Monday 24 October 2016

Astrology, The Theory

I was recently asked about my approach to astrology and thought it might be interesting, not least to myself, to express my understanding of it here.

My attitude to astrology is mixed. I believe there is a correlation between the position of the planets at birth and a person’s character but I don't know what is at the root of this, and I don't think anyone else does either. But I believe there is this link because I have seen evidence for it in many cases, starting with my own and then moving on to people I knew well and then to people I didn't know at all. In one case I did an astrological interpretation of the birth chart of someone I knew only as a friend of a friend. I hadn't met her and didn't even know her name though I did know her age, of course. She was surprised at the accuracy of it and that was certainly not down to any skill I might have had but was the power of astrology itself. I simply translated what was there. Inevitably some of what I said was off target but that's because we all manifest our horoscope in an individual way. Human beings are not machines and there are other factors involved in our make up besides the astrological. Specifically, heredity, environment and upbringing and also the pattern and quality of the soul or higher self which, as far as I know, is not revealed in astrology. As this higher or pre-incarnate self is generally not even acknowledged, that's not altogether surprising. Still, despite all these other influencing factors of which I was unaware, there was apparently more right than wrong in the interpretation. There was certainly enough for the person to recognise herself.

What this amounts to is that astrology is as much an art as a science. It definitely contains elements of both. So to do a proper interpretation of someone’s chart it helps to have context, i.e. to know a bit about the subject. Then you can interpret the symbols, and astrology is basically a symbol system, in the way that is applicable to that particular person. And that will be unique. So the planets in their signs affect him but he also affects the way they affect him. It is not a deterministic thing but a blend of freedom (the individual) and necessity (the planets in the signs, houses and so on), and the astrologer has to work out how these interact, using his intelligence certainly but also, and to a degree, his intuition. No wonder this seemingly loose way of doing things perplexes those who restrict themselves to a purely rational view of the world. Astrology is not something that is universally repeatable and means the same thing in the same way every time, but something that works more on an individual basis, though this does not mean anything goes. Rather it's a question of seeing how the specific elements revealed in the horoscope adapt themselves in a particular context.

As for how it works nobody really knows but the fact is it does appear to do so. I would say the evidence for it is strong but it is not overwhelming and it is unlikely ever to be proved in the way that science likes proof, though some have tried using statistics, probability and such like. The results are suggestive but never entirely convincing, and consequently one can't deny that there is an element of choice as regards belief or disbelief. But then that is true for many things and, on the whole, the evidence for astrology is good enough to have convinced many by no means stupid people (who have actually made a serious study of it) that there is something in it.  But, as I say, how it works is a mystery. Whether it's because the planets influence us through some psychic equivalent of a force they give out like magnetism or gravity. Or because each moment of time has a particular quality of its own which is reflected in both the planetary positions and the mind of a new-born child so the position of the planets would be like the hands of a cosmic clock, telling the time not causing it. Or is it something else entirely that provides the link?

My initial interest in astrology was on a poetic/mythological level. The beauty and sense of cosmic order it possesses are most impressive, and when you explore its symbols you see they have an archetypal quality that can lead us into deeper levels of meaning than are normally accessible to the rational mind ploughing its own furrow. Thus astrology can be a key to opening up the imagination and revealing the treasure trove within. So merely as an art form it is worthwhile. But then when I explored it as a means of character analysis I found that it really does help to explain a person, and to understand that person's motivations and ways of being. How he expresses himself, how he approaches the world, how his emotions work or don't work and all sorts of other things, including how he might respond to other people and the nature of his relationships. This is most useful in terms of getting to know oneself, and, because one's birth chart is an objective fact (and this is undeniable as it shows the pattern of the sky when you were born), you can't just dismiss it as you might be able to do if someone told you an unpalatable home truth about yourself. If you have a lot of Leo in your chart you must accept that you could sometimes be a bit bossy and dominating and therefore watch out for that. If you have the Sun in hard aspect to Neptune you must accept that you could have escapist tendencies and so be on your guard against those. These placings also have their positive side so this is where you could use an astrological understanding of your birth chart creatively. By understanding what it means you can cultivate the good and watch out for the, shall we just say, not so good. Astrology is actually quite complicated when you bring all the elements together and it can even take into account the contradictions in a person’s character. Once you understand these areas of conflict it can help you to deal with them. So I do think it can be a very effective tool of self-understanding.

That's astrology as far as character analysis is concerned. The other side to it is prediction and this seems to be what most people want from it. But I don’t have any interest in this branch of astrology. For one thing, I'm not sure it is right to try to know the future in this way. It seems an irreligious attitude. My feeling is that God gives us what we need from within and to try to use technique or technology to force the issue is an unspiritual approach akin to trying to steal fire from heaven. It's a wicked generation that looks for a sign and all that. But also, and on a more practical level, I just don’t think predictive astrology works very well. Maybe if we understood a good deal more about the techniques involved then it would but even then I think it could only predict potential patterns not actual realities. We shouldn't forget that astrology is a symbol system and symbols can be interpreted in many ways, all of which may be true in an inner sense but could be wildly different in their external workings out. From a personal perspective I have found that certain events in my life do seem to have been reflected in the planetary movements of the time but many others have not. There have been times when apparently major events in my life have occurred but there's been nothing untoward going on in the heavens, and there have also been significant transits of planetary conjunctions to natal positions when nothing significant seems to have happened. So both from the point of view of spiritually correct behaviour and from that of simple accuracy I would not put too much faith in the predictive side of astrology. 

In terms of character analysis, though, I do believe astrology has much to offer and I shall go into that aspect of it a little more in a future post.

Wednesday 19 October 2016

Monasticism and Marriage

I read a discussion recently about whether the celibate life of a monk or the married life of a householder was more pleasing to God. Traditionally it was usually the monk who was regarded as higher in the spiritual scale of values and closer to divine reality. However in more recent times some people maintain that the relationship of a married life better fulfils what God intends for us. The monk is seen as someone who has completely dedicated himself to God but he has cut himself off from the world. So the married person might be regarded as better reflecting the activity of God in his creation, and therefore being truer to the divine pattern.

In a sense this is the old debate between contemplation and action and I can see reasons to advocate either one as the more perfect state, though naturally it always depends on how a particular life is lived. You could say that if the goal of life is to know God as he is in his essence then it is the monastic life that best fulfils this purpose, but if life is intended to make of us a creator in full relationship with the world, or, in other words, to be as God is as he is in expression, then it is the married life that more perfectly carries out this role. From this perspective neither one nor the other is necessarily better though perhaps the best state might be said to be a combination of the two. One in which the inner dedication and ability to be fully focused in God of the monk are joined to the ability to act creatively in the world. Why should the two necessarily be contradictory if God is at the centre of both? Of course, that means that the married state would be rather different to how it is normally conceived but then maybe how it is normally conceived is a very imperfect representation of how it should ideally be.

If monasticism is directed towards attaining union with God and marriage is solely concerned with this world then clearly monasticism is the higher spiritual state but I would like to look at the two from a slightly different point of view here.

The purpose of life in this world is learning. Earth is a school. So what we have to ask is in which state the soul learns more.  And the answer clearly is that it depends on the individual and his needs of the moment. This is especially so for a believer in reincarnation like me. Sometimes the soul might need a life in which inwardness and contemplation is required. At others the benefits of a more active and outgoing life are needed to make a fully rounded person, developed in all aspects. So neither from this point of view is necessarily more spiritually advanced. Both are part of the whole pattern of development. The monk learns to become spiritually conscious through prayer and meditation but he goes back into the world once this is achieved, firstly, to express it and secondly, to be tested as to how deep his understanding is. Can he remain spiritual in the world when not surrounded by the support system of monastery, spiritual guides and superiors, community of like minded individuals and the discipline that the monastic structure provides? It might be easy enough to be close to God in an environment wholly dedicated to that end and with no distraction, but can this be maintained when that is removed and in a situation that might be at variance with it? For a believer in reincarnation it makes sense to think that all souls who wish to develop spiritually might have to experience something equating to the life of a monk during the course of their incarnationary cycle. Many may then have to go back out into the world to put into practice what they have learned there. Of course, if you don't believe in reincarnation you can say that whether you are a monk or married doesn't matter as long as your heart is fixed in God. Moreover some souls might more naturally gravitate to one or the other way as a consequence of their individual leanings and temperament. At the same time, if God wants to make souls that are fully rounded then he might require them to experience a range of different ways of life, in which case the reincarnation scenario offers a more reasonable explanation.

So all that is to say that you cannot necessarily judge whether the monastic or married state is more pleasing to God for any one person at any one time. In traditional Indian culture there are four ashramas or stages of life which go from student to married householder to retired person, who withdraws from the world and begins to take the spiritual life more seriously, to the renunciate or sannyasi who gives up everything and is totally devoted to God. The more dedicated can skip the intermediate two stages and go straight to the last. According to this scheme of things it would be the monk who fulfils man's highest duty to God (and to himself since the two are the same). But this is a linear path and life may not always be completely like that. In principle it may well be correct but if we think of the path of spiritual evolution more as a spiral than a straight line then we see that the same pattern may repeat itself at different points on the journey as similar lessons are learnt at deeper levels. So, as I say above, the one time sannyasi may have to go back into the world (in a subsequent life maybe) to learn further lessons that can only be learned in that situation. Lessons of love, giving and self-sacrifice perhaps.

There is something else to consider. In the context of a single life, for both the monk and the married person, it is quite possible that too much happiness or content can lead to spiritual stagnation. This is obvious in terms of marriage but the possibility is strong in terms of monasticism too. We generally need challenge to grow but the monk can settle too comfortably into his routine of prayer and spiritual discipline. He can become attached to it.  It can be the source of his happiness and pleasure to the extent that, if deprived of it, he becomes unsettled, even lost. What was a spiritual path has become a habit (no pun intended). There is no longer any challenge. So I am going to propose a third option as spiritually creative which might at first seem absurd. It is an unhappy marriage.  A relationship in which you have obligations and cannot rest in yourself (unlike the monk who even though he has relationships with his brothers and superiors still has a degree of freedom a married person doesn't, precisely because he lives a life bound by rules and common purpose). In an unhappy marriage your spiritual centredness and ability to forgive and forget self might be pushed to their limits. You are tested. This, of course, is the case for both partners in any marriage and one of the ways that the married state scores points over the monastic one in which there is no equivalent relationship of equals. But in an unhappy marriage this situation is intensified. It is a scenario in which the practice of spiritual virtue becomes essential and that is especially the case if children are involved. The point is it is relatively easy to be spiritual in a community of like minded individuals or a happy state. The test is whether you can be in a stressful situation with no support.

So the conclusion I have come to is that there is no conclusion. It all depends on which facet of the diamond is being polished and what the particular needs of the individual soul are at a particular moment. As always in the spiritual world, it is the inner attitude that counts not the external life.

Tuesday 18 October 2016

The Nation State

This post on Albion Awakening follows on from the earlier one on patriotism. Its theme is how even the idea of oneness can be corrupted for non-spiritual ends. Lies are always far more potent, and difficult to expose, when there is truth mixed in with them.

Tuesday 11 October 2016

The Divine Feminine

A reverence for the divine feminine is being restored in the Western world, and not before time. Catholics have always had the figure of the Virgin Mary to serve as an object of veneration and exemplar of grace and maternal compassion (albeit frequently sentimentalised), but the Protestant countries, which are the ones that have largely dominated the world and set the agenda over the last two hundred years, have had no such benign influence to moderate their approach to life in general and religion in particular. This, perhaps, is part of the reason for the lack of balance in the modern world. 

However there is a problem. When something is restored after having been suppressed for a long while there is often an over-reaction to the lifting of that suppression, and that has been the case here. So the idea of the Divine Feminine has come back but frequently in a misconceived form and with an agenda that has nothing to do with spirituality at all. That is why a figure like Kali has become popular in the West. Clearly originally a female demon that has subsequently taken on higher aspects, she is, in the form assumed, fundamentally the feminine principle gone rogue not a true representation of it. Despite metaphysical rationalisations after the event of her image as signifying supreme mother, principle of cosmic destruction, devourer of time etc, the truth is that this image and the quality it puts over can only be made spiritual by a great deal of intellectual gymnastics. In the spiritual world appearance and reality are more closely tied together than in this one which means that form and function are, or should be, one.

The image of any particular deity is important since it conveys the quality of that deity. If it didn't why would one bother with it? It is like a symbol and so should properly encapsulate what it symbolises. Thus it should faithfully embody the divine principle or quality it purports to represent as that of the Buddha so perfectly does. If it doesn't do this then it should be discarded as untruthful and promoting a false view of reality. If you don't believe me imagine what it would be like if the image of the Buddha was of a man sitting at a bar. I'm sure you could make a metaphysical case for that image if you wanted to (drinking from the fount of wisdom and intoxicated by divine spirit, for instance), but it would never convey the deep spiritual truth that the real image of the Buddha does. It wouldn't have the spiritual effect and reflect a deeper level of reality to the intuition. The fact is that, where spiritual images are concerned, there are good and bad, meaning ones that tend to enlightenment and ones that tend to illusion. The image of Kali is not spiritually enlightening and has only been taken up by Westerners because she signifies female assertiveness and power, but this has nothing to do with the qualities of the true divine feminine principle. It is rather a serious misrepresentation of it and has only survived because of the Hindu tendency to assimilate and reuse rather than clear away and start again. But isn’t there something about not putting new wine into old wineskins? The image of Kali has been used in the past as a focus for animal and even, apparently, human sacrifice. Justify it as much as you like but how could it possibly be anything other than demonic?*

Kali is an extreme example. But the problem is that people who wish to restore the Divine Feminine have nowhere to go except ancient pagan religion and so they seek for inspiration in these old goddess forms. But all of them, as the old gods too, are archaic and belong to humanity's spiritual childhood. They are useless in the modern world except as magical images or as vehicles to explore the psychic underworld and, perhaps, acquire occult powers. But for proper spiritual purposes they are, with very few exceptions (one, I would say, being Isis), of no value at all. Unfortunately because modern adherents of the Goddess have an anything but Christianity attitude they miss the best exemplar of her who is, of course, the Virgin Mary. She is the Goddess spiritualised and in her person (and her image) represents the Divine Feminine in a far higher form than any other. I say this as a non-Catholic. She embodies all the spiritual perfections of the divine feminine which are compassion, mercy, grace, beauty, wisdom and, lastly, (and this is why she is not popular in the feminist world of goddess spirituality) submission to divine will. She offers herself up in love and humility to God for him to work through as, ideally, matter does to spirit. This is deeply unfashionable in today's world where the search for personal power lies behind much that calls itself spiritual, but the real power of the divine feminine lies in self-sacrifice in love as demonstrated by Mary.

If we want to find the authentic divine feminine we cannot look to the distant past. What exists there may once have been helpful but is not now what we need. The ancient goddesses ruled the worlds of nature and the psyche, and that is where they are chiefly effective and where their gifts (as in what they can give their followers) lie. The moon and the sea and all that these symbolise are their domain but if we take them as exemplars and patterns with which to coordinate our being today we are being spiritually regressive. The truest pattern for a properly spiritual divine feminine for people in the West remains the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Queen of Heaven.

* Note: Worshippers of Kali as divine mother are not necessarily demon worshippers, though some may be, because if they envision her as a loving mother then that is what she is for them (though I would say this more for traditional worshippers in Bengal than modern deracinated Westerners). Nevertheless the fact remains that the image, and undoubtedly the original spiritual energy behind it, is that of a demon, and it is far easier to worship in spirt and in truth when the image you choose to focus on corresponds to the reality and far harder when it does not.

Thursday 6 October 2016


This is rather a polemical piece written for the Albion Awakening blog. Its basic theme is that without love of the particular, as in love of country, then love of the general, as in love of humanity, remains an abstract concept or intellectual thing without any real feeling. If you don't love what you know how can you love what you don't know (as I believe someone once said)? So don't use the one as an excuse to deny the other.

Monday 3 October 2016

Christ, Spirituality and the West

After nearly 40 years of interest in spiritual matters it's increasingly clear to me that any genuine revival of spirituality in the West must be linked to Christ. The huge range of spiritual approaches that opened up in the 20th century, particularly since the 1960s, has led many to believe that all paths to God are more or less equally valid and it's just a matter of choosing the one that suits you best, whether that be a form of Eastern philosophy, Western esotericism, paganism, occultism, New Age mysticism or whatever it might be. All roads lead to Rome, so to speak. And it's true that most of these systems can help lift a person out of the materialistic morass humanity has fallen into over the last few hundred years, and give him or her a grounding in spiritual understanding and practice. But in all of them something important, even fundamental, is missing, and that is Christ. For the fact is that Christ really is the light of the world. He is the spiritual truth that transcends all others, and any form of spirituality without him will always risk falling short. I speak for the West here. I don't say Christ is irrelevant for the East but it has built up its own way and tradition, and the form of Christianity, as it currently stands, is a Western one. Eastern approaches to God are certainly valid on their own terms even if, as I believe, they do not contain the fullness of truth that those centred on Christ do.

You might ask why a real spiritual renewal should be linked to Christ. Why can one not follow one of the many spiritual paths that do not involve a recognition of Christ as Son of God, and still find a way to the goal? First of all, I would say that depends on what the goal might be. Enlightenment, liberation? These are imported concepts and not part of the Western spiritual tradition which is focused on the sanctification of the soul in union with God, the transcending by the soul of itself in humility and love. But then I would ask a question in return. Why are you failing to recognise the primacy of Christ? What is it in you that rejects this? For a heart that is really open to truth would recognise that Christ is the greatest spiritual light that has yet appeared on this Earth. In his person he brought together and went beyond all other forms of truth. This was symbolised by the attendance of the three Magi at his birth. (Let us remember they were not Jews, demonstrating the universal nature of Christ). If you don't see this you should look again, perhaps with a prejudice caused by the failings of earthly forms of Christianity wiped from your eyes. If Christ is in your heart then you will recognise him. If he is not then he needs to be because he is the door through which we all must pass on our way to God. Admittedly not necessarily in his outer revealed form but through his inner reality, yes.

But to answer the question posed in the previous paragraph more directly. Any spiritual renewal in the West must be focused on Christ because only Christ safeguards us from the excesses of pride and illusion, those twin perils of the spiritual path. By humbly submitting oneself to him, and walking in his light, one is protected from all the falseness that surrounds spirituality, and there is a lot as any experienced spiritual director will tell you. But there is another reason, implied earlier, and wonderfully simple. It is that Christianity in its essence is true. Since Christ arrived in the world all other spiritual approaches are subordinate to him. However effective they might have been in earlier times they are now secondary, having been superseded by him, and the reality is that if you ignore or reject this then you are rejecting something fundamental to spiritual truth. A higher form of it has been presented. If you don't respond to that then you are failing to recognise a basic spiritual fact which means that your powers of intuition are either undeveloped or your ego is suppressing them for reasons of its own. Consequently your spiritual progress will be held back from reaching its full potential.

One of the important aspects of a Christ centred approach to spirituality is that it recognises the personhood of God. In this day and age an impersonal divine life is very attractive to many, chiefly I would say because it does not challenge the ego as much as the recognition that we have a Creator, a Father, to whom we owe not just our being but also our loyalty and love. To some this is a wonderfully liberating idea but to others it is experienced (by the ego, of course) as oppressive and they might be keen to reject it for the impersonal option. That is their right, but if they do this they are choosing the lower path which, in many cases, will lead to delusion because it lacks the sense of there being something greater than ourselves before which we need to bow our head and acknowledge our weaknesses and failings. Human nature is such that we can only really confess our sins (and hence be forgiven and find redemption) to a personal being. Without full repentance and acknowledgement of all our erring ways it is almost impossible for the self to transcend itself. The renunciation of ego, which is what I am talking about here, can only truly be done in love not knowledge. Love means a personal God.

What I have said here does not mean that any renewal has to be centred on the Christian churches or one of the current outer Christian structures. This is actually something of a problem at the present time because what the world needs now is not so much Christians as followers of Christ, and we should distinguish between the two. Most modern Christians are heavily infected by the things of this world, and their Christianity adapts itself to worldliness. In any case Christianity, in its earthly manifestation, could well be said to be past its best before date, due to processes of inner decay and outer change. To put it bluntly, modern Christianity is a very imperfect representation of spiritual truth. Despite its many qualities, it has some pronounced areas of weakness, particularly when it comes to an understanding of consciousness and its transformation. Consequently many of the more spiritually sensitive souls will nowadays choose to be spiritual freelancers. This has its corresponding difficulties in that personal experience might become the focus of their spiritual approach and that can lead to problems unless checked and balanced by a higher understanding. So we need to tread with care and this is why it is so important for anyone on the path, whether as a member of a spiritual community or as what I have called a spiritual freelancer, to have the image of Christ stamped on their heart. That image will act as a light to keep you safely on the spiritual straight and narrow. Without it you are more than likely to stray and, while there are certainly other images, there are none so deeply effective and true.

The principal point I am making here is that even if a modern spiritual seeker cannot accept Christianity as it exists in any of its contemporary forms, and I understand that being in the same position myself, this is no reason to reject Christ or to reduce him to simply an enlightened soul like any other. He remains the Way, the Truth and the Life, and any spiritual revival must take that into account if it is to be properly effective. It may, and probably should, encompass other things but that must be central. Christianity in its ancient and modern forms may be never again be what it was but Christ is eternal. An image that comes to mind here is that of a decaying fruit that contains the seed of its own regrowth. Thus the Christian religion, as it has been, perhaps cannot be revived to its past glory and spiritual creativity but the renewal of Christianity will come from the seeds left by the fruit of its past.

One of the ways modern Christianity has fallen short is that it has shown an insufficient appreciation of spirituality. A strange thing to say you might think, but what I mean is this. Christianity has neglected the immanence of creation. It has lost touch with the reality of a divine presence in nature and in man, and any revival must be far more in tune with the essential mystery, poetry and magic of life than recent Christianity has been. Thus it must be consistent with the understanding that the spirit of God is present in creation, and that he is not just the transcendent Creator but also immanent being. But again he is not just immanent being but our wholly personal Father too, and both these things must be taken into account with neither left out or you will have a limited and incomplete spiritual approach that leaves you outside the full reality of God.

It may be that those who predict that the next age will be dedicated to the Holy Spirit, the spirit of truth within us all, are right. This was the idea of Joachim de Fiore i the Middle Ages who theorised that the ages of the Father and the Son would be followed by one of a more universal spirituality. But each age has to be built on the last, and if it rejects the past it has no foundation and will fall. So whether the next age is that of the Holy Spirit or not the fact remains that this inner spirit can never be known without full acknowledgement of the Father and the Son. The idea of the Holy Spirit without the Father and the Son is an illusion and a snare for the unwise. This is another reason for the necessity of any future spiritual revival to be grounded in Christ.