Below is an excerpt from Patrick Harpur’s The Philosophers' Secret Fire. I’m not as sceptical as he is about the evidence for evolution, though I think its mechanism is far from understood. What particularly interests me is the way Harpur shows Evolutionists to be driven by pre-existing myths such as the Goddess and the Great Chain of Being.
PS I think the idea of competition as the driver of evolution merely mirrors the competitive capitalist ideology of our society. In other times we might have seen evolution as driven by co-operation, or maybe by elegance.
“A surprising number of people believe that humans are descended from spacemen who have landed on earth and, like the mysterious Nephilim in Genesis, ‘mated with the daughters of men’. We may smile at this myth but it is not especially disreputable. All traditional cultures believe that they are descended from gods, god-like humans such as the ancestors or divine animals – many of whom came from the sky.
Naturally we do not understand the clans who claim descent from a leopard or a bear because we think they believe in a literal biological descent, which they do not. It is westerners who take their myths of descent literally so that, when we ceased to believe that we were literally descended from Adam and Eve, who were created according to Archbishop Usher of Armagh in 4004BC, we were only too ready to believe we were descended from apes. Tribespeople would understand divine ape-ancestors at once, but actual apes… It would be their turn to smile. The last superior laugh is ours, of course, because unlike the naïve tribespeople and the barmy extraterrestrialists we have a scientific theory of descent: evolution.
In 1992 a science writer called Richard Milton published a book, The Facts of Life, which questioned the scientific validity of the theory of evolution. When I read a review of it by Richard Dawkins, describing the book as ‘loony’, ‘stupid’, ‘drivel’ and its author as someone who ‘needs psychiatric help’, I was naturally grateful to Dawkins for drawing my attention, through this closely reasoned critique, to a work I might otherwise have missed. Mr Milton turned out to be disconcertingly sane. He wrote his book as a concerned father who was nervous about his daughter being taught a theory as if it were Gospel truth.”
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Harpur’s main reservation about evolution is the lack of intermediate species in the fossil record and, in their eagerness to believe, the susceptibility of scientists to hoaxes such as Piltdown man.
He continues:“Why do evolutionists believe in evolution against all the evidence? Partly, I suppose, because there is no credible alternative story; mostly, because it is a powerful creation myth which demands to be implicitly believed. Structural analysis has already shown (earlier in the book) how myths which may look very different on the surface are in fact variants of the same myth. They are simply transformed by certain archetypal rules. This is true of myths of devolution and evolution.
Traditionally, creation myths are devolutionary. They describe how we are descended from gods or god-like ancestors, and our present state is fallen, a regression from the perfection of the past. We are inferior to our forebears. Our task is to recreate the conditions of Eden or Arcadia, the state of past harmony.
Only our western scientific myth is evolutionary. It describes how we have ascended from animals and our present state is advanced, a progress from the imperfection of the past. We are superior to our forebears. Our task is to create the conditions of the New Jerusalem or Utopia, the state of future harmony.
We notice that the two myths are, as so often, symmetrical but inverted. So, while the evolutionary myth claims that it is not a myth at all, but history, superseding all other myths, we see that really it is a variant of the devolutionary myth – an eccentric variant that wants to take itself literally.
Evolutionism places humans at the top of the tree, the position formerly occupied by the gods. It also endows us with god-like powers of reason etc. But it claims, too, that we are only animals, a product of mere biology. In other words, we have ‘ascended’ to become the ‘divine animals’ from which so many traditional cultures claim descent.
The place where ‘transmutation of species’ really occurs is not in Nature but in myth. Species of gods and daimons are always appearing to humans in animal form. Witches and shamans take on the shapes of animals and certain animals shed their skins to assume human form. The interchanging of humans and animals is a metaphor for the reciprocal relationship between this world and the Otherworld, the way each flows into the other. In the old days we believed in werewolves; African tribes still routinely believe in were-leopards or were-crocodiles. Nowadays we believe in were-apes. Myth has no objection to the changing of an ape into a man, or vice-versa; but only evolutionists would dream of taking this literally; transmutation of species is a literalisation of daimonic shape-shifting.
Transitional species are abundant in myth, where we not only have were-animals but also centaurs, satyrs, fauns, mermaids, etc; but they are absent in fact. Evolution works imaginatively but not literally. The search for the magical were-ape, or ‘missing link’, which will transform the myth into history tends to follow the same sequence of events: a tooth or bone is found and hailed excitedly as evidence for the missing link. Time passes – and it is reluctantly re-classified as either man-like or ape-like.
The search for ‘missing links’ in the evolutionary chain can be traced back to the Scholastic doctrine – axiomatic for over a thousand years – that ‘Nature makes no leaps’…. But apart from this sort of philosophical precedent for ‘missing links’, it seems simply to be the case that the need for continuity exerts as archetypal a fascination over the imagination as the idea of shapeshifting. We always construct a series of links between ourselves and the gods (or whatever we conceive to be the ground of our being) such as the Neoplatonic emanations, the medieval Chain of Being or the Roman Catholic saints, angels and Blessed Virgin Mary.
But what, if not Adam and Eve, does the evolutionary chain link us to? The Darwinist answer, of course, is: to an ape-like ancestor in the first instance, and ultimately to protein molecules in the primeval ocean. The psychological answer is that it links us to a symmetrical but inverted version of the transcendent God it has done away with – it links us, that is, to an immanent goddess. Darwinists are not aware of her, but she is present in Darwin’s vision of Nature as a cruel power, which his successors inherited. They still see Nature today in an unwittingly Romantic light as the irrepressible source of all forms of life… When Jacques Monod wrote of the “inexhaustible resources of the well of chance’, he was using a metaphor which traditionally belongs to the creatrix in her manifestation as the Soul of the World.
The goddess is particularly present in any ideology which emphasises growth and development. As James Hillman has noticed, ‘the evolutional terms of Darwinian biology… resonate with the person of the mother archetype.’
I was reading today that along with the ‘Mid-life crisis’ there is now a 'Late-life Crisis', that happens to people in their sixties. Thank heavens for that I thought. Life does go on after all. Because where would we be without crises, how would we ever make the big changes that are necessary for our lives to move on?
Crisis comes from the Greek Krisis meaning a turning point in a disease. That’s what they are, turning points, and they aren’t of our own conscious making, it’s like life puts them there. Or the gods, the spirits, we call on them, and they respond by turning our lives upside down. Or own unconscious propensities lead us there. Whatever. The Germans have a great word for mid-life crisis: Torschlusspanik, literally "shut-door-panic."
And one of my internal fights (along with the one against reductionist science) is the idea that once we are in our sixties, that is it, it is at best a long decline. I do not THINK that, but somewhere I BELIEVE that, because that is what our culture, to a large extent, believes. Otherwise people would not be forced to retire at a certain age, or become unemployable in their fifties if they find themselves jobless.
This attitude is changing to some extent for purely economic reasons: we are living longer, so the pension pots are no longer big enough, so the retirement age is being gradually raised, in the UK at any rate. But that still means people in their 70s and 80s are left on what can effectively be the scrap heap, though no-one would say that. From their point of view, fair enough, they may not want to work anymore. But to others work can seem like everything, if you can’t or won’t work you’re either a loser or an old person on the scrap heap.
The time is ripe for change astrologically, as the Pluto in Leo generation enter their 60s and 70s, and Pluto transits Capricorn. The generation who knows how to stay youthful (Leo) transforming attitudes to age (Capricorn.)
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What I find myself saying regularly in readings is when you get older, it can be time to start over in a really BIG way. Think BIG, think RADICAL. When you are older, you know that life is about change, you hang looser to some of your beliefs and shibboleths than when you were young, all this achievement stuff is just part of life being a dream that transfixes younger people, so being older frees you to do things and live in ways you have never done before. In ancient India, older people often went off and became wandering mendicants, spiritual seekers. In Australia and the US they buy mobile homes and travel round the country in tribes and their children worry about them.
But what is this ‘Late-life crisis’? It seems to be about people in their 60s experiencing bereavement or illness, and it brings them face-to-face with their own mortality, and there are 2 frequent responses: they either give up and go downhill, or they find a new lease of life.
And this is well described by the two generational transits that we all experience at that time: the second Saturn Return, aged 58-59, which ushers us into our sixties, followed by the closing square of the Uranus cycle, in the same way that we had the opening square aged 21 or so.
So the second Saturn Return. Well I haven’t experienced it yet, so I don’t know what I’m talking about, but hey, when did that ever stop me? :)
Before Pluto came along, Saturn was the planet of death, and he still is: he sets boundaries and gives us judgement, the ability to weigh up and learn from the past. At the first Saturn Return, he is orientated to the future, towards what we have yet to achieve. At the second – well, we could look at it as orientated to the past, to what we have done. But, particularly with the modern increases in life expectancy, we can also look at the 2nd Saturn return as orientated to the future. What we can achieve now that we have many years’ experience behind us, but also, crucially, what we can achieve now that we are aware of our mortality. And what also do we mean by this word ‘achievement’, that is so tied up with Saturn, so tied up with what the world and our parents expect of us and which may have driven us for most of our lives? What is worth achieving now that we know we will die and that we can’t take anything with us, particularly worldly recognition?
(I don’t know what happens after we die, all I know is that I’m quite suspicious of any certainty, including certainty that death means extinction: in its own way, that certainty is also a false comfort.)
So after the rounding-up of our lives through Saturn, and the perspective and realism and awareness of mortality that he gives, comes the Uranus square Uranus. A disruption of what has become safe and routine and predictable in us, in order for new possibilities to get in. And that may involve illness and bereavement. Or unemployment.
It’s like when we were 20-22, but the other way round. First you have the Uranus Square, opening you up, making life seem full of possibilities. Then Saturn square comes along and says OK, but you need to be grounded first, you need to be able to take care of yourself, otherwise all the vision is unreal.
But in our early sixties it’s the other way round, it’s Saturn then Uranus, it’s Uranus who has the last word. And that’s just as well because we shouldn’t need to go off and ground ourselves, that’s there as a matter of course (hopefully), so we can live out those Uranian possibilities in quite a real way.
But it depends, and here’s the crisis, because that’s what Uranian disruption often means, crisis, we can’t carry on as before, something’s changed, and we don’t know what to do. It depends on how you respond to that disruption, and that may depend on the state of your Saturn: have you become so fixed that either you carry on as you are now or you feel you may as well just leave? Or has Saturn taught you his secret lesson, has he taken you beyond what the world wants of you, and you are free? Either way it may still not be comfortable.
But the best meaning of Uranus square Uranus, best in the sense of going where life wants us to go, is to go with that change, begin anew, because that’s what life always wants us to do, however old we are. Jung found through dreams of his elderly patients that life behaved not as though it were about to be extinguished, but as though it was going to continue, and he said the best way to live is according to nature, which therefore means looking to the future. And Uranus is a forward looking planet. Maybe they’ll come up with a new crisis based around the Uranus Return in our 80s.
Because it’s also about recognising old people as people with lives that develop, and that are just as important to them as younger people’s lives are to them, and the more society can do that, the more it will recognise events such as the ‘Late-life Crisis.’
I woke up this morning with a good dose of self-doubt, but also knowing it would appear a lot better once I was up and about! Partly it’s just a vitality thing, once you’re up you have more energy to deal with stuff. But also at night your guards are down, the underworld and its demons reveal themselves, which I’m sure is a good thing, providing we can see it as that.
It’s a fragile thing, our consciousness, it has to keep switching itself off to re-group. It’s like a bubble on the surface of a pond. At night we merge into the pond. At death we merge into the pond.
And then my thoughts drifted to the Soul of the World. The split in our culture between inner and outer. Inner is where the soul is, it’s the place of feeling and interiority and psychotherapy. Outer has become the place of science, the blind, mechanical, meaningless universe that (at worst) it envisages.
James Hillman has pointed out that Soul needs to be restored to the world, to bring us back to how the ancients felt. Otherwise psychotherapy is of no use to the world, it does not change it. I have heard or read 2 people in the last day talking about Teilhard de Chardin (who I have not read) in this respect. As a balance, in one instance, to Jung, who tended to locate the Soul within. And that de Chardin locates it without, seeing the whole universe as one big ensouled evolutionary process (albeit from a Catholic perspective.) (See The Archetypal Cosmos by Kieron Le Grice.)
de Chardin had Sun in Taurus conjunct Neptune - the Soul (Neptune) in Nature (Taurus). Jung had Sun in Leo square to Neptune - the Soul (Neptune) in the individual (Leo).
And all this connects with the planet I want to say something about, Saturn. I did a vlog on him, and the picture quality was crap and I haven’t got time to sort it, so here goes.
Saturn is the planet that helps us ground our lives, to give it shape, to take our spirit if you like and make it take form in matter. He is the planet who says “Don’t tell me about your visions unless they grow corn.”
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He is the planet of responsibility, hard work, patience, discipline and on a deeper level, setting our goals, even our vocation, in the world – he is the natural ruler of the 10thhouse. But those qualities of responsibility etc don’t necessarily come easily when we are young, which is why the Saturn Return, aged 29 or 30, can be tough. By the time of our second Saturn Return, however, aged about 58, we know those Saturnian qualities, they are second nature, so Saturn becomes a planet of abundance instead of restriction.
He was classically one of the bad guys (along with Mars), but nowadays we say it’s about learning to work him, learning his qualities. Venus-Saturn has a particularly bad press, but I don’t think it need be like that.
Venus of all planets needs Saturn. Venus is romance, Saturn is common sense. They are in that sense opposites. Saturn on his own can marry someone just for the money or social position, Venus on her own can marry someone just because they look like a god or buy her flowers. Put them together, give them 20 or 30 years, and you can get some sound judgement around relationships. And relationships that work.
So Saturn at large makes our lives real, actual. Because of the split in our culture between spirit and matter, because of the denial of spirit by Saturnian science and by our ‘work ethic’ (with its promise of salvation), people on some sort of mission for a wider meaning often have a hard time with Saturn. Creating a life that works, that does not look down on and reject society (as banal or run by ‘evil’ capitalists or governments or whatever), yet keeps the sense of vision.
The imbalance is also the other way: we have become so good at creating wealth and inventing new technologies, that pursuing that is all that can seem to matter. This is negative Saturn: you are only what can be measured, the ‘inner’ does not exist.
This is often the problem where you see the Sun in hard aspect to Saturn. These people are very good at working hard, at achieving, but it is never enough, they are not ease with themselves, they cannot stop. The Sun is in square to Saturn in the US Chart, and you see it there, the great ability to achieve, to send men to the Moon and to become the world richest and most powerful nation; but tremendous judgement around it, dividing people into winners and losers, only feeling OK if you’re working hard. That’s another bit of Saturn – the snobbery, the creation of hierarchies of wealth and social position and the invidious looking down on others and the (secret) worship of those ‘above’ you.
So Saturn can scoop you out, in the sense that only that which can be measured has value. BUT, he can also be a protector of the inner world. He creates boundaries, and negatively this can mean loneliness and isolation (as in Venus-Saturn, until we have learnt his lessons). But positively it can mean solitude, the monk's cell, the alchemical crucible, the conditions for inner work.
So this is the point I want to make about Saturn. He is not just the worldly taskmaster telling you to get on your bike. He has an inner quality which in our world we tend to undervalue and forget. He can help us listen to ourselves, to what we are feeling, he protects us from all those voices – many of them internalised – telling us what we ‘should’ be doing, or that we’re not good enough. Saturn has a discerning quality, he can show us what to listen to within, and what to acknowledge but not to heed.
Above all, because he judges and measures, he can help us place value on the inner world, on feeling, and help us shut out the voices that say otherwise, that say being busy and working is all that matters. I have a picture of a bottle of medicine in my head, it’s called Saturn’s Remedy, and it’s a dark liquid and we need to take it once, maybe twice a day and it has a picture of a benevolent looking Saturn on the label and the medicine has a kind of magical quality that takes us inwards to another world.
I've just arrived in Seattle, had a great evening courtesy of Syd, a bunch of her art studio friends came round, sharp and witty and good-humoured and I talked astrology after the barbecue. I'm here hanging out and doing readings till Wednesday when I'm off to Portland for a few days for the same sort of thing. Let me know if you're in either area.
Before that I was down near Olympia for a few days staying with June (of Dreamtalkwithjune.com). 2 visits to the forest, went to sleep on the moss both times. The trees enveloped me. They are a far cry from the boring fir tree plantations that I am used to in the UK. One cedar had fallen over and even on its side was over twice as high as me.
My birth time (unreliable) makes me Virgo Rising, which gives excellent results when I progress the Angles by solar arc directions. However, everyone I know reckons I must be Leo Rising, and I feel comfortable with that, there is that element in me. But the solar arc directions don't work well.
What do you reckon? Go to youtube and look up Astrotabletalk and you can get an impression.
I'm in Vancouver on an astro-tour. Off to Washington State tomorrow. Below is a piece I wrote just before I went away, and before that is a piece I put on Facebook yesterday:
Had breakfast at a place that claims to be Vancouver's most famous breakfast cafe. It's good, and one of a kind. Big helpings, as much coffee as you want. The guy running it is small, about 70, bald and with a big mouth in both senses. Says 'fuck' a lot, teases the customers way beyond what most people could get away with, and has a sign up warning parents about his language. Also has a sign saying don't ask us to get your coffee refill, get it yourself. As I was eating, he told the people at the next table that if they had finished could they please move their asses. They got up straight away, no offence taken, laughing.
I was watching a guy called Brian Swimme on youtube today – he’s one of the archetypal bunch from California along with Richard Tarnas. And he was talking about Science and he’s obviously really awed by the observable evolutionary tendency of the material universe, as well as within life itself. (They are not separate.)
Archetypally, I attribute that evolutionary tendency to Pluto, the sheer power within the universe that is always wanting to move on to the next stage; and the endless creativity of Uranus, which means that next stage is something completely new, not just a re-arrangement of what came before, something we could never have thought of. And of course Neptune, the image of a universe that appears before us and which seems so real. What was the Big Bang if not Pluto, Neptune and Uranus acting in concert?
|Brian Cox (on the right)|
And then someone asked an awkward question: what does he think is the eventual fate of the universe? The conventional answer of course is ‘Heat Death’, about which the boyish Brian Cox waxes so enthusiastically, and for which the ladies forgive him because he’s so charming, though not exactly hot.
The Heat Death prognosis says that eventually the universe will expand into a chilly meaningless nothingness where there is nothing of anything.
Brian Swimme gave the interesting answer that he doesn’t think the universe has yet made up its mind what its eventual fate will be. I liked that. Douglas Adams couldn't have said it better.
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Swimme was further saying that we are living in an age where the old story of the universe has gone, and the new has yet to be born, and it needs to include the discoveries of science. I agree, up to a point.
But I also want an opt-out clause, or science becomes more than a story, it goes over to the dark side and becomes a 'fact' - the 4th kind of lie (along with Mark Twain's lies, damned lies and statistics.) And we need more than one story, ideally one that contradicts the science story!
A Canadian Indian friend in his 60s had a much older Indian friend in his 90s who wanted to know what this big deal science thing was about, so my friend did his best to explain, and the old Indian’s response was “So the horse shits”. Meaning that science explains the mechanics of the material world and that’s all, it’s low-level stuff.
Is that the case? Is science separate from philosophy, from anything that gives significance to human life? Certainly when it comes out with theories like Heat Death, then it seems to me positively anti-life, it is a demonised view of the universe, it makes me angry that it should be given credence just because some people can make the numbers add up on paper. And if I’d been Swimme, I would have said so, but then I would have lost academic credibility, because science has to be refuted scientifically rather than on human and philosophical grounds.
It’s got it all sewn up, hasn’t it, a bit like Christians and the Bible 500 years ago? You can’t reject Heat Death just because it is an inhuman demonization of the destiny of the cosmos, you have to do it mathematically, and how would I ever do that? The modern mythopoeic elite has surrounded itself with a wall of numbers and none of the rest of us – the 99% - can contribute to that story.
For me, the deeper nature of the universe reveals itself not directly through science, but ironically when its method breaks down, which to me it seems to at extremes. Science is just a model, based on the idea of ‘Let’s pretend the universe is an object external to ourselves that is governed by purely material laws and whose nature we can discover through rational investigation.’ I have no problem with that, don’t think I’m anti-science, I’m not, I love it. But it is a model of the universe, not the universe itself, which is clearly unknowable in its deeper nature.
And when you push a model to extremes, it breaks down, and that in my opinion is what happens when you push the scientific method to investigate reality at ever smaller and ever bigger levels – it breaks down, and you end up with the counter-intuitive quantum reality at one end, and nonsensical results like the universe is 96% undetectable dark matter/energy at the galactic end.
Now Dark Matter, that’s a good one. And if we think about Dark Matter as a story, mythologically, psychologically even, it is saying that our ignorance far outweighs the little bit we know. The unconscious can show its wisdom through jokes, and I think Dark Matter is one of those jokes. It’s maybe saying that we are getting MORE ignorant through science, through that approach to reality, because it has become THE way, we need to dance with it more lightly.
The more we push science at the quantum and galactic extremes, the more reality recedes, leaving a paper trail of little jokes. I think Douglas Adams would understand that. Certainly Patrick Harpur would, the man from whom I learned to think Mythologically (along with my Canadian Indian friend): I recommend his book, The Philosopher's Secret Fire.
I think the big shift could come through brain research, which is starting to receive megabucks of funding. There are major projects in Europe and the USA to map the brain. And however philosophically naïve you are, when you research the brain you are faced with the created nature of the reality around us, its story-like nature, and you know exactly which bit of the brain creates what, deep structural stuff like time and space, you even know which bit of the brain creates the illusion of an object called the brain! So it’s deep, it’s paradoxical, it’s profound. I don’t hold much with collective human awakening, not for very long at any rate, and not to any great degree. But I think if anything can turn humanity into a metaphysical creature on a collective level, brain research can.
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