“The world is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.”
–Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth
Real Imaginal, an online astrology magazine created by Erica Jones, seeks to revitalize the human relationship to the planetary archetype of Neptune in a process of re-enchantment, defined in part by the attempt to regain a sense of belonging in a living, aware cosmos.
Doesn’t the practice of astrology presuppose the existence of other-than-human intelligence? Not necessarily! According personhood to the other-than-human is rather uncommon in industrialized societies, as we will discuss below. Moreover, it could be said that there are as many worldviews—ways of understanding or approaching reality—as there are individual people, and this is a particularly confusing aspect of our shared experience of life. The capacity to negotiate the multiplicity of experiences could reflect the quality of a person’s, a group’s or a culture’s relationship with the planetary archetype of Neptune.
Neptune appears to correlate to dreams, visions, mystical experiences, the mythic dimensions of life, governing a reality which operates beyond typically logical human comprehension, with its dissolution of boundaries which bring both healing and illness. Within the astrological perspective, there can be a subtle orientation to the realms of Neptune as patently UNREAL, where Neptune represents only delusion, deception, illusion, a worthless fiction, pervasive illness and paralysis. The inscrutable and amorphous quality of Neptune’s reality is interpreted as just a sham, a distraction from “what’s truly important;” an annoying bog to be filled in with other, useful things.
An easy example of a generally negative casting of Neptune can be found in Reinhold Ebertin’s sociological correspondences for Neptune in his book The Combination of Stellar Influences: “People with a negative outlook on life who are easily influenced by other persons, mediums, persons of doubtful character, crooks or tricksters.” Ebertin’s problematic correspondences to Neptune are unequivocally true of the archetype of Neptune, yes—but they are just that: problematic facets, which emerge from every single archetype expressed through the lens of the human being. Yet Ebertin doesn’t speak so harshly of Uranus, or even of our friend Saturn, whose sociological correspondences are “Hard-working, inhibited or sad people. Agriculture, mining, real estate.”
Quite as Neptune would dictate, context is important for understanding why Ebertin or anyone would approach any particular life force in a given way. Ebertin witnessed the concentration camps of World War Two and lived through the high delusion of Nazi Germany and its entrancement with a heroic mythos—very much the realm of Neptune—and this experience surely colors Ebertin’s presentation of the archetype. Perhaps Ebertin was unaware of his bias, and it is good to develop awareness of our assumptions, our biases and inherited concepts, including how a disenchanted worldview can impact our perception of and especially our interaction with the planetary archetypes, above all Neptune.
The term “disenchantment” was popularized by the sociologist Max Weber, who wrote of the modern mind’s dislocation from the cosmos through the process of relocating all meaning and purpose to the human subject. Richard Tarnas explores this process in illuminating detail in the beginning of his book, Cosmos and Psyche, narrating the modern process of voiding the world and all which is not-human of intrinsic value and meaning such that all around us is considered a collection of objects, resources to be exploited, everything assigned a usefulness to humanity—or to be more accurate, to a specific segment of humanity—and whatever deemed “not useful” may be abandoned, ignored or removed as so much rubbish. In short, disenchantment means an objectification of the world, a removal of the dignity and self-determination of the other-than-human, and an impoverishment of the sense of the sacred.
Neptune itself pertains to a sense of the sacred, the divine or greater-than-human (not merely human) dimensions of existence, as well as the capacity to feel empathy for another, which presents the possibility of compassion.
So we find that in quite a bit of astrological discourse, Neptune is something to be tolerated, to be wary of, a cause for high critical alert, perhaps because it doesn’t easily fit into a value system which places “control”—specifically, human agency—in such high esteem. Our own consciousness isn’t so much something to participate with, to be curious about and receptive to, but is rather something to be conquered, pinned down, controlled. There is often a presumption that the ego—or the conscious sense of self, represented by the Sun—should be in control, orchestrating and choosing the movements of psyche…as opposed to tracking those movements, listening in, participating with their intelligences, surrendering as well as struggling.
We can notice the privileging of a particular kind of clarity and knowing—for example, an interest in attempting to understand life through dissecting dead bodies rather than observing living beings and processes in their own autonomous functioning—such that Saturn, the planetary archetype which corresponds with the ordinary or the mundane and the expression of boundaries, suffers. Saturn’s crucial contributions of definition, limits and the appearance of concrete reality then function to negate Neptune’s reality rather than play along with it.
For we humans must live by belief. The presence of belief seems fundamental to having self-reflective consciousness, which is the capacity to know that one is thinking, the capacity to be aware of oneself as separate. Neptune is inescapable, it seems. Even “no belief” is still a belief. This brings the motif of play into sharp focus, and it means taking Neptune seriously.
To that end, we might consider the role of a “healing fiction,” a phrase rather fitting to describe the process of re-enchantment, of reconnecting with a cosmos and an Earth which is sentient. Healing Fiction is also the title of a book by archetypal psychologist James Hillman in which he asks us to not take our stories literally and to understand the mythic on its own terms, for this is how psyche operates and he claims that is what it wants: it wants the fluidity and flexibility of symbol and metaphor, rather than the dead letter, the so-called factual account, the simplistic narrative containing a fixed cast of characters. Hillman claims that a fluidity of identity, a multiplicity of perspectives—in short, the presence of an uncertainty which offers the possibility for a creative response—is what will foster psychological wholeness and good health. Repurposing critical capacities away from an obsessively single focus—the “I/me/mine” or the “human”—we may fruitfully engage a multiplicity of beings, both inner and outer, out of the recognition that reality is generated by a necessarily interactive process.
And that is the ultimate aim of this magazine: to explore the possibility of making the imaginal realms real again, by way of an ethical orientation to the human belonging to this awesome and baffling planet.
For a more thorough discussion of the re-enchantment of Neptune and this magazine’s perspective on it, please see this talk on YouTube:
Neptune, both fair and foul
shapeshifter without predecessor
eternal litany of formless form, image, potential
populating a drunken landscape without horizon
where paradox dissolves into itself
and navigation proves treacherous
yet a mysterious orientation point
emerges in those who learn to listen and follow
ebb and flow
with the dreaming tides of the Earth divine
By yielding to some beckoning from beyond begging for discernment
offering no hard boundary line between Self and Other
creativity appears infinite
from within the perspective of the Great Mother
shimmering like Indra’s Net
each being holographic, a reflection of the whole
and hard to see the unseen
what all is hidden by virtue of our being
both the container and the contained