Tarnas's Cosmos and Psyche: A Book to Behold


I'm positively giddy with excitement over the latest book I'm reading—a serious inquiry into astrology unlike any I've come across.

Last week I picked up Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View, a formidable tome by Richard Tarnas (professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies) that situates the current bias against astrology into a cultural-historical context… and I just can't put it down.

For anyone who's ever wondered what critical philosophical turns resulted in astrology's being tossed from the canon of legitimate areas of academic study, this is the book for you. (And no, the answer isn't as simple as: We know better now.)

As a former academic myself (one who, in some parallel universe, is right now slaving away for the umpteenth year at a cultural-studies dissertation, starving for that gold star of a Ph.D.), such hefty theoretical treatises as Cosmos and Psyche are a mouthwatering cerebral treat. I love learning about the trajectory of cultural thought, tracing the roots of those biases we all blindly accept as 'the way things are' to reveal they're that way for a historical reason—not because some scripture-writing deity inscribed The Only Real Truth on a dense stone tablet and dropped it on a mountainside for us to feed upon. It's easier to free one's mind, after all, if we understand where the shackles originated from.

Tarnas addresses the legacy of today's 'dissociative condition' in culture—the simultaneous experience of (1) liberating achievements in technology and industry and (2) mass spiritual alienation—as a logical progression of the Enlightenment's stripping-away of all cosmological meaning and archetypal symbolism from our world.

Once we drew that strict scientific-method boundary between us (as thoughtful, meaning-making observers) and the rest of the universe (random, meaningless, and therefore subject to our exploitation), there was no more room for unifying studies like astrology, which look for inherent synchronistic meaning in the 'as above, so below' vein. No room in 'smart people' circles, at least.

Along the way, we became separated from the very world we inhabit, leading us to where we are now: living in an environment we've damaged greatly, with little sense of responsibility for what we've done; consuming excessively shallow messages and products; and floundering in spiritual decay. Hmmm, very 'enlightened' indeed.

In Cosmos, Tarnas moves to rescue Western thought from its plight of spiritual estrangement by pointing out its fatal flaw—the Descartes-indebted assumption that 'the exclusive source of all meaning and purpose in the universe is ultimately centered in the human mind'. My, we're full ourselves, if we sincerely believe that we alone, among all the trillions of stars and multi-dimensional quantum possibilities, are 'absolutely unique and in this sense superior to the entire cosmos'.

Yes, yes, yes, Richard Tarnas… you've hit the nail right on the head. You thoughtfully recognize the truth—that 'the modern mind has been projecting soullessness and mindlessness on a cosmic scale, systematically filtering and eliciting all data according to its self-elevating assumptions'.

And you're so gallantly confident in your belief that 'this criticism of the hidden anthropocentrism permeating the modern world view cannot be successfully countered'. Dare I say, such intellectual spunk is wildly attractive to a smart-yet-still-spiritual seeker such as myself. No wonder I can't stop telling everybody what a great book this is.

Once Tarnas has set his paradigm shift into motion, he turns to a detailed accounting of the synchronicities between outer-planet cycles and certain archetypal patterns in history. What a joy for the astrological enthusiast to witness the diligence of academic pursuit applied to research in our field. Granted, I've not yet made it to the end of Cosmos, but every page adds more data to the ultra-convincing case of astrology's cultural relevance.

What I find perhaps most interesting is, though this is essentially a book about astrology, the word 'astrology' appears nowhere on the book jacket. (Just a tiny mention of 'planetary correlations' among an array of the usual cultural-historical terms.) In fact, the reader won't arrive at any allusions to astrology until about 60 pages in. Whether this is the publisher's marketing trick to distance itself from astrology's perceived quackery so more books are sold or a deliberately sneaky strategy to lure unsuspecting academics to dive into astrology, I don't know. I wonder if any skeptical minds have yet been changed by Tarnas's groundbreaking work, accidentally or with the intention to do so.

Cosmos and Psyche is the book many of us have long awaited. It's the one you want to gift to your brightest friends… those who haven't yet decided to believe in such things as astrology, but are open-minded enough to offer genuine consideration. Of course, its 500-plus pages are chock full of biggish words in marathon sentences (yes, even longer than mine!), so it's not for the faint of heart. But for anyone on the path of reuniting their brainy side with their belief in something more, this one's a real must-read.