Covid-19 & the World Order

You may recall that astrologers were predicting that something of huge consequence would happen in January 2020, something that would have as long-lasting an effect on the world scene as the Protestant Reformation in 1518, which of course signalled the end to the Catholic Church’s stranglehold on political and religious power.

Well, as it turns out, that is exactly what has happened with the arrival of Covid-19.

For those of you who think that when this pandemic is over, everything will get back to the way it was before, then think again. The following comes from a recent virtual lecture, Plague planet: Coronavirus and world politics, given by Sir Tony Brenton, former British Ambassador to Russia and lecturer at the University of Cambridge.

‘There is such a difference between the way we really live and the way we ought to live that the man who neglects the real to study the ideal will learn how to accomplish ruin, not his salvation.”

Niccolo Machiavelli 

Prior pandemics have taught us that more often than not, in their wake comes a significant change in the world order.

  • During the Phoenician war in 400 BC, a pandemic hit Athens and killed Pericles, its leader. Doubtless, this contributed to the ultimate defeat of Athens, once the strongest city-state in Greece, and marked a significant change in the power base throughout the Mediterranean. 
  • Likewise the Black Death in 1348, which in killing 1/3 of the population of Europe, destroyed feudalism and cleared the way for the Renaissance.
  • When a small group of Spaniards arrived in the New World in the 15th century, their horses and firearms gave them the upper hand over the locals. But the real clincher was the smallpox they also brought along. That wiped out two vast empires, the Incas and the Aztecs, paving the way for Spain’s reign in the region for the next 500 years. 
  • In the early 19th century, after typhoid killed 60-70% of his troops in Russia, Napoleon was forced to retire from European politics. 
  • Finally, although the Spanish Flu of 1918-20, which killed more than 50 million people, (more than were killed in World War I), does not appear to have made a similar long-lasting impact as have prior pandemics, the war that had just ended had already done so.

What might we expect in the wake Covid-19?

  • Significant change in the pre-Covid world order – it’s fair to say that pre-Covid, the relationship between the United States and China was not great, but post-Covid it’s primed to really go downhill. Leaving aside projections that the Chinese economy might well overtake that of the Americans within a decade, China has shown itself remarkably capable of dealing with the pandemic whilst strong-man governments like Brazil, Turkey, the United States (under Trump), and even the United Kingdom (under Johnson) have not fared so well. It’s even been suggested that his failure to adequately deal with the pandemic, cost Trump the 2020 election. Add to this the likelihood of increased populism (i.e., we’ve had enough of immigration and being subject to rule from afar) and we may be facing a serious rise in the protectionist ‘nation-state’ with China potentially leading the way.
  • Does this spell the end to democracies as we’ve known them? Maybe and maybe not, but it certainly suggests that the Chinese now have good reason to suggest that autocracy trumps democracy.
  • Likewise, keep an eye on how things develop regarding personal freedom and human rights. Authoritarian governments have been using the pandemic as an excuse to reclaim some of the liberties their citizens had taken for granted. Political demonstrations have been banned and travel curbed and governments have been gathering unprecedented personal data on their citizens. In more than 60 countries, elections have been postponed. Certainly, in some countries these rights and freedoms will eventually be restored but in other countries, quite possibly not. 
  • There’s every indication that post Covid-19, the rich will continue to get richer and the poor, poorer. This is not just the result of wealthier Western governments pumping unprecedented amounts of money into the system to keep their economies afloat. Even within a single country like the United Kingdom, the wealthier workers kept their jobs by joining ZOOM calls whilst the smaller businesses and blue-collar workers were just-plain out of luck. Furlough and support schemes helped, but only time will tell if it was enough. Poorer countries, on the other hand, may find themselves doubly hit. Not only do they not have money to keep their economies afloat, but as globalized trade starts to unravel as the result of an upsurge in populism, they’ll have less and less chance of recovery. 
  • Decline in global cooperation – International systems like NATO and the WHO that were more or less working have taken a hit. International trust has been seriously damaged. There simply was too much emotionally fuelled finger pointing and greedy self-interest in play. Consider Merkel accusing the Americans of 21st century piracy when a huge shipment of supplies bound from China mysteriously turned up in the United States. Consider how just at the time the WHO needed everyone’s full support, the biggest player, the United States under Trump pulled out because the WHO refused to blame China for the pandemic. Even though on Biden’s first day in office, the United States re-joined WHO, damage has been done. And it wasn’t just Americans who behaved badly. When Italy was struggling with the pandemic, the European Union of which it is a member, refused help leaving China to step in to the rescue. As individual governments focused on Covid-19, their attention turned away from pressing issues like global warming – this may improve over time – but delays are still to be expected.

Freud & Women

I’ve been reading up on Freud’s ideas and theories about women with what I consider to be rather unpleasantly surprising results.[1]

Stereotypes & Theories

We all have a tendency to stereotype. Yet however much we may wish to believe that, as a scientist, Freud would have done otherwise, there is plenty to suggest that’s exactly what he did.

Although he openly admitted that his understanding of women was ‘shadowy and incomplete’, this did not stop him from putting forth broad-sweeping theories about what it was to be a woman and how women should be viewed by both themselves and by men.

And don’t forget that although he didn’t really ‘know’ women, he definitely ‘knew’ all about men – because, well, he was one, after all – and so all the better to treat their psychological problems with extra care and empathy. 

Oedipus Complex 

Freud’s theories dealt in large part with how the psychological aspects of childhood lead up to adult sexuality. Most of these theories centre around what he coined as the Oedipus complex, wherein little boys wish to murder their fathers because they see them as rivals for sexual congress with their mothers. The boy’s hostile feelings toward father lead to castration anxiety, an irrational fear that in punishment, father will castrate him, or, in other words cut off his penis. If they manage to properly resolve this anxiety, little boys grow up to be just like their fathers.

How this works with women remains always a bit of a mystery because of course, since little girls do not have penises they have no similar cause for concern. There’s the pinch. Women come to appreciate that they are ‘mutilated’ (in the sense they do not have a penis) and thus they and their bodies are deficient. 

This leads to (1) both men and women holding contempt for women’s deformed bodies and (2) men being firmly established as superior to women because women are now defined (both to themselves and to society) not by what they have, but instead by what they lack. 

One of the clear benefits the Oedipus complex is that men now have a convenient excuse to cheat on their wives. Freud ‘discovered’ that men symbolically split their image of ‘woman’ between (1) mother and (2) prostitute. Since it is the duty of a married woman to ensure her marriage is successful by becoming mother to her husband, married men will no longer be erotically aroused by their mother/wives. After all, it was his desire for mother that got him into the Oedipal mess in the first place. Why on earth would he do that again? Where does this leave him? Securely in the arms of the prostitute. 

Clinical Cases

Freud reaches his conclusions about how childhood traumas effect women as the result of numerous clinical cases whereby his adult patients, hysterical women, present with a wide range of pathological (i.e., not normal) symptoms.

Consider the case of Dora, who like mythological Cassandra, has ‘not been heard’ by her family. You may recall that the god Apollo, himself the picture-perfect archetypal man, taught Cassandra the art of prophecy on the promise that she would become his lover. But when she reneged, he took his revenge: although she could still prophesise, no one would believe her.

Like Iphigenia, who in Greek mythology was sacrificed by her father, King Agamemnon, to make up to the goddess Artemis for his own wrong-doing, Dora was also an of barter for her father. What we learn from all this is how it feels to possess denied sexual desire as well as lesbian tendencies (poor Dora could not attach to – and therefore be just like – her unloving mother).

We also learn that Dora is also rejected Freud himself, who refuses to see her as the confused ‘adolescent’ that she is and instead vilifies her as a bad, vengeful woman. 

As rational 21st century persons, we might well-understand why poor Dora, so badly abused by men, might turn hateful. Sadly, turn-of the-last century men like Freud, didn’t see it in quite the same way.

Medusa

Perhaps it was cases like that of poor Dora that led Freud to conclude that essentially, all women are wildly scary, a serious castration threat to all men. 

To demonstrate how this might work, Freud chose the myth of Medusa who, once a beautiful mortal woman managed to offend the goddess Athena by having sex with the god, Poseidon, in Athena’s temple (although it is highly questionable whether or not the sexual act was 100% consensual for Medusa’s part). As punishment, Medusa was turned into a terrifying gorgon, whose once beautiful hair was now a mass of writhing (phallic) snakes and whose once beautiful face, turned men to stone. Clearly it was to the benefit of all mankind that Perseus, a true hero in the Greek tradition, was successful in killing Medusa and then pranced about holding up his prize, Medusa’s decapitated head.

The problem is that thinking about the Medusa (and her dicey sexuality – the bit that got her into trouble with in the first place), men are reminded of their castration anxiety. Who, then, could blame them if as the result, they get an erection from the whole idea which Freud confusedly connects with fetishism (the denial of female sexuality). I mean, after all would an eructation not be the best course of action to ensure it’s still down there in one piece and in good working order?

Conclusion

This would seem to leave us with a theory of the feminine that is defined by lack; women are in essence castrated men. As the result, at the slightest whiff that women could have sexual desires, men are reminded of their own fear of castration. Thus in order to keep the threat of (symbolic) castration at bay, men must firmly take control of the women in their lives (i.e., not be ‘pussy-whipped’) because, according to Freud, men are afraid, with good reason, of being weakened by women, ‘infected’ with her femininity (not to mention being damaged by her anger and revenge).

If this all leaves women with a poor self-image, then that’s all the better. Not only is it quite normal – but massively convenient for men –  that all women appreciate that they are second class citizens, mutilated at birth. 


[1] Credit to Nancy J Chodorow and her excellent chapter, ‘Freud on women’, in the Cambridge Companion to Freud, 2008 (Kindle Version).

Covid-19: History & Future

I’ve been lucky enough to be attending Cambridge University’s ‘Virtual Summer Festival of Learning Talks’ and in particular one given earlier this week by Dr Chris Smith, a Medical Consultant specialising in Clinical Microbiology and Virology at the University of Cambridge and Addenbrooke’s Hospital. He sheds some informed light on Covid-19 – where did it come from and when will it go away.

Health warning: The following is written based solely on my own understanding of what Dr Smith said during his 45-minute lecture.

When and why? 

There is good evidence suggesting that the first cases of Covid-19 predated China’s announcement in January 2020 to the World Health Organization. But it is also fair to suggest that prior to January 2020, no one – including the Chinese – had a real grasp on the severity of the situation.

Sadly, by that time, Covid-19 had spread widely without anyone realising it. In large part this was because around 80% of people infected show no symptoms. Likewise, only one in five of those infected develop an illness serious enough to attract attention. The most likely culprit regarding the severity and speed of the global spread was unmitigated air travel during the crucial time between late 2019 and early 2020. By the time borders started to shut in 2020, we were already in deep trouble.

There are about 5,000 coronaviruses occurring in nature some specific to humans and some specific to certain animals. Only a handful can jump species. But when that happens, the way in which the virus behaves in the new species is wildly different and can rapidly change without notice. There is sufficient evidence to suggest that is what happened with Covid-19, although no one can ever be certain. But we are fairly certain that exactly this type of thing has happened before – as with the flu that in 1918 infected 1/3 of the world population and in 2002-2003, with the SARS Mark 1 virus. 

What about Wuhan? 

According to Dr Smith, this is a smoking gun. Not only is the genetic code of Covid-19 nearly 96% similar to bats in China, but Wuhan does have a lab dedicated to corona virus research, which, by the way, is funded by many different countries including the United States of America. The point to remember is that such research is not only routine but also highly legitimate and it is carried on in the same way for the same reasons, in many parts of the world.

Dr Smith thinks it highly unlikely that if the virus escaped from the lab, it was allowed to do so on purpose. There are many ways in which, accidently, this might have happened. But is that what happened? We do not know. All we know is that the lab did have something very close to this strain on the premises. But for a more informed opinion, we would need further information and unfortunately on this point, China is not currently playing ball.

How contagious is Covid-19?

Dr Smith explains it’s all down to R-value (reproductive), which at the beginning of any outbreak starts at R-0. As things move forward, we shift forward into R-2, which means that each infection causes two more infections. 

We might expect that without anything to stop it, Covid-19 would rise to R-3 or R-4, which makes it twice as infectious as the flu. But don’t forget that there are a variety of important factors that are not so easily measured as with, for example, the effect of ‘super-spreaders’ (i.e., highly networked people with multiple points of contact). 

By comparison, consider the measles that carries an R-value of 12-20. 

Should you get vaccinated?

The data now suggests that as compared to the unvaccinated, vaccinated adults are 95% more protected from severe cases of Covid-19 and/or death.  For children, especially the 12–16-year age group, let’s face the fact that they are as likely to catch the virus as the R rate operative in their area otherwise suggests.

But although their chances of serious illness/death are much less likely than adults or those considered vulnerable for other reasons, they are still carriers. 

Here’s the real kicker: combine the data showing that 80% of those infected show no symptoms with the data suggesting that 80-90% of all transmissions of Covid-19 occur in your own home, and you may want to reconsider your position on vaccination both for yourselves and your kids. 

There are risks with any vaccination but one of the main risks here is myocardial titus ,or inflation of the heart, and the 1 in a million chance of developing this are about the same as expected with actually contracting the virus.

Are masks effective?

This, as Dr Smith reminds us, is a political hot potato and when evaluating it we need to consider that PPE and masks in the hospital environment is not the same thing as wearing masks in public.

Wearing a mask when walking down the street is, in his opinion, a wasted effort. Wearing a mask in a more crowded indoor environment with inadequate ventilation and/or little opportunity for social distancing makes more sense. But let’s be honest here, too. Wearing a mask may help to keep those infected from spreading the infection, but it will not keep you from catching it. 

Furthermore, most people outside of the hospital environment are not properly wearing their masks. For example, if you wear eyeglasses and find them fogged over when wearing a mask, that is a pretty clear indication that your mask is ineffective. Likewise, consider standing in a smoky room. If the smoke is getting to you, then so is the Covid-19 virus, which is actually smaller than the particles found in that smoke. 

Will Covid-19 go away?

The short answer is no. 

It’s in nature and even if we did manage to eradicate it, it would just come back again. Consider that of the 8 billion people on earth, there are 7 billion that are either uninfected or unvaccinated and that’s a whole lot of people with whom the returning virus can have a field day. It is Dr Smith’s opinion that we need find a way to live with Covid-19 and in this respect, vaccination is key because it converts a lethal infection into something that, like the flu or the common cold, is for the most part mildly irritating. 

By the way, notes Dr Smith, if we think that we think we can go on avoiding catching Covid, then think again. Many suggest they’ve never had the flu. Yet that reality is highly unlikely. The reason you thought the flu that you actually had wasn’t much more than a cold is because the vaccination or herd immunity kept it at bay. Same with Covid. The more opportunity our immune systems have to come in contact with such viruses (without it killing you), the better and better our immunity will become.

Whilst it is true that future variants will develop some resistance to the vaccines, it is the view of Dr Smith that such variants will never become completely resistant. The suggestion is that as long as we continue to share information globally so that as with annual flu vaccines, the Covid-19 vaccines are continually updated, we will beat the variants.

Finally, as we open up here in the UK we can expect the current levels of infection will continue to rise  – perhaps up to 50,000 to 100,000 cases each day. This should peak in a couple of months. But Dr Smith is reasonably confident the vaccines will hold serious illness, complications, and death at bay. In January, we had similar levels of infection as we have now and then 50% of all NHS beds were occupied by Covid patients. At the moment, although infections rates are rising, admissions to hospitals because of Covid-related illness are no-where near that – and although only time will tell for certain, fingers crossed it continues in this way.

The 2nd Cold War – China vs. the United States

I’ve been lucky enough to be attending Cambridge University’s ‘Virtual Summer Festival of Learning Talks’ and even luckier to attend two talks given by Sir Tony Brenton (former British ambassador to Russia). The topic at hand in both is whether or not we can expect a new Cold War between the United States and China as the key players – and spoiler alert – the answer is yes. 

The Old Order

Let’s go back to the Yalta Conference – 1945 – where the key players were Stalin, Franklin D Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill. Stalin wanted Eastern Europe, ostensibly  to keep the Germans from rearming again, and Stalin got what he wanted. Because Europe was in a fragile state after WWII and unable to stand up to Stalin alone, the Americans decided to help both with the Marshall plan and by committing to the military defence of Europe with NATO. In response, the Russians pulled together their Warsaw Pact. 

The stage is set – two major players are in place – two very distinct players – the East vs. the West – with wildly different and readily identifiable agendas. The West wanted democracy and capitalism to underpin the world order and the East, wanted communism and state run economy.

The ideological ‘confrontation’ went global when in 1949, China (led by Mao Zedong) goes Communist – one up for the (former) Soviet Union. For the most part, this Cold War avoided military intervention (Viet Nam and Korea being notable exceptions) because of the threat of nuclear war – which neither side was keen to unleash. 

Finally the (former) Soviet Union started melting down economically – their state-run economy turned out to be no match for capitalism – this in turn, brought down their military power. With the Reagan Era, when the Americans started to seriously push back against the Soviets, it all collapsed with the Berlin Wall (Berlin had been the centre of the attention right from the start back in 1945) falling in 1988 and the (former) Soviet Union splitting up into 15 individual states. 

Now there was one superpower – the United States and geopolitics as we’d known it post WWII came to a halt and the new status quo remained in place for the better part of 30 years.

The New Order

During most of this time, China kept a lower international profile – focusing on its own domestic stuff. Mao turned out to be a bit of a disaster with the Great Leap Forward (1958-61) where 35 million died and then again with the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) when it really goes all wrong again. Mao died in 1976. Enter Deng Xiao pin  (1978-1992) – who sets about making China ‘great again’ through pragmatic modernisation. His approach was that ‘we do what works’ – enough of idealism – and the economy starts to take off – ‘to get rich is glorious’. During this period, China was under no illusions that when opening up with the West some ‘flies’ (capitalism) will ‘get it’ – the price paid for progress. It worked. 

The Chinese are arriving fully back on the scene doing very well indeed and now, China may become the richest country in the world by the end of this decade – and so it becomes more assertive internationally – they want to reclaim their land – they want to be the major power in their region (again) and so are taking a firmer hand. Don’t you remember the Beijing Olympics in 2008 – oops – how did this happen? A Leninist government is a now a major economic power?

The trade deficit Yep, the Chinese economy is now booming and the trade deficit with the United States continues to get worse and worse (from the perspective of the Americans). So Trump gets nasty and China retaliates. American attempts to enlist the Europeans to help hasn’t been met with the enthusiasm the Americans had hoped. France and Germany do more business with China than the Americans and understandably are not keen to upset the apple cart.

Worse, North Korea starts to play ball too. That is not to say that China is rooting for North Korea because they are not keen for a unified Korea either. So they must fight their turf and they do. The Chinese are intent on taking the leadership role in their region and that means they are also intent on taking back that which they believe is their own – Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Hong Kong

As the result of the Treaty of Nanking, the British took possession of Hong Kong in the 1841 as part of its imperialist push for world dominance – this time to push their opium trade. Back in 1997 when the British were required to return Hong Kong to the Chinese, another treaty was signed which was meant to guarantee certain freedoms to the residents of Hong Kong. But the Chinese are no longer keen to adhere to that and for the residents, it’s not good news. Sir Tony Brenton suggests that the West has no alternative but to abandon Hong Kong to its fate – the short answer is that there is little that can be done about it – although one clever tactic is when the British invited citizens of Hong Kong to resettle in Britain – it undermines China without be openly confrontational which quite honestly is likely to be the way the American would rather see it going.

Taiwan

When the Communists took over China in 1949, the Chinese nationalist party took refuge offshore to Taiwan. In the long-lasting fit against communism, understandably, the Americans support Taiwan. Now, the Chinese want it and the Americans want to ensure they don’t get it. Will the US use military force to support Taiwan as China keeps pressing reunification? Well, it is interesting to note that the Americans have never committed themselves to defence of Taiwan as they have through NATO for others like the UK. Sir Tony Brenton  suggests it’s almost inevitable that China will get Taiwan back and if China is sensible, they will take a soft-glove approach.

But, says Sir Tony Brenton, eventually the patience of the Chinese  will wan and then the US will have to take a stance. Chances are good the American public will push for a tough stance that could start WW3. To date, relations between the United States and China have not improved under Biden but there remains hope. Biden has good advisors who know what they are doing – but the economics of the situation may well push the agenda and we all know what happens to the best laid plans of mice and men. Watch this space for the G20 conference in Rome in early October 2021 (if it happens). Biden has a chance to make new moves.

The Russians

Will they support the Chinese? Sir Tony Brenton is of two minds on this – one side, Russia thinks of itself as European – in a push, they’d want to side with Europe against China. The Russians do not want to be part of China. But then Russia does take a different stance on other issues than the Europeans and if we keep loading  sanctions (and upsetting  Putin) they may just think – why side with the Europeans?

Also, Russia needs China’s trade – Russia produces raw materials and China needs them – well, that cements the two together economically and economics is the name of the game these days. Finally, the westerners are on a messianic crusade for ‘human rights’ and the Russians well -know they are on the wrong side of that – and that does push them closer to China.


Summary

It’s highly likely that we will see a 2nd Cold War that will play out very differently than the last one. The issues are not so clear cut as they were before – and some players like Germany and France do more trade with China than the United States. The ideologies that drove the first Cold War are no longer in play – however much the Americans might think otherwise. Economics is now the name of the game and whilst the (former) Soviet Union went down because of that, it’s more likely that this time the Americans will meet the same fate – it’s more than likely that by the end of this decade, the Chinese economy will have surpassed that of the United States and, as happened with the (former) Soviet Union, when the economy fails, so does military power – and at the end of the day, there is nothing else left. 

The Hermeneutics of Allegory – Homer’s Odyssey in Context

I’ve long been fascinated by the idea that texts like Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey carry hidden meaning beyond that which is simply symbolic. Naturally, it’s important to understand what a piece of literature or poetry or art might mean (symbolically) – but then comes the next question – what am I meant to do with that? 

Over the centuries, there have been many approaches to answer this question but one that I really like is a four level of hermeneutic approach (traced back to the 3rd century as a method for Christian thinkers like Origen and Thomas Aquinas to grasp spiritual meaning from the scriptures).

Let’s assume that the Odyssey is an allegory (extended metaphor) about ‘finding one’s way back home’ – not unlike the theme of many popular stories/ films like The Wizard of Oz which, themselves may be underpinned with Biblical messages about returning ‘home’ to the utopian Garden of Eden. 

Application of the four levels of hermeneutical interpretation to the allegory this allegory might go along something like this:

  1. Literal – the letter teaches you the facts – this level presents that which is an objective truth to be observed and verified. On the way home from ‘work’ (the Trojan war), Odysseus got lost and although he really wanted to get home (and ‘see the smoke that rises from his homeland’) this didn’t prove to be easy because the gods blocked him at every turn.
  2. Allegory – what you should believe – this level expands the literal sense by pairing observed objective truths (see above) to subjective life events. ‘Home’ is a factor in all our lives although not all cultures think of ‘home’ in the same way. But usually we consider ‘home’ as a safe place where we ‘feel’ that we are ‘wanted’ and where we ‘belong’. In this sense, the concept of ‘home’ usually carries lots of emotional baggage and so with that comes the concept of nostalgia – bittersweet memories and longing for that safe space. The word nostalgia comes from the Greek words (1) nostos or ‘return journey’ and (2) algos or ‘pain’. Lots of people get lost – it happens every day – and although more often than not they aren’t too happy about it, they do tend to remember the experience for the rest of their lives So what might we gather from that? A quote by Henry David Thoreau might shed light – “Not till we are lost, in other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.” Put Thoreau together with notions of ‘home’ as a place where we feel we belong and the idea arises that being homeless carries painful (nostalgic) feelings of being ‘left behind’ and ‘left out’ and that we might not have appreciated what ‘belonging’ really meant to us (‘the infinite extent of our relations’) until we experience this.
  3. Trope –  how you should act – this level reveals the context of the interpretation and allows you to interact with it. The term ‘trope’ comes from the Greek tropos, to turn, as in the tropic of the Sun’s turning at the Solstices.  Moved by the literal and allegorical ‘truths’ you’ve observed and interpreted, you now turn toward that ‘truth’ and take the necessary actions to implement it. Odysseus was in a difficult situation – ‘a fish out of water’ – he wanted to return to feelings of ‘belonging’ – but some force more powerful than him (i.e. the gods) denied this to him. What actions did he need to take to overcome the gods? I suggest that he had to become ever more cunning and crafty than ever before – and in this regard, the cunning and crafty goddess Athene helped him. In other words, he needed to learn new skills and develop certain aspects of himself that he might have otherwise ignored and/or disregarded. The idea might be that when we feel lost and alone – presented with obstacles we could never have expected – we need to turn within and with divine help take stock of our personal strengths and weaknesses, polishing up the former and shoring up the latter. 
  4. Anagoge – what to hope for – this level, signifying the symbol as something through which the turn of the trope turns, is reflected in our desire to predict.  Here we enter the world of the daemon which manifests as a power from outside rather like providence or fate. Because the Greek word anagoge suggests a “climb” or “ascent” upwards, there’s a higher spiritual meaning in play here relating directly to mankind’s destiny in the greater scheme of thing. What then, might we expect (or predict) for ourselves from the homecoming that Odysseus? Most certainly it did not manifest as he’d planned. Although he was finally ‘home’ in the sense that he could now ‘see the smoke that rises from his homeland’, he is still a fish out of water. At least he’d been warned by the ghost of Agamemnon (murdered by his wife and her lover when he returned home from ‘work’ – the Trojan war). But still it isn’t easy. As one commentator notes, the homecoming half of The Odyssey is the least read because it is so gruellingly painful. Whilst people love reading a tale of adventure (the first half of the The Odyssey), they don’t like reading about about mass murder and civil unrest. Yet this is exactly what happened. We might be tempted to say that Odysseus brought this on himself and, at some level, that may well be true. But remember that here we’re looking for some spiritual meaning in regards to what mankind might expect as the result of undertaking an odyssey such as did Odysseus. Returning to parallels of this story to that of returning ‘home’ to the utopian Garden of Eden, we must remember that in Greek, the world ‘utopia’ means ‘nowhere’. Escapist illusions leading to embracing utopian ideals – i.e. there is a place called ‘home’ to which if only we might return, our lives will be shiny and bright again – usually lead to serious disillusionment. Whilst it is true that ‘there’s no place like home’, the Moody Blues made an important point in their hit song from the 1970’s – ‘You Can Never go Home’. Check out the lyrics and let me know what you think what this might mean.

The Astrology of July 2021

SUMMARY – The action-packed – and let’s face it – difficult T square with Mars/Uranus/Saturn colors the entire month, especially the first week.  If you play games with people, then don’t be surprised if they play games back and win! If this happens, you might well take it as a message that you don’t always need to win and that sometimes, the best approach is to drop back, give ground, and find another way to tackle the problem.

  • 1 July – Mars opposes Saturn – this is about the battle of wills and clashes of authority – me and my ideas and values are better than yours kind of thing – if you’re pushing too hard in any aspect of your life during this time, it can blow up. But if you’re careful and work diligently and ethically with the energies at hand, you can get much accomplished.
  • 3 – 4 July – Mars perfects his square with Uranus – breakthroughs are now possible where you’ve previously had only constraints. Thus this might be a most invigorating and action-oriented time. Just beware of macho releases of energy. Don’t deliver ultimatums with which you can’t afford to follow through. 
  • 5 – 6 July – Mercury squares Neptune one last time – this can be a romantic and fluid period – especially for creative pursuits – this can also be mystical and magical and don’t be surprised if you have special insights – weird synchronicities – that turn out to be spot on. Yet at the same time be extra vigilant of falling victim of deception and unclear thinking (your own and that of others). Remember that, more often than not, we hear and believe what we want to hear and believe whether it’s true or not.
  • 6 – 7 July – Venus opposes Saturn and then makes a square to Uranus – and if you’ve arrived at serious crossroads in love and friendships, it’s a time you can deepen them through mature thinking. This is also a great time for waking up the more erotic elements in our relationships. Equally, it could also be a time to get serious about also health and/or creative projects and endeavours. 
  • 13 – 14 July – Mars and Venus conjoin in the sign of Leo – during this time, we could be rewarded for all our hard work to date – this is perfect energy for mending that which has been broken especially with our romantic relationships. It’s also perfect for moving forward and finding solutions to other pressing problems – this is a very positive time. Enjoy!
  • 17 July – Sun opposes Pluto – perfect for releasing pent-up potential – I can see clearly now – major turning points – also perfect for starting new projects – dig new ground.
  • 22 July – Venus enters Virgo and remains there until the middle of August – during this time, all things Venusian take on a Mercurial air – it’s time to get rational and technical about our relationships and creative projects as well as mundane things like personal care products – thinking like this doesn’t always sit easily with the more sensual nature of Venus – but if you go with the flow, the end result is likely to be practical. However lovely your current shampoo smells, in the not helping if it leaves your hair feeling brittle and dry! 
  • 22 July – Sun moves into Leo where it is dignified and happy –it’s a great time to consider what you can do where you comfortably move into the spotlight and be appreciated for the special person that you are. If your life trajectory needs some adjustment to get back on that path, now is a great time to take actions to make it happen.
  • 22 July – Venus opposes Jupiter – OK, don’t get carried away here – you could spend too much money – eat and drink too much – even get carried away with a health regime. Sure enough with Venus now in Virgo, it’s a good time to get realistic but don’t go overboard. Think before you take action – this is always good advice but especially relevant today!   
  • 28 July – Jupiter slips back into Aquarius – OK, well, he’d been moving forward into Pisces from mid-May through now and we might have gotten our hopes up that we were well and truly on our way. Now, we will find ourselves back to where we were at the beginning of this calendar year. At first, this shift may feel constrictive – but over time, you’ll come to realise that you’re getting a second chance to get accomplish what you set out to do in January. The good news is that now have until the very end of this calendar year to do just that. Hard work and due diligence almost always pay off and they are especially likely to do so with Jupiter in Aquarius.

Man’s Relationship with his Gods

Reading Homer’s Iliad, it is clear that not only did the gods – or immortals – meddle in every aspect of the lives of important men and women – but that those men and women were quick to blame their misfortunes on the gods, often failing to take any personal responsibility for their lives, as we might be expected today.

So what might have might have been going on?

I suggest it’s all to do with man’s perceived relationship with his gods. Further, I suggest that this is nicely explained in Julian Jaynes’s book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. In that work, Jayne’s proposed that until about 3000 years ago, human consciousness consisted only of voices that, because the two hemispheres of the brain didn’t communicate, were perceived as coming from the gods.

In essence, these ancient men lacked self-consciousness as we know it today. They could not perceive themselves as separate from – and thus ‘in relationship with’ – the gods. Instead, they had a type of cosmic consciousness which gave them imaginal – almost telepathic – access to the greater cosmos. Everything they saw and heard was to them, objectively real.

Jaynes suggests that in effect these ancients were what we might call ‘signal-bound’, responding constantly in a stimulus -response manner, completely controlled by cues. To get a sense of what this means, we need only to look at artwork from this period. I am most struck by the early Cycladic art, which I suggests demonstrates these people had a symbiotic relationship with their divinity, the Great Goddess and Earth Mother. This was the Age of Taurus, one in which men and women moved with and through the flow of nature, at one with the natural world.

Jaynes suggests this bicameralism began to break down during 2nd millennium BCE  – about the time of that the Trojan War is thought to have occurred. This was the Age of Aries and so during this time, the focus shifts to individualised achievement and conquest. The world was no longer slow moving and rural, but hierarchically organised and maintained by brute force. This required a cold, hard, calculated response. The gods no longer spoke to every individual, so the truths of cosmic consciousness were expressed in the form of the great narrative epics and divine commandments, of which the Old Testament of the Bible and Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey are excellent examples.

After mankind’s ‘fall’ from the garden of Eden, which you might view as a loss of cosmic consciousness, men had to become increasingly devious in order to survive. Again, when we look at the early artwork of the ancient Middle East at the beginning of the period, we see kings standing side by side with their councillor gods effortlessly gaining divine wisdom. But by the end of that age – ‘after the fall’ – the kings were on their knees begging for guidance.

Thus consciousness of ‘I’ – as separate and ‘in relation with’ the gods developed and the rational problem-solving man, with which we are familiar, is born. It’s interesting that our familiarity with our humanity increased as our familiarity with the gods decreased.

Next, the distant imperial divinities were replaced the local gods and great mythic narratives. The old cosmic consciousness had nearly faded from memory, although it was revived from time to time by mystery religions.

Here we find the right brain intuition just starting to interact with the left brain thinking, although even today we can’t be sure of the degree of the quality of such interaction. It’s not surprising that this period produced such a diametrical divinity like Jesus Christ – a mortal man who died – but didn’t really die- and because of that, was worshipped like an immortal God. This was the Age of Pisces.

What might we expect next, in the coming Age of Aquarius? I suggest that man will reposition himself vis a vis God through scientific endeavours.  In essence, man reaches for the stars –  not so much by playing God – but through creating reality. It’s ideas that drive us. We’ve always known this. But until now, we’ve been held back by our mortality.

In the post-human era, characterised by artificial intelligence and uploaded consciousness (or the transfer of the human mind to an artificial substrate), we will eliminate these distinctions, which interestingly were all man made in the first place.[1] .

Hence in the post-human era, we will transcend our bodies and become immortal like the gods. Aquarius is all about communication and through it the three aspects of the mind, cautiousness, unconsciousness, and super-consciousness will seek simultaneous expression. If we look carefully at the glyph for Aquarius – two parallel WAVY lines – I suggest that represents our new status with God.[2]

Nor surprisingly, this idea has already been presented by Nietzsche in writings about the Ubermensch or overman, in which he suggested that ‘man is something that must be overcome’ and that the highest truth is being born within man through the self-creating power of the will. To accomplish this, man’s present limited ‘self’ must be destroyed. The truth isn’t to be proved or disproved but instead, to be created. Nietzsche believed that man’s striving toward the future will result in the birth of a new being who would incarnate the meaning of the universe and thus impose redemptive order on the chaos of a meaningless universe without the gods.


[1] At the beginning of the Piscean age, Plato first formatted the distinction between the sensory (the earth plane) and the eternal world (of ideas).

Early Christian theologians renamed this external world Heaven with its guiding principle as God. The Christians further borrowed from Aristotle the notion of God as the Prime Mover of the cosmos and the First Cause of everything that exists. Amazingly, those notions had never been seriously challenged until relatively recent by the modern philosophers. 

Take Descartes. When new scientific discoveries made him wonder ‘what can I know for certain’, he came to the famous conclusion ‘I think, therefore I am’. But his matrix still kept God as the first cause of – and the only link between – a bicameral universe where subjectivity – ‘I think’ –  was isolated from objectivity – ‘the world which I perceive’.

Next comes Hume who claims that the only thing that we can be certain of is the fact that there is an unbroken stream a subjective images and ideas. Under his ‘radical scepticism’, we can’t even be certain that there is something called the mind to contain these ideas because the mind is itself just another idea.

For Kant, one could only know the sensory world and only believe in any realm beyond that. Finally, Nietzsche came along and pronounced the ‘death of God’. This was a turning point where we could no longer legitimately argue that anything lies beyond the earth plane in which we live. This was the ‘dawning of the Age of Aquarius’.

[2] In Descartes’s matrix, which still underlies most modern thinking, the problem is due to the difference in kind between the mind and the body. While the non-spatial mind and the mechanistic body shouldn’t interact, they do so in the human body. In post-humanism, this problem is reworked and the distinction between subject and object is collapsed, with the mind considered to be no more than a material function of the body. Thus we will become both creator and the created.

The Astrology of June 2021

This is a big month with an eclipse, the summer solstice, a Mercury retrograde, and Saturn coming into square with Uranus. Overall, it’s a good time to make lemonade when life delivers you lemons – and if have the patience to do it well, you might discover that lemonade is tastier than ever you could have imagined.

  • 2 -3 June – Venus moves from into Cancer and almost immediately makes a potent trine with Jupiter. This is a very beneficial time. Perhaps you make a new friend or align yourself with a powerful ally. Expect positive social connections which means you will likely have an easier time than usual getting along with others. In need of some good news? This trine could bring it with you. But beware. There really can be too much of a good thing and with Jupiter involved, it’s easy for this to happen.
  • 5 June – Mars moves into opposition with Pluto. This could be a difficult time and coming off the good feelings of a couple of days ago, we may refuse to see it coming. Bad things coming into forefront – scandalous – exposure – volatile energies exploding. But to be honest, it’s now time to confront that which we’ve been avoiding – emotional catharsis is in the cards. At the same time, it doesn’t have to be all gloom and doom. Think of this period like experiencing a violent thunderstorm in mid-summer – scary and potentially dangerous – yet after it’s over, the air is clearer and everyone feels better.
  • 10 June – Solar eclipse – in Gemini on the same day that Mercury goes cazimi (i.e., Mercury’s centre moves with 17 minutes of arc of the centre – the heart – of the Sun) – this is big news for the Gemini area of your natal chart. It’s a moment of rebirthing – resetting – and moving forward again. With a new moon in Gemini, we can concentrate on starting anew –  especially with things involving technology and  communication – a new way of doing things – especially of doing business – use this time to launch new venture!
  • 11 June – Mars moves out of its fall In Cancer  (where it has been since the end of April 2021) and into Leo. This is a huge shift in energy – and especially for those with Leo rising. Nonetheless, all of us will benefit. This is a wiser Mars – like fine wine, Mars has been ageing well – lessons have been learned and processed. Now all things Mars (i.e., asserting yourself) go easier. When you stand your ground, you’ll make fewer (or less violent) waves. Just try to avoid taking self-aggrandising stands – and/or belabouring a point just to bask in the sun for little bit longer. Come from the heart in service to all, and you’ll do just fine.
  • 14 June – Stay cool – muster your patience – be flexible and curious – this could be the biggest event of the month. Saturn forms a challenging square to Uranus. If you’ve been feeling like every time you’re ready to really move ahead – make serious progress – break barriers and then out of the blue, someone or something comes along and you are held-back, know that’s exactly how it should be. This is because Saturn and Uranus are playing an unfriendly game of push and pull skittles on and off all calendar year: rebellious energy hits the conservative brick wall. It’s all around us and it’s also in our personal lives. The next time these two planets come together like this will be in December 2021. In that moment, you’ll finalise what began at the beginning of 2021 calendar year. Now is NOT the time to let your frustrations get the better of you. If you push through blockage regardless, you’re likely to break something that could have turned out to be quite valuable. Instead, consider that this ‘obstacle’ may be actually working in your behalf – delay now is a good – and not a bad – thing. You’ll find out how it plays out in December and so for now, the better you can roll with these punches, the better it will turn out and – here’s the really cool thing – it might well turn out to be much better than ever you  could have imagined.
  • 20 June – Summer Solstice – the longest day of the year for those of us in the northern hemisphere – but even for those in southern hemisphere – know that the symbolic point here is that the Sun is crossing a major point of transition. This is the case for all of us – wherever we are geographically. The long and short of it is that this is a major turning point in the year. This is an excellent time to start something new – launch a new chapter in your life. Plan ahead and use this energy to your best advantage. 
  • 21 June – Jupiter turns retrograde and starts moving back toward Aquarius. OK, here’s the deal. We’ve been enjoying the happy fruits of Jupiter in Pisces (its home sign of rulership) since mid-May, which has functioned in large part as a ‘get out of jail free’ card. The energy will shift back again (until end of December 2021) – so take care. If during the past month you’ve been pushing your luck and getting away with it, that might now all come to a screaming halt! Forewarned is forearmed.
  • 23 -24 June – Venus now opposes Pluto just did Mars earlier in the month. Quite possibly some healing is now available – especially for women and/or the feminine. This also brings deep change (intensity) in our relationships – home, hearth, and family – potential catharsis yet also potential power plays. Tread lightly. A little goes a long way. Get out of the way of the steamroller well in advance and take extra care that you don’t unwittingly join forces with a steamroller.

The Western Esoteric Traditions (Part 7)

My summer reading: The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction by Nicholas Goodrick – Clarke (Oxford University Press – 2008).

In this series of blog posts, I’m tracing the Western Esoteric traditions through history, with special attention paid to the contribution of these traditions to the work of Carl Jung.


Jung’s work in alchemy is key to the development of his psychology and his writings on alchemy filled more than three volume of The Collected Works.[1]

Alchemical texts are notoriously difficult and often filled with lush imagery (Sun and Moon headed human figures, Kings, Queens, copulation, hermaphrodites, Mercuries, wolves, lions, birds and dragons in recurrent shades of green, black, white, and red) which is less than illuminating to newcomers or, perhaps, even downright purposefully misleading. 

Likewise, it is less than clear that all alchemical texts even attempt to interpret this imagery in the same way and for the same reasons. Finally, although spiritual alchemy was the focus of some alchemists, this was not always the case and indeed, there is much evidence that Jung, himself, was not so interested in the spiritual elements of the practice.

In many ways, Jung considered Paracelsus, the founder of depth psychology. But his own work was built on that of several earlier 19th and 20th century psychoanalysts, most notably Herbert Silberer, with whom Jung regularly corresponded. Silberer had worked extensively on ideas relating the symbols and processes of alchemy to the processes of psychoanalysis, and the building of a new ego through alchemical symbolism by freeing it from its old ties.

In Memories Dreams and Reflections, Jung comments that he found ‘the experiences of the alchemists were, in a sense, my experiences and their world was my world’. He added that ‘only after I had familiarised myself with alchemy did I realise that the unconscious is a process’. This led him to the central concept of his psychology, the ‘process of individuation’, which in keeping with the thinking of Paracelsus, was a process during which a person gains a sense of his or her wholeness in opposition to the diversity of his or her instincts.

Also, like Paracelsus, Jung concluded there were four elements in man’s functional design: (2) feeling, (2), thought, (3), intuition, and (4) sensation. These were joined together by sexual drive, or the libido.

Jung argued that alchemy was a kind of collective conscious dream and that the Philosopher Stone was a symbol for the Self (and in its own way, perhaps also a symbol for Jesus Christ, Crucified). Indeed, Jung argued that Christianity (focused on the dichotomy of good vs. evil) was so fundamentally incapable of dealing with psychological processes, that alchemy (the collective dream) had developed to compensate that. It’s important to remember that for Jung, the Self is not the ego (i.e., the conscious mind as it comprises the thoughts, memories, and emotions of which a person is aware), but instead, always lays just outside consciousness. This means the only way to get in touch with Self is tangentially, through dreams that are full of symbolism, which, not surprisingly, can be interpreted with help from alchemy. 

Further, not unlike Paracelsus, Jung concluded that the way to health was through increased inclusiveness, perhaps through ‘true knowledge’, a reflection of unity (to ‘know yourself’ is to ‘know God’ and all of creation). Indeed, Jung did emphasise that some aspects of alchemical practice such as imaginal workings or even praying to God could further the process of individuation. 

Finally, like Paracelsus and Western occultists before him, in helping men to work toward individuation – achieving wholeness in a world fraught with dichotomy, Jung believed that psychology offered man a tool to perfect that which Nature (and by implication, God) had left imperfect, but in this sense for Jung, ‘perfection’ was meant to mean ‘wholeness’.  As Paracelsus and prior esoteric occultists like the Renaissance man, Marsilio Ficino, had concluded, Jung also believed that in essence, health comes as the result of being as celestial as possible (so above, so below). Let us not forget that Jung, himself, was like Ficino, an accomplished astrologer, who used astrology extensively to better know himself.

(to be continued)


[1] For this blog post, many thanks to John Marshall and his paper Jung, Alchemy and History: A Critical Exposition of Jung’s Theory of Alchemy (2002).

The Western Esoteric Traditions (Part 6)

My summer reading: The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction by Nicholas Goodrick – Clarke (Oxford University Press – 2008).

In this series of blog posts, I’m tracing the Western Esoteric traditions through history, with special attention paid to the contribution of these traditions to the work of Carl Jung.


As with the rest of the western esoteric traditions, alchemy originated in Egypt but quickly fell in line with Hermetic tradition absorbing the four elements of Aristotelian tradition. This allowed one element to transmute into another based on the attribute they shared in common. 

Jabir, a pioneering 8th century Arab alchemist, proposed a theory whereby all metals were all were composed of two elements: sulphur and mercury (Mercury equals Hermes equals Hermetic tradition). Not surprisingly, the Emerald Tablet again comes into play – “so as above, so as below”. Therefore, by transmuting and transforming metals, you could transform yourself. 

The prize of all alchemical work was the philosopher’s stone which outwardly turned base metal into gold and inwardly turned the baseness inherent in man (having fallen from the Garden of Eden) into the state divine grace.

Enter Paracelsus in the 16th century. His alchemical work inspired a new and ‘radical’ approach to science – experimentation and observation. His ideas spread as he travelled extensively throughout Europe during which time he enlisted as an army surgeon (i.e., the wars in Venice, Holland, Denmark). This allowed him to add to his new bow of medical arrows, the traditional medicinal practises of the herbalists, gypsies, and magicians he encountered along the way. Understandably, however, his new approach didn’t endear him to those whose interests lay in maintaining the status quo and so it wasn’t until 1526 when Paracelsus arrived in Strasburg that he flourished in influential humanistic circles of Protestant reformers there and also in Basle.

In his work Paragranum (1529-1530), Paracelsus argued that medicine should be naturally based, and this included it should be influenced by astronomy and alchemy. His major work, Opus Paramirum (1531), brought alchemical ideas as well as the work of Galen into the wider medical community.[1] There were four elements inherent in man’s functional design and each one controlled on of four functions (1) the processes of digestion and nutrition,(2)  the sexuality and reproduction functions of women, (3) diseases caused by “tartar” (stone), and (4) psychic phenomenon illnesses arising from the imagination.

Alchemy played heavily into all the work of Paracelsus. As far as he was concerned, making gold wasn’t the point. Instead, man should be perfecting what nature had left imperfect and, in this regard, he was inspired by the Renaissance Neoplatonic ideas of the unity of heaven and earth. In this endeavour, logic and rational thought were rejected in favour of “true  knowledge”, a reflection of that unity . In other words, to ‘know yourself’ is to ‘know God’ – and in this regard direct experience was essential. Partake in the fullness of the universe using all your senses and pay attention to everything that you see and hear. At that time, the prevailing idea was that the everything universe was full of ‘spirit’ and so this was easier to accomplish for Paracelsus and his colleagues then it might be for us today. 

In turn this led to medical reforms that put homoeopathy in the frontline. The belief was that sickness was the result of being out of balance with celestial influences and that alchemy was absolutely essential to help restore that balance.

(to be continued)


[1] Along Empedocles, Hippocrates, Galen developed humoural theory based on the ancient and medieval physiology and medicine. It’s all to do with the four block or ‘roots’ of the material world that manifest in certain humours and their related temperaments:

ELEMENTQUALITYHUMOURTEMPERAMENT
FireHot/dryYellow BileCholeric
EarthCold/dryBlack BileMelancholic
WaterCold/wetPhlegmPhlegmatic
AirHot/wetBloodSanguine

Humoural theory had a significant effect of Early Modern Drama, as for example, when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern arrive at Court in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, the character Hamlet comments (regarding the theatrical entertainments to be performed) that ‘the Humorous Man shall end his part in peace’ (2.2, 320). By ‘humorous’ Hamlet cannot mean ‘amusing’, ‘comic’, or ‘funny’ (OED A 4) ) for according to the OED that meaning came first into use in 1652, approximately fifty years after Hamlet was written. Instead, Hamlet is referring to humoural theory.