, 1998, as Mars was opposed by Mercury, I had a dream that an airplane lands in a clearing next to my house, crashing its wing through my roof. I tell the pilot, "You can't park here," but he ignores me, so we get into a fist fight. Meanwhile, people are starting to move in and out of my house, looting my possessions. Eventually the plane leaves, but not before my house is trashed. Although the particulars are unlike anything experienced in waking life, it should still be easy to see the familiar themes at work: I am broadsided by the plane crashing into my house; my emotional state shifts from relative tranquility to vulnerability to anger; and I am challenged by a crisis in communication. Here we have the same pattern, rendered in the dream language of the unconscious.

This dream reminds me of another I had in September, 1986. In this second dream, I am walking home in semi-darkness, being followed by, and sometimes following, a gray wolf with red eyes. I manage to elude him and get inside my house (which reminds me of the house in which I lived, right after I was born), when I notice that a door on the second floor is open. In trying to secure the door, I inadvertently knock down the entire wall, and can only surrender myself to the inevitable encounter with the wolf that I know is coming.

As it happened, this second dream took place on the opening night of an annual gathering in the New Mexico desert to celebrate the turning of the seasons. The gatherings are loosely structured around Native American ceremonies, and attended by people from all walks of life who find the ceremonies a meaningful way to mark the passage of soul time. Among these traditions is the practice of forming a more conscious relationship with one or more animal spirits, called totems, with which one feels a sense of resonance. Once such a relationship is identified, the qualities and ways of being associated with the animal often serve as a pivot point around which important life lessons are absorbed. In the Native American traditions in which totems are a central feature, individuals often adopt or are given names – called medicine names – that reflect the relationship with their totem animal, and perhaps with some quality in particular, possessed by the totem animal that they wish to more consciously embody. Choosing a totem animal and a medicine name is often not a rational decision, but rather a process of opening to a sense of resonance in a moment of synchronicity. My dream felt like such a moment and in its wake, I felt inspired to adopt the medicine name, Redwolf.

At the time, the name seemed to embody the masculine side of my nature, an energy I felt compelled to call on more intentionally, as an antidote to my vulnerability. I chose the color red, in part, because in my dream the wolf’s eyes were red, but also because red is associated with Mars, traditionally understood to be the archetypal embodiment of masculine energy. Sitting at the apex of a major pattern in my chart . . . Mars represents an area in my psyche I consider to be most in need of healing and integration. My adoption of this name in the wake of this dream was in part, a conscious nod to this ongoing healing process.

There was much more to the adoption of this name, however, than my conscious mind could possibly assimilate, and by choosing it, I also unwittingly opened a door to soul space that I did not previously know was there. This became evident to me immediately, for the morning after I had this dream and assumed this name, I felt great sadness. I went off into the desert and cried. My sadness stemmed in part from a lingering sense of vulnerability from the dream, but my vulnerability also had a deeper source that seemed to belong to the embodied world and everything in it. In that moment, I cried not just for myself, but also for all the suffering that filled the world. This sense of the world as a vulnerable place of suffering, and my emotional response to it, was the essence of the image that I was projecting into the world at that time, and accessing that essence was an intensely powerful experience.

At the time that I had this dream, transiting Mars was not at one of the cardinal points of its cycle with Mercury, though it was exactly semi-sextile (an aspect of 30 degrees) Mars and quincunx (an aspect of 150 degrees) Mercury, while four other planets (Sun, Moon, Jupiter and Uranus) were within orb (range) of an exact hard aspect to both natal planets. It was, in fact, the night of a full Moon, which itself was opposed natal Mars and square Mercury. Given this powerful convergence of astrological factors simultaneously triggering my natal Mars-Mercury square, I feel safe in assuming this experience was part of this same resonant pattern I have been discussing in relation to these planets.

Though astrological patterns can be helpful as a point of entry into the unconscious dimensions of a given resonant pattern, the farther in we go, the less rigidly attached to astrological correlates it behooves us to be. Traditional astrologers, in fact would not necessarily recognize the wolf as a symbol for Mars, nor does this particular symbolic equation necessarily mean anything in a generic sense. It does, however, evoke a powerful sense of resonance within the context of my subjective soul space, so for me, it is a fitting image of Mars through which I am able to project that aspect of my soul into the world.

I worked through a great deal of vulnerability with this medicine name over the course of the next ten years or so, as I asserted myself into situations that initially felt beyond my control. Instead of being a victim of circumstances, I learned to access a place of deeper strength and resourcefulness within my self – symbolized by the wolf, and to work with it, to create a space in which something positive could happen. One might say I was learning, in the context of this resonant pattern, to function more effectively in the face of situations that could potentially broadside me. I learned to think on my feet, respond to the unexpected in the moment, and flow with whatever was happening in the here and now. I still often call on this energy – which is now a part of me – whenever I feel I need the strength of my wolf totem in situations of great vulnerability."

Exploring the Interface Between Soul Space and the Collective Unconscious

In making this association between Mars and the wolf, I was simply following my intuition – moving from a dream that actually occurred during the cyclical history I am tracking to a memory of a similar dream, which in retrospect, proved to be part of the same astrological pattern. This is typical of the way the intuitive mind moves through soul space, as it weaves together the image that represents the resonant pattern it is trying to identify and explore. The movement is instinctual, and though it may follow an identifiable astro-logical pattern, there is often no rhyme nor reason to it, other than the fact that this is the way my subjective soul space happens to be arranged.

What gives the arrangement its resonance is partly the uncanny fact that as I perceive the landscape of my soul space, I also tap into the collective unconscious in ways that amplify the spiritual vitality of my resonant memories. When I find my way into soul space, I also find my place within the whole. The tears of Redwolf are personal tears, but they are also more than that. Just as Mars is connected to Mercury in my chart, the image of the wolf is also connected to a richer, more synergistic web of images that speak to the possibility for a higher level of integration within the resonant soul space that the wolf occupies.

The value in this exercise lies not in merely replacing one symbol with another, but in evoking a more visceral dimension of the birthchart than can be attained by merely decoding the astrological symbolism. As Jung pointed out (Symbols of Transformation, p 124):

"A symbol is an indefinite expression with many meanings, pointing to something not easily defined and therefore not fully known. But the sign always has a fixed meaning, because it is a conventional abbreviation for . . . something known. The symbol therefore has a large number of variants, and the more of these variants it has at its disposal, the more complete and clear-cut will be the image it projects of its object."

All too often, the astrological birthchart is simply interpreted as though it were a complex signature of signs, when it fact, it is potentially much more than that. Unlike more interpretive approaches to astrology, astropoetics encourages an exploration of the full range of variants present within the psyche, the life experiences, the dreams, and other synchronistic encounters associated with a given symbol of set of symbols.

Animal totem energies are a particularly valuable addition to the astrological lexicon of variants, since they harken back to a preverbal, instinctual state rooted in the body that can provide a more potent connection to a given symbol than merely intellectual speculation. But this understanding itself is astro-logical, since the zodiac on which astrology is based comes from the Greek word zogon, which means “circle of animals.” Thus to find animal correlates to specific astrological signatures is to tap into a very deep astro-logical root, the exploration of which goes directly to the heart of the matter. Again, to quote Jung (Symbols of Transformation, p. xxix):

"The psyche is not of today; its ancestry goes back many millions of years. Individual consciousness is only the flower and the fruit of a season, spring from the perennial rhizome beneath the earth; and it would find itself in better accord with the truth if it took the existence of the rhizome into its calculations, for the root matter is the mother of all things."

To follow the animal guardians through “the perennial rhizome beneath the earth” is to enter the natural realm where our human instincts are not only rooted, but where they still harbor the possibility of living in harmony with nature. In the next post in this series, we will follow the wolf into its world and see what it can teach us about a more natural approach to the difficulties associated with a Mars-Mercury square.

The next post in this series is Animal Symbiosis as a Model for Approaching Difficult Astrological Aspects.

To read more blog posts, go here.