Astrology

The Archetypal in Astrology

According to Richard Tarnas, the archetypal is the spiritual and energetic. It was originally experienced by human people as “Gods” and “Goddesses,” and described in terms of mythologies.

The archetypal is about the essences and qualities that transcend the human.

These ideas were later expounded upon in Ancient Greece, with the philosophies of Plato and Plotinus, among others. They were forgotten for many years until their recovery by the likes of Nietzsche, Freud, and Carl Jung.

Jung’s depth psychology explored the idea of the archetypal pleroma, the pantheon of archetypal energy, both within and without. It was Jung who recognized that we are in psyche. It informs not only us but all of nature. This is what is meant by the Anima Mundi, or world soul.

It was through myths that man tried to understand and convey its experience of this world soul. Myth, as well as dreams, are the narrative form of archetypal energy. According to Tarnas, this is how the cosmos pours its consciousness through us humans. The archetypes are thus the mediators of the cosmos, the way the Anima Mundi often speaks to us directly of its secrets.

Plotinus says that astrology is like a script that the soul of the sky is writing. Meaning is something that extends and permeates through all levels of reality and existence. We are living in a pan-psychic universe, and if we wish to, we can be active participants with this consciousness or sentience.

The cosmos gives us guidance on how we can participate constructively. The archetypes don’t “cause” human affairs or outer events to occur in some mechanistic way. Instead, it is open to our human participation.

It is as if the universe or nature is providing us with symbols or guideposts regarding the qualitative meaning of our unfolding. We can choose to participate actively in our own evolution by noticing and following the signs provided for us by the macrocosm.

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Alchemy

The Dance of Sulfur

After the Bellows Breath, you may want to follow up with another practice called the Dance of Sulfur.

Sulfur is a yellow powder which the alchemists believed symbolized the active masculine principle of fire. It was often used in laboratory alchemy in the form of sulfuric acid (also known to them as vitriol).

The Dance of Sulfur is an exercise to increase energy and circulate it in the body. Not only that, it is ideal for taking the emotions which arise in Roasting Cinnabar and the energy raised in Bellows Breath and expressing them in a healthy way. We can use the Dance of Sulfur to let go of pent up rage, aggression and other emotions that have been suppressed or held in our bodies for too long.

HOW TO PRACTICE

  1. To begin, you can put on some music (some say angry or aggressive rock music works best) and start to dance. You can try any other type of aerobic movement that will increase your heart rate, like jogging in place or jumping rope, but I prefer to dance, as it really allows you to get into the music and feel the powerful feelings which have been brought up by other alchemical practices. Aim for at least 20 minutes of movement in this practice.
  2. Try to leave thought and the conscious, rational mind behind. As much as you can, drop your awareness into your body, feel all the emotions coming up as the energy grows stronger and rises within you.
  3. Once you feel you are in the moment and present in your body, start to imagine intense, fiery energy rising up in waves from below. You can then direct that fire energy to any areas of tension or pain in your body (either physical or emotional). Let the flames wash over you, consuming the stagnant ego structures of your past, and burning up and releasing any ideas, emotions or behavior you want to let go of.

This practice, along with the previous two, may be used alone or in conjunction. If you have the time, I recommend creating a ritual that combines Roasting Cinnabar, Bellows Breath, and the Dance of Sulfur (in that order).

When I have done this set of practices together in the past, I like to say a prayer or set an intention (whatever works for you), and I light a red candle to honor the rage and pain of the past, and to symbolize what will be consumed and released during the ritual. You may also want to conclude this set of practices with a ritual bath (salt baths are great for this). Visualize the salt water cleansing you of any remnants of anger or stuck energy, then picture all of these troubles leaving you for good as they are washed down the drain at the very end.

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Alchemy

Bellows Breath

Bellows Breath is an active meditation that can be used to increase conscious awareness and raise energy in the body. Practitioners of Kundalini Yoga may recognize this as what they call the “Breath of Fire.” It can be used to release stuck energy in the body, oxygenating the blood, and expanding lung capacity.

HOW TO PRACTICE

  1. Begin by sitting with your legs crossed. Then focus on the energy in your body around your navel.
  2. Keeping your mouth closed, begin by inhaling and exhaling rapidly through your nose. The in and out breaths should be equal in length, but as short as possible. As you exhale, push the air out of your lungs quickly, similar to a bellows used to start a fire. Try for between 2-3 breaths per second.
  3. After a few minutes, you may start to experience a warm energy rising from your navel up to your head. Try to experience this rising energy without any judgements or assumptions about you are feeling. Just feel the energy spreading in your body.
  4. You may choose to imagine that as the energy rises, it is clearing away physical or emotional blocks in your body. You can visualize this fire energy moving through your body and burning away any toxins, negativity, stuck emotions, or past behaviors, leaving only a healthy body and mind behind.
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Alchemy

Roasting Cinnabar

A good Calcination ritual to start with is known as Roasting Cinnabar.

This meditative process is related to the work done by alchemists in the laboratory, working with real chemicals.

In this process, alchemists would would roast the mineral known as “Dragon’s Blood,” or Cinnabar, which is a red-colored sulfide of mercury. When roasted over an open flame,  drops of pure liquid mercury are released from the cinnabar and fall down into the ashes.

The purpose of this meditative process is to get us in touch with our mostly unconscious judgements and reactionary behaviors that serve to protect and enhance our egos. We must become aware of these forces within our psyches before we are able to release them to make room for our true or higher Self.

HOW TO PRACTICE

  1. Start by entering a state of relaxation, one in which you feel detached from your worries and daily concerns or problems. You can do this by focusing on your breath, by noting the “in” or the “out” breath or by counting each breath as it passes. You may also use a mantra of your choice to bring your attention inward. When you find you are relaxed, move on to the next step.
  2. Slowly count backwards from 10 down to 1. While counting down, continue to relax each part of your body, starting at the crown of your head and moving down to your toes. Take care to make each breath slower and deeper than the last.
  3. Visualize brilliant red cinnabar roasting over an open flame. As you do so, let your mind travel back to any moment of your life where you felt humiliated or enraged by someone else. Try to notice the true cause of your intense feelings—they are typically tied up in a sense of losing control, of not having any power over yourself, and of your ego or sense of self being diminished.
  4. Observe your thoughts as they stream through your mind. Notice the ways in which you reacted to being hurt. This can include such things as promising yourself you will never be vulnerable and risk getting hurt again, or lashing out at someone else to soothe the ego’s pain. Re-evaluate how you responded to these painful circumstances. Ask yourself, is this the best way to respond? How would my higher or wiser self choose to respond instead?
  5. Most importantly, allow yourself to experience all of your difficult feelings. Avoid suppressing and repressing your pain. It never truly goes away, and there is much wisdom to be found in the depths of your own darkness.
  6. Notice all of the insights and wisdom that come up as you do this. Picture this to be the mercury being released from the cinnabar. Imagine yourself gathering up all of this precious mercury into a glass bottle as it is released from the rocks of cinnabar.

This mercury, this purified thought, is now yours to use as you wish.

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The Maze & the Labyrinth

Many of us consider a maze and a labyrinth to be one and the same thing, but there is actually a subtle difference.

LABYRINTH is the term used when there is only one fixed, or unicursal, path to the center.

A MAZE, on the other hand, refers to a multicursal path that may contain dead ends or different ways to reach the center, and where the possibility always exists to become lost within.

For example, the structure built by Daedalus to hold the minotaur in Ancient Greek mythology has usually been referred to as a labyrinth, but today we might all this a maze, as it was clearly multicursal, with many complex paths and dead ends meant to trap the minotaur.


The unicursal labyrinth is powerful symbol of spiritual transformation. The labyrinth was a symbol which combined the circle and the spiral into one symbol of wholeness.

The Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral

To move from the outside starting point of the labyrinth to the center, and then back again, is symbolic of the spiritual journey to the center of the self and beyond.


I found a lot of insight into the symbols of the maze and the labyrinth in the words Marion Woodman, renowned author and Jungian analyst:

“A maze is a puzzle to be solved. It has dead ends. You may get lost in a maze. You run into a minotaur and be killed.”

Marion Woodman

Like Woodman, I spent many years of my life feeling like I was trapped in a mazed, living as if in fear of a deadly minotaur, and confronting dead end after useless dead end.


“A labyrinth looks superficially like a maze, but it’s different. There are no dead ends, no traps. There is only one path, and it takes you by a circuitous route to the center.”

In her own life, Woodman found that when she at last confronted her deepest fears and faced death, she was also able to realize the perfection of her life experience and see the purpose of her path.

“I was finally able to surrender to life, because at long last I KNEW there was a center and that if I kept listening, opening, and walking forward, my path would lead me to that center.”

I am finding that the same is true for me. I am going to keep walking. I know the center is there, ever present, just waiting for me to open my eyes to it.

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Feel It to Heal It

To truly heal your past, you need to be able to fully feel and embody your emotions.

Art by Aldous Massie

We often deny or repress our emotions for a wide variety of reasons. By far the most common is that painful feelings are uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s easier for us to pretend that everything is “fine” and nothing is bothering us.

Other, more complex factors can play into our unwillingness to honor our pain. As a child, we may have been punished for showing our anger or sadness. “Boys don’t cry,” we were told. “You’re just being dramatic.” “You’re too sensitive.” Phrases like these could have led us to deny our own feelings, even to ourselves.

In order to heal, we must learn to trust ourselves. This first requires that we feel and embody our emotions. It is only then that we can release the pain of our past and embark on a new future, free to be the selves we wish to create.

I have identify three core steps that have been useful for me when it comes to feeling and healing my feelings.

  1. AWARENESS

It is often difficult for many of us to know what we are feeling. Meditation is the most important tool we can use to develop our awareness not only of our thoughts but also our feelings.

Here are some resources that have been helpful for me in the process of developing my self-awareness:

Real Happiness by Susan Salzberg

Headspace App

2. COMPASSION

The second crucial component in this healing process is developing our compassion, especially when it comes to self. We will be much more resistant to recognize our pain and our possible errors in judgement if we have a habit of being judgemental and unforgiving of ourselves.

When we are able to see our faults and our pain from a place of awareness, understanding and love, we are then more willing to change our behavior and move our lives forward.

Loving-kindness meditation is an excellent way of developing compassionate habits of mind that will help us. This will usually involve sitting in meditation and generating positive feelings towards others and yourself. UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center has an excellent Loving-Kindness Meditation for those who are interested in developing their own practice at home.

Self-care routines can also be helpful. When we begin to prioritize ourselves and our needs, we start to understand that we are worthy and deserving of care.

3. EMBODIMENT & EXPRESSION

The final step is the most important. This is that actual practice of noticing, feeling, and moving through our bodies all of the emotions we have been holding inside.

There are many ways to embody our emotions. We can simply allow ourselves to feel as thoughts and memories come up. We can hold space for ourselves in a safe place to laugh, cry, scream, etc. We can engage in somatic spiritual practices like yoga.

My favorite way to express long held emotions is to dance. In Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts, I learned a practice called “Swamping”.

Swamping involves moving through three stages of embodying & releasing emotions.

We start with a song dedicated to our rage. We dance, we punch pillows, we growl, we scream, we let out all of the anger we have felt we needed to stuff inside of ourselves.

Next we dance through our grief. We hold ourselves as we sway to our song, we wail, we cry over all that we have lost.

And finally, we dance into our turn-on. We can put on a sexy fun song that brings us back in touch with our excitement for life and the core of our power.

Whatever way you choose to embody and express your feelings, you will doubtless come through at the end with a weight off your shoulders and with a renewed sense of health and wholeness.

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We are often confused about what we must do to begin holding ourselves and others accountable.

We have this idea that in order to create change, we must prove how someone has been wrong and demand immediate punishment.

This is a roadblock to our change. This is what blocks us from being better people.

When we know that we will punish ourselves, or be punished, in a way that is unforgiving and without mercy, we become unwilling to look at ourselves and the ways in which we may have caused harm.

Instead, we cling to denial. We push away anything that would make us stop and pause to examine our behavior, for fear of the pain or destruction to self this would entail.

Compassion is NOT an avoidance of accountability. It is the the PRECURSOR to accountability.

When we are able to look at the ways in which we have harmed ourselves or others in a way that accepts the context of where we were at, that acknowledge our full humanity and the limitations of our perception, only then we have the capacity to do better.

You can create space for your full complexity to exist, even while acknowleging ways in which harm was done.

No one is ever entirely good or bad. No thing exists in a vacuum.

When we hold each other tenderly, it creates space for change. It nurtures accountability. It is a source of continual growth & evolution.

Today, you can practice seeing without rushing to judgement. You can practice understanding with care & concern. You can practice seeking justice without demanding destruction.

Justice without mercy is not justice. Accountability requires faith in our shared humanity. Let’s do this with care & concern, from today forward.

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A Buddhist Approach to NVC

I’m grateful to have been able to attend a daylong program over at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in the Bay Area this weekend, “Skillful Speech in Difficult Situations.”

Essentially, it focused on a mindfulness-based approach to Nonviolent Communication skills. The speaker, Oren Jay Sofer, brought Buddhist principles to his knowledge of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg’s ideas regarding NVC through short lectures and transformative meditation practices that we then shared and reflected on with a partner.

It was very helpful for me to learn some of these ideas and skills at a time when I’m being challenged in certain key relationships. I’d like to share with you now some of what stood out for me, and hope that it can be useful for you, as well.

The first thing that caught my attention were the following fundamental principles underlying Sofer’s approach:

  • All humans share a set of fundamental needs.
  • Every action we take is an attempt to meet one of these needs.
  • Emotions are a response to our needs being met (or not).

Knowing these things, we can then begin to better understand other’s motivations and behavior. When we understand that their negative emotions and unskillful behavior is often a response to the pain and discomfort of unmet needs, we may be more willing to be compassionate and collaborative in our approach to them.

One of the practices that I found really useful were the 3 “Practices of Presence” that we later engaged in with a partner. We learned how to come back to the present moment through focusing on the breath, grounding in our bodies, and orienting ourselves to the wider space around us.

Other valuable skills mentioned were active listening, reflecting, and how to skillfully interrupt or pause a difficult conversation.

I was able to get myself a copy of Sofer’s new book, “Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Nonviolent Communication.” I’m excited to get back home to LA and spend some time with this book, I can’t wait to learn more.

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Alchemy

What Makes Alchemy Work?

Why has the practice of or interest in alchemy endured for so long?

Many would say it’s because of what is now known as the “perennial philosophy.”

This term was first used by Leibniz to describe the eternal philosophy underlying all religions, and it was later popularized in the 20th century by Aldous Huxley.

It has now come to describe the idea that there are certain underlying principles which form the core of all of humanity’s experiences, in particular with regard to “the nature of reality and the meaning of existence.”

According to this philosophy, the basic tenets of all religions are similar and shared — it is only the cultural and historical additions added by each that cause all of the disagreement.

The following are some “perennial principles”:

  1. The material is just one aspect of reality. Actually, this physical world of materiality can be thought of as being the expression of a higher order or spiritual plane (similar to the Platonic ideal, or world of forms).
  2. Humans are also dualistic in nature: they have an (imperfect) physical body and a (perfect) spiritual body. This is unified by the divine energy inherent in all things: the life force, or what is known in alchemy as the Quintessence (the Fifth Element).
  3. All people have the capacity to perceive both realms, but few try to do so. According to perennial philosophy, this is unfortunate, because it is only in perceiving and using this knowledge of the spiritual or ideal world that men and women “can become who they are truly meant to be and achieve mastery and self-actualization on Earth.”

It is this insistence on duality in the manifestation of the universe, as well as the necessity of realizing the higher to truly understand the lower, that defines perennial philosophy and makes it integral, according to some, to the process of Alchemical Work.

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