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Volume 1, No. 1

Dane Rudhyar’s Astrology and
Conscious Evolution

by Gregory Ellison

Part 1: The Foundations of Rudhyar’s Astrological Thought

Although often called “the mother of the new age” for her role in sparking mass awareness of astrology and the coming Age of Aquarius, Linda Goodman wasn’t the first astrologer to say that human consciousness will soon rise beyond egoism and materialism to a new way of thinking and being, based on spirit and love. As early as the 1930’s astrologer Dane Rudhyar, one of the 20th century’s most influential thinkers, painted his own vision of the Aquarian Age in The Planetarization of Consciousness and other seminal works.

The idea of the “new age” burst into mass consciousness in the late 1960’s, sparked by a cultural revolution that included the Beatles, the hippy movement, and a newly-awakened interest in the West in spiritual and mystical ideas that had long been relegated to the trash-heap of “superstition” by the rational/scientific mind-set. Long before the media frenzy that turned the Aquarian Age into a popular buzzword, however, the seeds of this radical shift in consciousness had been planted by many developments in science and philosophy, as well as dramatic events on the political world stage.

Never before the 20th century had there been a “World War,” nor was the idea of one even conceivable. Two such global conflicts rocked the world as never before and awakened serious thinkers to the realization that humanity could no longer think of itself as isolated nations and individuals, but must begin thinking in “global” terms if the human species is to survive. The result was a mass of new ideas coming from many different directions and couched in many different terms, but with a number of common elements:

  • In science, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity dashed the centuries-old Newtonian model of a mechanical, “clockwork” universe, replacing the idea of separate, static, material “things” with the notion that relationship was somehow more fundamental to reality than objects. Space and time, like matter and energy, were not objectively “real” in themselves, but could only be understood in relation to each other.

  • Following close on the heels of relativity, quantum physics made the same kinds of discoveries in the sub-atomic world of particles and waves. One of the most startling discoveries of this new science was set forth in Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which stated in essence that it was impossible to separate the observer from the thing observed. In other words, the very presence of an observer alters the reality of the thing observed. For the first time, science demonstrated that human consciousness had an active role in creating “objective” reality! Suddenly, mystical “superstition” was seen to coincide with rigorous hard science.

  • In parallel with these scientific revolutions, a philosophical revolution was underway to come up with new models of thought to accommodate both the new scientific understandings and the growing recognition of relationships and interdependence in the political and economic world. Ideas like holism, synergy, general systems, and cybernetics began to emerge in many fields of thought from biology and anthropology to economics and ecology. Thinkers began to think in terms of “wholes” rather than “parts.”

Into this radically changing world-view of the early 20th century, Dane Rudhyar emerged as a seminal thinker who laid much of the groundwork for our new paradigms of thought. Although remembered today mainly as an astrologer, Rudhyar was also a musical composer, a painter, and a philosopher - a true “Renaissance man” who sought to understand and express the whole sweep of human endeavor. Among other things the modern world owes to Rudhyar is the concept of “holistic” reality. (The term was first used in a narrower biological sense by Jan Smuts in 1929, but Rudhyar’s series of articles written in 1930 and 1931, A Philosophy of Operative Wholeness, represents the first comprehensive statement of holistic philosophy in the broad sense in which it is generally understood today.)

Holism and astrology
So what does this all have to do with astrology?

Dane Rudhyar was among the first to recognize that the ancient science-art of astrology contained within itself a profound way of understanding the new concepts of holistic thought, and he adopted it as his “model” for investigating and describing the new way of thinking. As his wife Leyla put it in a retrospective on his life, “He saw Astrology as a means to demonstrate in a concrete and effective way the workings of cyclic and holistic patterns in the lives of individuals and nations - as a personalized application of his philosophical and psychological concepts.”

Along the way to “using” astrology to explain his own holistic ideas, Rudhyar revolutionized modern astrology! His 1936 book The Astrology of Personality almost single-handedly created the new approach called Humanistic Astrology, which today characterizes the astrology practiced by every major Western astrologer, from Linda Goodman to Liz Greene. It is an approach that emphasizes astrology as a tool for discerning internal rather than external realities - personality, character, inner drives and motivations - more than predicting specific external events. Paul Clancy, the editor of American Astrology magazine at the time, called it “the greatest forward step in astrology since the time of Ptolemy. It represents the birth of a new epoch.”

Rudhyar went on to write a number of works that are today considered astrological classics, including The Lunation Cycle and An Astrological Mandala (based on Marc Edmund Jones’ Sabian Symbols for each degree of the zodiac.)

Not content with changing the whole approach of modern astrology, he continued developing his thoughts along more internal and transcendental lines, finally describing himself as a Transpersonal rather than Humanistic astrologer. By this he meant to emphasize the cosmic life force moving through each of us that is larger than our individual ego-identities ... what Linda Goodman would call the higher s-Elf. Other spiritual disciplines would call the Divine essence by many names: the God within, the spiritual unity of which we are all expressions. Rudhyar firmly believed that it is our destiny, not only as individual seekers, but as the entire human species, to undergo a shift in conscious awareness from identifying primarily with our individual egos and personalities, to identifying with a larger spiritual whole.

It is this belief that is the basis of what we call the “new age,” and also what we mean by “conscious evolution.”

So what, exactly, are the elements of this new way of thinking? And what justifies the belief that all mankind is on the verge of making such a leap in our own lifetimes?

Rudhyar’s lifetime work focuses on two essential ideas: cycles and wholes ... and it is the union of these two ideas that justifies the belief that we are at a point in history where we are prepared to take evolution consciously into our own hands and choose to make the leap into a new age of spirit and love.

Cycles
Every novice astrologer understands cycles like the monthly lunar cycle and the yearly journey of the Sun through all the signs of the zodiac. These cycles mark our personal journey through various stages of unfoldment, and the same is true for the longer cycles of outer planets. For example, Linda Goodman wrote extensively about the “Saturn seven cycle,” in which the phases of Saturn mark off stages of personal and spiritual growth. A full Saturn cycle takes a little over 28 years, so each quarter-phase, when Saturn squares or opposes its natal position, takes about seven years. Linda believed that at these points, the soul could actually choose to “switch bodies” in order to gain needed experience for personal growth! While all astrologers don’t agree with this, it is universally acknowledged that these seven-year cycles mark recognizable “stages” of personal growth.

The critical idea in Rudhyar’s thought is the recognition that these planetary cycles do not “cause” personal transformation, but rather mirror it, because all things in existence unfold according to the same underlying cyclic patterns. If we fully understand the returning patterns of anything, we can apply that understanding to anything else that occurs “in sync” with it.

For cycles in the life of an individual human being, the classically known planets (through Saturn) hold major sway. For events of a larger cosmic scale, the outer planets, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, whose orbits are longer than the life of any single person, inform us about these larger cycles. Theosophy founder H. P. Blavatsky said that these outer planets were in but not of the solar system, and Rudhyar characterized them as belonging to the galactic center more than our own solar system. Modern astrologers consider them to be “higher octave” expressions of the innermost planets, and they represent the forces and potentials nudging us to shift to a higher octave of spiritual expression.

Wholes
The other critical element of Rudhyar’s thought is the concept of wholes. Of course we know that anything we can think of can be broken down into parts, whether it’s an automobile with its mechanical components or the human body with its nerves and arteries and organs. But any one of these parts can also be broken down into its own separate parts, and those parts in turn can be broken down into even smaller parts. Where does it all end?

Likewise in the opposite direction, just as everything can be broken up into separate parts, so can it also be seen as a part, itself, of something bigger. An atom is a part of a cell, and a cell is a part of an organism, and an organism is a part of a biosphere (a living planet), and a biosphere is a part of a solar system, and a solar system is a part of a galaxy, and ... where does it all end?

The philosophy of wholes says it doesn’t end anywhere, in either direction! It says that everything is a whole, and that every whole both contains parts within itself and is a part of a larger whole, and that that’s all there is in the universe: wholes within wholes within wholes, on infinitely many levels, but nary a solid “thing” anywhere!

Modern science has come to agree with this position: it finds no solid things anywhere, but only wholes containing other wholes!

This might seem terribly complex and confusing, except for the fundamental insight of holistic thought: all wholes are basically the same! All wholes are organized according to the same simple principles, they all have the same archetypal “structure” and obey the same fundamental “laws.” It’s easy to see the similarity between an atom with its central nucleus and whirling electrons, and a solar system with its central sun and whirling planets, but in less obvious ways all wholes have the same underlying structure. All wholes have both a center and a periphery, a unifying force that holds its parts together and a differentiating force that maintains the individuality and separation of the parts.

The unifying principle
When we look at these two great ideas side by side - cycles and wholes - we find some interesting parallels. Both cycles and wholes are infinitely varied and exist on many different levels, yet both adhere to similar basic principles. As we noted earlier all cycles follow the same basic patterns of unfoldment, a pattern of going out followed by returning, of beginning followed by ending, of birth followed by death, with definite “stages” of unfoldment along the way. That’s what the zodiac is: a general picture of the pattern of all cycles, from the youthful and energetic outgoing nature of Aries through the wizened and inward returning character of Pisces.

Understanding that the only things that can participate in cycles are wholes, we can begin to intuit the nature of all reality as a cyclic process of wholes expanding from the center to the periphery and returning again to the center.

In Rudhyar’s vision, the cycle of an individual life has the same structure as the cycle of the rise and fall of a nation or culture, or the birth of the Universe in the Mind of God and its eventual return to the source. These are profound and far-reaching thoughts, and well beyond the scope of this brief article, but well worth pondering and pursuing.

Rudhyar’s thinking about the new age parallels his thinking about cycles and wholes in general. If the human species is a whole, then our evolution must be the expression of a cycle, and astrology can indicate where we are in this cycle by examining the related movements of the planets, just as we can understand where the unfoldment of an individual human life is in terms of the planetary cycles relative to the individual’s birth chart.

In Part 2 of this article next month, we will look at the specific planetary configurations identified by Rudhyar as marking humanity’s stage in the overall cycle of evolution. These include the outer planets, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, along with their cycles of conjunction and separation from one another ... plus the well-known precession of the equinoxes that leads the Sun to enter a new zodiacal “age” every 2,000+ years.

Before leaving this general discussion of cycles and wholes, however, it is well to remember that the presence of identifiable cycles does not mean that fate predominates over free will, or that our progression into the new age is “guaranteed” in any way that relieves us of personal responsibility for our own evolution. For even though the patterns can be discerned, any pattern can be manifested in many different ways, according to human free will. The new age will come, with or without us. But unless we choose wisely for ourselves, the transition to a higher stage of consciousness may be accompanied by terrible suffering and mass destruction of those individuals who are unable or unwilling to make the change, along with the inevitable suffering of innocents that accompanies cataclysm and conflict.

Or, it could be the birth of a truly compassionate global society in which we all love and care for one another as if love were more important than competition and ego ... as indeed we will know it is. It is up to us.

As Michael R. Meyer, one of Rudhyar’s principal students and a well-known astrologer in his own right, asks in his essay, A Call to Transformation:

“We may talk glibly of a new age and avidly consume new age products, but are we actually making ourselves fit to live in the global society of a truly new age? Are we ready and willing to participate creatively in the transformation of our chaotic world-situation into a planetary society where plenitude will replace hunger in the face of conspicuous consumption, where cooperation will supersede competition, and where harmony will supplant exploitation and war? Or are we avoiding the challenge by holding tight to our sense of separate egohood and national sovereignty, and by attempting to force fit the needs of a new, global humanity into the inadequate mindsets and patterns of behavior that are responsible for our current social, economic and ecological crises?”


Don’t miss Part 2: Astrological Factors of the New Age, coming in the October issue of Metamorphosis.