Cosmos and Psyche — Intimations of a New World View by Richard Tarnas

Cosmos and Psyche is breathtaking in every way — it is both a new world view or “meta-narrative” and a profound argument for the existence of an intelligent, creative universe. It almost does the book a disservice to try to simplify what’s contained here — the theories are captivating, the sense of vision is huge in scope, and the historical analysis is phenomenal. Richard Tarnas has written a book that challenges and, I believe, overturns many of modern man’s assumptions about the nature of the universe and man’s role in it.

This book is about astrology, but as the author says, “not the astrology of the fortune teller and the newspaper columns.” This is not about cheap predictions of the future or personal zodiac signs. Instead, this is about planets and the fascinating archetypal patterns that emerge as each planet shifts into and out of alignment. Tarnas has taken astrology to a new height — to a cosmology — a new method of understanding the universe.

Or at least it’s new to us — this was an old idea to the ancient world, the world of gods and myths. Planets were given attributes and even before the modern “discovery” of the outermost planets there were myths about the archetypal forces involved. This is a highly controversial idea to us now — the notion that there could be a correspondence between planetary positions and human events, but this was not always so. Indeed, Tarnas makes the case that the myths and stories surrounding each planet may have developed empirically, over time, in an effort to describe those qualities and attributes that manifested when a particular planet was present. More interesting still is the author’s observation that those eras that took astrology seriously were marked by an intellectual and cultural creativity that were “unusually luminous.”

That’s the Cosmos part of the story. Where the Psyche comes in can be captured by the famous adage “As above, so below.” Linking the two are the archetypal patterns between individual events and the collective conscious or zeitgeist, and the interior view as it is expressed in the world view. For example, a simple synchronicity on a personal level may inspire a new view of the universe as ordered and intelligent. Tarnas mines the fields of depth psychology, Jungian archetypes and Joseph Cambell’s works on symbols and myths to provide a comprehensive bridge between the two areas — Cosmos and Psyche.

The bulk of Cosmos and Psyche is the detailed historical analysis of the last five hundred years and the major outer planetary alignments that occurred during each era. This period since the 1500’s is considered the advent of modern man and this is important for several reasons. This time period has seen the total eclipse of science over soul, the rational over the numinous, and the paradox of how humans have accomplished so much that was good and yet caused so much damage.

If there is a driving force to this book it is this paradox that urges the author forward. As Tarnas illustrates, mankind has reached a critical stage now, both in terms of a profound alienation and in the destructive power he wields. Science has advanced but has left a sense of meaninglessness — the universe is viewed as random, destructive and purposeless. As the author points out, the problems that we face today are huge, but so are our resources — so why are we unable to act? What is missing from the modern psyche? The answer may be that in the effort to overcome superstition and dogma over the last five hundred years, we have thrown the baby out with the bath-water. We have lost our narrative, our sense of purpose in this world, and our primal connection with the intelligence of the universe.

Cosmos and Psyche is an attempt at a new narrative and a new awareness of these connections. This is groundbreaking stuff and ultimately a work of great hope and beauty — yes, the stakes are high, but our resources may be as wide as the universe itself if we only listen to it.

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by Cheryl Shainmark
Richard is the author of The Passion of the Western Mind, a narrative history of Western thought which became a best seller and continues to be a widely used text in universities throughout the world. He is the founding director of the graduate program in Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, where he currently teaches. He also teaches on the faculty of the Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, and gives many public lectures and workshops in the U.S. and abroad.