The Seven Gates of Soul

 

Introduction

Like many who have come before me, and many who will come after, I always intuitively believed that I was born for a reason. I am here not just as a biochemical convergence of routine happenstance, but as part of a conscious design. Whose conscious design has never been a question with easy answers, but I cannot help but notice its presence everywhere. I marvel at the fact that the Earth is just the right distance from the Sun, and has all the necessary ingredients – a breathable atmosphere, accessible water, a moderate temperature, and more – to support organic life. I am awed by the fact that day follows night, and season follows season, in predictable rhythm. It amazes me to notice that every detail of this wondrous creation – from the tiniest pebble on the beach to the infinity of stars overheard – seems to play its part in an exquisite mosaic that is always changing, yet always whole. Systems of river tributaries, the circulatory system of a human body, and the network of veins in a leaf echo each other in one of many discernible patterns that unite all of nature into an integrated masterpiece of ingenious creation. While some might take such simple observations for granted, or assign them to chance, I have always held them in an aura of sacred revelation.

I won’t pretend to understand this revelation, nor even that I think it is understandable with any degree of certainty, but I do celebrate the irresistible invitation it extends. For at the heart of this invitation is the implication that I, too, have my place and my purpose within the outworking of conscious design that is everywhere around me. This part of me that partakes of the creative intelligence at work throughout the universe has traditionally been called the “soul,” and so that is what I will call it in this book. That I apparently possess a soul that is somehow mine, yet also connects me to something much larger, older and wiser, I take to be the greatest miracle of all.

In one way or another, the attempt to understand and articulate the nature, place and purpose of soul has been my lifelong quest. With more than mere academic interest, I have journeyed through many realms – religion, science, philosophy, metaphysics, astrology, psychology, mythology, music and poetry among them – in pursuit of a language to articulate the unfathomable mystery posed by my existence. What I have discovered is that none of these disciplines can fully encompass the soul, yet all have something to contribute to an exploration of the riddles that the soul poses.

Standing outside the circle, beholden to no one worldview, has brought me closer to an evolving truth I could live with. The most valuable truth is less a definitive statement than a kaleidoscope of a question capturing light from every possible angle. To create such a kaleidoscope, I have found it necessary to meander around a focal point of intention, rather than charge my subject matter head on. As I see it, circling is the heart of meaningful inquiry, and paradoxically a more direct pathway to an understanding of soul than assuming definitive answers. Rainer Maria Rilke, one of western civilization’s greatest poets, describes the journey this way:


I live my life in growing orbits
which move out over the things of the world.
Perhaps I can never achieve the last,
but that will be my attempt.
    
I am circling around God, around the ancient tower,
and I have been circling for a thousand years,
and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm,
or a great song.

 

Not knowing is rarely acknowledged as a virtue by our achievement-oriented culture, but it was for Rilke and is for me a rich and fertile place. When I do not have definitive answers, I am free to turn the kaleidoscope of possibilities, and discover something new. When I think I know something in absolute terms, the pattern gels, and I become a prisoner of that pattern. As beautiful as the pattern may be, something inside of me dies when I stop circling that “ancient tower” in some misguided attempt to possess it. The cosmic design that has given birth to falcons, storms and great songs cannot be possessed. Like a butterfly, whose seemingly random movements through the garden scatter beauty and pollen upon the dancing wind, something essential is lost forever when truth or beauty get pinned to a dissection board for closer scrutiny. This is not to say that the mystery of soul is inscrutable. We can glimpse it now and then, if we lean into it with open minds and hearts. The mystery is best approached humbly, however, with hat in hand, not with fiercely defended expertise or authority.

Speaking about soul, I readily acknowledge that I am entering a conversation that has been running unabated since the beginning of human discourse. Anthropologists have gradually pieced together an understanding of so-called primitive cultures, that places speculation about the soul – in some cases, rather sophisticated speculation – and preparations for its care, at the very heart of their existence. Religious traditions throughout the ages and around the world have long concerned themselves with the fate of the soul and its relationship to larger questions of life, death and eternity. From circa 600 BCE to the 18th or 19th century, Europe became a hotbed of discussion about soul, and secular and religious philosophers rubbed noses and bumped heads with scientists and theologians to hash out basic questions about the cosmos, man’s place within the natural order, and other endless conundrums. Even after science went its separate way in the 17th century, became king, divorced itself from religion and philosophy, and declared all questions about soul to be irrelevant to an understanding of the universe, curiosity continued to abound. A quick search on the Internet today spits out thousands of references to books offering advice, solace, and/or enlightened perspective to the soul, suggesting that far from being dead, the river of soul has snaked its way through human consciousness, spawning hundreds of tributaries.

At times, the conversation about soul has been a vital raging torrent, sweeping some of the world’s greatest minds into its current. At other times, the stream of soul has all but disappeared from the visible landscape, to wind underground through cloistered monasteries, arcane esoteric brotherhoods, and remote mystery schools. Never quite disappearing entirely, this flow has been the metaphysical lifeblood of our species – whether in celebration or neglect. It has coursed through our veins ever since human beings became conscious enough to think and wonder. If I dare to jump into this stream, it is not because I have definitive answers, but because I burn with the same relentless questions that drove those who came before me. The questions, not the answers, are what drive me.

Interest in the soul is as perennial as the return of greenery in the spring, because it speaks to the hidden, durable roots of our existence. The questions posed by soul: “Who am I?”, “Why am I here?”, “What is the meaning and purpose of my existence?” and “What is my place within the larger scheme of things?” generate a subliminal undertone to every life, regardless of its external shape. There is rarely a moment when these questions do not provide the over-arching context for everything we do in the course of our lives. At times the undertone is scarcely audible; at other times, usually in moments of crisis, it becomes deafening. These questions and our relationship to them define us, not just in temporal, worldly terms, but as spiritual beings, a part of something much larger than can be contained in the mere existence we are trying to understand.

Like Rilke circling his ancient tower, we will circle around these questions posed by soul – which ultimately have no final or absolute answers – at least until the day we die. It is this circling that gives our life its spiritual focus.

Too many who circle these questions believe that finally arriving at the tower, and claiming it for their particular corner of the kingdom, is the object of their quest. This is as true for spiritual seekers as it is for philosophers, theologians, or scientists. Dogma of any persuasion is not truth, and to muck around in it for any length of time is to lose the capacity to move. That is too steep a price to pay. Truth is a living, breathing work-in-progress. To seek it with integrity is to acknowledge at the outset that it will change into something else the moment you think you have it. My truth will not necessarily be your truth; and what is true for me today may not be true for me tomorrow. It is not “the Truth” that will be of greatest use to the soul, but many smaller truths, which are temporary and relative to the moment. Although I have clung to various truths from time to time as though they were “the Truth,” I have gradually learned that to be true to my soul’s particular quest for meaning and purpose, I have had to disavow absolute answers, in whatever guise they try to seduce me. Each pathway to Truth I have explored has proven to be fatally flawed in some way, yet it has been the discovery of such flaws that has kept the kaleidoscope turning, and produced a steady stream of smaller truths of deeper importance to the soul.

I once wanted to be a Catholic priest. But then I wondered, “How could a God capable of creating this magnificent universe be so jealous as to exclude from His circle those who had seen the ancient tower from a different perspective?” I once wanted to be a scientist. But then one day in a sophomore titration experiment, watching the colors transmute from black to purple to magenta to red to orange to yellow to amber to clear, I realized that science could not adequately account for the miracle of this ineffable beauty, and unless it could, I had no doubt that in its hands the Truth would become a terminally dry affair. I once wanted to be a psychologist. But I found too much effort to classify people that sacrificed the delicacy of unpredictable nuance in human nature, and too many statistical probabilities that left real people out in the cold. I have immersed myself in the study and practice of astrology for over thirty years, and am still fascinated enough by it to want to write this book to share with you its potential as a language of soul. But I have never been entirely comfortable calling myself an astrologer, because of its association with pop psychology and a personal fate decodable by perfect strangers armed with cookbooks and computers. To the extent that any of these disciplines have attempted to lay claim to the Truth, they have lost a bit of my allegiance, and left me hungering for a less authoritative, more intimate way of knowing.

I quested for a pathway into the nature of reality that would not require me to sell my perpetually evolving soul for access to the Truth. I wanted a path whose guardians were brave enough to acknowledge that getting there was not the point of the journey. I wanted someone to say to me, “I have no answers for you, but I can teach you how to identify the really interesting questions.” No one came forward, and I heard my plea echoing onto a battlefield of competing ideologies. The quest for Truth, I soon learned, was rarely pursued as an open-ended inquiry into the kaleidoscopic nature of reality, but more often as a mechanism for validating and asserting a particular point of view. History is filled with religious persecutions of scientific heresies, and vigorous scientific dismissals of metaphysical assumptions. Religions vie amongst themselves for souls – sometimes violently through wars and inquisitions – while physicists, biologists and psychologists often eye each other with suspicion. Astrologers are rarely taken seriously by any of these other disciplines, although within their ranks is great debate over which approach to astrology is most valid.

The most interesting discoveries – that is to say, those most capable of breathing fresh life into the quest for truth – span the conceptual gap between disciplines. Einstein triggered a scientific paradigm shift, not by clinging to the orthodoxy of his profession, but by walking the razor’s edge between science and metaphysics. Gandhi brought an empire to its knees, not by selling religious dogma, but by bridging the gap between religion and secular politics. Jung unhinged the science of psychology by daring to infuse his science with the distinctly unscientific wisdom of ancient myths, fairy tales, alchemy and his own internal voices. None of these pioneers could have unearthed these bits and pieces of soul wisdom without abandoning the quest for Truth, and daring to circle the ancient tower in a more open-ended, multidisciplinary way.

In my own quest, I have found that a willingness to embrace diverse perspectives yields the most useful truth. When any seeker of truth forgets this, in a zealous attempt to embrace the Truth, he or she slips over the thin line between truth and dogma. Religious seekers forget that all paths ultimately lead to God, and begin to proselytize the One True Faith. Scientific seekers lose the spirit of discovery for discovery’s sake and begin to design their experiments to prove what they already believe. Psychologists forget they have a complex living person in front of them, and begin to unconsciously mold their clients to fit their pet theories about human nature. Astrologers with chart in hand begin to think they know who their client is, before he or she even walks through the door.

Regardless of the path that is followed, when it alone becomes the sole determinant of Truth, the circling of the ancient tower that gives vitality to the quest ceases, the kaleidoscope stops turning, and truth begins to rot as dogma on a cultivated vine.

 

A natural-born skeptic and outsider by nature, I am free to discover beauty and value in each approach, yet escape the predisposition to close-mindedness that seems to plague most “true believers.” I see that each discipline has glimpsed some essential understanding that is missing in the other perspectives, and from that I can weave a much more interesting collage than any dogmatist. Since the very thought of such work excites me, I feel certain that I must be hot on the trail of something useful to my quest – and hopefully of interest to others. At the very least, I am compelled to follow this particular trail around the ancient tower, just to see what I can see.

 

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What I value from the religious perspective in general, and my own religious upbringing in particular, is the concept of soul. To a scientist, the world is devoid of soul. To the psychologist versed in the more traditional branches of the art, soul is but the primordial soup out of which a more functionally useful ego must arise to shape and steer the personality. Even to the religious seeker, soul is a means to an end – defined as salvation, enlightenment, or transcendence. From the religious perspective, however, we have an acknowledgment that the same forces that shaped this miraculous creation have shaped us as well, and it is this aspect of the perspective I find attractive.

In Part One of this book, I travel through the religious worldview with more focused attention. My intent is to help free the soul from the straitjacket that religion has imposed upon it, and point the way toward a more useful understanding of the soul’s spiritual dimension. If I understand myself to be a soul, grown from the same soil as everything else in this manifest universe, then I will recognize myself, and learn something new, each time I encounter a falcon, a storm, or a great song. This possibility of recognition is what gives my soul’s journey its momentum and its promise of joyful reunion with a larger Self [1] - call it God or Spirit. If I take this possibility to its most enticing extreme, everywhere I go, there “I” am, and my circling around the ancient tower becomes a process of meeting my Self in every possible dimension. The Sufi poet Rumi once put this thought in a poem called “The Turn”:


I stand up, and this one of me
turns into a hundred of me.
They say I circle around you.
Nonsense. I circle around me.

 

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What I value from the scientific perspective is the discipline of empirical inquiry guided by logic. Science labors under the illusion of objectivity, although its own experiments have proven that the mindset and expectations of the observer affect the outcome of the observations. Science also refuses to acknowledge any pathway to knowledge but that which can be traversed by the left-brain, analytical, rational mind, while the right-brain, intuitive, metaphorical mind is actually better suited to the courting of mystery. But science does recognize the value of forming a relationship to the truth that is based upon empirical evidence, and, as I hope to demonstrate later in this book, this is an attitude that is just as useful to the evolution of an intimately personal truth as it is to the validation of objective truth.

Traditional religion abdicates this responsibility to provide evidence for one’s claims about the nature of reality. In place of empirical inquiry, religion requires faith. If you trace the history of most religions back far enough, faith is just another word for placing greater credence in someone else’s experiences than your own.

To the extent that psychology has risen from and wedded itself to the scientific worldview, it has built its truth with the same insistence on left-brain objectivity that renders science useless as a tool for exploring subjective truth. Individual experience is often forced into a common mold in order to fit psychological theory, instead of being allowed to reveal its own subjective logic in terms that are unique to it.

In Part Two of this book, I outline what I feel are the limitations and virtues of the scientific method. Then I invite the reader to imagine what an empirical pathway of inquiry into the nature of the soul’s journey might look like once it has been freed from the tyranny of objectivity and the rational mind. Soul, by its very nature, speaks to us in a fluid language of image, symbol and metaphor, colored intimately by sensory awareness and feelings. The truth revealed by this language is multidimensional, often paradoxical or self-contradictory, and open to many interpretations, each of which can be a useful turning of the kaleidoscope. If we are going to establish a relationship with soul that can be articulated, we must be open to a more meandering approach as we pursue the various clues the soul will drop – in our dreams, through synchronistic encounters with others who serve as mirrors to our truth, in seemingly-random patterns that play themselves out all around us in concert with our movements. This process is absolutely empirical in nature, though not in the way that science understands the term.

Our goal is to develop a focus that is intent enough to penetrate the veils, but not so narrowly defined that we cannot catch the subtler choreography of soul that often takes place at the periphery of our awareness. Science tries to squeeze out the periphery; we want to stake our claim somewhere between what we can observe through direct attention and what we can’t quite bring into focus, except by an endless circling of the mystery that soul is. We don’t want to lose the valuable discipline that observation brings, but we also want to observe ourselves observing, and find our truth somewhere between the one who is seeing and the one who is being seen.

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What I value about psychology, that seems missing from science, religion, and often astrology, is its focus on addressing core issues – those seemingly-intractable patterns in our lives that cause pain and suffering. Through the god-like auspices of medicine, and increasingly through a form of psychology that is rooted in neurochemistry, science seeks to alleviate pain, if not eliminate it altogether. Religion considers it a virtue to endure pain, rationalizing that a painful life is the price of sin, and that if one suffers silently and plays by the rules, one’s reward will come in the next life. For all their theories about where pain comes from and what can be done about it, most psychologists at least recognize the value of entering more deeply into our suffering in order to understand it, work through it, and then let it go. My sense is that core issues are not quite so easily released, but are meant to be the catalyst to a lifelong process of learning that is often psychological in nature, as well as a pivotal path to evolution in the life of the soul. The work of soul is, in fact, living with, coming to more conscious terms with, and slowly transmuting core issues. Psychology can give us some of the language and perspective with which to do this work, even if it doesn’t always recognize the true spiritual purpose of the work.

In Part Three, I explore certain psychological perspectives and concepts that can be useful cornerstones in a language of soul. The life of the soul parallels and is not entirely separate from a developmental approach to psychology, which recognizes human growth as more than just a pathway of adaptation to social norms. No one has articulated this perspective more clearly than Carl Jung, who was brave enough to engage the soul, not only in his academic role as a psychological pioneer, but also quite intimately in his personal life. In particular, his concept of the archetypes as guides to various phases of the soul’s evolutionary process will serve as a valuable template to an astropoetic language of soul. Jung’s work has been carried forward into contemporary times by a small army of dedicated psychologists, none more important than James Hillman, from whom we will occasionally draw important inspiration for the trek into more decidedly astrological waters. The humanistic and transpersonal schools of psychology are likewise a valuable source of understanding about the generic evolution of soul within the human psyche. However, it is an understanding that we will necessarily have to glean through peripheral vision, as we make important distinctions between soul and Spirit on the transpersonal side of the equation, and between soul and the human being (as understood without reference to Spirit) on the humanistic side.

Before these psychological concepts are ready for prime time soul work, we will have to extract them from the scientific mindset out of which they evolved, for many of the pitfalls that hamper science’s ability to serve as an adequate language of soul also impede psychology. Like science, psychology seeks a rational explanation for the function of a biochemical machine, or the cause of behavior that deviates from a mythical norm, or the confirmation of its own theories. The human soul is not that easily captured in a neat analytical box, and is often absent from psychological discourse. Each soul is, in fact, a one-of-a-kind work of art in progress, and this bugaboo has yet to register in the psychological kingdom.

Before psychological concepts can be truly helpful to the soul, the widespread preoccupation with articulating the universal human experience – as if all life was stamped out of a monolithic genetic template – must be exposed as a shallow, self-serving exercise. Labeling a common problem ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), for example, may benefit the drug companies providing treatment, but it does not help the individual soul to understand how its particular struggle with this malady is part of a larger, more important journey toward wholeness and integration. Similarly, personality types, statistical observations of human behavior, and psychological profiles do not speak to the individual soul in a language it can understand.

To render psychology useful, we must give it back to the individual. Only as we each find an intimately personal language to talk about the psychology of soul, will we step onto a path we can truly call our own. We all use the same words. But words have different meanings in different contexts, and before we can talk intelligently about the soul, we must reinterpret basic principles through a deeper allegiance to the context in which each individual life gropes toward meaning. If the individual soul is to be empowered to recognize and actualize itself, we must realize that each life has its own internal logic. This logic must be honored beyond allegiance to pet theories of personality development or treatment modality.

 

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Astrology at its best is a language by which we might describe the psychology of soul in the most personal terms. The birthchart is literally a map of the heavens at the time of one’s birth that is thoroughly infused with deep metaphorical significance. Each birthchart is as unique as the person reflected in its image, and through the application of astrological principles, something of the nature of the individual soul and its process can be discerned and articulated. Much of the language of astrology is rooted in mythology, which is where our pre-scientific understanding of collective human psychology is found. But since the birthchart is so intimately personal, astrology allows us to approach the soul life of each individual on its own terms, showing not only how an individual participates in the life of the collective, but also how he or she is struggling to give birth to a shining potentiality that is as unique as their fingerprints or the sound of their voice.

Some who read this book may feel uncomfortable that I include astrology as an equal partner in a discussion with “more respectable” disciplines such as religion, science, and psychology. It may help to know that the astrology I promote bears no relationship to the superficial daily horoscope columns on the entertainment page of your newspaper, and is even quite different in many ways than that commonly practiced by most professional astrologers. For reasons that I will outline throughout this book, the astrological worldview per se lends itself quite nicely to a discussion of soul, and it may inspire you to consider the enormous contribution astrology can make even though it may take you outside of your intellectual comfort zone. The very premise on which astrology is based – namely that there is a discernible relationship between the evolving cosmic order (the macrocosm) and the journey of the individual soul (the microcosm) – adds a dimension to the discussion of soul that is missing from the other disciplines we shall consider in this book. Because this is so, I would ask you to be open-minded as I demonstrate the ways in which astrology can fill some of the conceptual gaps left by these other disciplines.

Having said that, I would also argue that there are many ways in which the practice of astrology must change before its potential contribution to a language of soul can be realized. Throughout this book, but particularly in Part Four, I will not hesitate to point out these shortcomings. I will differentiate an approach to the use of astrology – called astropoetics - that deviates from common astrological practice in several important ways. Like religion, science, and psychology, astrology is subject to calcification, and astrological dogma abounds. In practice, astrology’s usefulness as a language with which to discuss the soul’s journey depends upon the sensibilities of the individual astrologer, and many astrologers are conditioned by bad habits that have become institutionalized within the discipline.

Astrologers are also conditioned, like everyone else, by exposure to a common cultural heritage in which religion, science and psychology have dominated the discussion about soul for millennia. When astrologers speak of soul, they generally either follow psychologists in confusing soul with personality, or they attempt to graft religious and/or metaphysical principles onto their interpretations without considering the astro-logical [2] basis for their inclusion. With a few isolated exceptions, the practice of astrology has also become too analytical, too focused on the rational interpretation of symbols that have been reduced to a form of shorthand notation, and too far removed from the visceral, emotional, unconscious potency of the fertile imagery in which its symbols are rooted. All these conditioned responses and bad habits must be addressed before astrology can make a meaningful contribution to a useful language of soul.

Within the astrological community, there is a particularly strong internal pressure to establish credibility with the scientific establishment. To my way of thinking, this means adopting a mindset and approach to inquiry that is antithetical to astrology’s purpose. Astrology is often labeled “unscientific” by its detractors, and at the risk of evoking the protestations of some astrologers, I would have to agree. It is unscientific, and so it should be. To the extent that astrology is understood as a symbolic language, it does not easily conform to the same worldview that science considers philosophical bedrock. Science looks at the world from a perspective that is rational, quantitative, causal, impersonal, and objective. When understood on its own terms, astrology provides a radically different turning of the kaleidoscope, one that is wholistic, qualitative, acausal, intimately personal, and subjective – everything that science is not.

To state that astrology is “unscientific” does not negate its worth as a pathway of inquiry into the nature, meaning and purpose of human experience. Quite the contrary. Because astrology is not bound by the narrow dictates of a paradigm designed to measure external consensus reality, it has an advantage in addressing matters of soul that are unique to the individual, intimately personal, and not measurable in any meaningful sense by the quantitative tools of science. Astrology is predicated on its own non-scientific brand of logic, rooted in symbol and metaphor, suggesting an alternative discipline of inquiry into matters relevant to the soul that I call astro-logic. Astro-logic is a logic of context, which derives its potency through correlations between symbolism and real life experience. It is ultimately astro-logic – and not an astrology forced awkwardly into a scientific mold – that must serve as the basis for an astrological understanding of soul.

A significant number of astrologers within the scientific camp emphasize the predictive superiority of astrology, proposing an approach to astrology that perhaps has its place within the study of stock markets, earthquakes, and sunspot activity. Astrology’s predictive capacity begins to break down, however, once we enter the realm of individual human psychology. The debate between advocates of free will and harbingers of fate is as old as time itself, but it simply makes no sense to talk about the soul if the soul is not capable of evolving in consciousness through the exercise of choice, and this is where I beg to differ with those who tout astrology’s virtues as a predictive science. At any given time, we are capable of making choices that break the patterns that we ourselves have previously established. Because we have this power, all attempts at prediction of human behavior based upon an understanding of those patterns becomes a crap shoot. I will not argue with the premise that life is fated in certain ways that are beyond our control, but it is how we respond to this fate that determines who we are as souls, and I would assert that this cannot be predicted.

A second major movement has been set in motion through the scholarly efforts of those intent upon restoring astrology to its traditional roots, through the translation of medieval, early Greek, and pre-Hellenic texts. While no one can discount the unprecedented contribution these dedicated souls have made to our understanding of astrology’s origins, most of the material generated through this exploration seems too rule-bound, and too strictly focused within an astrological context – that is to say, a consideration of the birthchart alone – to provide useful articulation of an intimately personal understanding of soul.

On the other side of the cultural divide, but in some ways aligned with both the predictive camp and the Western historians, are the Vedic astrologers. This group has its own rules, steeped in Eastern cultural beliefs about human nature, and is perhaps more overtly geared toward prediction than its Western counterpart. Both Western historians and Vedic astrologers, though outwardly very different from one another, promote a rational, rule-based consideration of the birthchart, which is construed as a predictive tool not particularly dependent upon input from the person to whom the chart refers. The astro-logic I discuss in this book, by contrast, cannot be understood without reference to the life in which it is unfolding, and must be flexible enough to re-create itself in language that is intrinsic to the individual. Hard and fast rules are obviously anathema to this kind of approach.

More closely aligned with my astrological perspective is an equally-vociferous subculture of psychologically-oriented astrologers. Of these, a handful are identified with humanistic and transpersonal schools of thought, pioneered in the 1960s and 1970s by a Jungian Renaissance astrologer named Dane Rudhyar. Rudhyar had wide-ranging roots in the theosophical writings of Alice Bailey and Helena Blavatsky, the Western hermetic tradition as espoused by Manly Palmer Hall and Aleister Crowley, the teachings of Lao Tzu, the emerging philosophy of holism promoted by Ian Smuts, the humanistic school of psychology being developed by Abraham Maslow and others, and the astrological tutelage of his mentor, Marc Edmond Jones. Rudhyar was also a poet, painter, and composer, whose eclectic exposure to diverse sources of inspiration empowered him to breathe fresh life into an ancient tradition that had begin to show the inflexibility of its age.

Though a few bright lights in the astrological community continue to be inspired by Rudhyar’s seminal work, many of the philosophical insights that deeply influenced astrologers a generation ago have since been compromised by a creeping mindset that prefers predictability to process. Astute psychological analyses of everything astrological abound, and it is now possible – thanks to modern technology – to simulate a psychological analysis of any birthchart by computer. To my way of thinking, however, the astrological profile – whether encapsulated in some cookbook, faithfully spit up by some well-crafted computer program, or parroted to a real live client by a real live astrologer – is of limited use in reaching the soul where it actually lives. As convenient as it would be, one size does not fit all when it comes to interpretation of astrological symbolism, because the consciousness of the person living the symbolism will forever be the deciding factor, and consciousness cannot be assessed with reference to the birthchart alone. Life context is as important as astrological context, and without it even the most psychologically-enlightened analysis of the birthchart might as well be talking to the wall.

Where I beg to differ with most psychologically-oriented astrologers is in attempting to fit the chart to the person, rather than the person to the chart and whatever astrological profile it reflects. There are as many astrological signatures for any psychological condition you could possibly profile as there are individuals to color them with their own particular brand of eccentricity. And without the life story that gives the birthchart meaning, the profile means nothing. It means even less if the story is not considered in relation to the evolutionary agenda of the soul, which can be deduced through reference to the chart and the story considered together side by side. This agenda is best delineated in a language that evokes the imagery, feelings and sensory memories that form the lifeblood of the soul, rather than the rational definitions that have become gospel among traditional astrologers. This is where I intend to steer the astrological discussion that weaves throughout this book and culminates in Part Four. Along the way, I will outline in some detail these and other astrological biases, and point the way toward a poetic use of the astrological language that is capable of speaking more clearly to the soul.

Some astrologers who read this book may be disappointed by the fact that this is not primarily a book of astrological shop talk. I confess that my original intent was to write such a book. But as I began to put together the more overtly astrological material I had culled from more than thirty years of practice, I realized that such a book would be premature without first establishing a philosophical foundation on which the practice of astrology might begin to make a more coherent contribution to the discussion about soul. Before we can even begin to address the soul from an astrological perspective, we must be clear what it is we are addressing and who it is that is asking the questions. More important than how we work with astrology, or which techniques we use is how we understand what we do and why we do it, and it is these larger issues that I hope to begin addressing in this book. I will not do this strictly as an astrologer, but within the context of a more general discussion of the presuppositions with which we approach the soul – presuppositions that affect astrologers and non-astrologers alike.

The intent of this book is to introduce a more open-ended approach to the understanding of soul that does not depend upon any particular system, or philosophical perspective. The essence of the soul is something that cannot be captured in words, much less words that have been codified into dogma or a systemic thought process. The great catch-22 in beginning any journey into the heart of Mystery, however, is that words are all we have to articulate our understanding in any given moment. Flawed though our perpetually-transient knowledge of soul might be, there is something about tranmuting that knowledge into words that provides an opening to the next step on our path. Western metaphysicians, Eastern gurus, Third World shamans, astrologers, and other assorted doctors of soul have all understood the magical power of words to bring the energy underlying those words to life. In talking about the soul, we embody the soul, and infuse it with a life of its own, which in turn re-infuses us with a certain spiritual vitality that is worth talking about.

How we talk about soul matters. The soul can be trapped by words as easily as it can be set free. The words we choose must have the transparency to reveal multiple dimensions. They must invoke the creative imagination to see beyond the words themselves into the essence of soul-full experiences that cannot be captured by them. No language in existence does this better than poetry, and any language – astrological or otherwise – that intends to speak to the soul, must necessarily be poetic. The poetic art lies in using words to slip between the cracks of language, into the depths of meaning and mystery. And for all our fishtailing around in the realm of words, it is ultimately into this wordless place that we are going. Words that have solidified into precise associations cannot take us there, but words shaped poetically can at least bring the ancient tower into kaldeidoscopic view.

When we arrive at our destination, if there is such a place, then we can let the birthchart and every other philosophical artifice go, as we would a fading dream in morning light. We can allow all theory to drop away like petals on a perpetually self-generating rose, and simply experience what is there – here – to be experienced on the threshold of soul itself. If we are brave enough to make the leap from this threshold into the heart of Mystery, we will at last know what Rilke knows when he speaks to us about the Buddha inside the light:


The core of every core, the kernel of every kernel,
an almond! held in itself, deepening in sweetness;
all of this, everything, right up to the stars,
is the meat around your stone. Accept my bow.

Oh, yes, you feel it, how the weights on you are gone!
Your husk has reached into what has no end,
and that is where the great saps are brewing now.
On the outside is a warmth helping,

for, high, high above, your own suns are growing
immense and they glow as they wheel around.
Yet something has already started to live
in you that will live longer than the suns.

 

To get to this timeless place of awe and wonder within us, we must shed everything nonessential that has been wrapped around the concept of soul – by religion, science, psychology and astrology – so that we can see and feel what is there beneath the “meat around the stone” of these disciplines. If we are to evolve a truly useful language of soul, then we must find a way to allow the soul to speak for itself without unnecessary translation, especially where the true agenda of the translator is rooted in a primal fear of the soul’s potency. Religion keeps the soul bound to dogma for the same reason that science denies the soul’s existence, psychology subordinates the soul to the ego, and astrology confuses soul with the map used to navigate its journey. Left to its own devices, soul transcends all attempts by religion, science, psychology, and astrology to contain it, and in so doing pricks the balloon of self-importance by which these disciplines keep themselves afloat. The individual soul does not need religion, science, psychology, or astrology to form a meaningful relationship to itself. Quite the contrary, it is only as each soul liberates itself from the religious, scientific, psychological, astrological and other conceptual chains which bind it, that it is free to find out What is living inside it that will live longer than the suns.
 

The Seven Gates of Soul


My intention is to initiate a journey that will help us loosen some of these conceptual chains. As we enter this process, it will be helpful to imagine that our journey bears some affinity to that undertaken by the Mesopotamian goddess Inanna, as she enters the realm of the dead. Inanna, “Queen of the Sky,” and Goddess of War as well as Love, is driven by an inordinate lust for power, in much the same way as the authoritative champions of religion, science, psychology, astrology or any other discipline are driven to claim the Truth as their personal domain. Having tricked her father, Enki, the God of Wisdom to relinquish the Tablets of Destiny and other sacred treasures, Inanna grows bold and turns her ambitions to the underworld of soul governed by her sister, Ereshkigal. Dressing in her finest regalia, and fortified by all the accoutrements of her authority (Powell 37), Inanna storms the gates of the underworld, arrogantly demanding:
 

Gatekeeper, let me in! Open your gate for me!
Open your gate and let me in!

If you don’t open the gate and let me in,
I will smash the gate and splinter the bolt!
I will smash the doorjambs and knock down the doors.
I will raise up the dead, who will devour the living:
the dead will outnumber the living!

 

The gatekeeper responds by asking Inanna the archetypal question posed by soul: “Who are you?” Inanna, puffed up to her fullest sense of self-importance, responds, “I am Inanna from the place of sunrise.” The gatekeeper tells Inanna to wait while he consults with Ereshkigal, who recognizes her power-hungry sister; he informs her that in order to enter the underworld, or realm of soul, she will have to pass through seven gates in accordance with “the ancient rites.”

At the first gate, Inanna is forced to relinquish her crown, and with it a fairly hefty chunk of the self-importance that makes her who she thinks she is. At each subsequent gate, Inanna is compelled to remove an additional piece of clothing or jewelry, and with it shed another layer of the worldly identity on which her supposed authority depends. Inanna protests loudly, but is told, “Be quiet, Inanna! This is the way of the underworld.” By the time she passes through the seventh gate, Inanna is naked, stripped of all pretension to certainty about who she is, and face-to-face with “the core of every core, the kernel of every kernel.” When Inanna continues to protest, and attempts to forcibly remove Ereshkigal from her throne, Ereshkigal summons her guards and turns Inanna into a slab of flesh, green and rotting with decay, hung on a peg in the corner of the room. Inanna finally makes it to the realm of soul, but not in the triumphant style of the conquering queen she wanted to be. There is more to the story than this, but for now it is enough to note the fate of one who storms the realm of soul under the authoritative mantle of certainty.

As the myth implies, only in a place of naked humility can the soul can be revealed. Only as we shed the various ideas that buffer us from an encounter with the soul, will we hear what the soul is trying to tell us, and then speak, in turn, a language that the soul understands. Each circling of the ancient tower that we undertake through the chapters of this book will afford us an opportunity to shed another layer of conditioning that buffers our experience of the soul, and pass through yet another gate. By the end of the book, we will hopefully enter the presence of soul, possessing the kernel of a language with which we can speak of that which cannot be encompassed by words.

Endnotes


[1]  From time to time throughout this book, I will capitalize words like Self or Being or You, which are ordinarily not capitalized. My purpose in doing this is indicate that what I am referring to is a larger sense of identity with God or Spirit or some transcendent reality that cannot be contained within the limitations of everyday speech.

[2]  When the word astrological is spelled “astro-logical,” it refers to a system of symbolic logic on which astrological correspondences are based. In practice, astrologers often memorize correspondences or defer to tradition, without reference to the astro-logic behind their interpretations. The word is therefore meant to embody and encourage a more conscious approach to astrology, rooted in symbolic principles. The word astrology is used, by contrast, to refer to common practice.

 
 

Copyright 2020 - Joe Landwehr