“The Phenomenology of Astrology” in Immanence Journal

The inaugural issue of Immanence: The Journal of Applied Mythology, Legend, and Folktale will be published in just a few days on October 31, and I am delighted to have my article “The Phenomenology of Astrology” included in the publication! A preview of the issue, which is titled The Mythic Present, is available and includes the table of contents, featured artwork, an article by Keiron Le Grice, and the founding editor Craig Chalquist’s introduction to the journal and its contents. This new journal looks at how myth, legend, and folklore continue to saturate our contemporary lives—an inquiry into which astrology provides a particularly compelling perspective. The practice of astrology allows one to perceive archetypes, which can also be discerned in the world’s mythic traditions, manifesting in human events synchronistically correlated with the movement of the planets. My article for the Immanence journal explores how one can also experience these numinous archetypes when contemplating the celestial bodies of the night sky.

phenomenology-of-astrology

Phenomenology of Astrology

This phenomenological exploration, originally written in December 2013, will soon be published in the Fall 2016 issue of Immanence: The Journal of Applied Mythology, Legend, and Folktale.

Prologue: Cosmos in Ellipsis

As I climb higher up the gray switchback staircase of rickety wooden boards my body tenses with the increasing height, even as my mind knows I am safe, that the stairs beneath my feet will support me. Already present is that indescribable bodily sense, that physical intuition that seems only able to be captured wordlessly, by something as unarticulated as an ellipsis. . .I step out onto the gravel of the roof to be met by the sight of the flaming orb of the setting Sun. This closest of stars burns the clarity from the landscape, blurring the features of the horizon line being pulled toward it: hill, forest, and stretch of ocean I can only perceive in memory as the deepening gold of sunset shatters my sight into uncountable, undifferentiable monads of color.

Setting Sun

To read the rest of this article please see: “Phenomenology of Astrology.”

Metamorphosis of the Unwilling

My body felt heavy, awkward. I did not actually want to dance. Staying safely curled up in the soft cushions of the chair, cocooned in a warm blanket, seemed far more appealing. So I did something I do not usually allow myself to do. When called forward to dance I asked if I could wait. To see when, or even if, my body had any desire to come out of its instinct to remain hidden and safely nestled in obscurity.

I waited. Beautiful bodies danced before me. I waited longer. I witnessed. Now? Almost. . .

Stop planning, I told myself. Stop trying to control this moment, or know what moves you think you know how to make.

I waited. The waiting turned into something else. Waiting. Ah. . .  that’s when you know you’ve somehow moved to the edge of your seat.

My feeling of inward hesitation led me to surrender all mental control of what I was supposed to do next. If I didn’t want to dance I didn’t want to plan it either. I stepped forward, not knowing what song momentarily would come to fill the swollen silence that now held me in subdued anticipation. In those brief, still moments I moved about, first contemplating a chair in the corner, then leaning against the wall, and finally just sitting with my knees tucked up on the floor. I wrapped myself in a long piece of fur. I could bring my inwardness and hesitation into the heart of this unstarted dance, holding myself in warmth and comfort even here.

Then the music began. Then the music began to move me. I had nothing to do. My body somehow knew how to follow.

With each beat one shoulder, then the other, moved a little. The fur slipped down, inch by inch. As my movement unfolded I felt I was being led, led by sound and the intelligence of my body riding those musical waves. The fur stayed with me, followed me, like it too had its own dance it wished to play out upon my body. Few thoughts arose, only points of memory-formation, tagging this moment or that for posterity. Not all stayed with me. Much of this dance is a blur that whirled away into the moments that drew the dance forth from me. Somehow I moved from the floor to the wall. My body, the fur, the music, all knew what to do. I did not. Nor did I need to.

Sensation led me forward, leaving the support of the wall. The metal pole stretching from ceiling to floor, an arboreal axis, called me forward. Giving myself the mental option never to dance with this powerful object during the course of this song allowed the desire instead to co-arise between my body and the music. As I walked toward the pole the fur dragged behind me; it left my grasp without thought the moment I no longer needed its comfort and support.

The pole calls forth spirals and swirls, a spinning energy that can only exist between flexibility and stability. I do not know how I danced, but only that my body was sending ripples of exuberance through my consciousness, a recognition that I was doing what I could not plan. I ascended the stretch of metal a foot, two, three, with a feeling like the internal inch of a caterpillar along a vertical branch. Seated above the ground I let my hands go, trusting the security of my legs, spreading my wings behind me. A caterpillar no more, I opened myself into metamorphosis, descending to the rhythm of a musical heartbeat.

Butterfly Dancer

 

 

Incarnation

Bury me in my immanence,
These bones who hold me in,
Under flesh, underground,
Beneath gravity of skin.

What does it mean
To walk this Earth?
What does it mean
When these bodies come to birth?

Immersed in this flesh,
A mirror from below.
Songs echo from the deep
As the child learns to grow.

Each unfolding limb
A living fossil entwined:
The eye of the storm
In the whirlpools of the mind.

Stretch for the stars,
Bury your toes in the sand.
If I look in your eyes
Will you hold my hand?

What does it mean
To walk this Earth?
What does it mean
When these bodies come to birth?

Limber laughter enmeshed
In each step we take,
From these early paces
To final footpad ache.

Walk with me sister,
Walk with me son,
Tread this careful curve
Where multitude is One.

Sing with the clouds
As they cross the sky,
Breathe out all staleness
With a synchronized sigh.

I want to tread this path,
With you always by,
When we play, flow, and dance,
Hold council and cry.

What does it mean
To walk this Earth?
What does it mean
When these bodies come to birth?

Dance this Earth prayer
As long as we breathe,
Bury me in my immanence,
To find joy with all who grieve.

Earth and Sunrise

Co-Created Movement

The soles of my leather shoes are thin, allowing me to feel the contours of the path with each step. The thick layer of redwood leaves that slowly disintegrates into the rich canyon soil, soften the sounds of all the footsteps being taken around me. A meandering line of people are wending their quiet way along this forest path, each connected to one another, yet simultaneously enclosed in their own imagination-suffused worlds. The path bends to the right, taking a steep dive toward the clear, spring-fed creek. This is the place we cross, leaving the soft path momentarily, to leap from rock to rock, staying precariously above the chill waters below.

Photo by Matthew David Segall
Photo by Matthew David Segall

I watch as the first person in this line of individuals begins to descend. Her arms flail slightly, not reaching for an object to steady her, yet monitoring her balance nonetheless. It seems she is about to fall and a ripple of concern echoes back through the group of waiting walkers, some expressed verbally, others merely in a position of body or facial expression. No, she assures us. She often can look as though she is about to topple off her feet, but this is just how she finds her balance. She apologizes for worrying anyone, and continues to make her wavering descent.

The next person, who is walking directly before me, begins to take careful steps down the winding way, with a greater steadiness in his footfall, but still with arms out to balance his movement. No one is concerned for his safety, however. His is not a gait that inspires uncertainty.

Without thinking I begin to move next along the trail. In a state of reflective curiosity I observe my own movement, fascinated by how the way I move might differ from those ahead of me now stepping or leaping from boulder to boulder over the cold stream. My arms are relaxed by my side, and I feel my footsteps fall evenly forward, one after the other. I find my balance like a line within myself. Why do I not use my arms? What is giving me this sense of stability? I recognize that I know this path, having walked it countless times from childhood into adulthood, and wonder if that history is built into my sense of balance now. My feet, my legs, the whole length of my body knows the placement of this path before my mind has a chance to reflect on it.

What, I ask myself, is movement? One usually thinks of movement as arising from the body of a person or other being who is moving with agency through the world. The uniqueness of movement seems to arise from the body and personality of the individual. Yet in this moment, as I watch myself and others navigate the winding, steep path by the stream, I realize how all movement is really a co-creation. Movement arises not from the individual’s agency but rather in the intermediate place between the individual—with all her history, personality, unconscious material, physical qualities, and so forth—and the dynamic contours of the surrounding world. The movement itself, although I might call it mine, is rather both mine and the world’s as we press into each other with each passing moment.

Psyche in Breath

“Breathing is our very first teaching—a silent teaching—in the way of interdependency, continuity, relationship, giving and receiving. Our first teaching is one of perfect integration, harmony, non-duality. Breathing comes naturally; it is so rudimentary that it requires no action of volition, no attention or thought. But, for that very reason, the wisdom of breathing is the most difficult, and the very last to be learned.”
– David Michael Levin[1]

Do not put a butterfly in a bell jar,
She is no rose.
No still whorl of petals,
No silent standing stem
To be gazed at from without,
To be denied an inner landscape
From within.

What is this translucent glass,
This invisible barring shield?
Does it keep her safe,
Preserve her from decay?
While a rose’s petals will fall,
A butterfly’s soul
Will not stay.

A life’s breath is finite
When thus closed in.
A life’s breath is finite
When one is shut in.
When all the air’s depleted
What new may
Begin?

Each wing beat a breath,
Each breath a wing beat
In her fluttering breast.
Count each beat,
Count each rest,
Count each moment,
For Self begins in breath.

Breathe deep, wingéd soul,
Sing your heartfelt song.
Expand this element
That you are,
Expand your heart
Beyond the confines
Of this bell jar.

Two images I see
When I say “glass blown”:
A shattering crash
Of splintered glass,
As air forces through
And you fly to the
Unknown.

Or softer yet, though dangerous
Nonetheless:
A warmth, a temperance
Melts the glass from within,
Melting out, melting forth,
Melting away
Oh, begin.

Each wing beat a breath,
Each breath a wing beat
In her fluttering breast.
Count each beat,
Count each rest,
Count each moment,
Now Self begins in breath.

Butterfly in Bell Jar

Work Cited

Levin, David Michael. “Logos and Psyche: A Hermeneutics of Breathing.” Research in Phenomenology 14 (1984): 121-147.


[1] David Michael Levin, “Logos and Psyche: A Hermeneutics of Breathing,” Research in Phenomenology 14 (1984): 129.

Ellipsis . . .

. . .

            I begin letters with . . . when I want you to feel what I am feeling, when I want you to suspend for a moment who you are and make space for who I might be instead.

As I climb higher up the gray switchback staircase of rickety wooden boards my body tenses with the increasing height, even as my mind knows I am safe, that the stairs beneath my feet will support me. Already present is that indescribable bodily sense, that physical intuition that seems only able to be captured wordlessly, by something as unarticulated as an ellipsis . . . I step out onto the gravel of the roof to be met by the sight of the flaming orb of the setting Sun. This closest of stars burns the clarity from the landscape, blurring the features of the horizon line being pulled toward it: hill, forest, and stretch of ocean I can only perceive in memory as the deepening gold of sunset shatters my sight into uncountable, undifferentiable monads of color.

Sunset

Sitting on the wide ledge of the roof my body settles into an accustomed level of comfort at this new height. But if I lean closer to the edge, to glance below at the street, then this indescribable bodily sense flares up once again, a seeming leap of my heart into my throat that signifies danger or delight I cannot tell. Why is it that looking down four stories at unforgiving concrete gives the same bodily sensation as looking deeply into the eyes of one I love? Wherein lies the truth of this . . .

Looking away from the Sun I turn to my left to see the Moon seated aloft in a soft indigo sky. The reverberating green echo of the Sun’s shape slowly fades from my vision as the Moon’s gentler light fills my gaze instead. The relationship of these two celestial bodies feels familiar . . . and my body knows it before I do . . . Ah yes, I stood upon a mountain exactly a month ago today, positioned as a third body between these two heavenly beings, seeing them in this same triangular relationship once again. I feel this, sense this, intuit this, I . . . this, my body . . . this: this relationship, this interaction.

Whenever I behold a celestial body ablaze in the night sky it stops me in my tracks, without fail. My body is commanded to stop, to wonder, to worship these orbs. My breath catches. It feels not unlike falling in love . . . over and over and over, with each wandering star I witness. The same as looking down from some great height, but rather it is looking up . . . No it is looking out, a looking out into the depths of space. To behold the Sun, the Moon, a thousand stars is to look up, to look out, and to look down into the greatest depths all at once. No wonder we lose our balance, no wonder our bodies react, they catch us and remind us that gravity is real.

I have seen countless sunsets but no one is the same, no one is ever worth looking away from before it has made its perfected exit. I never say to myself, “Not this time, I have seen this before.” It now becomes impossible to look away as the ocean swallows the flaming disc of molten gold. In these final moments of a day I will never see again I feel my heart pulled, as though by an emotion-laden gravitational force, toward the Sun. My heart strains within my chest to follow the Sun beyond the crashing purple waves.

Wash over me, oh descending night . . . let me drown once more in your celestial waters.