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Jung on Astrology
Sue Mehrtens is the author of this and all the other blog essays on this site. The opinions expressed in these essays are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other Jungian Center faculty or Board members. Honesty, as well as professional courtesy, require that you give proper attribution to the author if you post this essay elsewhere.
Jung on Astrology
“Astrology and other methods of divination may certainly be called the science of antiquity.”
“Certain mantic procedures seem to have died out, but astrology, which in our own day has attained an eminence never known before, remains very much alive. Nor has the determinism of the scientific epoch been able to extinguish altogether the persuasive power of the synchronicity principle.”
“The basic meaning of the horoscope is that, by mapping out the positions of the planets and their relations to one another (aspects), together with the distribution of the signs of the zodiac at the cardinal points, it gives a picture first of the psychic and then of the physical constitution of the individual. It represents, in essence, a system of original and fundamental qualities in a person’s character, and can therefore be regarded as an equivalent of the individual psyche.”
“It would be frivolous of me to try to conceal from the reader that such reflections are not only exceedingly unpopular but even come perilously close to those turbid fantasies which be cloud the minds of world-reformers and other interpreters of “signs and portends.” But I must take this risk, even if it means putting my hard-won reputation for truthfulness, reliability, and capacity for scientific judgment in jeopardy. I can assure my readers that I do not do this with a light heart. I am, to be quite frank, concerned for all those who are caught unprepared by the events in question and disconcerted by their incomprehensible nature. Since, so far as I know, no one has yet felt moved to examine and set forth the possible psychic consequences of this foreseeable astrological change, I deem it my duty to do what I can in this respect.”
As the above quote indicates, Jung had great concern for his reputation as a scientist. He always thought of himself as an empiricist: “Empiricist” was the adjective he preferred people to use when describing him. It was as an empiricist that Jung got into astrology, and in this essay we will discuss how Jung found it useful. Far from regarding astrology as useful, most modern people in the West dismiss it as medieval mumbo-jumbo. I know I did, years ago, when my mind was still stuck in the small box of the Ivy League mentality. I’ll append a note to this essay on how I came to appreciate astrology, and, like Jung, how I developed an affinity for the “unpopular things” that had “this uncanny attraction for” Jung. We’ll begin by defining astrology and examine Jung’s understanding of it and the research he undertook in it. Then we will consider how Jung used it, both in his clinical practice and in his analysis of the evolution of our collective consciousness.
Definitions of Astrology
Etymology provides the simplest definition of “astrology:” “the study of the stars,” from the Greek astron + logos. Jung was more explicit in a short description he appended in a note to his essay on synchronicity:
“I should perhaps add a few explanatory words for those readers who do not feel at home with the ancient art and technique of astrology. Its basis is the horoscope, a circular arrangement of sun, moon, and planets according to their relative positions in the signs of the zodiac at the moment of an individual’s birth. There are three main positions, viz., those of the sun, moon, and the so-called ascendant; the last has the greatest importance for the interpretation of an activity: the ascendant represents the degree of the zodiacal sign rising over the eastern horizon at the moment of birth. The horoscope consists of 12 so-called “houses,” sectors of 30° each. Astrological tradition ascribes different qualities to them as it does to the various “aspects,” i.e. angular relations of the planets and the luminaria (sun and moon), and to the zodiacal signs.”
Jung recognized the ancient roots and usage of astrology: Multiple times he referred to astrology as “the science of antiquity,” “the ancient art and technique of astrology,” and “this age-old ‘scientia intuitiva,’…”.
“Ancient” and “age-old” though it may be, Jung also saw astrology as growing in popularity. He noted that “at least a thousand times more horoscopes are cast today than were cast 300 years ago,” and “that the heyday of astrology was not in the benighted Middle Ages but is in the middle of the twentieth century, when even the newspapers do not hesitate to publish the week’s horoscopes.” He claimed that “nowadays the horoscope has almost attained the rank of a visiting card,” and that “astrology… in our own day has attained an eminence never known before.”
Astrology “remains very much alive,” but not without its detractors, and Jung acknowledged this when he noted “the cultural Philistines [who] believed… that astrology had been disposed of long since”–people who “obey the unwritten but strictly observed convention: ‘One does not speak of such things.’ They are only whispered about, no one admits them, for no one wants to be considered all that stupid.” Not at all a “cultural Philistine,” Jung had an appreciative understanding of the art, technique and science of astrology.
Jung’s Understanding of Astrology
More than just defining astrology as art, technique or science, Jung recognized that astrology provides a “psychological description of character,” with the planets corresponding “to the individual character components.” He felt “the horoscope is the chronometric equivalent of individual character, through all the characterological components of the personality,” and that a person’s natal chart could provide insights into “what her [the patient’s] soul intended for her to achieve.” Our natal chart, in other words, is like a mandala of our soul’s plan for this incarnation.
By comparing the movement of the planets through the year to one’s natal chart, in the process of examining the “transits,” Jung felt we can get an example of synchronicity in action: Transits provide a “meaningful coincidence of planetary aspects and positions with the character or the existing psychic state of the questioner,” on the individual level, and insights into “unconscious, introspective perceptions of the activity of the collective unconscious” on the collective level.
These insights can be for short temporal frames–months or years of a society’s activities–and for the much longer millennial time frames of eons. Jung got the epithet “father of the New Age” for his idea of how the “collective psyche” of the human race changes with the “end of one Platonic month and at the beginning of another.” He felt obligated, as a medical doctor, to alert people to the nature of our time–how we are living through a major cosmic transformation as the age of Pisces gives way to the age of Aquarius:
“It is not presumption that drives me, but my conscience as a psychiatrist that bids me fulfill my duty and prepare those few who will hear me for coming events which are in accord with the end of an era. As we know from ancient Egyptian history, they are manifestations of psychic changes which always appear at the end of one Platonic month and at the beginning of another. Apparently they are changes in the constellation of psychic dominants, of the archetypes, or “gods” as they used to be called, which bring about, or accompany, long-lasting transformations of the collective psyche. This transformation started in the historical era and left its traces first in the passing of the eon of Taurus into that of Aries, and then of Aries into Pisces, whose beginning coincides with the rise of Christianity. We are now nearing that great change which may be expected when the spring point enters Aquarius.”
Why did Jung feel driven to speak of the shift from one age to another? Because the “psychic changes” characteristic of these transition times are not always pleasant. Just as we, on the individual level, can feel confused, distracted, anxious and insecure in a time of transition (e.g. adolescence), so shifts of eon can show up as widespread feelings of melancholy, malaise, discontent, anxiety and fear that run through all the cultures of the planet. Jung wanted to warn us, so we–“those few who will hear” him–can experience these “psychic changes” consciously and thus limit the destructive impulses they could induce.
Jung’s Research on Astrology
Jung became aware of the zodiacal shift of eon in his researches in astrology. Most of this research focused on the charts of individuals, and for one “experiment” he reported in 1955, he studied 800 charts. In volume 8 of his Collected Works, forty-three paragraphs are devoted to a report of his examination of the charts of married couples and the correspondence of their sun-moon aspects, with sun-moon conjunctions and sun-moon oppositions being quite common. What was the result of this experiment? Jung reports that
“The statistical material shows that a practically as well as theoretically improbable chance combination occurred which coincides in the most remarkable way with traditional astrological expectations. That such a coincidence should occur at all is so improbable and so incredible that nobody could have dared to predict anything like it.”
But Jung had scant appreciation for statistics: They obliterate the individual, which always was Jung’s focus. But the scientist relies on statistics for their objectivity. Jung, however, recognized what J.B. Rhine discovered years before Jung did his experiment: “Rhine’s ESP results… were also favorably affected by expectation, hope, and faith.” Jung and his assistants had worked with astrology for years, interpreting individuals’ charts, and knew that many marriages had certain sun-moon configurations, and their “lively interest in the outcome of the experiment” skewed the statistics, just as the participants in Rhine’s parapsychological investigations had become “accessories to the deed,” indicating how “the psychic processes of the interested parties were affected by the synchronistic arrangement.” In other words, Jung felt that the value of astrology lies in its evocation of synchronicity to provide insights into individuals’ lives and societies’ situations.
How Jung Used Astrology
To get insights was one way Jung used astrology: It can “give… a more or less total picture of the individual’s character.” “From the remotest times” astrologers have seen a correspondence between “the various planets, houses, zodiacal signs, and aspects,” all of which have “meanings that serve as a basis for a character study or for an interpretation of a given situation.” For example, Jung worked up the chart of a woman patient. She presented “with strong inner oppositions whose union and reconciliation constituted her main problem.” What did her chart show? A “conjunction of the sun and moon as the symbol of the union of opposites,” and Jung concluded that this union, i.e. the reconciliation of the tension of opposites, was “what her soul intended for her to achieve.”
Jung felt that “planetary aspects” can give us clues about the individual’s “psycho-physiological disposition:”
“by mapping out the positions of the planets and their relations to one another (aspects), together with the distribution of the signs of the zodiac at the cardinal points, it [the birth chart] gives a picture first of the psychic and then of the physical constitution of the individual.”
and many of his students, e.g. Liz Greene, Alice Howell, Ellynor Barz, and Kathleen Burt, have taken up his work, in the understanding that, as Jung put it, “the entire horoscope… is the chronometric equivalent of individual character, through all the characterological components of the personality,” and, just as we change over time, so the transit chart can illustrate, explain and time our growth:
“The journey through the planetary houses, … therefore signifies the overcoming of a psychic obstacle, or of an autonomous complex, suitably represented by a planetary god or demon.”
I knew none of this thirty-five years ago, when my life fell apart. It was an astrologer who made sense of what I was going through, and, in so doing, saved my sanity.
A “Paradigm Popper:” How I Came to Be an Astrologer
Part of my problem, I now recognize, was that I had had an Ivy League education. That is, I had been “trained into orthodoxy” at a leading university which left my mind in a very small box of rationality, objectivity, quantification, and scholarly rigor. Stuff like crystal balls, Tarot readings, psychics’ predictions and astrology I dismissed as hogwash valued only by credulous, uneducated fools. In this lamentable state I was completely unprepared to cope with a dream I had on November 25, 1983. There was no action, just words: “Friends will die. Relatives will die. You will give up everything, and your life will be transformed.” Then I woke up. I was married at the time and I asked Ed if he had heard the words. He said no, so I repeated them, and then, because I rated dreams on a par with witches’ brew, I dismissed the whole experience.
Five days later I learned that my friend Hazel Crafts had dropped dead the night before. When I told Ed, he reminded me of the dream. But I pooh-poohed the idea that the dream might have been predictive. “Oh, that’s just a coincidence!” It was to be many years, and many more predictive dreams before I became convinced that there’s no such thing as coincidence.
Just as the dream said, everything in my life began to fall away. Over the next six months I lost two aunts, an uncle, and got divorced. And I kept having these weird dreams! I thought I was losing my mind. When I would seek solace from my friends that I was not actually going crazy, they gave me no satisfaction at all, as they weren’t psychiatrists. But they began to send me hither and yon to every psychologist, counselor, therapist and shrink they could find (and in eastern Maine in 1984 there were not many of them).
So it was in May of 1984 I thought I was about to see another mental health professional when my student Miranda suggested I consult someone she knew. She came with me to a nice house in Bar Harbor, and it was only while walking up the steps to this house that I learned I was about to see not a therapist but an astrologer. An astrologer!???!!
I was livid, and castigated Miranda for thinking that astrology was of any use. It was just bogus hogwash. And I refused to go in. Miranda then told me that the woman had done all the work to create and analyze my chart, and she would have to pay the woman even if I didn’t go in. Then I felt exasperated, but also guilty–that one of my students was going to pay for this mumbo-jumbo.
With great reluctance and skepticism I went in and sat down. Initially my body language reeked of disdain and disbelief, but then I began to hear things that resonated. This woman somehow knew what I was experiencing. She seemed to know me. More than this, she was telling me when things would improve, timing the passage of this interval filled with turmoil and torment.
It turned out that my “upending experience,” beginning with the first of my “voice-over” dreams, was timed by the classic Uranus transit opposing Uranus, which, given my chart, occurred at my mid-heaven, i.e. a sensitive part of my chart and life: my home, my career, my marriage and my sense of myself were all up for grabs and, just as the dream forewarned, everything in my life was falling away.
Of course, given the limitations of my Ivy League training, I saw no way to explain the accuracy of the reading but to accuse the woman of being a psychic, but she denied that and said that I could do just what she did, if I learned how to identify and interpret the symbols, that astrology is a very powerful (and complex) symbol system. This presented me with an intellectual challenge I could not resist, which is how I became a student of Frances Sakoian, the foremost American astrologer of her generation, author of dozens of books, and my first teacher. Subsequently I got into Jung’s use of astrology for psychological insights through the work of Liz Greene, founder of the Centre for Psychological Astrology and author of dozens of works combining her training as a certified Jungian analyst and her expertise in chart analysis. That’s how I became a practicing astrologer, and how I got myself out of the box of the limited mentality I was trained in, so that now, like Jung, I appreciate the “unpopular things” that our Western intellectual tradition dismisses.
Barz, Ellynor, Gods and Planets: The Archetypes of Astrology. Wilmette IL: Chiron Publications, 1991.
Boynton, Robert (2004), “In the Jung Archives,” The New York Times Book Review (January 11, 2004), 8.
Burt, Kathleen, Archetypes of the Zodiac. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 2002.
Greene, Liz, Relating: An Astrological Guide to Living with Others on a Small Planet. York Beach ME: Samuel Weiser, 1978.
________, The Astrology of Fate. York Beach ME: Samuel Weiser, 1984.
________, Saturn: A New Look at an Old Devil. York Beach ME: Samuel Weiser, 1976.
________, The Inner Planets: Building Blocks of Personal Reality. York Beach ME: Samuel Weiser, 1993.
________, The Luminaries: The Psychology of the Sun and the Moon in the Horoscope. York Beach ME: Samuel Weiser, 1992.
Howell, Alice, Jungian Symbolism in Astrology. Wheaton IL: Quest, 1987.
Jung, C.G. (1960), ”The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche,” CW 8. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1959), “Aion,” Collected Works, 9ii. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1970), “Civilization in Transition,” CW 10. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1963), “Mysterium Coniunctionis,” CW 14. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1976), ”The Symbolic Life,” CW 18. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1975), Letters, ed. Gerhard Adler & Aniela Jaffé. 2 vols. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Sakoian, Frances & Louis Acker (1972), That Inconjunct-Quincunx: The Not So Minor Aspect. Lakemont GA: Copple House Books Inc.
________ (1973), The Astrologer’s Handbook. New York: Harper & Row.
________ (1976), The Astrology of Human Relationships. New York: Harper & Row.
________ (1977), Predictive Astrology. New York: Harper & Row.
________ (1978), Those Inconjunct Quincunx Transits (no further bibliographic data given)
________ & Betty Caulfield (1980), Astrological Patterns: The Key to Self-Discovery. New York: Harper & Row.
Skolimowski, Henryk (1996), “The Methodology of Participation,” Revisioning Science: Essays Toward a New Knowledge Base for Our Culture, ed. S. Mehrtens. Waterbury VT: The Potlatch Press.
 Collected Works 10 ¶121. Hereafter Collected Works will be abbreviated CW.
 CW 8 ¶944.
 CW 9ii ¶212.
 CW 10 ¶590.
 CW 18 ¶1502.
 “Letter to Esther Harding,” 30 May 1957; Letters, II, 363.
 World Book Encyclopedia Dictionary, I, 123.
 CW 8 ¶869, note 66.
 CW 10 ¶121.
 CW 8 ¶869, note 66.
 CW 14 ¶7.
 CW 10 ¶173.
 Ibid. ¶700.
 CW 8 ¶944.
 CW 10 ¶176.
 Ibid. ¶700.
 CW 14 ¶7.
 Ibid. ¶390.
 Ibid. ¶298.
 CW 8 ¶899.
 Ibid. ¶987.
 Ibid. ¶325.
 Boynton (2004), 8.
 CW 10 ¶589.
 Ibid. Note that the shift moves opposite to the normal sequence in an individual chart, i.e. from Aries, to Taurus, to Gemini, etc., which is why Jung speaks of the eon of Taurus (the eon of pre-history and ancient Egypt and China) followed by Aries (the eon of ancient Greece, Persia and early Rome), and then by Pisces (the era of “the fishes,” which began around the time of Christ and is now in the process of passing).
 Adolescence is literally from the Latin adolescens, “becoming an adult,” i.e. a transitional time in life, when we are neither fully mature, nor any longer a child.
 CW 10 ¶589.
 CW 8 ¶994, note 5.
 Ibid. ¶893.
 ¶s 872-914. This is chapter 2 in Jung’s essay “Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle.”
 CW 8 ¶905.
 CW 10 ¶586.
 CW 8 ¶994.
 Ibid. ¶905.
 Ibid. ¶907.
 Ibid. ¶867.
 Ibid. ¶899.
 Ibid. ¶876.
 CW 9ii ¶212.
 Cf. Greene (1976) (1978) (1984) (1992) (1993), Howell (1987), Barz (1991) and Burt (2002).
 CW 14 ¶298.
 Ibid. ¶308.
 Skolimowski (1996), 161.
 The full account of my experiences through this process, which took years, is in my memoir Dreaming to Wake to Life.
 Sakoian (1972) (1973) (1976) (1977), and (1980).
 Greene (1976) (1978) (1984) (1992) and (1993).