What is it then that is important to recognise or differentiate when we talk about religion? I am certainly concerned by organised religion because of the tendency it can have to say that “this is the only truth”. In this sense it looks like Science at its worst, which says as well that “this is the only truth”. For me, the heart (fire and water) is indivisibly connected to the mind (earth-air). What closes the mind, closes the heart and what closes the heart, closes the mind. What is dangerous is not that we have models or theories about the way the world works, but that we become attached to these models or theories and forget that they are models and theories. Whilst my heart hurt in my recent experiences coaching people who had become overwhelmed by a very air-earth utilitarian view of the world, where there was no sense of religion (re-binding, that we are all connected and no sense of empathy or compassion for others, or morality), my mind was equally uncomfortable on recent occasions in being asked to uncritically accept very “new age” perspectives. In explaining to a friend a while back where I was coming from when they challenged me about my own beliefs in astrology and the I-Ching and why I was not uncritically accepting of all other occult or “new age” thinking, I explained that I wanted to stand in the middle. I have to work hard to stay open minded, like all of us, and I do not want to be dismissive of that which I do not understand or know for certain but at the same time, I value my critical, sceptical mind and I think a degree of healthy scepticism and testing and tempering my understanding against the facts is important. In this sense, I realised I am natural scientist. I love the experimental attitude that tests our theories critically against reality. This is healthy, otherwise we can delude ourselves (and others) and distort reality to fit our predilections. At the same time I naturally have faith in our connection to each other and the universe (re-ligio), I am a natural psychologist, a natural…. (you get the picture. Any of the signs/elements/triplicities at the expense of the others is dangerous. The I-Ching advises us to stand in the middle (I think this is where consciousness is). My mind and my heart hurt when I am asked to identify only with a limited perspective or a single truth. I recognise that at the heart of most approaches there is a truth. The scientific kernel of open mind and critical testing of our theories against the reality of experience is a beautiful and important contribution. It provides astrology with the astronomy and maths necessary to operate, at the same time, there is a beauty and importance in the religious perspectives which provide the intuitive wisdom of knowing that we are all interconnected.
All of this was summed up for me at a funeral for a close friend this week. The person officiating at the funeral put it very eloquently and accurately for me when our friend was lowered into her grave. “None of us can know for certain what lies beyond death” she said whatever our beliefs might be. I realise that for me, the humility that recognises that there is so much that we do not know or is still a mystery to us protects us from the hubris of claiming that there is only one truth and that we have it. Whilst I notice some of the hubris of modern day science, I am loath to throw the baby out with the bath water, in the same way that whilst I notice the hubris of many religions I am loathe to dismiss religion altogether. Perhaps what really re-binds or re-unites us is the fact that we all share the common experience of knowing only a limited amount. Yet this can keep us from falling prey to the illusion that we have the truth. As a friend pointed out, the signs ruling religion – Sagittarius and Pisces are mutable, once you define them you have moved away from mutability into fixity. Robert Pirsig in Lila – an enquiry into morals described this as the difference between static and dynamic truth. Most religions, he suggested, were started by people who embodied a dynamic truth which responded and adapted to each moment, their followers then turned this into a static truth which lost its adaptability and relevance. His metaphor was that of music. When you first hear a song you like, it has dynamic quality and you cannot get enough of hearing it. Yet after some time, it becomes stale and has lost its dynamic quality. You would still say it was a great song and recommend it to others, but it has lost its dynamic quality for you. It is so frustrating that we cannot once and for all define religion but rather reassuring too! As the Tao-Te-Ching says “He who knows does not speak, he who speaks does not know”. This lovely paradox says it all really.
As astrologers I think we have what is a rare privilege in that we have a framework that embraces the full spectrum of human perspectives. The anima mundi or cosmic mind/spirit is reflected in this full spectrum of archetypal energies. I realise that I have hit an impasse in finding the appropriate words for what we have, because they are so universal in nature they defy full description – astrology is a symbolic language for describing something archetypal but what exactly these archetypes are is tricky and therein lies its value in that we continue to elucidate and find greater and greater meaning in these archetypes.
I noticed, while at the astrological conference, that one great advantage that we have as astrologers, in that it is a discipline that by its nature causes us to stand back from and be less identified with our own personality. When we say, I am Pluto rising in Cancer conjunct Uranus, we have a language for describing our own subjective vehicle for relating to the universe. This is not to say that it automatically makes us wise or always conscious of our own subjective biases but it gives us a very strong potential to be by providing an objective framework for understanding our own personalities. We are able to say, I see the world in this way, but then I would because I have Jupiter in Virgo in the 9th house. Yet, at the same time, astrology is only a framework and it does not describe the consciousness or owner of the vehicle. None of us when presented with a chart would know whether it was the chart of a tree, a car, a country, an idea or a human being. Paradoxically it requires us to stand back from identification to describe it. We lose this value when we identify with any one part of it over another. Although it has to be said that Sagittarius is clearly the best sign (but that’s probably my Mars in Capricorn that’s saying that, and my Venus in Aquarius thinks that’s very unfair and my Cancer moon wonders if I really ought to be saying that – what will people think?……..)
For the last word on religio I think this article says it all (www.chrissyphilp.com)