Guest: Becca Tarnas
Summary: What's the difference between imaginary and imaginal? Becca Tarnas takes us on a trip into the Mundus imaginalis, the imaginal realm, where we discover the intersection of astrology and mythology, as well as the magic of Middle Earth.
Boston: My guest today is the brilliantly insightful, creative and wise, Becca Tarnas. Becca is an adjunct professor at both Pacifica Graduate Institute and the California Institute of Integral Studies.
She is an astrological counselor, writer. And artist, and her love of JRR Tolkien's Middle Earth knows no bounds. If you're a Lord of the rings fan, this episode is for you.
I have all kinds of feelings about this interview. We recorded it in December of 2021, almost a year ago. That means some of Becca's astrological forecasts are outdated. And I'm sorry, I didn't get this interview up in time for optimum relevance. Still it's a wonderful conversation and well-worth sharing now.
And the forecast are only a small fraction of it. And it's interesting to consider them in the context of all that's happened over the last 10 months.
What we're going to hit on in this conversation is the intersection of astrology and mythology. And we're going to look at the myths of Persephone and Demeter, and Hades, and Eros and Psyche. And then the second part of the interview really gonna get into Lord of the Rings and what is the Imaginal Realm. And I'm going to stop talking now and let's get into Becca.
Becca, thank you so much for joining me for this conversation. I am delighted to have you here. And you are the first astrologer I have interviewed for the mythic podcast. Will you share your origin story with us?
I always have to start by saying I'm a second generation astrologer and that my father's an astrologer.
Becca: He started working with astrology in the 1970s at Esalen Institute when he was doing research with Stanislav Grof on psychedelic healing modalities and they encountered astrology as a way to. Basically understand the kind of experience that someone was going to have. They had been trying to figure out why there was such variability with psychedelic experiences between people, between sessions and none of the psychological tests that, that they were applying were illuminating.
It was a big mystery at the time. And someone suggested a, an astrologer named suggested, have you tried transit astrology? And so they tried it out and they realized that it illuminated the experiences in a way that nothing else was. So my father threw himself into studying astrology and looking at his own transits and studying the charts and transits of everyone in the Esalen community and over 30 years built up a very large body of research. And so this was the millieu I was growing up in and the astrological language was used in my household, but it wasn't taught to me. Anytime that I had astrology come more directly into my life, it was my direct asking. So I think I was six years old and I asked for a reading and I remember that my dad was translating what the planetary archetypes or to me using mythic language, because I loved myth. I was deeply steeped in a number of different mythologies and pantheons. And so that was a language that made sense to me. but I never thought that my path would lead toward being an astrologer at all. I was. Going through undergrad, I was a theater major, really engaged in performance. I was an environmental studies double major because I had become really invested in understanding the ecological crisis. How did we get here? And yet through an interesting series of events, I was drawn back first to my father's work and then being really compelled by his students and decided that this was something I wanted to understand and wanted to learn. And as I began to pick it up, I realized it came quite naturally to me, probably because I had grown up in that millieu of hearing the language spoken and even getting the emotional resonance off, when my parents would talk about, oh, he has a Saturn-Pluto transit versus, oh, he's going through a Jupiter Uranus transit like that, just set in. And, so over the last decade, it's really become one of the central focuses of my work and, working as a counseling astrologer or working as a teacher and as a continuing student as well, I'm excited to keep learning new techniques and modalities and branches of astrology. So as much as I'm in a teacher counselor role, that I'm also, I think always going to be a student. So that's some of my astrological background and story. you never said his name. Your father is Richard Tarnas. created the, philosophy, cosmology and consciousness program at CIIS. Is he still on faculty there?
He is still on faculty there. He's been slowly over the last several years, decreasing his teaching because he is orienting more toward writing several books that he's still wanting to bring forward. He wrote two big books, _Passion of the Western Mind_ and _Cosmos and Psyche_. And he has a few others in the works. So he's in a process of transitioning more from teaching into writing. And I know that's where his passion really lies right now.
Boston: And you are on facultyat Pacifica Graduate Institute.
Becca: I'm an adjunct there. Yeah. I teach as an adjunct, both at Pacifica and at CIIS right now. So wearing multiple hats between institutions and getting to teach a variety of classes in each place, which is wonderful.
Boston: What an exciting place to stand in the world, getting to do counseling psychology, be in the educational realm with these, these schools that are doing such extraordinary work And I'm curious about what this looks like from here. You mentioned, when you were a child and being very engaged in myth before astrology came along, so mythology gave you a context for astrology and that's what happened to me as well.
The way I think of it as this, you have all of the mathematics, the go into the calculations of astrology, but then you also have this imaginal component of astrology, which is stories in the sky. And somehow these things come together. What does that look like to you?
Becca: I come back to the word astrology, _Astro logos_. It's the language of the stars. And as astrology was initially being developed, it was a means to interpret and understand the will of the God. So the stars, the night sky was seen to be like a, almost like a tablet on which the will of the gods was expressed.
And it was the task of astrologers and of priests and priestesses, to be able to interpret that, to understand what is the gods' intent for humanity, and then how can we best participate in that? That's the importance of being able to interpret it. So as far as my understanding goes, the planets, for example, which we have named after gods-- Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, these are named after the gods. The Greco- Roman names for them. But of course there are many names for the planets, from multiple cultures around the world, and we can see the meanings associated with the planets and how they are expressed in a variety of ways through different mythic pantheons in a variety of cultures. So my understanding is that the planets themselves were never seen as gods they're seen as the seat of the gods, like the physical correlate, but not Like when we look at the planet Venus, that is Venus completely as a goddess, it's more like the goddess Venus is expressing through the physical planet Venus. There's a correlation between them. And it's a body that is special to her and through which her will is expressed and that in that way, the myth and the astrology are very related, but the astrology is almost like a space for translation space for interpretation and communication between human beings and the gods.
Boston: That's beautiful. I've never heard it expressed that way. The planets as the seat of the gods If you were giving. An astrological reading a transit reading, how might you translate an astrological configuration into a mythic story?
Becca: There's a really great example that's in the sky right now and that's going to be in the sky for the next several, not just weeks, but actually months. It's a rare combination to have for this long. So at the moment in December of 2021, Venus has ingressed into the sign of Capricorn and is currently in a conjunction or right next to the planet Pluto.
So where to look up, we would need a telescope to see Pluto, but if we were to look up. At the night sky, we would see Venus and Pluto seemingly next to each other in the sky, even though Pluto is so much further away than Venus. It's like at the new moon, for example, the sun and the moon are in the same place in the sky, but we know they're not actually next to each other.
They just appear next to each other. So that's what a conjunction is. And Venus. In terms of the astrological, meaning relates to love, to beauty, to attraction, desire, sensuality, sexuality, pleasure. The side that relates to beauty is also connected to aesthetics, to style, to the arts, all forms of artistic creativity. Painting, drawing, dance, music, sculpture. Venus oversees the whole domain of the arts. So that's Venus. And then Pluto is the archetype that's related to the depths and the underworld and intensities and extremes. It's related to the death-rebirth mystery. It's destruction and creation. It's the elemental powers of nature.
It's instinctual. It's libidinal. And Pluto has a special relationship to the underground, the underworld in a mythic sense, a religious sense, but also like the urban underworld, the criminal underworld, the sexual underworld, any domain where we think of a kind of underbelly. And when Venus and Pluto are combined as archetypal principles, that tends to manifest whether in a birth chart or in terms of a personal trends that were in this case at the world transit in terms of deep, intense, Romantic relational sexual dynamics. There can be a very beautiful depth to it. The capacity to be transformed by love, to be transmuted by love, but also to be destroyed by love and by sexuality. There's a whole side of Venus-Pluto that's around the edgy and the taboo and the dangerous. And so there can be a connection to sexual transgression and assault, and really the darker sides of sexuality, the intensely problematic sides. And so this alignment of Venus and Pluto is actually going to be in the sky for several weeks because Venus is about to turn retrograde, meaning It's going to be lingering in the same area of sky for much longer than it normally would. And then appearing to move backwards compared to the motion that's usually moving in and then moving forward again. And so it's just passing back and forth with Pluto, making a very long conjunction between the two. Usually Venus would just pass by. It would be, we would experience that for about 10 days in the collective. This is months of it. And of course we could look in terms of certain world events that are unfolding right now. There's a big trial happening at the moment looking at sex trafficking and so forth.
So it's bubbling up in the collective. People can probably identify this in terms of their personal lives too, in a positive way as well. There's a beautiful side of Venus-Pluto that has to do with that depth and rawness that we can bring forward in love, in relationship, in sexuality. So that's another illumination of the astrological side.
How would we relate to that mythically? One beautiful mythic example of Venus-Pluto is the Persphone-Hades myth. And there's a number of different ways to read this myth. One way that we can read that myth is that Persphone, who's a kind of beautiful Venusian maiden figure is abducted against her will and taken into Hades' underworld. And in that way, it is a kind of rape story. There's another way of interpreting it as well, where Persephone may be The willing initiate wanting to be brought into the sexual underworld as a way to actually fully flower as a woman, as a goddess, as a fertility goddess-- being brought into that space. And what is so profound about that myth and why I tend to lean toward this other interpretation is because she willingly eats the pomegranate seeds. She eats six pomegranate seeds, the fruit of the underworld, and that guarantees that she will come back for six months of the year. Every year. This myth is mapped onto our seasons. When Persphone is in the upper world with her mother Demeter, that's when it's spring and summer, then she makes her descent into the underworld in the autumn and spends the winter there with Hades. And she becomes Queen of the Underworld. She's crowned through that experience and that is a Venus-Pluto story. And a lot of people born with Venus-Pluto can feel a sense of relationship to it. Whether that's the more problematic interpretation-- the abduction, the rape, there can be a feeling of identification with that, of course. And then also there can be an identification with what it means to really own the power of the sexual underworld and to become queen of that.
So that's one particular mythic interpretation of the Venus-Pluto dynamic. Another that I would look to in terms of fairytale, it's a similar archetypal pattern, but a much later story is the Beauty in the Beast fairytale. Very similar to the Hades-Persephone myth, but also very different. And we can see the beast as a reflection of Pluto, of the intense animalistic instinctual libido. And then Belle beauty as Venus and in they're coming together, we can also recognize how both parts live within us and the beast can be beautiful and the beauty can be beastly. So these are some of the themes mythically, and in terms of fairytales that might come up, but even as metaphors during a Venus-Pluto at a time. So I hope that helps answer the question that you've brought forward there.
The story that is rising from me right now is Cupid and Psyche, which also shares so many elements of Beauty and the Beast and the Persphone myth. And when Psyche, in this case at the behest of Venus, Venus sends psyche into the underworld to retrieve the beauty from did I get that right?
Boston: So Venus sends psyche to the underworld to get the breadth of beauty from Persephone and she lingers and gets stuck down there. I'm trying to remember how she gets out of the underworld that she it's, it's not Hermes coming to get her, or is it, it is Hermes coming to get her Cupid intervenes and says and says, I want to marry her.
And with his help with Hermes help, he comes in, brings her back to Olympus.
Becca: In so many of the Venus-Pluto type myths, hermes is the one who intervenes. So in the Hades-Persphone myth, Hermes comes at Demeter's behest, and actually a Zeus's behest because Demeter is destroying the earth, basically searching for her daughter. So Hermes is the only one who can traverse between the upper, middle, and underworlds.
So Hermes goes into the Underworld and retrieves Persephone. We see that in the myth you just brought up of Psyche and Eros. We also see it in the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, another lovers descent into the underworld, and there too Hermes is the mediator. And interestingly at the end of December, Mercury will conjoin, Venus and Pluto in a triple conjunction. So that myth is actually playing out in the sky in a matter of weeks. I was recently doing a podcast with the astrologers, Austin Copic and Chris Brennan, and Austin Copic said that Hermes or Mercury is the first relationship counselor. And I thought that was such a brilliant way of putting it.
Sometimes you need to talk it out, which is what Hermes helps us do.
It strikes me how many different ways the imagination can go with these stories. When you were describing the story of Persephone and these two different perspectives, one where Persephone has no agency, the abduction version, and then another where there might be more to the story which gives Persephone agency, something the Greeks were not super down on was women having agency. One of the things that seems to be happening right now with the work of authors like Natalie Haynes and,
Boston: Madeline Miller, they're reclaiming these female characters. Madeline Miller's _Circe_ book is just phenomenal. They're reclaiming these characters and looking at the world through their eyes, fleshing out the myths from this unappreciated or unviewed perspective. And that's maybe something that we're doing as a culture right now.
What do you make of what seems to be a Renaissance of the power of women right now, while also maybe a dissolution of gender the way we've known it?
Becca: That's a really interesting question. And there's a whole variety of ways I feel compelled to answer it. It very much just feels connected to the great rebalancing that we're in right now. And like any rebalancing, there's always a potential to go too far in the opposite direction. What Jung called an enantiodromia where you're so extremely in one side, then you intensely go into the opposite.
So with patriarchy being so dominant for so long, there can be intense switch into feminism that doesn't make space for men's experience or men's feelings. And ultimately, I think we need an equal balancing to play out in terms of gender, in terms of race relations, in so many different areas. Where I think we have to go into the extreme first in order to figure out what is a righteous balance. And in a lot of those areas we're nowhere near that, but this retelling of different stories from the perspective --Often it is the female perspective and often the vilified a female of what is going on for her. I think that's a really just beautiful reclamation of what has been oppressed. What's been denied, what has been relegated to the shadow, for example. And I think it speaks to the larger culture's rebalancing in terms of a collective integration of the shadow in that Jungian sense because what we realize when we do our own psychological work and we face the shadow within us and we integrate it is we actually recognize that the shadow isn't even the bad parts of us. We shouldn't have an equation between the shadow and evil, but when you go into the shadow and you recognize what you're afraid of or what you've been denying or what you've been calling evil, then you can start to realize it for what it truly is. I think that this is happening at a collective level in terms of our myths and in terms of our stories. Let's see it from the other side and retell the same story, but in a more balanced way.
I think what we're moving towards in terms of storytelling is-- We're moving maybe a way from the hero-villain duality, which has been mapped onto, to a certain extent, the male-female duality. Not always, but we can probably pull up a bunch of myths and fairytales and stories that do that exact thing.
Boston: I can find a few. Yeah.
Becca: Yeah, there's a good number that are out there. And as we break that down, we still have to, if someone is a storyteller, we still have to tell compelling stories where there's challenge and there's adversity, but maybe it doesn't have to be a person or villain. Maybe it's something within us.
I was really compelled by the _Queen's Gambit_, the series that came out last year, and it's based on a wonderful book of the same name. They did a really good job by the way of translating the book into the series. And what I love about that, there's so much, I love about that story, but the villain or the adversary is within the heroine. She has to overcome herself and her own challenges.
No one outside of her is putting up these blocks. Her own struggle with addiction is actually far more of a challenge than her being a woman in the man's world of chess in the 1960s. And I think that was a really brilliant way of telling that story, because it could have been told where the patriarchal structures are her main challenge, but rather it's the internal demons that she has to face. And I feel like that's maybe where storytelling is moving more and more, less duality and splitting off and more of an owning of those challenges and the adversity and the shadow within.
Boston: Oh, I hope you're right. It makes the hero's journey and internal shamanic awakening, an integration experience, instead of a go get the treasure or bring it back, be celebrated which we just see again and again, and it's of course, really compelling. That's a, there's a reason that has worked so well for so long, but I find that so much more interesting and then we get to look for the stories that we resonate with to find our own shadow pieces.
It's funny, especially with fantasy and less science fiction, but fantasy stories like _Lord of the Rings_. the journey to Mordor feels like a journey into the most hidden part of the self where Frodo finally has to confront addiction. and he's actually saved by an even darker part. You know, Gollum is his, is his dark mirror image who rescues him by taking the ring and his finger. that is an inner journey as much as it is an outer journey.
You wrote your dissertation on Lord of the Rings.
Becca: I did. Yes. Comparing it to Jung's Red Book,
Will you tell me about encountering Lord of the Rings for the first time?
Becca: Oh, sure.
Boston: Or it's or Tolkien for the first time.
My first encounter with Tolkien was when I was nine years old and my teacher, my grade school teacher, I went to a Waldorf school, was reading the Hobbit out loud to us a little bit every day. I think it was maybe like a chapter at lunch each day. And I was so compelled by this story. It wasn't just the actual plot of Bilbo and the dwarves and Gandalf the wizard making the journey to the lonely mountain to confront the dragon.
It's an, it's the hero's journey all over again. That I was delighted by, but actually what really stuck with me as a nine-year-old was Middle Earth were the landscapes and the names, especially the names of different parts of the landscape or Middle Earth. So Rivendale and Mirkwood and Dale, and Esgaroth, and Erebor, like these names just rung through my soul. And I felt like I've been here before. This is familiar, and there was a deep sense of connection and knowing, and being able to actually see the world. I had a, and still do a very active imagination. But as a child, I was, I could see the stories very distinctly that I was reading or that were being told to me. But there was something in particular about this story and Middle Earth that it did feel like I could walk around in the world. And so I came home and told my mom how much I loved this story. And she said wait until you read The Lord of the Rings. And so it took a few more years. I was 13 when I started reading it.
My brother gave me my first copies and I was part of a mother-daughter book club at the time that lasted for about five years. And that was my contribution because we would go around bringing different books. And so I wanted to read The Fellowship of the Ring and that was my first exposure.
Actually got to read it in a fellowship. Women and young girls, which was a great way to do it. And the same thing happened-- I was in the world and the timing was perfect. I read it right before Peter Jackson's films came out, so it was in the collective zeitgeist, as well. But I was so glad that I'd read it first because I could see my own images of the story and then was blown away when I felt like certain parts of the film just captured it just as I had seen it. And for the next several years, Throughout my teens, I felt like I was living in two worlds. I had this normal teenage high school experience, and then overlaid on that was Middle Earth. I When I look back at my journals from the time that the handwriting looked Elvish. I was just completely immersed in not just the story, but this world.
And so that was my introduction to it. Yeah. I haven't really gotten out. I tried to at one point in my early twenties, but then graduate school came along and I realized I could actually study Tolkien in that academic context and figure out what had happened to me and start studying the imagination from that more analytical perspective. But it all began with having The Hobbit read out loud to me and feeling like I've been here. I know this place. I know these names.
Boston: What do you think that we can learn from Tokien and Lord of the rings? What's what does it offer the world right now?
Becca: The Lord of the Rings, which was published in the mid fifties, has been applied so many times to different world situations and conflict. When it first came out, the people reading. It actually thought that Tolkien had based it allegorically on the second world war. And they said, no, I was actually writing it long before, and if it's been affected by any war, it was World War One, which he fought in. And then since it's been applied to understanding the Cold War. It's been applied to understanding. When the films came out, the second book is called the Two Towers and the second film came out in 2002 after nine eleven and the Twin Towers falling.
And at that time, when people who didn't know the books were like, what is this? What is this parallel that's happening here? And I think we can feel it again these days It's so applicable to any period in history where we feel too small to take on the heaviness, the darkness, the challenges that are before us. For me, the greatest applicability is the great challenge of climate change. And how we as human beings, talk about having to face the shadow, have ravaged this earth and in the Lord of the Rings, what really distinguishes Sauron's evil is his treatment of the Earth. And there's this beautifully horrendous description when Frodo and Sam, the little Hobbits are approaching Mordor for the first time, guided by Gollum and they see the tortured earth where nothing will ever grow again. And this is evil's treatment of the earth itself. And we see a much smaller ravaging taking place with the wizard Saruman on the white wizard, Saruman, and Isengard where he takes what was once a fertile land and rips down the trees, then turns it into a kind of Middle Earth version of the Industrial Revolution. And so when I think that it's most applicable for our time there and what we're each being asked to do is, what is our task? What is our small task or the ring that we're asked to carry in the face of this insurmountable challenge. And the other great wisdom that I think is so important-- and it comes back to what we were talking about before in terms of the hero's journey, because so many tellings of the hero's journey follow one hero through this cyclical journey. But what stands out about the Lord of the rings is that it's a _heroes_, plural journey that it's a Fellowship, always acting together, always supporting each other. And. When we start off, it's not just Frodo by himself. He is accompanied by Sam and Merry and Pippin.
They get help from Tom Bombadil. Then they encounter Strider, Aragorn, the fellowship is growing finally at crescendos with the nine members of the fellowship. But even when the fellowship breaks, no one is ever acting alone. Frodo and Sam go off together and support each other. The achievement of the ring quest wouldn't be possible without the two of them and Gollum acting in concert. We see with the three hunters-- Aragorn Legolas and Gimli-- they're always working together, even Gandalf who you would think of as working on his own. Whenever we see him, he's helping others. He is organizing much larger factions of people in this great struggle. Even when he rides off to Minas Tirith, he is accompanied by Pippin. That's one of the things that we see throughout the story ever acts alone. And I think that's such an important message for our time. The age of heroes is over. The age of individual leaders and saviors is over. And it is now a time of -- I'm drawing on Jung in part for this-- It is a time of taking on our own spiritual and ecological burden to be able to face the challenges of this time. We can't do it alone. Not only can we not do it at. We are not meant to do it alone. This is part of what I think what we're needing to work out is how to relate to each other and how to move through these times at the smallest scales, with, within our families, within our relationships, within our institutions, but then at the larger scales too. The only way we're actually going to do anything about the ecological crisis and climate change really is that nations figure out that these borders are arbitrary and that, of course it's a huge problem in itself, but finally for humanity to wake up and realize we are on a globe and it is round and that the only way through this is actually working together. And I know I sound totally idealistic when I say that, but that's the hard lesson that's here.
Otherwise we face demise really. And that might be what our task really is as being hospice workers through this time as well. So those are some of my thoughts on the applicability of the Lord of the Rings to our current era.
Boston: You've conjured so many thoughts and memories for me. One thing, when you talked about having one foot in each world, I, I went through a period like that, myself reading, not just Lord of the Rings, but I was also reading a lot of more contemporary fantasy, the Xanth novels. And I remember flying from New York to San Antonio, Texas. And as I looked down at the world, I saw the difference between natural shapes, the way water flowed and the way forest flowed, and then the manmade geometry with its circles and squares. And it looked like a, it looked like a computer motherboard was being built. In the middle of an organic landscape. It still looks that way to me.
But I remember the first time I saw it, it was creepy and disturbing and it seems like something that has only continued and proliferated . And now looking back, you know, that would have been the mid 1990s. So before our technological world that we're in today,
Another thing you made me think of is the personal, the soulful inhabited body and its immediate environments. the place that I live, my house, my apartment, the community of my building, the neighborhood around me and the ecology of this place and the relationships among the people here. And then on this other end of the spectrum, I'm in San Francisco.
You're in Nevada City, yesterday I was on Zoom with somebody in Australia and somebody else in South Africa. And so these two things are happening simultaneously. There's this global connectivity that allows us to have an impact far outside our immediate environment, but the importance of tending to both. Not only are we called upon, we have the tools to participate locally and globally in a, in a way that we never have before.
I like your idealism. I am an idealist, but I haven't, but my optimism has failed in recent times. So hearing what's possible through your eyes. It speaks to my soul and I, I hope you'll keep sharing it beyond this podcast because I think we need that image.
Becca: With the idealism and identifying it as that. And when I say that it will take coming together and that kind of fellowship and relationality to overcome these challenges, I say that like you with the optimism failing, recognizing that is probably impossible given how humanity is treating itself, how we're treating each other, how we took on the challenge of this pandemic and it's come through, not as coming together in a global sense, even though we're all going through the same thing, but also in very different ways. I think the pandemic has shown the intense inequality that was already apparent, but it's made it even clearer.
And when we say we're all in the same boat, it isn't true at all. Some people have really cushy life rafts and other people have a scrap of wood, but we're all in the same. Maybe sea with that and Same storm. It's a good metaphor. So it's shown that inequality it's shown the schisms and the divisions even more. And so I speak my idealism so that we can have a sense of what we could move towards while simultaneously recognizing that having the ideal be what is it that the perfect, the enemy of the good, can be very problematic, but an ideal or a vision can at least help us move towards that. Even if we never get there. We can still have that informing our values and our decision.
That just strikes me as a healthy way to live living toward a better world. At least that gives us not just hope, but purpose and a sense of possibility.
Boston: None of us. W what's the Gandalf quote or I wish I hadn't lived to see. I wish I hadn't lived to see such times.
Becca: Yeah, Frodo says I wish it may not have happened in my time. And Gandalf says, _so do all who come to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that has given to us_. That's been my mantra since I was 13 years old, that none of us would really choose these times, but. What are we tasked to take on in this time? And that is our free choice. It's really important to remember that is our free agency to choose how we spend this time.
Boston: I'm also reminded of, and I, this is a, this can be a dangerous way of thinking. It is still in my mind that things can turn dark very quickly and they did. It just seemed like a shadow dropped over the Earth in 2016 and only got darker. And sometimes the light comes just as quickly. Things can seem to magically shift people's moods shift the same way.
Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I'm like, I don't know why I feel great. And there it is. And then that can happen at a bigger level. New technologies can emerge. The magic bullet theory it's not a good way to approach global problems, but, but there are forces working in our favor. At least I would like to believe that.
Becca: There are people who are taking on these challenges and I always feel so inspired by are you familiar with the Bioneers conference with those kinds of organizations and when you can bring together people who are actually working on solutions creatively, imaginatively, with inspiration. It brings new life into very difficult spaces. It's not just laying down and letting the world walk over you. And that being able to, I think this comes back to, what is your ring to carry? What is your task to take on in this time? And that it's enough to take on your own task. You don't have to take on all of it, but by taking on something that you really love, that you're really passionate about, that you think will help meet these challenges. I think that ripples out and does inspire others to do the same thing. And then there's a whole orchestration around taking this on. Yeah.
Boston: To weave some of these threads together, how do you think astrology can support us in this time?
Becca: It can support us in a number of ways. One: it can give a context for what's unfolding in terms of understanding. What are the archetypal dynamics that are at play? When in history have we seen this before? And when is it going to end? So for example, 2020 there was a triple conjunction of three planets, Jupiter, Saturn, and Pluto. And we can particularly focus in on the Saturn-Pluto conjunction because historically every time Saturn and Pluto have common to major alignment, it has correlated with really intense, significant crises and contractions on the world stage. So just looking at the 20th century or, over the last 120 years, World War One started under a Saturn-Pluto alignment World War II started under a Saturn-Pluto alignment, the Vietnam War and the Cold War both started under Saturn-Pluto alignments. Nine eleven happened under a Saturn-Pluto alignment, and now COVID happened under a Saturn-Pluto alignment. The day that the Saturn-Pluto conjunction was exact was literally the day after the first COVID death was announced.
Boston: Oh, my gosh.
Becca: And so at the time, it, and I even remember seeing amongst astrologers that like it wasn't as big as we were anticipating when the exact alignment happened, which is why astrologers should use wider orbs and realize that alignment was coming in beginning of 2018 was intensifying through 2019.
We were already feeling the vice grip coming in. 2020 hits the exact alignments January 12th, and then Jupiter comes in which magnifies or makes bigger whatever it touches. Those three were in a dance with each other all year. Jupiter, Saturn, pluto, very rare, triple conjunction. The only one we've had previous to this on in the 20th century was. In the 1980s. It was came in 1980-81 and correlated with a lot of the contractions at that time, economically the AIDS epidemic and certain other political conflicts that were happening at that time. Another kind of empowerment of conservatism. So there's certainly parallels between the earliest. And 2020, there were a couple other factors that made 2020 even more intense, even more significant, but what is actually happening right now, Saturn and Pluto then in that conjunction through this year as well, not as tight as in 2020, but extending and ending finally this month. There is I think going to be some feeling of a shift as 2021 ends. Now, Saturn-Pluto isn't the only factor astrologically. There's been a Saturn Uranus square. This is another part of the dynamics that made 2020, especially complex where Saturn- Uranus relates more to sudden collapse--.
Boston: Zoom picked this exact moment to completely cut out. The app stopped. And I had to disconnect and reconnect.
And fortunately Becca was still there and this was particularly significant given what becca was discussing.
Becca: You still there?
Boston: That's not disturbing at all.
Becca: And I'm talking about Saturn-Uranus, which is like the failure of technology which.. Yeah.
So Uranus relates to innovation, breakthrough, technology, and Saturn tends to problematize what it touches. It ends .It negates. It blocks. And something that we do see with Saturn-Uranus alignments is like the sudden interruption of technology or sudden collapses of structures or infrastructure issues as well.
Becca: A great example of that was in February, the unexpected freeze that happened. Uranus is the unexpected. Saturn brings cold. It brings winter. The unexpected freeze and Texas where so many people's homes the pipes burst. That's a great, unfortunate example of Saturn Uranus, where it's literal infrastructure breaking due to an unexpected problem.
That's all very Saturn-Uranus. Where I was going with that as our recording demonstrated the exact thing I was talking about, i_s_ we are going to be in a Saturn-Uranus square into about 2023. So I think we are going to be continuing to struggle with these breaks, these schisms, the problematic side of innovation, the distrust of technology.
So many different themes that can come up around that. I'm just looping back to your question around how does astrology help us with this? And I'm speaking on the one hand to the problematic side, where it does give us a context for when things are really difficult. It also gives us a sense of when those things can come to an end, the Saturn-Pluto conjunction that correlated with the onset of the pandemic will be ending this month. Saturn Uranus will end in 2023, but we also have some other kinds of transits coming through next year, 2022. There's going to be a Jupiter Neptune conjunction. Jupiter Neptune is like the richness of the imagination. It's the wealth of mythology and spirituality and religion and celebrating that, and finding a sense of joy in the transcendent, in the sacred.
That alignment is going to start to come in January. It's going to be really potent in March, April, May of 2022. It's really going to be here for about 14 months through next year. And the way that I'm thinking about it is just like when you're having a really difficult day or a really hard maybe work week and you come home and you have that hot tub waiting for you. You get in the hot tub with a nice glass of wine, and the stars are sparkling above you. And it eases the aches. It eases the pain. It doesn't fix the problems you're having at work or in your life, or what might be collapsing or falling apart. But it's a soothing balm and is able to provide some healing or at least give you that boost you need to go back out there and face whatever it is you're facing. That I think is what the Jupiter Neptune alignment will be like for us. At least, I'm really hoping so it's not going to fix the problems. I don't think it's going to make the pandemic go away, but I think we are going to get some kind of relief.
Becca: And then if we look a little further ahead into 2024, there's going to be a Jupiter Uranus conjunction and Jupiter-Uranus does tend to correlate with sudden unexpected breakthroughs, usually in a very positive sense, where there is the sense of opening, a new possibility and rebirth on and a kind of heralding of positive change. And as you were saying before, those mornings where you just wake up and things suddenly are better. looking ahead at 2024 and knowing there's going to be this Jupiter-Uranus conjunction, I do think it holds that potential for that kind of breakthrough.
Going forward a little further, there are other challenging alignments that will be coming forward, especially 2025-26, there's a Saturn-Neptune conjunction I think my bring some grief--- melancholy. There can be tremendous sadness that comes forward with Saturn Neptune. But this is the human experience.
This is the earthly experience. It's never over. The story keeps changing and continuing, but in terms of getting some kind of relief from what we've been through in these last several years, I am looking towards 2022 with that Jupiter Neptune conjunction, and especially curious about the Jupiter-Uranus alignment in 2024.
The astrologer, Matthew Stelzner, calls Jupiter-Uranus the thank the Lord transit because that's often what people say when it comes around. Oh, thank goodness. We've come through this dark night.
My understanding is that Uranus is associated very often with Prometheus. And so this is from the heavens to man. So new inventions, new ideas. On the flip side, Uranus is named for Ouranos, the sky god. So you have the revolution.
Boston: The Titans over the sky god. Both of these are breakthroughs in civilization and possibility.
Becca: Exactly. And while we can see a really positive side to that in terms of breakthrough and change and awakening, not just in terms of technology or science or innovation, but artistically and creatively, as well. Uranus is that spark of insight that can be applied to any area, to writing, to film, to artistic forms.
And it can correlate with a kind of a cultural Renaissance in some ways where that energy sparks so many new movements that will then carry forward in a variety of forms that reflect the other transits going on.
Something that Rick Tarnas writes. my father writes in his book, Cosmos and Psyche about Jupiter-Uranus is that during those periods, hidden births happen. And so something can be started. A significant meeting between two individuals or the beginning of a project that will become something very significant, but we don't know it in the moment when the Jupiter-Uranus alignment is happening.
In terms of significant meetings, the one that's at the top of my mind right now is like Emerson met Thoreau under a Jupiter-Uranus alignment. And then we see everything that came forward. But at the time it's just two individuals meeting and that is the kind of hidden birth quality that Jupiter your on can have.
So whenever I see clients, for example, having a Jupiter-Uranus transit coming, I will encourage them to take on the project or the endeavor that they've maybe been holding off doing until the time is right. Jupiter-Uranus alignments, especially the collective ones, that's the moment to start that project or, publish that book or that piece, because it's going to carry the energy of Jupiter-Uranus. And we may not even know yet what it will become, but it's been seeded then. And that's, what's really important. So anyone listening, if you're planning something for the future, just remember 2024 might be a really good time to give it that burst of creative energy.
You said you wanted to talk about imagination and the imaginal. What's what's present for you in imagination right now.
Becca: I feel like imagination in our culture is largely misunderstood, but it stands behind so many of these themes we've been discussing, around story, around myth, around astrology, because imagination really is what we see the world through, and typically in a modern mindset when we say, oh, that's imaginary, we mean it's just been made up. It's not real. It's just been pulled from somewhere. There's no basis in reality. And in my studies of Tolkien and Carl Jung and others such as James Hillman, Henri Corban, and Sufi mysticism, and so forth, there's so much support for the idea that imagination-- the Romantics, as well-- that imagination is this extraordinary faculty of creativity that isn't just simply making something up. It's actually our means of access or maybe a better way of putting this is a co-creation with-- with the divine imagination. With the archetypal principles. You can look at it through a variety of lenses, but I really see the imagination as this interconnecting faculty that gives us the ability to draw in the archetypal principles into creative manifestation.
The imagination is less something that's fully in our agency. And is more of an experience that we have that's given to us, but that we also participate in and co-create with, if we look at humans experiences that he recorded in The Red Book, they are a record of active imagination, fantasies that were very clearly not being made up.
Becca: They were coming through him, but he's also engaging with them. And based on that, we can also surmise looking at Tolkien's writing process of The Lord of the Rings he kept describing and letters that he felt like he was discovering it rather than inventing it. And the more he wrote, the more, it just simply came through him.
And a lot of authors and artists will describe the creative process this way, that it isn't really them doing it. They have the agency in terms of the art and the shaping of it, the craft. But that one is actually tapping into a visionary experience or an imaginal immersion in what some would even consider it to be more of a place or realm-- the imaginal realm-- or what Corban calls the _Mundus Imaginalis,_ the world of the imagination. And then coming back to what I was describing before of my very immersive experience of Middle Earth as a child, I think in some ways that was entering into the imaginal realm or the_ Mundus imaginalis_ through the lens that Tolkien crafted. So he was the artist who shaped the capacity to enter into that space.
But what that space is, is given life by something beyond the human being, whether we call that God or the Divine, or simply the sacred cosmos itself coming through. But we have this capacity to enter into this imaginal space, this kind of in between realm between the physical realm and the more abstract realm of thought. The imaginal exists in between them and forming both.
And maybe I'll just conclude this thought with someone who's very much informed my own thinking on imagination, drawing on the Romantics, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who delineated two types of imagination, what he called the primary imagination and the secondary imagination. And his description of the primary imagination is--
He says, 'The primary imagination I hold to be the living power and prime agent of all human perception and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation, the Infinite I Am." That's from the _Biographica Literaria_. What he's saying there is that the primary imagination is the power that informs all our human perceptions of the world. It's the latter part where he says it's the repetition in the finite mind. So in the human mortal mind of the eternal act of creation and the infinite I Am, the Infinite I Am is God from this perspective. It's divine creativity, but the primary imagination is that eternal act of creation repeating in our own limited mind, and this is what we call the imagination. This is our perception of the world of divine creativity coming through us. And then the secondary imagination that he describes. That's the part of us that takes that primary vision, and is actually able to turn it into art. It recreates it recombines to bring forward the art, the stories, the film, the paintings that human artists and authors create.
And so it's a working together of the secondary and the primary imagination. But from this perspective, ultimately all imaginative expression or creative expression is a gift from the divine. And that brings me to, to Tolkien again, who says he's talking about fantasy or the capacity to create through the imagination.
He says, "fantasy is and remains a human right. For we are made. Not only are we made, but we're made in the image and likeness of a maker. Because we, from this perspective are made in the image of God and God is a creator. Therefore it is our human right to be creators as well." So those are some of my thoughts on the imagination and our relationship to it, and how that can inform many of these different themes that we've been talking about here.
Boston: It's such a stunning model of imagination and creativity, and this eternal question of where do ideas come from? Have you read Neil Gaiman's work at all?
Becca: I have read some of it. I haven't read everything that he's written, but I do actually plan or intend to do that at some point in my life because everything I've read of his, I absolutely love.
Boston: I've been listening to his audio book version of _The Sandman_ graphic novels or comic book series and Dream the character and The Dreaming. The space in for the primary imagination. This imaginal realm or something in between. It's the mediator between. Wherever there's nothing and then where humans encounter an infinite number of possibilities and interact with each other in this shared imaginal. It's funny. I've read most of his work. And I decided, oh, this man is channeling. Something is working through him.
And then I took a Masterclass with him, and he talks about his process of combining one thing with another. And it was much more mechanical, He described it as, "I made it up."
And I thought, but did you, and. And I don't relate to that. When I write a scene, when I write fiction very much is going inside. What's the truth? What's true about this? And it does feel like I am tapping into a place. It feels like I'm looking through a window. If I can just get it clear enough to write down what I see.
Becca: That's actually a metaphor that Tolkien uses in his essay on fairy stories, where he talks about clearing the window, getting a clear view. And that's part of what fairy stories offer us, is that they clear the window for us. Some authors are very aware of that.
Process as something coming through them like Ursula K. Le Guin really had a strong sense that the stories were moving through her, were choosing her. I think some of it is where the emphasis is put, and also I think it's really important to listen to an author's description of, where their ideas come from, how they do it.
Neil Gaiman's more maybe constructed approach is-- that's also just important to recognize. I don't want to say that what I'm describing in terms of the imaginal is like the only way stories come through by any means.
Like Tolkien described his theory as sub creation. It comes in two parts.
There's the imagination, which is what I think we've been talking about here in terms of Coleridge's primary imagination. It's the images that, that one sees or what you hear. And then the second part, which is just as important as the art. So it's imagination plus art equals sub creation. He calls it subcreation because this is as creation under God and that we need to hone both crafts.
Becca: My emphasis on the imagination, is in part because I want to redeem what imagination is in our culture and recognize this agency beyond us, but I don't want to lose sight of the art and how important it is to put those different elements together and to be conscious of how you're holding different pieces of a story or an artwork when crafting in that way that we need both sides of it.
It makes me think actually of the word _genius_ that, you know now will describe a person as a genius. Oh, he's a genius at scientific or technological development, or he's a genius with words or with music, whereas before genius actually referred to the spirit that seized you. The spirit that moved through you.
And that really speaks to just a difference in worldview. In a modern worldview, we don't hold space for such spirits. And so we actually attribute it to the person and then we're like, oh, he used to be a genius, but he isn't anymore. What happened there? Maybe it's not down to the person. Maybe it's down to the moment and we can look at their transits and their chart and what's coming through them at a particular time where they do get seized.
And maybe that perspective can also offer some relief for the person who's stuck with writer's block or creative anxiety because it isn't the moment. You just keep plugging away at it. And you wait for the genius to seize you. It's almost like cultivating a relationship rather than putting pressure on yourself, which can be a different approach to creativity.
Boston: For creatives, that's a strong argument for showing up at your page every day, showing up at your craft every day so the genius has an opportunity to seize you in motion. There's nothing worse than getting seized by the genius while you're driving 80 miles an hour on the freeway.
Becca: Absolutely. yeah.
You need to have that voice recorder, that little notebook in your pocket to be able to catch it. And whenever it is coming through.
Boston: Do you have closing thoughts that you want to make sure you share before we go?
Becca: Well really, I would just love to thank you for holding this space and this beautiful podcasts that you're creating and bringing forward. It's an honor to get to be a part of it. And I really just enjoyed the dialogue that we've had. I feel like we've gotten to touch on some really rich and relevant subjects.
So thank you. Thank you for creating that space.
Boston: The honor is mine. Thank you for being here and for people who want to know more about you and more about your work how could they find you?
Becca: I have a website. It's just simply my name, beccatarnas.com and that website houses a lot of different things. It has a lot of podcasts and videos and writings from over the years. It also has a list of my upcoming events. I'm always updating that as something new comes into the docket. I have a few different astrology events, talks, conferences coming up next year.
So that's all available there. If anyone's wanting to connect in with that. And I am making a bit of a transition in terms of my work right now. I've been working as an astrological counselor for quite a few years at this point. And I'm starting to pivot and focus more on writing and teaching. I'm taking a step away from that, but that's also going to give me space to bring forward different kinds of offerings.
Boston: I cannot wait to see what offerings you bring forward. Thank you
Becca: Thank you.
Boston: Your, care with this conversation. And thank you for all the work you're doing in the world. This has been a pleasure.
Becca: Oh, thank you so much as well. I'm absolutely delighted to have been in this conversation with you.
That's it for today's episode. If you're enjoying Mythic, please share it with a friend or on social media. You can find show notes and other information for myth lovers at mythicpodcast.com. That's also where you can make a one-time contribution to support production of the podcast if you'd like, and you can always drop me a line on Twitter at Boston Blake.
Until next time, journey on.
- 1:52 Becca’s Origin Story
- 7:04 Connecting mathematics, mythology, and astrology
- 13:55 Pluto and Venus reflect the meeting of beauty, sexuality, and the arts with underworld extremism, as in the stories of Beauty and the Beast, Hades and Persephone, and Eros and Psyche.
- 19:45 Retelling of myths from vilified women’s perspectives as shadow work and integration.
- 24:11 The Queen’s Gambit
- 26:52 On encountering Tolkien and making the journey to Middle Earth.
- 30:38 How The Lord of the Rings can be applied to understanding of the world around us.
- 35:00 The post-heroic myth. We're not meant to do it alone. Idealism in the face of waning optimism.
- 38:48 How astrology can support humanity in turbulent times. (Saturn-Pluto alignment as an harbinger of global conflict and strife.)
- 51:09 Jupiter-Uranus conjunction as a herald of positive change in 2024. Hidden births.
- 55:36 What is the difference between imaginary and the imaginal? (If you only listen to one part of this episode, listen to this.)
- 1:05:40 The term genius once referred to a spirit that seized a person, but now it is applied to the person.
- Dr. Becca Tarnas's website
- Stanislav Grof
- Esalen Institute
- Richard Tarnas
- Pacifica Graduate Institute
- The Queen’s Gambit
- The Bioneers Conference
- Matthew Stelzner (astrologer)
- James Hillman
- Carl Jung
- Henry Corbin
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- The Biographia Literaria
- Mundus Imaginalis
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About Dr. Becca Tarnas
Becca Tarnas, PhD, is a scholar, artist, and editor of Archai: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology. She received her doctorate in Philosophy and Religion from the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), with her dissertation titled The Back of Beyond: The Red Books of C. G. Jung and J. R. R. Tolkien. Her research interests include depth psychology, archetypal studies, literature, philosophy, and the ecological imagination. She teaches at both Pacifica Graduate Institute and CIIS, and is the author of the book Journey to the Imaginal Realm: A Reader’s Guide to J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Becca lives in Northern California, where she has an astrological counseling practice.
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Music composed by Kevin MacLeod