Roselle Angwin, 'What-are-the-birds-doing-with-the-December-sky rap', in Bardo (Shearsman, May 2011)
'Ancient art has a specific inner content. At one time, art possessed the same purpose that books do in our day, namely: to preserve and transmit knowledge. In olden days people did not write books, they incorporated their knowledge into works of art. We would find a great many ideas in the works of ancient art passed down to us, if only we knew how to read them.'
There is scientific truth, and there is symbolic truth. One deals in what is literal, the other in the metaphorical. Each is 'true' within in its own frame of reference.
Scientific truth deals with that which is in effect tangible or measurable, 'out there', empirically. A scientific materialist will deal only, in terms of 'truth', with 'facts'. The world stops beyond that.
A symbolic truth, on the other hand, does not rely on statistics or primarily on material evidence but on greater and more mysterious plays of energy that are either not measurable by our rational mind or are beyond our current capacities for doing so. To try and reduce it to that kind of hard factual evidence is both to miss the point and do it a great disservice.
This kind of truth speaks to the heart, the psyche, the intuition. Art offers symbolic truth. Music does, too. And poetry. And literature generally, story, myth, drama.
The world of dream, as any Jungian knows, offers symbolic truth. So the fact that, last night, I dreamed that I was attending a wedding and a funeral simultaneously, and the fact that I was also simultaneously (in my dream) watching a young couple (who couldn't look more different from myself and anyone else in my world) having a furiously out-of-order raging fight while on a motorbike with a sidecar carrying twin babies, and then having a crash, is a symbol worth looking at, for me. It is unlikely to be simply 'coincidence' at this time; it will undoubtedly have something to show me of inner processes at work in my own life, and the characters within it will all be aspects of myself. (I smile at the fact that the buxom young woman on the motorbike with a voice like a foghorn was wearing fluffy pink polyester and had pigtails – that is so different from my preferences that I don't even recognise her in my psyche, so she must be an aspect of me that is very well hidden; and therefore really bears close examination!)
The world of myth has something to teach us, as long as our 'logos' doesn't try and interpret our 'mythos' in scientific terms. Since a few of you have asked, my last blog, the poem, is really about what Campbell, that great interpreter of myth, called 'the Hero's Journey', which is a journey each of us makes, and maybe several times in our lives: the journey to psychological maturity. Yes, I've been there, more than once. Various of my friends are there at the moment. Many of my workshop participants and students have voiced this kind of crisis. This poor fractured world is full of the dislocations and mismatches between our heart and duty, our need and our bliss, what we have chosen and what we would like, perhaps especially at this time, that leave us collectively in a dark forest with no map.
All these symbolic systems of charting truth have enormous healing potential, and that is something I'll write more of another time.
I've spent the greatest part of my adult life working with the archetypes and symbols in myth and poetry, and in what they may offer us of psychological or spiritual insight.
I began this study in my teens, continued it at university where I spent my time with the great bardic and shamanic stories of the Celtic culture (and to some extent the Norse and Anglo-Saxon too), immersed myself in the Grail myths and troubadour stories which all carry enormous and significant wisdom for our psychological, emotional and spiritual evolution if read in the 'right' way, followed it with a training in transpersonal psychology which deals specifically with the realms of the psychospiritual and the archetypal, and followed that with my first workshops, 'Myth as Metaphor', 20 years ago. Out of these first workshops came my book Riding the Dragon – myth & the inner journey.
This is the opening of a much much bigger conversation that I haven't really touched on much in the blog but which underpins my whole life, all the time. As usual, I don't have the time to follow this through right now, but what I've said above is really a brief preliminary here today to my wanting to speak a little of the symbolic 'truths' carried in astrology (I also did a training in astrological psychology, connecting the archetypes in the human psyche with the greater macrocosmic cycles, in my early 30s and that is another thing that underpins my thinking).
Astrology, for me, has nothing at all to do with the 'predictive' stuff that the newspaper horoscopes would have us believe will be true for a whole twelfth of the population today. It has everything to do with attempting to map and understand bigger cosmic cycles, of which our small lives are part. The basic tenet is one of interconnectedness: 'as above, so below'.
In the worldview of scientific materialism, the world consists of basically disconnected units. This view, of course, is seriously challenged by quantum physics, and by recent discoveries in the field of the behaviour of neutrinos. We also know that ecosystems, by definition, are informed by interconnectedness, and most scientists working at the cutting edge are having to acknowledge that our old scientific explanations simply don't go far enough.
So in a worldview of interconnectedness, what astrology may have to offer is an ability to take a 'reading' from the visible movements of the planets in our solar system and, using archetypes ascribed to those planets for 1000s of years, extrapolate as to a quality of energy prevalent in any given moment; a quality that will affect everything here on earth too. In other words, we're reading the macrocosm to have insight into the microcosm. The planets don't make anything happen, they are simply a symbolic system which can be read in a specific way. Nonetheless we know that physically the planets affect each others' gravitational fields. What we are assuming is that this does not only happen on a physical level, but in terms of more subtle energy too.
So there is a 'quality of energy' of a moment, the argument goes, mirrored or mappable in the movements of the planets, that affects us all.
Right now, Venus, archetypal planet of love and harmony, and Mercury, archetypal symbol of mind and communication, have both just moved from Scorpio, where they have been perhaps reflecting in us over the past few weeks deep areas of conflict and intense issues in relation to relationship and communication – dark, intense, deep-seated turbulent stuff – into Sagittarius, where new and lighter and more uplifting experiences of harmonious communication may become possible. (If this not true of your life, you have either been one of the few, or you have simply not noticed! OK, or perhaps you have already done the inner work on these issues we are called upon to do in such times.)
And I'm interested too to see that the stand-off outside St Paul's in London looks like it may have new possibilities for resolution...