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Alternative Culture Magazine

book review

by Renn Butler

Fire of the Gods

Prometheus the Awakener:  An Essay on the Archetypal Meaning of the Planet Uranus, by Richard Tarnas, Phd.  Spring Publications, 1995.     

With his new book Prometheus the Awakener: An Essay on the Archetypal Meaning of the Planet Uranus Richard Tarnas presents a groundbreaking synthesis of history, archetypal astrology, and transpersonal psychology.  Reading this work one feels graced with expanded horizons, the sudden rediscovery of a conscious universe.  I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for meaning in their lives or in the world at large.      

Tarnas believes that the first seven bodies of the solar system were given archetypally accurate names, reflecting the intuitive consciousness of the ancient Greeks.  However, in 1781 when Uranus was discovered, the modern scientific mind had lost its intuitive and subjective faculties and the new planet was given a name derived with conventional logic:  Uranus was the next planet out from Saturn and so it was given the name of Saturn's father in Hellenic mythology, just as Saturn lay just beyond Jupiter's orbit and was Jupiter’s father.  In the essay's thesis, Tarnas describes his realization that the planet Uranus does not correspond with Ouranos after all, but with the rebel figure Prometheus.  Ouranos has a distinctly paternal and static character, very different from the qualities of rebellion and innovation observed in individuals with Uranus strongly aspected in their charts.  In contrast, Prometheus is known for outwitting and stealing fire from Zeus, and giving that fire—life, science, and culture—to humanity.  These and other characteristics of Prometheus fit the nature of Uranus so completely that Tarnas concludes the new planet was misnamed.

The body of the essay consists of an impressive mosaic of cultural figures with the planet Uranus prominent in their natal charts, men and women known for their rebellion against orthodoxy or tradition, display of scientific or artistic genius, and other Uranian-Promethean qualities.  Tarnas' unique background—a Jesuit education, Harvard, and then Esalen Institute where he was Director of Programs—has created an unusually rich diversity of perspective.

I was impressed by the discussion on Uranus-Pluto and the Sixties, in which the Uranus-Pluto conjunction of 1960-1972 is convincingly applied to comprehend that unique era.  The "rebellion against established structures of all kinds, the intense intellectual adventurousness and restlessness of the era, the radical consciousness transformation, the titanic technological advances into the space age, the general atmosphere of revolution on all fronts" precisely fit what one would expect knowing the astrological natures of Uranus and Pluto.

This correlation is given more credibility by an examination of previous Uranus-Pluto aspects in history—such as the opposition of 1787-1798 which straddled the similarly radical and Promethean decade of the French Revolution, or the conjunction of 1845-1856 (immediately preceding that of 1960-72) which coincided with a wave of revolutions effecting the entire European continent.  Similarly presented is the opposition of 1643-1653 (the one that immediately preceded that of the French Revolution) which was the period of England's Puritan Revolution known in its own century as the Great Rebellion—and other examples.  The discovery of the Uranus-Pluto cycle with its upsurges of apparently spontaneous revolutionary energy, is an unexpected deciphering of one of history's long-puzzling questions, and he continues with several other major historical cycles.

Tarnas uses examples of both diachronic correlations, in which a sequence of events in one field occurs under successive transits—for example scientific breakthroughs under a series of Jupiter-Uranus conjunctions—as well as synchronic correlations, in which multiple events occur during a single transit.  Examples of this type include the wide-ranging events of years such as 1914, 1969, or 1990.  In this section is also included a representative comparison between Freud's and Jung's charts, their respective approaches to psychology, the nature of their relationship, and the timing of their historic split.                                 

The essay concludes with a review of the potential effects of the Uranus-Neptune conjunction of the present decade (1985-2001).  This combination is associated with periods in which the archetypal—“the mythic, the spiritual, the transcendent, the imaginal, the numinous—is suddenly awakened and liberated in new ways into human consciousness."  After reviewing the variety of contemporary manifestations of this transits, both positive and negative, Tarnas cites a series of remarkable historical precedents. 

To name several in the 172-year cycle, conjunctions of Uranus and Neptune occurred in 1815-1829 during the age of Romanticism, in the 1470's and 1480's at the heart of the Renaissance, and during the early 1300's wave of mystical fervor that saw Dante's Divine Comedy and the birth of Petrarch.  They were conjunct in the 620's and 630's during the birth of Islam, and in 15-35 A.D. during Jesus' ministry, crucifixion, and the conversion of St. Paul.  They were also conjunct during the last decade of the fifth century, B.C. and the first decade of the fourth, that saw the most influential teachings of Socrates, and his death in 399 B.C.—the event that initiated the birth of Platonism.  Finally, during the only triple conjunction of outer planets in modern times—Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto being conjunct from the 580's to the 560's B.C.—“we find the heart of the great 'axial age' that brought forth so many of the world's principal religious and spiritual traditions: the age of Gautama Buddha in India, of Lao-Tzu in China, of Zoroaster in Persia; the age of the major prophets of ancient Israel, Jeremiah, Ezekial, and Second Isaiah, when the Hebrew Scriptures began to be compiled; the age when the oracle of Delphi was at the height of its influence in ancient Greece; the age of the earliest Greek philosophers, Thales, Anaximander, and Pythagoras…. Thus there is reason to believe that our own experience of Uranus and Neptune in conjunction will not be without its enduring blessings."  

Tarnas' intellectual labors and twenty-year collaboration with Stanislav Grof have yielded a luminous overarching vision of psyche, cosmos, and history scarcely imaginable a generation ago.  This participatory world view has implications in every discipline and not insubstantial possibilities for personal and planetary healing. This is truly a promising and exciting direction for the mainstream culture, both unexpected and inevitable.  The fire of the gods has again come to earth.

Renn Butler reviews Richard Tarnas: The Passion of the Western Mind | Cosmos and Psyche

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