The Astro-Art of Wisdom

Regardless of what the dictionary says, I believe that ‘wisdom’ requires more than knowledge and understanding.  Wisdom requires using your imagination to literally push knowledge and understanding beyond itself into the realm of experience.

This can be accomplished through looking at life through the eyes of an artist.  Artists communicate through symbols.  Artists evoke moods and emotions using pictures and words.  Artists connect us with’something’ that breathes fresh air into otherwise stale lives.

Neptune may very well represent that ‘something’.  Neptune is the astrological symbol of the deep unity with all things into which artists tap.  It’s rumoured that great sculptors connect with the imprisoned energy of a stone.  With their tools and skills, they free that energy for all to enjoy.

The artist’s tools and skills are represented by the Saturn function as that symbolises one’s ability to plan and achieve.

Thus Neptune and Saturn might well be the two most important astrological signposts toward your attainment of wisdom.   By putting Saturn and Neptune together you can make manifest something that jumpstarts your innermost Self to life.

If, like me, you have close Saturn/Neptune contacts, you can work with them through the energies they represent.  For example, I have a Mercury/Saturn/Neptune conjunction in Libra.  Libran outlets through which I might gain wisdom are relationships (all types), law (I am a lawyer), social connections, and artistic endeavours (I’m pursuing a degree in creative writing at Oxford University).

Even if you have no Saturn/Neptune contacts in your natal chart, at some point they’ll come by transit.   Prepare for this golden opportunity by learning how to best exploit what you already have.

La Passione di Roma & the difference between modern and classical art

William James (often referred to as the father of modern psychology) was greatly impressed with what he believed to be the distinction between classical and modern art.

In ancient Greek art, he argued, lay the quintessence of all reality. There the artist’s idea runs through all his creation allowing it to lose any amount of detail and still smile as freely as before.  A smashed nose or broken arm could never diminish a Greek statute’s rapport.  By contrast the ‘modern’ Madonna’s missing nose destroyed her very essence.

According to James, something in modern art created a dissonance, a subjective distance that was absent in ancient art.  Both pointed – as they should – to the existence of the ineffable beyond.  But for James, the distinction lay in the artist’s consciousness of it.

Part of the reason for this must lay in the difference between the modern and ancient worldviews.  Since Descartes, Western man has struggled with the connection between objective (I perceive) and subjective (I think) realities.  By contrast, the ancients embraced a more holistic –even magical – cosmology where all of creation was caught up in a seamless harmony of ‘being’.

For example, in the Hermetic and neoplatonic traditions, telestike or statue animation played a major part in religious rituals, which aimed to align the human soul with the gods so as to achieve immortality on earth.  In such rituals, both humans and statues became ‘god-possessed’, their material form becoming a vehicle for divine life.

While such traditions are for the most part no longer practiced today, they serve to remind us of a significant element of our humanity which sadly, we have forgotten.  As the American writer Ursula Leguin puts it, we live in an age where media continually undermines our capacity for recognising what she calls ‘real myths’.  Soul-less, artificially fabricated ‘glamour’ vanishes as soon as it appears.   But no reason or cynicism can destroy the power of the timeless truths as expressed through myth.   “You look at the Blond Hero (a golden haired Ben Hur clone),” she says, “really look – and he turns into a gerbil.  But you look at Apollo and he looks back at you.”

There’s little doubt that like the Greeks, our imaginations are still gripped with a fascination for living statues.  Many fine examples of theatre traditions of mime and tableaux have now migrated off stage to become part of everyday life.

Yet do we use them, as did the ancients to achieve immortality on earth?   No.  We use them as does the Italian company Fendi in their advertisement for a perfume called La Passione di Roma,  to sell ourselves a sexier tomorrow.

If he were alive today, William James would likely be disappointed.  For he truly believed that if in modernity a balance between the material world and that of imagination could be found, it would not in the bank accounts of multinational corporations, but in the Divine.

Psychological Integration in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra

The night before last, my husband and I attended the Royal Shakespeare Company’s new production of Antony and Cleopatra at Stratford-upon-Avon.

Because we’ve enjoyed everything we’ve seen there before, we were sorely disappointed when the play failed to live up to our expectations.  From the lack of enthusiastic clapping as the last act culminated into closing bows, we concluded we weren’t the only ones who’d found the evening’s entertainment lacking.

In the lingering light cocooning the historic market town, we wracked our brains as to what had gone wrong.  As usual the acting had been superb.  Naturally in the company’s temporary location, we knew the stage set must ‘needs be” be limited;  that we’d already figured in.  Even the awkward juxtaposition of contemporary combat gear with the 17th century prose couldn’t account for our discontent.

Settling back for an après theatre tipple in the comfortable lounge of our hotel, we concluded that the problem must lie not with the performance, but with the play itself.   As neither of us had seen Antony and Cleopatra before, we satisfied ourselves that of all Shakespeare’s great plays this one just wasn’t our cup of tea.

Next morning while sudsing my hair with lemon scented shampoo, I realised that we’d not appreciated Antony and his Cleopatra because they’d been portrayed as ordinary persons, just like you and me.  No one likes to have their inadequacies flaunted – especially not when you’re paying for the privilege.

Cleopatra had been petty and jealous, grasping for every possible reassurance of the potency of her feminine charms.  Ladies, which of us have not at some point in our lives not behaved exactly the same way? And although admittedly Antony had once been brave and strategic, he was portrayed now as weak-willed and wooly; instead of demonstrating the strength of character expected of a world leader, he was more like a lovesick schoolboy with greying hair.  Haven’t we all seen more than a few of those in our time?

But worse, this is precisely how Shakespeare had drawn them – with all their mortal flaws shining bright and new as evening stars.   Although clearly the great bard had expected us to see through this gauzy veil to the “new heaven, new earth” of which Antony frequently spoke, it was hard to get hooked on just the promise of a better life beyond.

The problem is that with their deaths Antony and Cleopatra did fulfil this otherworldly promise.  I suppose that for the good Christian audiences for which this play was originally composed, that would have been more than enough.

However the psychologically sophisticated audiences of today can never be satisfied with a glimpse of future redemption; we’ve been told that if only we do enough ‘character work’, we’ll be rewarded with ‘new heaven’ and ‘new earth’ in the now.

That none of the dramatis personae in this play displayed the least inclination of achieving this Holy Grail of individuated wholeness was disappointing to say the least.

But to my mind, the key question is whether their lack of motivation says more about the shallowness of 17th century values or of our own.

Today and Tomorrow are Seven of Cups Days

With the sun still in Gemini (ideas) and the moon moving to Taurus (desire), the tarot card for today and tomorrow is the Seven of Cups.

On a divinatory level, the Seven of Cups represents an emotionally charged situation where we’re overwhelmed with possibilities–faced not only with the challenge of choosing but also with acting realistically and responsibly in regards to our choice.

Unlike yesterday where the Moon was in Aries and our wildest dreams were possible, today and tomorrow we’ll discover that they weren’t and quite possibly, never will be.

For the Kabbalist, today’s energy is the equivalent of the seventh sephira, Netzach.

The world of Netzach is one of instincts and emotions – of images existing only in the mind of man – projected there by his most urgent desires.

The world of Netzach rightly belongs to the artist.  It’s in Netzach that our minds conceive of images, which are best realized through art.  This is because art is a purpose-built construction to contain – and to make sacred – the chaotic inner workings of our minds.

But we all aren’t artists.  Thus on a Seven of Cups day , rather than making sacred our innermost yearnings, we’re more likely to behave like kids in the candy shop with our eyes much bigger than our stomachs.

The best advice for a Seven of Cups day is to hold steady.  Take a good look at what it is you really want most and then think again.

The best choices are made when our hearts and heads are in balance – and this just isn’t one of those days.

When is Fiction Art and Why Does it Matter?

Art commands special status and support from states, corporations, and the public at large. Art is not just a matter of profits – indeed some art is extremely unprofitable.  Art is of enduring cultural esteem and concern.

Yet given its importance, surprisingly there is no accepted definition of art.

Most philosophers believe that simply being entertaining is not enough. Similarly defining ‘art’ in terms of the emotions it evokes won’t do. There is nothing valuable in the arousal of emotion for it’s own sake (unless you’re willing to agree that – for example – pornography is art). Even if we acknowledge some emotions are more valuable than others, we’d still need a yardstick by which to measure their  relative worth.  This would lead to impossible questions about morality and  religion.

Instead, some philosophers suggest that art should be defined by whether or not it promotes knowledge and understanding – most particularly self-knowledge because according to Hegel (1170-1831) it is only self-knowledge that frees us from fate (i.e. the forces of causality that binds lesser creatures to their animal nature).  This would seem a particularly appropriate theory for contemporary Westerners who are in large part,  psychologically defined.

If we accept this last thesis, then how might we ascribe value in the literary arts, where by definition (through the use of language) some knowledge is always conveyed?  Some philosophers suggest the answer lies in the fact that authors create images (character, scene, events, ideas) that  enhance understanding of the human condition.  But is this enough?

I suggest that to be considered art, fiction must go beyond simply creating images that help us reflect on our lives.  Instead to be classified as art, I believe fiction must create images that become paradigms for our lives.

Take for example Shakespeare’s Othello. Othello is not only the image, but the archetype of destructive jealousy.  He is not merely a distillation of the characteristics commonly found in jealous persons (i.e. a stereotype), but instead he taps directly into the very patterns that structure our experience of the world.

To accomplish this is a tall order.  It requires more than gimmicks, theatrics or even good writing.   It requires a style of narration that draws readers into to a character’s experience in such a way that as the result of reading, in his heart the reader knows the subjective joys and sorrows of a different way of being.  Only in this way, can fiction be said to provide us not only with understanding, but with self-understanding.

I further suggest that although a particular work of fiction falling short of this mark may be profitable and enjoyable, it is not art.  Conversely, although a particular work of fiction that does meet the mark is neither profitable nor enjoyable, it deserves the special status and support given by society to art.