It is with deep joy that I announce the publication of Issue 7 of Archai: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology, titled Historical Roots and Current Flowerings. The issue is now available in paperback, and will soon be released as a Kindle ebook as well!
The seventh issue of the Archai journal has been long in the gestation process, and seemed to be awaiting the exact conjunction of Saturn and Pluto before coming to birth. The issue was completed during the New Moon in Aquarius, on January 24, 2020, just twelve days after Saturn and Pluto made their exact alignment in Capricorn. It has been an honor and a privilege to work with each author for this issue, and I am immensely proud of the result and so grateful for all that the authors have contributed.
The issue is dedicated to the late Gerry Goddard, in honor of his significant contributions to the intersections of archetypal cosmology and transpersonal psychology. We had the privilege of including in the volume one of his pieces of writing, titled “Toward an Astrological Model of Consciousness.”
About the Issue:
The historical roots of archetypal cosmology extend across the globe and deep into the reaches of time. This issue draws together several such lineages, while also turning toward further flowerings of archetypal cosmology in the contemporary world, such as the theoretical connections between astrological archetypes and psychological types. The contributing authors—including Laura Michetti, Petr Lisý, Daniel Polikoff, and Gerry Goddard—offer articles on such historical subjects as the Persian origins of the Saturn return, the importance of Prague in the development of transpersonal psychology and archetypal cosmology, and the Romantic and poetic lineages of those same disciplines. Richard Tarnas explores the role astrology can play in our current time of crisis. The issue closes with three book reviews on the subject of C. G. Jung’s relationship to astrology, and the significant collaborative role Toni Wolff held in the development of analytical psychology.
Table of Contents:
• Laura Michetti – “Persian Conjunctions and the Origins of the Saturn Return“
• Petr Lisý – “The Archetypal Tradition of Prague”
• Daniel Joseph Polikoff – “Rowing Back: The Romantic Origins of Transpersonal Psychology“
• Michael Kiyoshi Salvatore – “Astrology and Psychological Types”
• Richard Tarnas – “The Role of Astrology in a Civilization in Crisis”
• Gerry Goddard – “Toward an Astrological Model of Consciousness”
• Gustavo Beck – “C. G. Jung’s Textual Firmament: A Review of Safron Rossi’s and Keiron Le Grice’s Jung on Astrology” • Safron Rossi – “A Review of Jung’s Studies in Astrology: Prophecy, Magic, and the Qualities of Time and The Astrological World of Jung’s Liber Novus: Daimons, Gods, and the Planetary Journey by Liz Greene”
• Becca Tarnas – “An Astrological Review of Toni Wolff & C. G. Jung: A Collaboration by Nan Savage Healy”
During this upcoming week I will be participating in three dialogues and presentations on archetypes, discussing topics from the Solar and Lunar principles, to the astrological dynamics of outer planetary alignments. The first is an online dialogue with Richard Tarnas, titled “A Room of One’s Own: Re-Visioning ‘Feminine’ and ‘Masculine’.” The presentation is for Seeing Red, and will be taking place Monday, November 6 from 5:00-6:30 pm, Pacific time.
A Room of One’s Own: Re-Visioning ‘Feminine’ and ‘Masculine’ When we speak of “the feminine,” are we referring to an essential principle that informs all human beings, female and male, or are we referring to the particular character of women’s psychology? Such a question is not simply academic, as many who have written about the feminine, including Jungians, can move back and forth—sometimes, it seems, quite unconsciously—between these two very different meanings in the same work, even within a single sentence. Similarly, to what extent does “the feminine” reflect a genuine biological or psychological universal, as compared with a specific cultural set of assumptions about what a woman is or should be? For these and other reasons, many feminists have been sharply critical of the widespread use of gendered terms like “the feminine” and “the masculine” to describe essential traits, virtues, and susceptibilities.
In this first of our two-part presentation, we will illustrate our discussion with references to Eileen Atkins’s extraordinary one-woman performance of Virginia Woolf’s classic work, A Room of One’s Own, based on Woolf’s 1928 talk to undergraduate women at Cambridge. We will also allude to two classic films from past decades that had major impact on the cultural psyche, The Wizard of Oz and Titanic, both of which vividly embodied relevant archetypal and mythic themes.
Calling the Generations: Participating in Outer Planetary Alignments During major outer-planetary cycles, entire generations are born carrying the archetypal signature of that time. When these same outer planets realign in new configurations there is an archetypal resonance between the generations born with those alignments and the needs of that time. Each planetary combination offers unique gifts, and in our current era of social, ecological, and spiritual crisis each may have its significant role to play in creating a life-enhancing future.
Solar and Lunar Principles in The Return of the King Can we speak of the feminine or the masculine in ways that don’t fall into the trap of a cultural stereotype? How can we liberate these categories in a way that would do justice to the diverse ways we have of being male and female, and of being human? Perhaps the ancient archetypal symbols of the Sun and Moon can help open up our understanding of the deep mysteries of the feminine and masculine so we can better articulate the great social and psychological transformation of gender roles and identities in our time.
Building upon the themes presented in our session last week, Becca and Rick will explore the Solar and Lunar archetypal principles in relation to their expression through female and male figures in The Return of the King, the final installment of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. We will also deepen our analysis of feminine and masculine principles, and suggest ways of expanding the range of ways we can speak about, and live, our different modes of being human, each in our unique and ever-evolving forms. We will also examine some of the principal challenges and new possibilities faced by contemporary women and girls in our age, poised at the threshold of a post-patriarchal world.
All three presentations can be watched live online, and recordings will also be available for those who wish to tune in later. To see what other upcoming events I have scheduled, please visit my Calendar of Events. Thank you all for your ongoing support and interest in this work!
“A kind of fluid interpenetration belongs to the very nature of all archetypes. They can only be roughly circumscribed at best. Their living meaning comes out more from their presentation as a whole than from a single formulation. Every attempt to focus them more sharply is immediately punished by the intangible core of meaning losing its luminosity. No archetype can be reduced to a simple formula. It is a vessel which we can never empty, and never fill. It has a potential existence only, and when it takes shape in matter it is no longer what it was. It persists throughout the ages and requires interpreting ever anew. The archetypes are the imperishable elements of the unconscious, but they change their shape continually.”
– C. G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious
The creative magnificence of the universe is so irreducibly complex that no human framework will ever capture the full extent of its dynamic and indefinable nature. Yet human beings need an orientation in the cosmos to allow the meanings of existence to unfold. The spiritual and intellectual quest of humanity has impelled generation after generation to engage with the divine mystery out of which everything arises, in part to come to a fuller understanding of what our role is within the majesty of the cosmos. This quest has produced a plurality of religious and spiritual traditions that diversely engage and enact spiritual truths through their practices, texts, rituals, celebrations, experiments, and customs.
This essay, originally written in May 2013, has now been published in the inaugural issue of Re-Imagining Magazine, a publication created by the Chicago Wisdom Project.
“To speak, to ask to have audience today in the world, requires that we speak to the world, for the world is in the audience; it too is listening to what we say.” With these words James Hillman opens his essay “Anima Mundi” in which he speaks of the return of soul to the world. Such is the task we face as a species, as human beings, as we learn to cultivate a different kind of relationship with our planet, the Earth which supports our very existence. But what eyes can we use to see the soul of the world? What languages can we speak to call out to the anima mundi? With what ears shall we listen to hear the Earth’s voices in reply?
There are moments in life when you feel deeply grateful for the family you were born into. I’m blessed to have had many such moments, but I’m feeling it with particular poignancy of late. Throughout most of my childhood and teens my father was busy writing the book Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View. In my family it was known simply as “the Book.” While I knew my dad was an astrologer and cultural historian, it wasn’t until after I finished my undergraduate degree that I came to find my own scholarly path aligned so closely with his, drawing me into the world of archetypal cosmology, depth psychology, and philosophy.
As a child I was able to see the years of work and research that went into creating Cosmos and Psyche, and the moment of familial pride and gratitude I am now feeling arises from the fact that that book is being adapted into a film: Changing of the Gods. I could not imagine the project being in better hands: the producer Kenny Ausubel, one of the co-founders of Bioneers—the great annual conference that addresses issues of ecological justice—and the director Louie Schwartzberg, whose exquisite visionary films show the depth and breadth of the interconnected wisdom of the cosmos. Finally, John Cleese will be the on-screen host, leading the audience through the journey of discovering an archetypal world view.
For me personally there is another profound synchronicity connected to those who are creating this film: the director Louie Schwartzberg’s birthday is February 21, 1950—the exact same day and year as my dad’s birthday—giving them the same birth chart. Furthermore, the producer Kenny Ausubel, whose initial vision it was to bring Cosmos and Psyche to the screen, was born on April 20, 1949, the exact same day and year as my mother’s birthday. So in many ways I feel as though this film is a sibling to me.
The Changing of the Gods Kickstarter campaign is now in its final days of fundraising to bring together the community support for this film project. I want to encourage each of you from the depths of my heart to contribute if you so feel called. To see this story on the screen and make it accessible to a world audience through image and music would be a dream come true.
This paper was presented at the conference “Seizing an Alternative: Toward An Ecological Civilization,” held in Claremont, California at Pomona College. The section of the conference was titled “Alienation from Nature,” and the track, organized by Matthew Segall, was called “Late Modernity and Its Re-imagining.”
This conference is titled “Seizing an Alternative,” a title that implies the alternative is already here, it is not something new that must be invented. The alternative has been present all along, waiting, urging us even, to open our imaginations to the possibility that this alternative is, in a sense, the very essence—a hidden essence—of our world. At this conference our section has been addressing the alienation from the rest of the cosmos felt by the human being in late modernity. And each talk in our track has been revealing, in its own way, the deep interconnection that has always been present between us and our world. We are our world. The cosmic web has not been cut, although part of our human journey has been to feel as though the threads of our existence have been severed.
In 1983 a conference was held at this same university, organized primarily by Catherine Keller and David Ray Griffin. The conference was called “Archetypal Process,” and sought to bring into dialogue the process philosophy of Whitehead and the archetypal psychology of Carl Gustav Jung and James Hillman. As Griffin pointed out, process philosophy and archetypal psychology are both postmodern movements, but postmodern in a different sense from the “relativistic, nihilistic, deconstructive postmodernism” that might better be called “ultramodernism, or mostmodernism.” Process philosophy and archetypal psychology, in Griffin’s words, are examples of “a constructive, reconstructive, or revisionary postmodernism, in which many of the presuppositions of modernity are challenged and revised.” They are postmodern movements that “both want to return soul and divinity to the world.” In his talk at the conference, James Hillman spoke of the need for a metaphysics that could support archetypal psychology. Hillman had abandoned Jung’s metaphysics in order to save his psychology. Yet this was not enough. Metaphysics is always operative, whether one acknowledges it or not. What Hillman sought was a metaphysics of praxis, a metaphysics that supported the practice of psychology, the practice of soul-making—an alchemical metaphysics. Whitehead can provide such a metaphysics, a cosmology in which soul can do its work.
Hillman spoke in his talk of that word, cosmology: it both “refers to the astronomical order of the heavenly bodies, and it also has a metaphysical meaning, according to Whitehead’s Process and Reality.” As Whitehead says, cosmology is a scheme “of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted.” What if we do as Hillman suggested, and “keep together the two meanings, astronomical and metaphysical?” Allow me to quote Hillman, in his ever-eloquent stylings, on what it would mean to maintain the unity of the two meanings of the word cosmology:
Let us say that the astronomical bodies (the planets) offer metaphysical bodies (the Gods [or one might say the archetypes]) by means of whom every element of experience can be interpreted. What is beyond in both meanings are the heavenly bodies. These afford some nouns and adjectives, some processes and some realities. The planetary persons fill the void of the beyond with the myths of their bodies and the bodies of their myths. This cosmology is a psychological field—a field because metaphysics is placed in imaginal locations; psychological because the planets are persons with traits, with behaviors, and in relation with one another.
Hillman is offering us a vision of an archetypal cosmology, an archetypally-patterned, astronomically-grounded cosmology.
In his work with Stanislav Grof on non-ordinary and expanded states of consciousness, Richard Tarnas came to find, in his words, “a highly significant––indeed a pervasive––correspondence between planetary movements and human affairs.” What is this correspondence? It is perceptible in the position of the planets at one’s birth, as well as in the transiting movement of the planets in relation to the birth chart throughout one’s life, and the ever-changing dynamics of the planets’ relational positions to each other. It is a correspondence of an archetypal character. Archetypal astrology. It is a continuously ongoing, universally visible form of synchronicity, what Jung describes as a meaningful coincidence between an inner event and an outer event. Archetypal astrology is an empirically-based, yet mythopoetically informed, practice—tracking the ongoing archetypal interconnection between psyche and cosmos, microcosm and macrocosm.
While Tarnas and others have put forward substantial evidence for the astrological perspective, demonstrating the multifaceted ways in which astrology works, today I want to explore another question: why does astrology work? What does the recognition of the highly precise, yet poetically subtle, correspondence between planetary movements and events on Earth indicate about the nature of the cosmos? In dialogue with this question Whitehead’s process philosophy can, perhaps, offer us a metaphysical foundation.
Before moving forward, a word on the nature of archetypes. Perhaps this can best be conveyed by Jung himself, the great diviner of the archetypal patterning of the human psyche. To quote Jung:
A kind of fluid interpenetration belongs to the very nature of all archetypes. They can only be roughly circumscribed at best. Their living meaning comes out more from their presentation as a whole than from a single formulation. Every attempt to focus them more sharply is immediately punished by the intangible core of meaning losing its luminosity. No archetype can be reduced to a simple formula. It is a vessel which we can never empty, and never fill. It has a potential existence only, and when it takes shape in matter it is no longer what it was. It persists throughout the ages and requires interpreting ever anew. The archetypes are the imperishable elements of the unconscious, but they change their shape continually.
As this quote from Jung illustrates, it is the very nature of the archetypes to not be fully definable and describable, without misrepresenting and dulling their divine luminosity. Thus, moving forward, I want to acknowledge the impossibility of capturing archetypal presence in a single metaphysical system that explains in totality how they operate in the world.
In his introduction to the book that emerged from the “Archetypal Process” conference, Griffin draws a parallel between Jung’s concept of archetypes and Whitehead’s concept of eternal objects, each being part of an explanation of formal causation. For Whitehead, an eternal object is “any entity whose conceptual recognition does not involve a necessary reference to any definite actual entities of the temporal world.” An eternal object is a potentiality relevant to some actual occasion, a possibility not yet defined by actuality. Eternal objects are like Platonic Forms in that they are real apart from any of their particular expressions, but unlike Plato’s Forms, their reality is “deficient in actuality” according to Whitehead. Because of this deficiency, eternal objects long to enter into actuality, to ingress into actual occasions. All the ways in which we describe this world—the adjectives—these are the eternal objects: the colors, shapes, feelings, smells, tastes, qualities. Archetypes we come to understand through such qualities, but archetypes are the unifying fields or gravitational attractors that draw together a complex array of eternal objects into singular, though always fluid, form.
Grant Maxwell, who spoke yesterday in this track, has written about the relation between Whitehead’s eternal objects and Jung’s archetypes. He posits that planetary archetypes and eternal objects are both examples of formal causation, a mode of causality forbidden by modern materialism. He also suggests they should not be directly equated. I agree. I would speculate that planetary archetypes include both the potentiality of Whitehead’s eternal objects and the incarnate experience of actual occasions. Archetypes are not just eternal objects or potentials, because they would seem to have more agency and autonomy that Whitehead grants to eternal objects. Archetypes are complex personalities, persons even in Hillman’s language, yet there is a metaphorical unity to their complexity. “All ways of speaking of archetypes,” Hillman writes, “are translations from one metaphor to another.”
To explore metaphor more deeply, we can make a slight turn toward Owen Barfield, the anthroposophically-informed philosopher who wrote such works as Saving the Appearances and Poetic Diction. Barfield posits an understanding of the evolution of consciousness in which the physical and psychical, material and spiritual, bodily and ensouled qualities of all entities in the world were once unified in the experience of ancient human consciousness. Only over the slow course of history have these concepts been separated from each other—subjective from objective—so that even now my language describing this to you inherently reflects this split. I must speak of object and subject, body and spirit. To give an example Barfield uses to illustrate this: when we translate the Latin word spiritus into English, spiritus can mean “wind,” “breath,” or “spirit” depending on the context. Yet for the ancient speakers of the word spiritus it meant all three of these words, and perhaps more, all at once—they were a unified whole in which the physical is utterly indistinguishable from its psychical, ensouled presence.
Yet these words are inherently related to one another at their source. They are examples of “true metaphor” in Barfield’s understanding. The way certain eternal objects complexify and ingress as archetypal beings is an example of such “true metaphor.” As Hillman said, “All ways of speaking of archetypes are translations from one metaphor to another.” The infinite array of eternal objects that express the qualities of Saturn, or Venus, or Neptune, or any of the other planetary archetypes, are metaphorically related to one another, a relation that was much more apparent to ancient consciousness than to modern consciousness. This is how the ancients knew what names to give the planets, which physical planets belonged to which Gods, because the meaning of the celestial bodies was directly apparent to them. The world has changed because we have changed in our participation with it. Yet it still continues to change. The music of the spheres may have been silent for many in late modernity, yet now—at the turn of the tides—we are beginning to relearn the score.
For Whitehead the source of all things is creativity. Creativity is primary. Creativity is the realm of pure potential. Chaos. Griffin has referred to Whitehead’s philosophy as “process theology,” “especially when the chief focus is on God and other questions of ‘ultimate concern’ (Paul Tillich), such as ultimate origin, order, value, and meaning.” In Whitehead’s scheme, God is not the ultimate. Creativity is. God is that which orders the chaos of pure potentiality into the hierarchy of eternal objects—and, I would posit, into the archetypes. God takes chaos and turns it into cosmos, but God is born of that chaos. God is the first concrescence, an everlasting concrescence, the first experiential achievement of chaos becoming cosmos.
An image I find compelling to illustrate this—chaos becoming cosmos—is that of a prism refracting white light into an iridescent rainbow. The white light is that realm of pure potentiality, chaotic creativity. In Whitehead’s scheme the prism itself is God, that which refracts the indefinite into the definite, that differentiates pure light into the colors of the rainbow. Each color is an archetype—red clearly different from blue, yellow distinct from purple. But within the band of light that is each color an infinity of shades is at play. Every shade of green could be seen as every possible eternal object that could ingress as an expression of Venus, or every shade of blue the endless possibilities of Neptune. They are still the same light as the white light, but the prism—which could be identified with God—has ordered them into colors.
What makes a rainbow so spectacular? Why do we stop to take note of them? Because we can see them. A rainbow makes light itself visible. The rainbow is a symbol of divine possibility entering into the world, yearning for our participation in its beauty.
The moment a child takes her first breath can be seen as the first concrescence of that child independently of the mother’s body. The child herself is a society of actual occasions, each of which are also concrescing in this moment, making up the experience of the newborn. This moment, the first inhalation, is when the birth chart of an individual is set. The archetypal energies expressed throughout the rest of an individual’s life reflect the planetary configurations, the archetypal relationships, or eternal potentialities, of this particular moment. At the time of birth all of the actual occasions that have ever been, that have perished into objective immortality to use Whitehead’s term, become one— are prehended by the actual occasion that is the newborn child in that moment—before also perishing. Every archetypal expression that has ever manifested is gifted to the child. Yet the past actual occasions that are most felt by the concrescing actual occasion are those that are immediately prior. Thus the positions of the planets and their correlated archetypal energies, that are being enacted everywhere upon the Earth, are what is most immediately inherited by the child in her first moment of independence. As the child continues to live and grow, her subjectivity—the crest of her concrescing wave—continues to inherit the archetypally ordered actual occasions, as can be seen in the unfolding of astrological transits. Yet the birth chart is still effective, and can still be seen in the progression of the individual’s life. How can this be so? How can a past actual occasion, from the moment of birth, be more archetypally influential than other past actual occasions?
Let us return to the image of God as an eternally concrescing actual occasion, never perishing but continuously feeling the procession of the cosmic community of finite actual occasions. Perhaps in this understanding of God we can glimpse what may be happening in relation to the actual occasion when the individual’s birth chart is set. It is almost like the actual occasion that concresced with the child’s first intake of air is also an everlasting concrescence, one that continues from that moment forward. Each preceding concrescence takes place within the gestalt set by that first concrescence—which is how transits to the birth chart could be experienced by the individual. The birth chart is like the prism of that individual’s life, refracting the archetypal potential into the archetypal particulars of this person. That moment when the birth chart is set concresces onward, even beyond the bodily death of the individual. We see transits to the birth chart still being operative long after the person carrying that chart has died: for instance, when a renaissance of interest in someone’s work occurs after their death. As an example, (and please excuse my more technical astrological language for a moment) as this conference is being held Neptune in the sky is exactly crossing Whitehead’s natal Mercury-Uranus square, bringing a revisioning and reimagining of world view, which relates to Neptune-Uranus, to Whitehead’s ingenious philosophical system, which relates to Mercury-Uranus.
Like the dipolar nature of Whitehead’s God, the archetypes too seem to have a primordial pole and a consequent pole. The primordial pole orders the realm of eternal objects so that they can ingress as relevant possibilities into the actual occasions of the cosmic community, while the consequent pole feels the experiences of this world community and continuously adjusts the ordering of the eternal objects. So too, I believe, it is with the archetypes. For as they ingress into living manifestation, we participate in their becoming, we co-creatively engage their archetypal qualities through our own lives. The archetypes also have a consequent nature, one that feels what we feel, and that forever reshapes the potentialities for the future ingression of the archetypes, in our own lives and in the lives of future generations. Our participation is enacting an evolution in the archetypes themselves.
We are being called upon to seize an alternative. We are being called upon to participate. By consciously engaging with the archetypes as we co-creatively manifest them, we are reshaping the potentialities with which they will manifest in the future. No future is yet set. But the past occasions that will inform it are here now. A rainbow makes white light visible. Let’s look forward with eyes open.
Griffin, David Ray, ed. Archetypal Process: Self and Divine in Whitehead, Jung, and Hillman. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1989.
Hillman, James. Re-Visioning Psychology. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 1992.
Jung, C.G. “The Psychology of the Child Archetype.” In The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious:Collected Works of Carl Gustav Jung. Translated by R. F. C. Hull, Edited by H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, W. McGuire. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1940.
Maxwell, Grant. “Archetype and Eternal Object: Jung, Whitehead, and the Return of Formal Causation.” Archai: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology Volume 3 (Winter 2011): 51-71.
Tarnas, Richard. Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View. New York, NY: Viking Penguin, 2006.
Whitehead, Alfred North. Process and Reality. New York, NY: The Free Press, 1985.
 David Ray Griffin, “Introduction,” in Archetypal Process: Self and Divine in Whitehead, Jung, and Hillman, ed. David Ray Griffin (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1989), 6.
 David Ray Griffin, “Preface,” in Archetypal Process: Self and Divine in Whitehead, Jung, and Hillman, ed. David Ray Griffin (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1989), vii.
 James Hillman, “Back to Beyond: On Cosmology,” in Archetypal Process: Self and Divine in Whitehead, Jung, and Hillman, ed. David Ray Griffin (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1989), 220.
 Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (New York, NY: The Free Press, 1985), 3.
 Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View (New York, NY: Viking Penguin, 2006), 68-69.
 C.G. Jung, “The Psychology of the Child Archetype” (1940) in The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious,Collected Works of Carl Gustav Jung, trans. R. F. C. Hull, ed. H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, W. McGuire, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press), 179.
“In the last part of May the sky grew pale and the clouds that had hung in high puffs for so long in the spring dissipated. The sun flared down on the growing corn day after day until a line of brown spread along the edge of each green bayonet. The clouds appeared, and went away, and in a while they did not try anymore. The weeds grew darker green to protect themselves, and they did not spread any more. The surface of the earth crusted, a thin hard crust, and as the sky became pale, so the earth became pale, pink in the red country and white in the gray country.
. . . And as the sharp sun struck day after day, the leaves of the young corn became less stiff and erect; they bent in a curve at first, and then, as the central ribs of strength grew weak, each leaf tilted downward. Then it was June and the sun shone more fiercely. The brown lines on the corn leaves widened and moved in on the central ribs.” – John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
Dry earth, cloudless skies. Waiting, anticipating, counting days, weeks, months. Perhaps years. When will the rain fall? The moisture slowly leaves the soil, plants begin to die. The emotional atmosphere is defined by denial and groundless hope, anxiety and concern, worry and prayer. Dust builds, crops fail. Water—translucent and fluid, so easy to take for granted when in abundance, all one can think about when it is lacking.
What is a drought? Droughts are evasively difficult to define, even by those who study their patterns extensively. Essentially a drought is constituted by a lack of precipitation in a certain area, extended over a significant period of time. Of course, the precipitation levels and length of time rain is absent will all vary from bioregion to bioregion, which is part of what makes a clear definition of drought so evasive. The human experience of drought is a complex interplay of unusual or unexpected natural events, such a lower precipitation, combined with the demands human beings put on water resources. Due to a variety of complicated interacting factors, droughts can have widespread and devastating consequences.
The words opening this essay are drawn from John Steinbeck’s iconic book The Grapes of Wrath, which narrates the story of migrant farming families who had to abandon their fields and homes on the Great Plains when the 1930s Dust Bowl droughts decimated their crops and whipped up blinding dust storms that choked plants and blackened skies. Many factors went into making this one of the worst 20th century droughts in North America, including a lack understanding of the Great Plains ecology, the widespread introduction of mechanized farming, and the crippling economic crash of the Great Depression that began in 1929. The deep-rooted native grasses of the Great Plains had been ploughed by homesteading settlers and overgrazed by their livestock, leaving the unanchored soil tremendously vulnerable to the wind.
When the Dust Bowl droughts hit the Great Plains in three successive waves, in 1934, 1936, and 1939, vast numbers of farmers migrated across the United States to the fertile crescent of Central California to eke out a living harvesting the fruits and vegetables growing in abundance here. California’s Central Valley is still the breadbasket—or rather “fruit and vegetable basket”— of the United States, growing the vast majority of fresh produce not only for the country but for international export. “No other state, or even combination of states, can match California’s output per acre,” the journalist Brian Palmer writes. Yet it now seems the cornucopia of agriculture in the U.S. may be facing an insurmountable obstacle.
Now in 2015, California is entering its fourth year of drought, eleven trillion gallons of water shy of relief, with only about a year of surface water left stored in the state’s reservoirs. California was able to become the land of plentiful bounty through heavy irrigation, and now as the Sierra Nevada snowpack is a fraction of what it should be, farmers are turning more frequently to pumping groundwater. Groundwater is drawn from underground aquifers, massive geological formations that have held vast amounts of pristine waters for millennia. Some water experts refer to such water as “fossil water” because it will never replenish on any meaningful human timescale. As Christiana Z. Peppard writes in her book Just Water,
Most aquifers take upward of ten thousand years to refill—an extraordinarily long time, considering that just as many years ago, our ancestors were scribbling on cave walls with hard rocks. Many aquifers take much, much longer to refill—on the order of millions of years.
As the drought worsens the state’s nonrenewable water sources are being rapidly drained to maintain maladaptive agricultural practices—namely highly irrigated, industrial agriculture in a semi-arid bioregion. Human actions, including continuously increasing greenhouse gas emissions that are inducing anthropogenic climate change, are exacerbating the consequences of the recent diminishment in rainfall. The lack of precipitation during the Dust Bowl was only part of what made the 1930s droughts so devastating. Another major factor was the methods of mechanized agriculture, which did not take into account the basic ecology of the landscape and stripped the soil of its capability to hold moisture. Today we seem to be having a repetition of history.
Drought is often referred to as “a creeping phenomenon” and “an elusive climate event.” Scientifically predicting the onset of a drought cannot be done more than a month or two in advance, because prediction “depends on the ability to forecast two fundamental meteorological surface parameters, precipitation and temperature,” according to the National Drought Mitigation Center. The historical record indicates the inherent variability of the climate, making long-term forecasts elusive because, as the Drought Center States:
. . . anomalies of precipitation and temperature may last from several months to several decades. How long they last depends on air–sea interactions, soil moisture and land surface processes, topography, internal dynamics, and the accumulated influence of dynamically unstable synoptic weather systems at the global scale.
While different bioregions each have their own rhythms of wet and dry spells that repeat with varying degrees of stability, the capacity to determine the length and impact of any given drought remains evasive. As Ivan Ray Tannehill wrote eloquently back in 1947:
The first rainless day in a spell of fine weather contributes as much to the drought as the last, but no one knows how serious it will be until the last dry day is gone and the rains have come again. . . we are not sure about it until the crops have withered and died.
How any given drought is defined, and its duration and impact on the land and its human inhabitants—both immediate and lasting—all shape how droughts are perceived.
Three North American droughts stand out as the most severe of the 20th century, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. These are the 1930s Dust Bowl drought, the major 1950s drought in the central United States, and the late 1980s drought covering the West Coast to the Great Plains. Today’s drought in the U.S. West may be joining that list. “In the California and Nevada region,” recently stated the climatologist Kelly Redmond, “this is among the worst we’ve seen it in the last 120 years or so.” Of course, this statement refers particularly to the region being affected by the current drought, but Redmond’s statement is nonetheless significant.
As a life-long California resident I have become increasingly aware of the drought’s impacts on my home state. Discussions of water shortage have become commonplace, ranging from wondering if the state’s mandatory 25% reductions in water usage are enough, to questioning why the cuts do not apply to the agricultural sector that uses 80% of the state’s water, and sitting with the real possibility that this drought may not end and California’s climate has fundamentally changed. Another issue has also come to the foreground of my attention, one that scientists would certainly not be inclined to look at in relation to drought patterns. Like factors such a temperature and precipitation, this is also a naturally recurring cycle grounded in the rhythms of the natural world, but rather than an ecosystem pattern it is a solar system pattern, a much larger scale than meteorologists take into account.
If we turn our eyes to the cosmos, we can see that currently the planet Saturn and the planet Neptune are at a 90° angle to each other, forming what is called a square aspect. The alignment began in January 2014, when the two planets came within 10° of each other, and will end in October 2017 when they pass out of the same 10° range. If one looks back at an ephemeris to see where these same planets were during the three most prominent North American droughts of the 20th century, an interesting pattern appears: in 1934-38 Saturn was in 180° opposition to Neptune in the sky, the same years as the worst of the Dust Bowl droughts; in 1950-56 Saturn was conjoined with Neptune in the same place on the ecliptic, the same years as the 1950s drought; and in 1987-91 Saturn and Neptune were also in a conjunction, encompassing the years of the late 1980s drought.
What is the significance of such planetary alignments and their correlations to these droughts? As has been argued by Richard Tarnas in Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View, a significant body of evidence has come forward indicating a profound correlation between the positions of the planets and events unfolding on Earth in human history and world events, individual biography and psychology, and even in natural ecological events. What emerged from this body of evidence was a revival of an ancient practice long-dismissed by the modern paradigm, re-engaged with new rigor and empiricism. As the Jungian psychologist and professor Keiron Le Grice writes,
Archetypal astrology, as this new approach been called, is based on an observed correspondence between the planets in the solar system and specific themes, qualities, and impulses associated with a set of universal principles and thematic categories known as planetary archetypes. Each of the planetary bodies, as well as the Sun and the Moon, is associated with a distinct archetypal principle.
The planetary archetypes associated with each planet are expressed in world events in multivalent and multidimensional ways. As Tarnas writes,
. . . an essential characteristic of this analysis was that it did not predict specific events or personality traits. Rather, it articulated the deeper archetypal dynamics of which events and traits were the concrete expression. This is seemed to do with astonishing precision and subtlety.
While Cosmos and Psyche looks at a vast array of cultural, social, artistic, scientific, psychological, and political events in relation to several planetary alignments, for this study I am focusing on one particular phenomenon—namely droughts—in relation to the corresponding planetary alignments. To begin, I am looking at the relationship between droughts and the Saturn-Neptune cycle of alignments, before looking further at certain apparent anomalies to this pattern and from there exploring the more nuanced dynamics unfolding in relation to specific drought events.
As previously mentioned, the droughts of the mid-1930s, early to mid-1950s, and late 1980s all took place under Saturn-Neptune alignments, as is our current drought in the western U.S. today. Why does Saturn-Neptune archetypally correlate with drought? The archetype of Saturn relates to contraction, negation, restriction, lack, and boundaries; it is the principle of time and structure, decay and death, loss and endings. Any archetype with which Saturn comes into relationship it will problematize, negate, constrain and create obstacles. The archetype of Neptune, on the other hand, is the principle of fluidity, boundlessness, and interconnectivity, that which unifies and merges, dissolves and dilutes; Neptune is the archetype of oceanic oneness, transcendent spirituality, the heavenly cosmos, image and imagination, illusion and mirage—it is the principle of water itself, both as symbol and physical liquid.
One can see how the combination of archetypal qualities associated with Saturn and Neptune manifest as drought: lack of water, low moisture, negation of water’s life-giving properties. To draw some images from the Dust Bowl, Saturn-Neptune came through not only in the absence of precipitation, but in the dry particles of dust that flowed boundless across the land, reducing visibility and even blackening the skies. The Saturnian themes of lack, absence, dryness, reduction, and darkness are present here, combined with the Neptunian qualities of rainwater, boundlessness, clarity of vision and perception, and the image of the celestial sky (all negated, blocked, and obscured by the previously mentioned Saturnian characteristics). Another expression of the Saturn-Neptune alignment that contributed to the Dust Bowl droughts was the lack of understanding of the intricate interconnected dynamics of ecosystem structures that led to the agricultural practice of ploughing the deep-rooted grassed that retained moisture and maintained soil structure. Again, Neptune comes through as the soil moisture and interconnected unity of the ecosystem, while Saturn is present in the structures, retention and maintenance, the anchoring roots, and even the sharp cut of the metal plow. The elusive quality of droughts and the scientific difficulty in defining them also have a Saturn-Neptune quality, as Saturn relates to difficulty and definition, Neptune to the slippery aspects of evasiveness and illusion.
The Saturn-Neptune opposition came into 15° orb (recognized by archetypal astrologers as the general range when archetypally correlated events occur) in 1934, and was in exact alignment in 1936-7 when the drought was at its worst. The third wave of drought that came in during 1939 was after the Saturn-Neptune opposition had moved past operative alignment—a topic we will explore later in this essay.
An opposition between two planets is the same configuration as a Full Moon, when the Moon is on one side of the Earth and the Sun on the other. The completion of that cycle is the New Moon, when the Sun and the Moon are conjoined in the same place in the sky relative to the Earth. After the Saturn-Neptune opposition of the mid-1930s, when they were in the “Full Moon” alignment, these two planets reached the conclusion of their cycle, or the “New Moon” alignment, in the conjunction of the 1950s. Saturn started to come into 15° orb with Neptune in 1950, right as the drought began in the southwestern states, and was having a major impact on Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska by 1953 when the conjunction was exact. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,
By 1954, the drought encompassed a ten-state area reaching from the mid-west to the Great Plains, and southward into New Mexico. The area from the Texas panhandle to central and eastern Colorado, western Kansas and central Nebraska experienced severe drought conditions.
While the Saturn-Neptune conjunction went out of orb in 1955, the drought ended when the 1957 spring rains began to pour down on the parched soil. Like in the 1930s, the effects of the drought persisted beyond the Saturn-Neptune transit under which they commenced—again, a topic we will explore later in the essay.
Now to turn to the third of the major 20th century North American droughts, the 1987-89 drought that severely affected the West Coast and the northern Great Plains. Although the late 1980s drought covered just 36% of the United States, compared to the Dust Bowl’s 70%, it was the costliest drought, indeed the costliest natural disaster of any kind to effect the U.S., with damages and losses exceeding approximately $39 billion. As the environmental studies and philosophy professor Dale Jamieson describes,
Much of the United States spent the summer [of 1988] in the grip of extreme heat and serious drought. Fires raged in Yellowstone National Park, agricultural production declined dramatically, and water levels in the Mississippi River system dropped precariously, resulting in channel closings and ship groundings.
Sure enough, beginning in 1987 Saturn had started to conjoin Neptune again, one full cycle after the 1950s conjunction. Once again the themes of Saturnian lack of Neptunian rains can be seen here, as well as the loss (Saturn) of an idealized, pristine (Neptune) national park, and the grounding (Saturn) of water-going vessels (related to both archetypes as Saturn is the container and Neptune the water) in the river systems. This was the first drought of this magnitude in the U.S. since the 1950s and it took the population by surprise, which is partially why the damage was so great. Interestingly, Saturn and Neptune were joined in a rare triple conjunction by the planet Uranus at this time—archetypally Uranus relates to the unexpected, the sudden and the disruptive, which can be seen in the unanticipated severity and consequences of the late 1980s drought.
What about the intervening Saturn-Neptune opposition of 1970-73 and the following opposition of 2004-07? It happens that in 1972-73 the El Niño Southern Oscillation was particularly strong, causing droughts in multiple locations around the globe. As Jamieson remarks:
The El Niño of 1972-73 brought worldwide devastation and was followed by other climate anomalies. Drought-related famine killed hundreds of thousands of people in African Sahel and in India. Drought struck other countries as well, including the United States. Crop failures brought the Soviet Union into the world grain market. . . .
The patterning of strong El Niño and La Niña events (they are ranked weak, moderate, and strong) correlates with surprising consistency to two major outer planetary cycles, which we will explore more closely toward the end of this analysis.
The most recent opposition of Saturn and Neptune in 2004-08 manifested in major climate events that carried the Saturn-Neptune archetypal complex, but in many ways expressed the opposite side of the archetypal spectrum from a drought. The major climate events of the 2004-08 were the Indonesian tsunami of December 2004, and Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. Each exhibited strong Saturn-Neptune characteristics, as Tarnas describes,
death caused by water, the ocean as source of suffering and loss, contamination of water, water-borne and infectious diseases, numberless haunting images of death and sorrow transmitted throughout the world and permeating collective consciousness.
Like under drought conditions, water is the cause of death, suffering, and loss, but in the case of hurricanes and tsunamis it is the flooding of water, rather than its lack, which brings about the Saturnian devastation. To draw a parallel image, the dust storms of the 1930s Dust Bowl drought looked like a “massive wall of blowing dust that resembled a land-based tsunami.”
Even though this Saturn-Neptune opposition was characterized by such destructive watery events, a major drought was occurring in the Amazon rainforest at the same time, beginning in 2005. The Amazon drought was so severe it lasted until 2010, two years after the Saturn-Neptune transit had ended. Like the major North American droughts of the 1930s and 1950s, the Amazon drought extended beyond the Saturn-Neptune alignment under which it started. They all ended under a different alignment of two outer planets, Saturn and Pluto. While we have been looking closely at the Saturn-Neptune themes associated with drought, Pluto in relationship with Saturn has a significantly different quality.
Pluto is associated with the principle of elemental power, depth, and intensity; with that which compels, empowers, and intensifies whatever it touches, sometimes to overwhelming and catastrophic extremes. . . . It is the dark, mysterious, taboo, and often terrifying reality that lurks beneath the surface of things, beneath the ego, societal conventions, and the veneer of civilization, beneath the surface of the Earth, that is periodically unleashed with destructive and transformative force.
When Saturn and Pluto align, the same Saturnian themes of constraint, obstacles, oppression, suffering, and death are present but instead acting upon the powerful intensity of the Pluto archetype described above. Saturn-Pluto alignments are associated with,
especially challenging historical periods marked by a pervasive quality of intense contraction: eras of international crisis and conflict, empowerment of reactionary forces and totalitarian impulses, organized violence and oppression, all sometimes marked by lasting traumatic effects.
What is the significance of so many of the most devastating droughts of the last century ending during Saturn-Pluto transits? While the drought events themselves reflect the Saturn-Neptune themes of extended periods of time without precipitation, the long-term impacts of such meteorological changes can cause tremendous suffering on a mass scale with conditions of food scarcity leading to famine and potentially death, much more reflective of the qualities of Saturn-Pluto.
This project has been to research which planetary alignments correlated with the most significant droughts of the last century or so, for which we have the most accurate records and dates. The repeated correlation between major droughts and the Saturn-Neptune cycle certainly has compelling evidence, but anomalies to the pattern must exist. After all, because of the multivalence and indeterminacy of archetypal manifestations, the occurrence of a drought under every single Saturn-Neptune alignment would seem to indicate a fixed rigidity to the archetypal expressions that is not supported by the larger astrological evidence. As Tarnas writes, “I gradually came to recognize that, contrary to its traditional reputation and deployment, such an astrology is not concretely predictive but, rather, archetypally predictive.” Noticing how the 1930s, 1950s, and 2000s droughts concluded under Saturn-Pluto alignments, I decided to look at the correlations with the other major droughts my research had turned up.
In her book This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein draws forward evidence that every major volcanic eruption for which we have accurate records has been followed by debilitating drought around the globe. Looking at her research I recognized an additional overlying correlation: each of these events in which there was a sequence of volcanic eruption, drought, and famine, correlated with a Saturn-Pluto or Saturn-Neptune alignment, and almost always both in succession. What is archetypally significant about the relationship of Saturn-Pluto alignments with volcanic eruptions is that Pluto is the principle of volcanic, eruptive power unleashing from the underworld realm, while Saturn is the problematic and often dire consequences caused by such eruptions.
We can begin by looking at Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, which erupted June 12, 1991 when the Saturn-Neptune conjunction (which correlated with the devastating late 1980s western U.S. drought) was at 20° orb, the outer range of when archetypally relevant correlations have been observed for conjunctions, while the Saturn-Pluto square was entering 12° orb, right at the penumbral phase when correlations begin to be more frequent for squares (conjunctions and oppositions appear to have a wider orb of influence ranging 15°-20°, while squares have a slightly narrower orb of 10°-15°). Large sections of Africa were already suffering from drought, under the Saturn-Neptune conjunction just ending, and by 1992 when the Saturn-Pluto alignment was tightening in orb there was a 20% reduction in precipitation in southern Africa, and a 10-15% reduction in South Asia which had a negative impact on approximately 120 million people.
Cycling back to the previous quadrature alignment of Saturn and Pluto, the conjunction of 1980-84, Mexico’s El Chichón volcano erupted from March to September 1982 as the conjunction was approaching exact alignment. The eruption led to low precipitation and drought, particularly affecting the African continent where 20 nations were already suffering from drought conditions. While there had been a Saturn-Neptune square in from 1978 to late 1980, the African droughts are recorded to have begun in early 1981, right at the tale end of the alignment. The El Chichón eruption seems to have severely exacerbated the drought conditions, giving them a particularly Saturn-Pluto quality.
The three years with the lowest global average precipitation in the last half century were after the eruptions of Pinatubo, Chichón, and the 1963 eruption of Mount Agung in Bali. Agung’s detonation occurred under the Saturn-Neptune square of 1961-64, and also corresponded with low global precipitation and drought. In the U.S. the drought was experienced most strongly in the Northeast, the Midwest, and the Great Plains, and this drought too concluded under the Saturn-Pluto opposition of the mid-1960s. It is interesting to note, however, that Agung did not erupt under a Saturn-Pluto alignment but rather a Uranus-Pluto transit. Further research would need to be done to discern the differences in quality and effects of this volcanic eruption compared to those that become active under Saturn-Pluto alignments.
To conclude this particular inquiry we will look at the eruption of two other volcanoes clearly connected with widespread drought: Alaska’s Mount Katmai eruption in 1912, and Iceland’s Laki volcano in 1783. While Katmai did not erupt under Saturn-Pluto, the drought-related famine hit in 1913-14 under a Saturn-Pluto conjunction, killing 125,000 people in western Africa alone. To look further back into history, Laki erupted in Iceland in 1783 under a Saturn-Neptune square, which was followed by famine and plague in Egypt, Japan, India, Western and Central Europe under the Saturn-Pluto conjunction in the following two years. A more in-depth study than this one could explore the nuances of each of these volcanic eruptions and their related droughts and famines, particularly to see what particular differences may exist if an eruption occurred under Saturn-Neptune versus Saturn-Pluto. Each combination, while having the Saturnian elements in common, manifest quite differently in world events. Yet there seems to be a significant relationship between these two planetary alignments and the unfolding impacts of drought-related events.
As mentioned earlier in this essay, the patterning of strong El Niño and La Niña events—according to records kept since the middle of the 20th century—happen to correlate every time with a Saturn-Neptune or Saturn-Pluto quadrature alignment. In 1957-58, 1965-66, and 1982-83 El Niño coincided with a Saturn Pluto transit, while in 1972-73, 1987-88, and 1997-98 El Niño coincided with a Saturn-Neptune transit. Furthermore, the La Niña climate patterns of 1973-74, 1988-89, and 1999-2000 all aligned with Saturn-Neptune quadrature transits, and in 1975-76 and 2010-11 correlated with Saturn-Pluto. The pattern is only present for the strong oscillations, however, because the moderate and weak ones are too frequent to appear to have astrological significance. The effects of each of these La Niña and El Niño events, and whether they had a more Neptunian or Plutonic impact, would be interesting to look into for further research.
I would like to look at one final archetypally correlated pattern before concluding this essay, which relates to why the Dust Bowl droughts in the 1930s were so devastating, not only ecologically but economically. As mentioned at the beginning of this essay, the Dust Bowl followed directly on the heels of the Great Depression, which greatly exacerbated the impact caused by the droughts. The Depression played out under a rare T-square configuration of Saturn, Uranus, and Pluto that lasted from 1929 to 1933. A configuration of these three planets correlates with the collapse and breakdown of old structures, often unleashing powerful forces of destruction and transformation. As Tarnas writes, “Entrenched assumptions and expectations confront the unpredictable and the disruptive. . . . Such periods have generally been marked by critical events and cultural phenomena that both climax and catalyze longer-term processes.” The instability and social collapse that followed the Depression left farmers far more economically vulnerable when the Dust Bowl struck.
The next time such a T-square alignment of Saturn, Uranus, and Pluto came into the sky was in 2008-11, lining up exactly with the economic collapse of the Great Recession. One can see the clear diachronic patterning in the breakdown of social and institutional structures, unleashing powerful reactionary forces of revolution and rebellion worldwide—from Occupy Wall Street, to the Arab Spring, to the Black Lives Matter movements and many others still playing out on the world stage under the continuing Uranus-Pluto square that will last till the end of this decade.
Not only did the 2008-11 Saturn, Uranus, Pluto T-square line up with the Recession but—to look at another pattern we have been studying—the volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted in Iceland in April and May 2010, sending vast amounts of ash and particulates into the atmosphere and grounding aircraft for days. While Klein did not use Eyjafjallajökull as an example of a volcanic eruption followed by drought, I noticed that major droughts occurred worldwide following the eruption, still under the Saturn-Uranus-Pluto alignment: beginning in 2010-11 droughts began in the U.S., Mexico, China, East Africa, the Sahel, Australia, and the South Pacific island Tuvalu. Indeed, because so many droughts are occurring worldwide, and because of the difficulty in clearly defining drought and predicting its conclusion, greater hindsight may be needed to determine the duration and impact of these droughts that opened the current decade. What I particularly want to draw attention to is the diachronic patterning of the Saturn-Uranus-Pluto T-square followed by a Saturn-Neptune transit correlated with an economic crash and major droughts—which happened both in the 1930s and is unfolding before us today.
To fill in the picture further, I looked back to the T-square of Saturn, Uranus, and Pluto just prior to the 1930s T-square, that occurred in the mid-1870s. In North China the worst drought over the past three hundred years was unfolding beginning in 1876 right as Saturn, Uranus, and Pluto were not only in a T-square configuration, but as Jupiter aligned to form a Grand Cross (Saturn opposite Uranus and Jupiter opposite Pluto, respectively) greatly amplifying and magnifying the energies. The drought led to one of the worst famines in world history, leading to the deaths of between 9 and 14 million people. The haunting depictions of the famine, of adults and children alike trying to survive off grass and tree bark, and allegedly at times resorting to human flesh, express the most shadowy aspects of the Saturn-Uranus-Pluto alignment—societal collapse, mass suffering and death, and even the reversion to the Plutonic barbarity of cannibalism to stay alive.
Today, the drought does not exist in the western U.S. only. Globally we are entering into a fresh water crisis for which we, as of yet, have no viable solutions in place. Peppard gives a concise definition of what the global fresh water crisis is:
Fresh water is essential for every human being, society, and ecosystem. There is no substitute for fresh water. But it represents less than 2.5 percent of all available water on earth. Our current rates and types of fresh water use are unsustainable, even while demand for fresh water continues to rise. The causes of global fresh water scarcity are complex but can be traced to increased demand for fresh water, coupled with unsustainable rates of extraction and consumption of fresh water (especially from nonrenewable groundwater sources such as deep aquifers).
The current Saturn-Neptune square is bringing such issues as the global water crisis and the impacts of sustained drought to the forefront of the collective consciousness. The solutions required to address such issues are complex and diverse. Peppard points out that we do not have a global water crisis, but rather crises plural:
. . . while there is a universal need for fresh water, there is no such thing as a universal solution to fresh water scarcity. The water situation facing the Sahara desert or the Tibetan plateau is simply not the same as that in Brazil or Seattle. The shape of human or ecosystem need depends very much on the particular context, and responses to fresh water scarcity will be appropriate only insofar as they take this into account. Therefore, it is more accurate to speak of fresh water crises in the plural than of a singular fresh water crisis.
Peppard’s book, Just Water, was published in 2014 during the first year of the current Saturn-Neptune square. One can hear the archetypal themes in her language, the Saturnian need, scarcity, problems, and crises in the unifying, universal Neptunian realm of water.
Saturn-Neptune alignments bring such issues as the universal need for water and its impending scarcity to the forefront, yet they are also time periods that offer the opportunity to address such issues in an archetypally relevant way. Major gains were made under previous Saturn-Neptune alignments in the realm of protecting clean air and water sources: the U.S. Clean Air Act was passed 1963 under Saturn-square-Neptune, and the Clean Water Act in 1972 under the following Saturn-Neptune conjunction. Under the same alignment the Marine Mammal Protection Act was also passed in 1972, and the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974; in Canada the Water Act was passed in 1970 and Clean Air Act in 1971. Measures could be passed today that similarly address the need for universal access to clean fresh water.
The Saturn-Neptune archetypal complex has many gifts as well as challenges, both for those born with the alignment in their natal charts and for the collective when the transit is in the sky as it is today. Saturn-Neptune brings the ability to imagine practical solutions to concrete problems, to build a bridge between one’s spiritual ideals and the real challenges facing the human community, to bring, as Tarnas writes,
. . . spiritual values (Neptune) into practical expression and enduring embodiment (Saturn) both within and against the resistances of concrete social and political structures (also Saturn), through hard work and disciplined pragmatic organization (also Saturn.)
The gifts of Saturn-Neptune can become the medicine to its challenges, providing one with the ability to see through the denial and delusions related to the current ecological crises, and to pragmatically envision a more universally just world. “In its perhaps most admirable form,” Tarnas writes, “the Saturn-Neptune complex appears to be associated with the courage to face a hard and often tragic reality without illusion and still remain true to the ideals and dreams of a better world.” By recognizing both the shadow and gifts of our archetypally patterned past, perhaps now we can learn from the rhythms of the cosmos and change the course of the stream of the future—and making sure there is still water flowing in that stream as well.
Bramall, Chris. Chinese Economic Development. New York, NY: Routledge, 2009.
California Drought. “State Water Board Adopts 25 Percent Mandatory Water Conservation Regulation.” May 5, 2015. Accessed May 13, 2015. http://ca.gov/drought/.
Committee of the China Famine Relief Fund. The Great Famine. Shanghai, China: American Presbyterian Mission Press, 1879.
Cook, Benjamin I., Toby R. Ault and Jason E. Sperdon. “Unprecedented 21st Century Drought Risk in the American Southwest and Central Plains.” Science Advances, February 12, 2015. Accessed May 13, 2015. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1400082. http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/1/e1400082.
Wilhite, Donald A. and Margie Buchanan Smith. “Drought As Hazard: Understanding the Natural and Social Context.” In Drought and Water Crises: Science, Technology, and Management Issues. Edited by Donald A. Wilhite. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, 2005.
Worster, Donald. Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2004.
 John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1992), 3.
 Donald A. Wilhite and Margie Buchanan Smith, “Drought As Hazard: Understanding the Natural and Social Context,” in Drought and Water Crises: Science, Technology, and Management Issues, ed. Donald A. Wilhite (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, 2005), 5.
 This Saturn-Pluto conjunction aligned with the beginning of World War I, just as the Saturn-Pluto square that concluded the 1930s droughts aligned with the beginning of World War II, and the Saturn-Pluto opposition of the mid-1960s that concluded the early 1960s droughts aligned with the Vietnam War.
“But whoever looks from inside, knows that everything is new. The events that happen are always the same. But the creative depths of man are not always the same.” – C.G. Jung, The Red Book
As I have already explored in the essay “The Red Book and the Red Book: Jung, Tolkien, and the Convergence of Images,” C.G. Jung and J.R.R. Tolkien simultaneously underwent profound experiences of the imaginal realm, transformative encounters with the deep psyche that became the prima materia for their lifeworks. While I have previously analyzed the synchronicity of the two Red Books through the parallel images, symbols, and stories brought forward by each of their authors, I have not delved too far into the significance of their synchronic timing. Jung’s and Tolkien’s deep imaginal experiences both began around 1913 and continued until the end of that decade, although the particular vein of creativity set in motion during that time lasted for each of them until the close of the 1920s.
The primary experiences of active imagination for Jung were from 1913 to 1917, but his Red Book period is considered to have lasted until 1930, when he left off inscribing and illustrating his imaginal encounters onto the pages of the Liber Novus. Nearly simultaneously, from 1912 to 1928, Tolkien was illustrating The Book of Ishness, his sketchbook that contained a series of visionary drawings and paintings. The early years of this project were the most abundant, but he continued intermittently to add fantastical images until the end of the 1920s. Meanwhile during the heart of those years, from 1916 to 1925, Tolkien was primarily dedicated to the composition of his mythology, the great cosmogonic cycles that narrate the creation of Arda and the First Age of the world.
Why is the synchronic timing of Jung’s and Tolkien’s imaginal experiences important? Is it simply another coincidence? Or does it intimate some deeper, more profound implication concerning the nature of human existence in the cosmos? One hermeneutic method of unpacking the significance of this timing is archetypal astrology, which reveals the underlying archetypal patterns of the times through the correlated positions of the planets. When two or more planets come into geometrical alignment, the correlated archetypal energies can be seen unfolding multivalently in human and worldly events for the duration of the alignment. When the slower-moving outer planets of Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto align with each other, whole epochs of history, lasting years to decades depending on the configuration, reflect the relevant archetypal qualities in myriad ways.
Archetypal astrology provides a lens that can shed new light on our understanding of Jung’s and Tolkien’s experiences during this time period. By looking at the world transits during the years of their imaginal encounters we will be able to see the larger archetypal gestalt in which these experiences were emerging, while touching on Jung’s and Tolkien’s natal charts will illuminate the archetypal patterning of their individual psyches and how this may have further shaped the character of their experiences. Furthermore, we will look at the unfolding personal transits Tolkien and Jung underwent during their Red Book periods, honing in on several significant dates throughout this time, to see how the same world transits interacted with their unique birth charts, indicating differing modes of creative expression for the same archetypal energies.
The planetary alignment that correlates most significantly with Jung’s and Tolkien’s awakening to the imaginal is the opposition of Uranus and Neptune that lasted from 1899 to 1918. The most potent time of both men’s visionary periods took place in the sunset years of this alignment, from 1913 to 1917. In the modern astrological tradition, the archetype of Neptune, as Richard Tarnas writes, “is considered to govern the transcendent dimensions of life, imaginative and spiritual vision, and the realm of the ideal.” Neptune “rules both the positive and negative meanings of enchantment—both poetic vision and wishful fantasy, mysticism and madness, higher realities and delusional unreality.” Furthermore, “the Neptune principle has a special relation to the stream of consciousness and the oceanic depths of the unconscious, to all nonordinary states of consciousness, to the realm of dreams and visions, images and reflections.” In contrast, the planet Uranus, as Tarnas articulates,
is empirically associated with the principle of change, rebellion, freedom, liberation, reform and revolution, and the unexpected breakup of structures; with sudden surprises, revelations and awakenings, lightning-like flashes of insight, the acceleration of thoughts and events; with births and new beginnings of all kinds; and with intellectual brilliance, cultural innovation, technological invention, experiment, creativity, and originality.
When the archetypal natures of these two planets, Uranus and Neptune, come into relationship with each other, personal and world events with increasing frequency tend to reflect their combined energies. Repeatedly throughout the world’s cultural history Uranus-Neptune alignments correlate with
widespread spiritual awakenings, the birth of new religious movements, cultural renaissances, the emergence of new philosophical perspectives, rebirths of idealism, sudden shifts in a culture’s cosmological and metaphysical vision, rapid collective changes in psychological understanding and interior sensibility . . . and epochal shifts in a culture’s artistic imagination.
The first couple of decades of the twentieth century, when the Uranus-Neptune opposition was in effect, was a period of tremendous cultural and artistic innovation and creativity. As Sonu Shamdasani, the editor of The Red Book, writes, “On all sides, individuals were searching for new forms with which to depict the actualities of inner experience, in a quest for spiritual and cultural renewal.” Jung’s and Tolkien’s unexpected awakenings to active imagination and fantasy, and their subsequent outpourings of creative genius, perfectly exemplify the characteristic manifestations of Uranus-Neptune alignments. In Jung’s words, “Our age is seeking a new spring of life. I found one and drank of it and the water tasted good.” His use here of liquid metaphors and symbols—spring, drank, water—are particularly characteristic of the Neptune archetype.
Uranus-Neptune alignments also correlate with “cosmic epiphany” and the “birth of new forms of artistic expression,” which can be seen in the unique artistic format of Jung’s Red Book, and the new languages and mythological composition of Tolkien’s cosmogonic cycles.
If it were possible to briefly summarize the essence of the material that emerged for Jung and Tolkien at this time—an impossible task—one might say that it is an expression of “the quintessential Uranus-Neptune theme of a radical transformation of the God-image and a revolutionary new understanding of the divine will acting in history.” Jung’s Red Book can be seen as a participation in the death and rebirth of God, a renewal of the sacred through an encounter with soul. Similarly, the myths Tolkien began to compose during this same period are a new expression of the creation of the world, a reemergence of God’s creativity in an imaginal realm. As Shamdasani writes, “Jung held that the significance of these fantasies was due to the fact that they stemmed from the mythopoeic imagination which was missing in the present rational age.” Tolkien also would have agreed with this statement as is evidenced in his poem Mythopoeia, of which the following is a fragment:
Though now long estranged,
man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Disgraced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,
his world-dominion by creative act:
not his to worship the great Artefact,
man, sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Although human beings have fallen, in Tolkien’s view, and become estranged from the divine imagination by the emergence of disenchanted rationality, we are still able to become alchemical vessels for that sacred creativity, to refract the light of the mythopoeic imagination into our own fantasies and imaginal encounters.
During the primary visionary years of Jung’s Red Book period, the previously discussed Uranus-Neptune world transit was crossing his natal Sun-Neptune square (see Figure 1). In an individual’s birth chart, the Sun is an expression of the personal identity, the autonomous self imbued with conscious awareness, the personality and ego identity, the will to be and to exist, as well as what the individual identifies him or herself to be. Jung’s Sun square Neptune can be seen multivalently expressed throughout his life, for example, in his personal exploration of the archetypal realm, his permeability of identity to the imaginal and spiritual, his later understanding of the Self as an archetype, and his lifelong effort to bring individual consciousness and the archetypal unconscious into fruitful relationship.
At the time Jung’s imaginal experiences began, the Uranus-Neptune opposition of the early twentieth century was crossing not only his natal Sun-Neptune, but the Ascendant-Descendent axis of his chart, the horizon of his birth moment, initiating both a dissolution and liberation of his identity (see Figure 2). The Uranus-Neptune transit was activating and awakening Jung to the eternal vastness of the archetypal realm, drawing forward encounters with imaginal figures who confronted his personal assumptions about the nature of spiritual reality and the psyche, leading to a descent and dissolution of his Solar egoic identity in an encounter with his soul.
The same Uranus-Neptune opposition was also shaping the archetypal atmosphere of Tolkien’s imaginal encounters, but the transit was crossing a different part of his chart, and thus manifesting in a realm other than his Solar identity. When Tolkien wrote the first words of his Middle-Earth mythology in September 1914 the Uranus-Neptune opposition was crossing his natal Venus, whose corresponding archetype relates to art, beauty, artistic creativity, and aesthetic expression (see Figure 3). Because at this time Uranus and Neptune were widening in their orb, now ten degrees apart, Uranus was tightly conjunct Tolkien’s Venus, while Neptune had yet to come into potently effective orb with his Venus. However, over the next several years, from 1916 to 1922, when Tolkien’s mythology was pouring forth from a seeming wellspring of imaginative creativity, Neptune was in tighter opposition to his natal Venus. That the Uranus-Neptune opposition crossed Tolkien’s Venus, rather than the Sun as it did for Jung, is reflected in his chosen form of expression for the emerging material: Tolkien channeled the stream of imaginal energy into the artistic form of mythopoeic narrative, rather than using the experiences as tools to explore his own psyche and personal identity as Jung did. Interestingly, after 1915 all of Tolkien’s works of art were illustrations for his stories, unlike the earliest visionary drawings in The Book of Ishness which have no explanation for their origins other than their titles. Other powerful forces were coming through for Tolkien in those early years of creativity which we will explore later in this essay, but it seems that only once Uranus and Neptune activated his natal Venus did he find his preferred artistic outlet for the imaginal visions he was receiving.
While the long Uranus-Neptune transit crossing Jung’s Sun and Tolkien’s Venus reflect the larger gestalt of the experiences they were each undergoing, a deeper look at their individual transits will reveal the nuanced differences in their experiences and their individual expressions of those encounters. While the larger arc of this project is to show the uncanny convergence of Jung’s and Tolkien’s explorations of the imaginal realm, the current analysis of their divergence will help to unveil the cosmic underpinnings of their unique creative expressions.
A repeated vision shared in different manifestations by Jung and Tolkien was that of a Flood, or the Great Wave as Tolkien called it. While we know that Tolkien’s Great Wave visions came to him throughout his life beginning in childhood, primarily as dreams, we do not have specific dates for their occurrence. However, Jung’s first Flood vision took place on October 17, 1913 while on a train journey. He saw an immense flood that engulfed all the lands of Europe, destroying civilization and carrying floating rubble and corpses in its wake. The waters then turned to blood. Two weeks later he had the vision again; eventually he would come to recognize it as a premonition of the coming First World War.
Besides the Uranus-Neptune opposition on Jung’s Sun previously discussed, another major world transit was beginning to come into orb at this time: Saturn conjunct Pluto. As Tarnas writes, Saturn-Pluto alignments coincide with
especially challenging historical periods marked by a pervasive quality of intense contraction: eras of international crisis and conflict, empowerment of reactionary forces and totalitarian impulses, organized violence and oppression, all sometimes marked by lasting traumatic effects.
Less than a year after Jung’s Flood vision, World War I broke out in Europe when the Saturn-Pluto conjunction was in almost exact alignment. Yet during the previous autumn of 1913, Jung had been granted a painful premonition of that war as the wide Saturn-Pluto conjunction was in opposition to his natal Mars, the archetype of the warrior, of battle, anger, and violence (see Figure 4). Jung’s vision contained the combined Mars-Saturn-Pluto themes in the images of mass destruction and violent death, and the bloody wave of battle engulfing the continent. Yet the experience was also a precognitive visionary awakening reflective of the Uranus-Neptune alignment previously explored.
The same Saturn-Pluto conjunction that corresponded with Jung’s Flood vision and World War I was also transiting Tolkien’s chart, but in his case it was opposing his natal Mercury. The archetype of Mercury relates to language, speech, thought, writing, the intellect, education, and all forms of communication. Tolkien’s greatest love, it might be argued, was for languages, for their phonetic sound and resonant meaning, their evolutions and transformations, and their histories and lineages. Tolkien was born with his natal Mercury in an exact square to Saturn, which can be seen in his appreciation for ancient languages and literature (he disliked nearly all literature written after Chaucer, instead dedicating himself to medieval epics like Beowulf and the Norse and Icelandic sagas such as the Elder Edda), his meticulous attention to the details of language and expression, his painstaking and repeated revisions of all his manuscripts striving for an unattainable level of perfection, and his habit of what he called “niggling” over the finesses of his invented languages (see Figure 5). As Tolkien’s biographer Humphrey Carpenter writes, “Tolkien had a passion for perfection in written work of any kind, whether it be philology or stories. This grew from his emotional commitment to his work, which did not permit him to treat it in any manner other than the deeply serious.” All this eloquently expresses the Saturn archetype of seriousness, the old and the ancient, precision, strict standards, revision and correction, meticulous attention to details, all in relation to Mercury’s realm of language and writing.
Pluto slowly transited Tolkien’s natal Mercury-Saturn from 1909 to 1919, the years which encompassed his education at Oxford in Philology, his deeply painful separation from the love of his life Edith Bratt (who later became his wife), the visionary drawings in The Book of Ishness, the composition of his first Middle-Earth poem The Voyage of Earendel, his fighting in World War I including in the Battle of the Somme, the deaths of two of his closest friends, and the earliest compositions of The Silmarillion stories including the cosmogonic myth called the Ainulindalë. As Saturn conjoined Pluto in the sky leading up to World War I, the powerful transformational energies associated with Pluto that had already been working on Tolkien’s mind found a Saturnian form and structure in his invention of languages and the creation of myths to accompany them. If anything truly sets Tolkien apart in the realm of fiction authors it is that he developed multiple, fully-fledged imaginal languages with their own syntax and etymology, languages that feel ancient and powerful in tone and character, with grammatical structures that trace their linguistic evolution through time—all Mercury-Saturn-Pluto themes. During these years it was as though his linguistic capabilities had been opened to the evolutionary stream of language itself, and he was able to participate in the generation and rebirth of new linguistic structures.
Interestingly, coming out of the ten-year transit of Pluto across Tolkien’s Mercury, Pluto then began to oppose Tolkien’s natal Sun, a transit that lasted until the end of the 1920s as he continued to compose the cycles of the First Age of Middle-Earth. Thus, the nearly twenty-year transit of Pluto across his wide Sun-Mercury conjunction entirely encompassed the years Tolkien was writing the myths of The Silmarillion. This was the time period when Tolkien was having the powerful visionary experiences that became the prima materia of his later, more refined works: The Red Book of Westmarch, known better as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
To return to that pivotal moment in the late summer of 1914, when Saturn was conjunct Pluto and the destructive wave of the First World War had been unleashed across the continent of Europe, another potent transit was in the sky, also activating significant aspects of both Tolkien’s and Jung’s charts. At that time the planet Jupiter had come into the Uranus-Neptune alignment, making a conjunction with Uranus that lasted from December 1913 to January 1915. Archetypally, Jupiter is associated with “the principle of expansion and magnitude, providence and plenitude, liberality, elevation and ascendency, and with the tendency to experience growth and progress, success, honor, good fortune, abundance, aggrandizement, prodigality, excess and inflation.” In time periods when Jupiter was aligned with Uranus, as Tarnas writes, “An expansively and buoyantly energizing quality characterized such eras, one that often engendered a certain creative brilliance and the excitement of experiencing suddenly expanded horizons.” As we examined earlier, at this time Uranus was opposing Jung’s Sun, while it was conjoining Tolkien’s Venus. Thus, when Jupiter entered the configuration the expansive, elevating, liberating, breakthrough qualities associated with the Jupiter-Uranus combination could be seen in the profound shift that took place for each of these men during this fourteen-month period.
Under the Jupiter-Uranus conjunction transiting his Venus (see Figure 6), Tolkien encountered the names Earendel and Middle-Earth in the lines of an old Anglo-Saxon poem, both of which played profoundly prominent roles in his mythology. After this discovery, Tolkien composed on September 24, 1914 the poem The Voyage of Earendel the Evening Star, now recognized as the first written work in the Middle-Earth legendarium. Truly it was a breakthrough moment, as Tolkien was finding expression for the images and languages that had been coming to him for the last few years. After this point he began to write more stories about Middle-Earth and the peoples that inhabited this land, the Eldar, the many races of Elvenfolk living in the imaginal realm.
Coinciding with this same Jupiter-Uranus alignment, Jung’s Red Book visions were taking a profound turn. A new figure had entered into his imaginal experiences, a wise guide and teacher, one who instructed Jung in a caring, loving, and spiritually illuminating way. This figure was Philemon, the ancient alchemical wisdom-keeper who became Jung’s mentor in the realm of Soul. In Shamdasani’s words, “To Jung, Philemon represented superior insight, and was like a guru to him.” On the day that Philemon was first recorded appearing, January 27, 1914, a remarkable configuration of planets was in the sky. Not only was Jupiter conjunct Uranus in opposition to Neptune as previously discussed, but the Sun, Moon, Mercury, and Venus were also conjoining the longer Jupiter-Uranus conjunction (see Figure 7). This rare and powerful configuration was all crossing Jung’s natal Sun. Not only did this event occur at the new moon, when the Moon conjoins the Sun in a coniunctio of yin and yang energies, but the emergence of Philemon brought into Jung’s psyche a Solar figure representative of his higher self, or Self, whose teachings brought tremendous new insight and awakening, communicated with love, compassion, and wisdom. The transits on this day could be seen as the birth chart of Philemon, which itself would be a fruitful topic to explore in depth.
Finally, to conclude this brief archetypal study, I would like to look at one major aspect that both Jung and Tolkien carried throughout their lives, that can be seen not only reflected in their Red Book periods, but in the entirety of their lifeworks. This is the conjunction of Neptune and Pluto, which occurs when the long cycles of the two outermost planetary bodies align, a meeting that takes place approximately every five hundred years and lasts for about 25-30 years each time. Neptune-Pluto alignments have occurred at the rise and fall of civilizational epochs, the most pivotal moments in history when the entire paradigm of a culture dies and is reborn from the ashes, whether it is the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Middle Ages, the dawn of the Renaissance, or the turn of the 20th century. As Tarnas writes,
the major Neptune-Pluto cyclical alignments appear to have coincided with especially profound transformations of cultural vision and the collective experience of reality, which often took place deep below the surface of the collective consciousness. 
The most recent Neptune-Pluto conjunction took place from 1880 to 1905, and Jung was born on the cusp of the transit in 1875. Jung lived the first thirty years of his life in Neptune-Pluto’s culturally transformative gestalt, while Tolkien was born in 1892 with the conjunction within 1° orb (see Figures 1 and 5). While a full study could be given to the ways just this single alignment is apparent in both Jung’s and Tolkien’s entire oeuvre, I want to particularly attend to how two specific themes of this most recent Neptune-Pluto conjunction came through Jung and Tolkien: these manifestations are, as Tarnas describes them, “the dying of the gods that had ruled the Western spirit for two millennia and more” and the simultaneous “powerful upsurge of ‘the unconscious’ in many senses.” The profound and transformative encounters with the deep psyche and imaginal realm that both Jung and Tolkien experienced in their lifetimes are highly reflective of the Neptune-Pluto conjunction they each carry. They both had an encounter of overwhelming potency with the collective unconscious by passing through the underworld gateway of imagination. The powerful visions of the Flood that initiated Jung’s descent, and Great Wave dreams that haunted Tolkien, are also clear expressions of Neptune-Pluto: consciousness being violently “flooded” by the unconscious with overwhelming images of decimating waters that destroy and subsume all in their path. Furthermore, the death and rebirth of God in Jung’s Red Book, and the rebirth of Creation and the fall from grace in Tolkien’s cosmogony are but a taste of the ways Neptune-Pluto manifested in their life works. In a time of disenchanted rational modernity these two men seem to have been chosen as alchemical vessels for a deep, cosmic truth to be reborn. As Jung wrote in the pages of The Red Book, “To give birth to the ancient in a new time is creation. . . . The task is to give birth to the old in a new time.” This is the karmic task both Jung and Tolkien carried in their own ways, to encounter the gods in the archetypal realm, and to express their living truths on the pages of imagination.
Carpenter, Humphrey. J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.
Hammond, Wayne G. and Christina Scull. J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.
Jung, C.G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Edited by Aniela Jaffé. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1989.
–––––. The Red Book: Liber Novus. Edited by Sonu Shamdasani. Translated by Mark Kyburz, John Peck, and Sonu Shamdasani. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009.
To give birth to the ancient in a new time is creation. . . . The task is to give birth to the old in a new time.” – C.G. Jung
“Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
This essay was the seed of what is currently being developed into my Ph.D. dissertation, which will be available in spring 2017. Many of the ideas have been expanded and revised as I have brought in new perspectives and further research.
When you close your eyes and images arise spontaneously, what is it that you are seeing? The inside of your mind? Your imagination? The interior of your soul? Are you seeing something others can see also? Is it real? Is it inside just you, or inside everyone? Is it only internal, or could it be external as well? Might you actually be seeing a place, a realm, into which not only you but others also can enter? Does this realm have a name? These are questions I have often asked myself, when I close my eyes and am beckoned down some new road I have never encountered in this green world beneath the Sun, or when I read a story flowing from the pen of some author and find that I somehow already know the tale, am familiar with the names, have seen the images of these places before. Reading stories is an anamnesis, a discovery of the new found by treading down the paths of the old. Creativity, creation from the imagination, is that rediscovery, that recollection and remembrance. As C.G. Jung writes, “To give birth to the ancient in a new time is creation. . . . The task is to give birth to the old in a new time.” But how do we begin to undertake that task? And what does it look like when we do?
The Red Book. Carl Gustav Jung undertook the task of giving birth to the ancient in his time by following the meandering pathways of his imagination into the darkest depths of his psyche; the images with which he returned he inscribed in black and red letters, accompanied by rich illustrations, on large pages bound by two covers of red leather.
The Red Book of Westmarch. J.R.R. Tolkien set out to write a mythology—“a body of more or less connected legend,” cosmogonic myths and romantic tales whose “cycles should be linked to a majestic whole”—which came to the world in the form of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. But within the world of the story itself these tales are written out in a book that has been passed on from generation to generation: inscribed in black and red letters, accompanied by rich illustrations, in a large book bound by two covers of red leather. The book is referred to—by Tolkien who presents himself simply as the translator of this work—as The Red Book of Westmarch.
At first glance the parallel names of Jung’s and Tolkien’s respective Red Books just seem to be an odd coincidence. They could not actually have anything to do with one another, or share anything in common in content. On the one hand, Jung was one of the founders of depth psychology, an explorer of the unconscious, of the archetypal realm, of the phenomenon of synchronicity, a man of Switzerland born in 1875. On the other hand, Tolkien was firmly English, a philologist, famous author of The Lord of the Rings, one of the founders of the genre of fantasy literature, a younger man born in 1892. At first glance there seems to be little common ground between the two men, let alone between their work. There have, of course, been Jungian analyses of Tolkien’s work—focusing on both the content of his fiction, and on aspects of his biography. But, as of yet, there have been few, if any, extensive “Tolkienian analyses,”  to use Lance Owens’ phrase, of Jung and his work, particularly his work with active imagination and its product: the Liber Novus, also named The Red Book.
As I began to explore Jung’s Red Book in the context of Tolkien’s writings I started to find certain similarities between their work beyond the titles and color of the leather binding. There seemed to be a certain resonance between the two bodies of work, a convergence of images—a synchronicity, in Jung’s terminology—a synchronicity of imagination. The following essay is not so much the laying out of one particular thesis, but rather an exploration of this synchronicity of images, a journey through art, language, and story. Because of the nature of this exploration I will also quote at greater length than I usually might, because the original words of each of these men carries great power in themselves.
The first parallel that stood out to me was the timing of when Jung began his “Red Book period”—the time of his psychological descent when the fantasy images began to come to him in waking life—and when Tolkien began making an unusual series of drawings in a sketchbook he entitled The Book of Ishness. In 1913 both men, Jung an established psychoanalyst, Tolkien a young man early in his undergraduate studies at Oxford, took an unusual turn in their lives, turning away from the outer images of the world of common day and focusing instead upon the inner images of the imagination. Jung’s Red Book period is considered to have spanned the years 1913-1930, but the primary content of his visions came to him from late 1913 through around 1917, the first vision taking place on December 12, 1913. The majority of the sketches in Tolkien’s Book of Ishness were done over a shorter period of time: from December 1911 through the summer of 1913 he made his “Earliest Ishnesses,” but he continued to add to The Book of Ishness up until 1928. Alongside the visionary drawings another form of creativity was emerging through Tolkien as well: the arts of language. Tolkien was trying his hand at writing poetry and prose not only in English, but in languages of his own invention as well. The first mythic stories that were to become part of The Silmarillion Tolkien wrote down in September 1914. Although the primary creative period for both Jung and Tolkien was during these potent years of the 1910s, they each spent the next forty years of their lives developing the material they encountered during that time. As Jung wrote of that period:
The years when I was pursuing my inner images were the most important in my life—in them everything essential was decided. It all began then; the later details are only supplements and clarifications of the material that burst forth from the unconscious, and at first swamped me. It was the prima materia for a lifetime’s work.
One means of understanding the simultaneity of Jung’s and Tolkien’s periods of creative imagination is archetypal astrology, which interprets archetypally the relational positions of the planets in the sky at the time Tolkien and Jung were having these unusual experiences. Yet, although astrology sheds a strong light upon the timing of the outpouring of this imaginal material, that is not the primary direction this particular essay will be taking. However, I would briefly like to point out a few significant planetary alignments before moving deeper into exploring the art and writings of Jung and Tolkien.
From 1899-1918 there was an opposition between the slow-moving outer planets Uranus and Neptune. The archetype of Neptune, as Richard Tarnas writes, “is considered to govern the transcendent dimensions of life, imaginative and spiritual vision, and the realm of the ideal.” He goes on to say that Neptune “rules both the positive and negative meanings of enchantment—both poetic vision and wishful fantasy, mysticism and madness, higher realities and delusional unreality.” Finally, “The Neptune principle has a special relation to the stream of consciousness and the oceanic depths of the unconscious, to all nonordinary states of consciousness, to the realm of dreams and visions, images and reflections.” In contrast, the planet Uranus, as Tarnas also writes,
is empirically associated with the principle of change, rebellion, freedom, liberation, reform and revolution, and the unexpected breakup of structures; with sudden surprises, revelations and awakenings, lightning-like flashes of insight, the acceleration of thoughts and events; with births and new beginnings of all kinds; and with intellectual brilliance, cultural innovation, technological invention, experiment, creativity, and originality.
When the archetypal natures of these two planets, Uranus and Neptune, come into geometrical relationship with each other, personal and world events with increasing frequency tend to reflect the combined energies of these archetypes. Uranus-Neptune alignments correlate with
widespread spiritual awakenings, the birth of new religious movements, cultural renaissances, the emergence of new philosophical perspectives, rebirths of idealism, sudden shifts in a culture’s cosmological and metaphysical vision, rapid collective changes in psychological understanding and interior sensibility . . . and epochal shifts in a culture’s artistic imagination.
The visionary periods of both Jung and Tolkien perfectly exemplify the characteristic manifestations of Uranus-Neptune alignments. The most potent time of both men’s imaginal experiences took place in the sunset years of the early 20th century opposition alignment, from 1913-1917. Furthermore, they were not the only of their contemporaries to be having fantasy visions and translating them into paint and the written word.
The following two axial, or quadrature, alignments of Uranus and Neptune since the turn of the 20th century have also correlated to significant periods in terms of the work of both Tolkien and Jung. During the square alignment of the 1950s Tolkien’s masterpiece The Lord of the Rings was published in three volumes in 1954 and 1955. Under the same alignment, in 1957, Jung began working with Aniela Jaffé on compiling his autobiographical memoir Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Finally, under the most recent alignment of Uranus and Neptune, the conjunction that lasted from 1985-2001, the film renditions of The Lord of the Rings, directed by Peter Jackson, were produced in New Zealand, with the first installation released in December 2001. Also at the end of that same Uranus-Neptune alignment in the year 2000, the decision was made by the Society of Heirs of C.G. Jung to at last publish the long-awaited seminal work of Jung’s career, his Liber Novus, The Red Book.
Intimations of the imaginal explorer Jung would become were present from his childhood, particularly in his relationship to his dreams, visions, and sense of having two personalities, one of whom he felt was connected to an earlier historical period. Jung referred to these two personalities simply as No. 1 and No. 2. No. 1 was the personality who corresponded with his age and current time in history, a schoolboy who struggled with algebra and was less than self-assured. No 2. Jung felt was an old man, who perhaps lived in the 18th century, but also had a mysterious connection to the Middle Ages. Yet No. 2 was also not tied to history or even time, for he lived in “God’s world,” a boundless, eternal realm. Jung described this realm as follows:
Besides [personality No. 1’s] world there existed another realm, like a temple in which anyone who entered was transformed and suddenly overpowered by a vision of the whole cosmos, so that he could only marvel and admire, forgetful of himself. . . . Here nothing separated man from God; indeed, it was as though the human mind looked down upon Creation simultaneously with God.
In another description, Jung writes how he felt when experiencing life as personality No. 2, saying,
It was as though a breath of the great world of stars and endless space had touched me, or as if a spirit had invisibly entered the room—the spirit of one who had long been dead and yet was perpetually present in timelessness until far into the future. Denouements of this sort were wreathed with the halo of the numen.
The vision Jung paints in these descriptions brings to mind a quote from Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-Stories,” in which he describes a similar perspective, like a view from above, that one gains while in the realm of Faërie—Faërie being Tolkien’s term for the realm of imagination. He writes,
“The magic of Faërie is not an end in itself, its virtue is in its operations: among these are the satisfaction of certain primordial human desires. One of these desires is to survey the depths of space and time. Another is to hold communion with other living things.”
Tolkien too had the sense he somehow had been born into the wrong time. His interests lay primarily in the Middle Ages, and he was drawn to ancient languages such as Anglo-Saxon, Gothic, Old Icelandic, and several other tongues no longer spoken in the contemporary world. Tolkien had an intuitive feel for these languages as if they were his own. He was most inspired by pre-Chaucerian literature, particularly favoring the heroic myths of the Finnish Kalevala, and the world of monsters and dragons presented in the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf. Even his voice had an other-worldly or ancient tone to it. As his biographer Humphrey Carpenter writes, “He has a strange voice, deep but without resonance, entirely English but with some quality in it that I cannot define, as if he had come from another age or civilization.”
Both Jung and Tolkien painted and drew as children, but their art, leading into adulthood, was always representational in nature, usually of the surrounding landscapes. However, there was an abrupt change in the style of each of their artwork from the early 1910s onward, moving from depictions of topography to abstract, semi-figurative, and symbolic art. 
One of the earliest visions that came to both Jung and Tolkien was of major significance to each of them: an overpowering Flood, or as Tolkien sometimes called it, the Great Wave. The first of Jung’s Flood visions came to him while awake, on October 17, 1913:
In October, while I was alone on a journey, I was suddenly seized by an overpowering vision: I saw a monstrous flood covering all the northern and low-lying lands between the North Sea and the Alps. . . . I saw the mighty yellow waves, the floating rubble of civilization, and the drowned bodies of uncounted thousands. Then the whole sea turned to blood.
Two weeks later Jung had the vision again, this time accompanied by a voice saying, “Look at it well; it is wholly real and it will be so. You cannot doubt it.”
An uncannily similar vision came also to Tolkien, both while awake and while sleeping, beginning when he was about seven years old and continuing throughout much of his adult life. He called the vision his “Atlantis-haunting”:
This legend or myth or dim memory of some ancient history has always troubled me. In sleep I had the dreadful dream of the ineluctable Wave, either coming out of the quiet sea, or coming in towering over the green inlands. It still occurs occasionally, though now exorcized by writing about it. It always ends by surrender, and I wake gasping out of deep water.
When World War I broke out in August 1914 Jung recognized that his vision of the destructive Flood was prophetic of the war; his interior images were reflective of the external political and cultural situation occurring in Europe. The outbreak of the war indicated to Jung that he was not, as he had been afraid, going mad, but was rather a mirror of the madness unfolding in the external world. Tolkien, being an Englishman and of a younger generation than Jung, fought in that very war that Jung’s vision had prophesied. Needless to say, the war had a tremendous effect upon Tolkien, particularly the Battle of the Somme in which two of his most beloved friends were killed. Later in his life, as Tolkien was creating The Lord of the Rings, world events began to reflect what he had already written in his narrative. As his close friend, and fellow Oxford don, C.S. Lewis wrote, “These things were not devised to reflect any particular situation in the real world. It was the other way round; real events began, horribly, to conform to the pattern he had freely invented.”
The next vision that came to Jung, and the first that he wrote out in calligraphic hand in his Red Book, marked the beginning of his “confrontation with the unconscious.” To get a fuller sense of the experiential nature of this vision, I will quote at length from Memories, Dreams, Reflections:
It was during Advent of the year 1913—December 12, to be exact—that I resolved upon the decisive step. I was sitting at my desk once more, thinking over my fears. Then I let myself drop. Suddenly it was as though the ground literally gave way beneath my feet, and I plunged down into dark depths. I could not fend off the feeling of panic. But then, abruptly, at not too great a depth, I landed on my feet in a soft, sticky mass. I felt great relief, although I was apparently in complete darkness. After a while my eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, which was rather like a deep twilight. Before me was the entrance to a dark cave, in which stood a dwarf with a leathery skin, as if he were mummified. I squeezed past him through the narrow entrance and waded knee deep through icy water to the other end of the cave where, on a projecting rock, I saw a glowing red crystal. I grasped the stone, lifted it, and discovered a hollow underneath. At first I could make out nothing, but then I saw that there was running water. In it a corpse floated by, a youth with blond hair and a wound in the head. He was followed by a gigantic black scarab and then by a red, newborn sun, rising up out of the depths of the water. Dazzled by the light, I wanted to replace the stone upon the opening, but then a fluid welled out. It was blood. A thick jet of it leaped up, and I felt nauseated. It seemed to me that the blood continued to spurt for an unendurably long time. At last it ceased, and the vision came to an end.
In this inaugural vision of The Red Book are contained many symbolic images. But for this particular study, what stands out to me are the numerous parallels to images in Tolkien’s own works of the many underworld, underground journeys that take place in Middle-Earth: the dark journey through the lost Dwarf realm of Moria in which Gandalf is lost in a battle with Shadow and Flame; Frodo and Sam’s fearful passage through the monstrous spider Shelob’s midnight tunnel on the borders of Mordor, which has resemblance to the giant scarab Jung describes; Aragorn and the Grey Company’s journey through the Paths of the Dead, in which they encounter a dead host of restless shades, another parallel to Jung’s encounter with the Dead deeper into The Red Book; Bilbo’s encounter with the dragon Smaug in the dark halls of Erebor, the Lonely Mountain; and Bilbo’s fateful encounter with the twisted creature Gollum, whose lair was deep within a mountain cavern, upon a little island rock set within the icy waters of a subterranean lake. Upon that rock, like the red crystal of Jung’s vision, lay long-hid the One Ring, the Ring of Power made by the Dark Lord Sauron. In both stories the heart of the narrative begins here, upon this island rock, where a lost treasure of unknown power is hid, awaiting for a new hand to grasp it.
At about the same time Jung was experiencing these early fantasies, Tolkien started to draw the visionary illustrations in his Book of Ishness. Two particularly stand out in correlation to Jung’s own vision, as they seem to symbolize a similar entrance into an underworld imaginal realm. The first is titled simply Before, and depicts a dark corridor lit with flaming torches, leading to a gaping doorway from which a red glow issues ominously (see Figure 1).
Lance Owens describes Before as “primitive, quick, a statement of the deep dream world.” Verlyn Flieger also comments on the sketch, saying that “The title Before conveys the dual notions of ‘standing in front of’ and ‘awaiting,’ or ‘anticipating.’ The sketch is remarkable for its mood, which conveys both foreboding (the dark corridor) and hope (the lighted doorway).”
The second sketch seems to be intended to follow directly after Before: it depicts a solitary figure walking out of a doorway of the same shape as in the previous drawing, and heading down a long hall lit with many torches. The drawing is titled Afterwards (see Figure 2). The coloring is in great contrast to the stark red and black of Before; Afterwards is sketched in yellows and blues, although it too conveys a sense of darkness and gloom, yet less foreboding than the previous drawing.
The Book of Ishness contained a series of Tolkien’s drawings, all of them symbolic or abstract in nature. As previously mentioned, Tolkien underwent a shift in the subjects he chose to illustrate. As Owens explains it, Tolkien felt “a need to draw not what he saw on the outside, but what he saw on the inside.” Interestingly, in 1911 not long before he began to draw his “Earliest Ishnesses,” Tolkien visited Switzerland, Jung’s homeland, for the only time in his life. He went on a walking tour through the Alps, whose majestic peaks had a tremendous impact on him. How close geographically Jung and Tolkien might have been to each other at that time, one can only guess. While in Switzerland Tolkien came across a postcard on which was a painting by J. Madlener, titled Der Berggeist, “the mountain spirit” (see Figure 3). The painting depicts an old man in a cloak and wide-brimmed hat, seated beneath a tree in an alpine setting.
Many years later Tolkien made a note on this painting: “Origin of Gandalf.” Within The Book of Ishness Tolkien also composed a painting he entitled Eeriness, that seems to depict a wizard-like figure bearing a staff who is walking down a long road lined with dark trees (see Figure 4). Like all the illustrations in The Book of Ishness, there is no explanation of the content of the pictures beyond their titles—we can only guess what inner images of Tolkien’s they are reflecting.
Perhaps the most striking of all the Ishnesses is the one titled End of the World (see Figure 5). In this drawing a small figure is stepping off of a cliff extending over the sea. The Sun is shining brightly down onto the scene, and seemingly within the water itself shine white stars, and a crescent Moon bends across the horizon line. Although the image of a man stepping off a cliff, and its corresponding title, may seem to be somber, even depressing, they convey a dual meaning: this is not only the “end of the world” in reference to its demise, or to the death of the individual, but it is the “end of the world” in that the individual has reached its edge and wishes to continue on his journey. As Owens says of this image, “that fellow has stepped, and he is not falling, he is walking into a Sun, into a Moon, into Stars.” One might see End of the World as a symbol of the threshold Tolkien appears to have crossed at this time—the doorway to the imaginal, into what he called the realm of Faërie.
Much of Jung’s fantasy material came to him not only as images but in the form of runes and words that he would hear. No easy translation of his fantasies was available to him. As written in the Translators’ Note to The Red Book, “The task before him was to find a language rather than use one ready at hand.”
When Tolkien began to take up the creation of his own language systems, it was because he too was hearing words, languages with no correlate in the outside world. Owens compares Tolkien’s hearing of languages to Mozart’s experiences of hearing full melodies playing out in his mind. He wished to compose languages as others composed symphonies. Accompanying these languages were races of people, Elves he soon discovered, who came replete with names and histories of their own. The images of story seemed to arise from the music of the languages themselves. In a passage in The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien illustrates an experience Frodo has in the Hall of Fire in Rivendell while listening to Elvish music, which I believe may be a description of Tolkien’s own experience with the story visions that would accompany the Elven languages:
At first the beauty of the melodies and of the interwoven words in elven-tongues, even though he understood them little, held him in a spell, as soon as he began to attend to them. Almost it seemed that the words took shape, and visions of far lands and bright things that he had never yet imagined opened out before him; and the firelit hall became like a golden mist above seas of foam that sighed upon the margins of the world. Then the enchantment became more and more dreamlike, until he felt that an endless river of swelling gold and silver was flowing over him, too multitudinous for its pattern to be comprehended; it became part of the throbbing air about him, and it drenched and drowned him. Swiftly he sank under its shining weight into a deep realm of sleep.
The same year Jung’s Red Book visions began, Tolkien came across a pair of lines in an Anglo-Saxon poem titled Crist, written by the poet Cynewulf.
“Hail Earendel, brightest of angels
above the middle-earth sent unto men”
Many years later Tolkien wrote of his finding both the names Earendel and Middle-Earth: “I felt a curious thrill . . . as if something had stirred in me, half wakened from sleep. There was something very remote and strange and beautiful behind those words, if I could grasp it, far beyond ancient English.” Tolkien felt as though he had come across something he somehow already knew, a stirring of remembrance, of anamnesis. In September 1914, just after World War I broke out and while Jung was gripped by the visions of his psychological descent, Tolkien wrote his first poem about this figure Earendel, who was to become a central character in his mythology, with the slightly altered name Eärendil.
“The Voyage of Earendel the Evening Star”
Earendel sprang up from the Ocean’s cup In the gloom of the mid-world’s rim; From the door of Night as a ray of light Leapt over the twilight brim, And launching his bark like a silver spark From the golden-fading sand Down the sunlit breath of Day’s fiery death He sped from Westerland.
The poem is describing the journey of a lone wanderer across the night sky, a single light entering the realm of darkness before making his descent into the West, the direction in which, according to Tolkien, dwelt the Faërie realm.
The journey of the Evening Star seems to have entered Jung’s imagination also, although by another name. Upon the cornerstone of the tower he built at Bollingen, Jung had inscribed this line, among several others: “This is Telesphoros, who roams through the dark regions of this cosmos and glows like a star out of the depths. He points the way to the gates of the sun and to the land of dreams.”
When Tolkien showed “The Voyage of Earendel the Evening Star” to his close friend G.B. Smith, he asked Tolkien what the poem was really about. Tolkien gave an unusual response: “I don’t know. I’ll try to find out” He always maintained that the stories he was writing were true in a sense, that he was not making them up but rather discovering them. As his biographer writes, “He did feel, or hope, that his stories were in some sense an embodiment of a profound truth.” Jung too, “maintained a ‘fidelity to the event,’ and what he was writing was not to be mistaken for a fiction.” What then was it that both men were encountering, that appeared to be an internal experience, and yet had such a profound air of reality?
The Liber Novus, Jung’s Red Book, “depicts the rebirth of God in the soul.” The Red Book is “Jung’s descent into Hell” and is “an attempt to shape an individual cosmology.” Tolkien’s own Red Book, in the form of his mythology and The Lord of the Rings, is also an attempt to shape an individual cosmology and cosmogony, a world containing the God he loved and worshipped. And Tolkien also depicted a descent into Hell—into Mordor, and into worse Hells: the dark realm of Thangorodrim, the darkness of lost and corrupted souls.
Both Jung and Tolkien were drawn to the style of medieval manuscripts, with their calligraphy and illuminated letters, and emulated the medieval aesthetic in their artwork. Jung spoke of the style of language in which he wrote The Red Book, saying: “First I formulated the things as I had observed them, usually in ‘high flown language,’ for that corresponds to the style of the archetypes. Archetypes speak the language of high rhetoric, even of bombast.” The language used in Tolkien’s Silmarillion, and even in the latter chapters of The Lord of the Rings, has a similar tone, sounding mythic, almost Biblical in nature.
The term “fantasy” was of great significance for both Jung and Tolkien, and although the specific language in which they defined the term differs somewhat, there are certain significant overlaps. In A Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis, “Fantasy” is defined as the
Flow or aggregate of images and ideas in the unconscious Psyche, constituting its most characteristic activity. To be distinguished from thought or cognition. . . . “Active” fantasies, on the other hand, do require assistance from the ego for them to emerge into consciousness. When that occurs, we have a fusion of the conscious and unconscious areas of the psyche; an expression of the psychological unity of the person.
The Jungian dictionary finds a contradiction in the further definition of Fantasy, saying that Jung seemed to have “two disparate definitions of fantasy: (a) as different and separate from external reality, and (b) as linking inner and outer worlds.” Although these definitions seem contrary, perhaps when read in light of Tolkien’s definition of “Fantasy” they may not seem to be quite as at odds as first appears: “Fantasy, the making or glimpsing of Other-worlds, was the heart of the desire of Faërie.” Tolkien goes on to say, “Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity.” He also adds, “Fantasy is a rational not an irrational activity.” According to this definition, Fantasy appears highly similar to Jung’s practice of active imagination, that links a person of the external world to the internal realm of Faërie, yet is also the very heart of that separate realm of the Imagination.
Diving further into the content of The Red Book itself, there are many significant parallels simply between the style of artwork composed by Jung and Tolkien. For one, they both painted multiple dragons, symbols of the archetypal monster to be confronted in the heart of the underworld (see Figures 6, 7, 8 and 9). Another archetypal symbol both
men painted multiple times was of a great tree, that could be seen as the World Tree or the Tree of Tales. Tolkien “regularly” drew what he called the Tree of Amalion, which particularly resembled a single tree painted in Jung’s Red Book with large ornaments situated upon each branch (See Figures 10 and 11). Jung wrote in his memoir, “Trees in particular were mysterious and seemed to me direct embodiments of the incomprehensible meaning of life. For that reason the woods were the place where I felt closest to its deepest meaning and to its awe-inspiring workings.” Trees were beloved, even sacred, to Tolkien: “he liked most of all to be with trees. He would like to climb them, lean against them, even talk to them.” The entrance to the realm of Faërie, for Tolkien, lay not underground, as was depicted in many traditional fairy-stories, but through the woods; in the world of trees lay the transition between realities. While for Jung the archetype of the World Tree played a significant role, Tolkien’s mythology had at its heart not one World Tree but two, the Two Trees of Valinor, whose intermingling silver and gold lights illuminated the newly created world before the Sun and Moon were formed of their last fruit and flower.
One of the most prominent figures Jung encounters in The Red Book is Philemon, an old man who provides guidance and teaches magic. Many chapters could be dedicated solely to Philemon and the teachings from his wisdom, but in this study I will focus primarily on his resemblance to another old man who provides guidance and is an embodiment of magic: Gandalf the Grey, one of the Istari, a wizard, who within the course of The Lord of the Rings becomes Gandalf the White and guides the Free Peoples of Middle-Earth to victory against the Dark Lord Sauron. Gandalf not only plays a similar role as Philemon, but also his original name—his Maia name by which he was known in the Undying Lands in the West, before he was sent in human form to Middle-Earth—was Olorin. The name Olorin comes from the Elvish olor which means “dream” but, as Flieger writes, “that does not refer to (most) human ‘dreams,’ certainly not the dreams of sleep.” Furthermore, olor is derived from Quenya olo-s which means “vision, phantasy.”
The vision of the Great Wave stayed with both Jung and Tolkien and entered into their imaginal writings. Jung wrote out one particular fantasy of the Wave that came to him January 2, 1914 in the pages of The Red Book. Yet another synchronicity was that this recurring vision, which he seemed to share with Tolkien, occurred on the eve of Tolkien’s birthday, January 3. Yet because Jung always did his practice of active imagination late at night he very well may have beheld the Great Wave after midnight, on the date of Tolkien’s twenty-second birthday. As written in The Red Book, Jung’s fantasy unfolded as follows:
“Wave after wave approaches, and ever new droves dissolve into black air. Dark one, tell me, is this the end?”
The dark sea breaks heavily—a reddish glow spreads out in it—it is like blood—a sea of blood foams at my feet—the depths of the sea glow—how strange I feel—am I suspended by my feet? Is it the sea or is it the sky? Blood and fire mix themselves together in a ball—red light erupts from its smoky shroud—a new sun escapes from the bloody sea, and rolls gleamingly toward the uttermost depths—it disappears under my feet.
Tolkien also wrote of the Great Wave many times, in The Silmarillion, in his two unfinished tales The Lost Road and The Notion Club Papers, and as Faramir’s dream in The Lord of the Rings. He said when he bestowed the dream upon Faramir he ceased to dream of it himself, although he found out years later his son Michael had inherited the dream in his turn. One of the most powerful narrations of the Great Wave takes place in the Second Age at the Downfall of Númenor, also called the Akallabêth: “Darkness fell. The sea rose and raged in a great storm . . . the Sun, sinking blood-red into a wrack of clouds.”
And the deeps rose beneath them in towering anger, and waves like unto mountains moving with great caps of writhen snow bore them up amid the wreckage of the clouds, and after many days cast them away upon the shores of Middle-earth. And all the coasts and seaward regions of the western world suffered great change and ruin in that time; for the seas invaded the lands, and shores foundered, and ancient isles were drowned, and new isles were uplifted; and hills crumbled and rivers were turned into strange courses.
The name Númenor, given to the island kingdom that sank beneath the waves in divine retribution for a mortal transgression of hubris, has often been mistakenly written as “Numinor,” even by Tolkien’s close friend C.S. Lewis. Tolkien felt such a mistake came from associating the name with the Latin numen, numina that is the root of the word “numinous,” a term of particular significance to Jung. Tolkien explains that the name Númenor is actually derived from the Eldarin base NDU, meaning “below, down, descend.” This base is the root of the Quenya word nume, meaning “going down, occident,” and númen “the direction or region of the sunset.” Not only does the mistaken name of the land that sank beneath the Great Wave refer to the numinous, but the actual name implies a descent, the very term used for the psychological process Jung was undergoing during his Red Book period.
The power of Fantasy comes directly into the visions of The Red Book when Jung encounters the God Izdubar, a giant somewhat resembling the Norse God Thor. In the course of their conversation Jung brings up an aspect of Western science, the disenchanted world view from which he comes. The encounter of a mythic being with the disenchanted perspective of the modern world mortally wounds the God, laming him so he cannot walk and sapping his life strength away. In an attempt to save him Jung realizes that if he can convince Izdubar he is a fantasy he may have some hope in saving him. Jung’s dialogue captures both the humor and profundity of the exchange, thus I will quote at length directly from The Red Book:
I: “My prince, Powerful One, listen: a thought came to me that might save us. I think that you are not at all real, but only a fantasy.”
Izdubar: “I am terrified by this thought. It is murderous. Do you even mean to declare me unreal—now that you have lamed me so pitifully?”
I: “Perhaps I have not made myself clear enough, and have spoken too much in the language of the Western lands. I do not mean to say that you are not real at all, of course, but only as real as a fantasy. If you could accept this, much would be gained.”
Iz: “What would be gained by this? You are a tormenting devil.”
I: “Pitiful one, I will not torment you. The hand of the doctor does not seek to torment even if it causes grief. Can you really not accept that you are a fantasy?”
Iz: “Woe betide me! In what magic do you want to entangle me? Should it help me if I take myself for a fantasy?”
I: “I know that the name one bears means a lot. You also know that one often gives the sick new names to heal them, for with a new name, they come by a new essence. Your name is your essence.”
Iz: “You are right, our priests also say this.”
I: “So you are prepared to admit that you are a fantasy?”
Iz: “If it helps—yes.”
. . .
“A way has been found. You have become light, lighter than a feather. Now I can carry you.” I put my arms round him and lift him up from the ground; he is lighter than air, and I struggle to keep my feet on the ground since my load lifts me up into the air.
Through this exchange Jung demonstrates the tremendous power that Fantasy has, if allowed to work its enchantment. He writes, “Thus my God found salvation. He was saved precisely by what one would actually consider fatal, namely by declaring him a figment of the imagination.”
Significant in itself, this scene of carrying one who ought to be heavy yet is somehow light also has a resemblance to one of the most moving moments in The Lord of the Rings, when Sam and Frodo are struggling up the treacherous slopes of Mount Doom.
“Now for it! Now for the last gasp!” said Sam as he struggled to his feet. He bent over Frodo, rousing him gently. Frodo groaned; but with a great effort of will he staggered up; and then he fell upon his knees again. He raised his eyes with difficulty to the dark slopes of Mount Doom towering above him, and then pitifully he began to crawl forward on his hands.
Sam looked at him and wept in his heart, but no tears came to his dry and stinging eyes. “I said I’d carry him, if it broke my back,” he muttered, “and I will!”
“Come, Mr. Frodo!” he cried. “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo dear! Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he’ll go.”
As Frodo clung upon his back, arms loosely about his neck, legs clasped firmly under his arms, Sam staggered to his feet; and then to his amazement he felt the burden light. He had feared that he would have barely strength to lift his master alone, and beyond that he had expected to share in the dreadful dragging weight of the accursed Ring. But it was not so. Whether because Frodo was so worn by his long pains, wound of knife, and venomous sting, and sorrow, fear, and homeless wandering, or because some gift of final strength was given to him, Sam lifted Frodo with no more difficulty than if he were carrying a hobbit-child pig-a-back in some romp on the lawns or hayfields of the Shire. He took a deep breath and started off.
Perhaps one of the most profound areas in which the fantasy visions, and respective world views, of Jung and Tolkien overlap is around the nature of evil. They both had a deep understanding of the nature of evil, and were able to articulate its presence in the world in a way that demonstrates the importance of confronting that evil and going into its depths on behalf of personal and collective transformation. Yet not only do Tolkien and Jung share a similar understanding of the workings of evil, they also share uncannily similar depictions of evil nature in both their art and writing. Within The Lord of the Rings, the clearest view we are given of the Dark Lord is his great Eye, “an image of malice and hatred made visible . . . the Eye of Sauron the Terrible [that] few could endure.” Frodo has two separate visions of the Eye, each more terrifying than the last. The first is while gazing into the Mirror of Galadriel in the woods of Lothlórien.
But suddenly the Mirror went altogether dark, as dark as if a hole had opened in the world of sight, and Frodo looked into emptiness. In the black abyss there appeared a single Eye that slowly grew, until it filled nearly all the Mirror. So terrible was it that Frodo stood rooted, unable to cry out or to withdraw his gaze. The Eye was rimmed with fire, but was itself glazed, yellow as a cat’s, watchful and intent, and the black slit of its pupil opened on a pit, a window into nothing.
Then the Eye began to rove, searching this way and that; and Frodo knew with certainty and horror that among the many things that it sought he himself was one.
The second exposure to the Eye of Sauron that Frodo endures is upon Amon Hen, the Hill of Seeing:
All hope left him. And suddenly he felt the Eye. There was an eye in the Dark Tower that did not sleep. He knew that it had become aware of his gaze. A fierce eager will was there. It leaped towards him; almost like a finger he felt it, searching for him. Very soon it would nail him down, know just exactly where he was.
These powerful depictions of the piercing gaze of evil also entered into Jung’s Red Book visions, in both image and word. Tolkien did many illustrations of the Eye of Sauron, showing a red iris with a hard black pupil. Within the illuminated letter on the first page of the Liber Secundus, the second section of Jung’s Red Book, is a nearly identical illustration: a red eye with a hollow black pupil in its center (see Figures 12 and 13). Yet Jung also writes further into The Red Book,
Nothing is more valuable to the evil one than his eye, since only through his eye can emptiness seize gleaming fullness. Because the emptiness lacks fullness, it craves fullness and its shining power. And it drinks it in by means of its eye, which is able to grasp the beauty and unsullied radiance of fullness. The emptiness is poor, and if it lacked its eye it would be hopeless. It sees the most beautiful and wants to devour it in order to spoil it.
The eye that symbolizes evil is an eye that looks only outward; it does not look inward, it does not self-reflect. The eye as symbol of evil cautions against the refusal to look deep into one’s innermost self, to face the Shadow within. If one only looks outward one becomes subsumed by that Shadow; it is all the world can see although the eye may be blind to it from within. Indeed, both Jung and Tolkien even used the term Shadow to refer to this darkness that must be faced and reflected upon.
“He who journeys to Hell also becomes Hell: therefore do not forget from whence you come . . . do not be heroes . . .” Jung writes in The Red Book. Indeed, the two Hobbits who journey into Hell, into Mordor, are not Heroes. They are but simple folk who do the task that is at hand, that has been set before them by the greater powers of the world. But Frodo succumbs to the Hell into which he enters; at the final moment when he is meant to throw the One Ring into the Cracks of Doom, within the heart of the volcano Orodruin, Mount Doom, he cannot do it. He takes the Ring for himself.
Then Frodo stirred and spoke with a clear voice, indeed with a voice clearer and more powerful than Sam had ever heard him use, and it rose above the throb and turmoil of Mount Doom, ringing in the roof and walls.
“I have come,” he said. “But I do not choose now to do what I came to do. I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine!” And suddenly, as he set it on his finger, he vanished from Sam’s sight.
Frodo has, in that pivotal moment, become the evil he had set out to destroy. But it is only through that act, and through his ultimate sacrifice, that the quest can in the end be achieved. In the same section of The Red Book in which Jung writes of the eye of evil, he also writes, “the scene of the mystery play is the heart of the volcano.” The moment of transformation, the unexpected turn that Tolkien calls the eucatastrophe, takes place in the fiery heart of the volcanic underworld.
A form of art that Jung found to have particular significance in the psychological journey was the mandala, a circular and quadratic emblem that he came to recognize as a symbol of the Self. Without knowing what at first he was doing, Jung drew his first mandala on January 16, 1916 (see Figure 14). He came to understand that the mandala form represented “Formation, transformation, the eternal mind’s eternal recreation.” In Tolkien’s artwork I did not expect to also find drawings of mandalas, and yet it seems that towards the end of his life he would wile away the time drawing ornate patterns on the backs of envelopes and on newspapers as he solved the crossword. Many of these emblems, which he later designated as Elvish heraldic devices symbolizing individual characters within his mythology, were mandalic in form (see Figure 15), as were some others of his more complete drawings (see Figure 16). Yet another interesting quality of Tolkien’s art was that he often designed his pictures around a central axis. If one were to imagine moving from the sideways perspective portrayed in the drawing to a bird’s eye view from above, these illustrations of Tolkien’s quite likely would resemble a mandala (see Figures 17 and 18).
“If the encounter with the shadow is the ‘apprentice-piece’ in the individual’s development, then that with the anima is the ‘master-piece.’” Jung wrote these words in reference to his own visionary experiences, as well as the experiences of the patients with whom he worked. We have already explored parallels in Jung’s and Tolkien’s encounters with the Shadow. But what of the encounter with Anima? The Anima for Jung is the female personification of the soul of a man, and the Animus is the male personification of the soul of a woman. Anima figures can take many forms, of course based upon the psychology of each individual. For Jung, one of the personifications of his Anima whom he encountered in the physical world at a young age was a girl he met briefly while walking in the Swiss mountains. As they began to descend the mountain side by side, he said “. . . a strange feeling of fatefulness crept over me. ‘She appeared at just this moment,’ I thought to myself, ‘and she walks along with me as naturally as if we belonged together.’” Reflecting later on the encounter, he wrote, “. . . seen from within, it was so weighty that it not only occupied my thoughts for days but has remained forever in my memory, like a shrine by the wayside.” This girl was one of several women who represented an Anima image for Jung, the female symbol of his soul.
The last story that Tolkien ever wrote in his life was called Smith of Wootton Major. It is a short story of a man who, as a child, is given a fay star, an emblem from the realm of Faërie, that grants him passageway into that enchanted world. On one of his journeys through Faërie this man encounters, in a high mountain meadow, a beautiful dancing maiden.
On the inner side the mountains went down in long slopes filled with the sound of bubbling waterfalls, and in great delight he hastened on. As he set foot upon the grass of the Vale he heard elven voices singing, and on a lawn beside a river bright with lilies he came upon many maidens dancing. The speed and the grace and the ever-changing modes of their movements enchanted him, and he stepped forward towards their ring. Then suddenly they stood still, and a young maiden with flowing hair and kilted skirt came out to meet him.
She laughed as she spoke to him, saying: “You are becoming bold, Starbrow, are you not? Have you no fear what the Queen might say, if she knew of this? Unless you have her leave.” He was abashed, for he became aware of his own thought and knew that she read it: that the star on his forehead was a passport to go wherever he wished; and now he knew that it was not. But she smiled as she spoke again: “Come! Now that you are here you shall dance with me”; and she took his hand and led him into the ring.
There they danced together, and for a while he knew what it was to have the swiftness and the power and the joy to accompany her. For a while. But soon as it seemed they halted again, and she stooped and took up a white flower from before her feet, and she set it in his hair. “Farewell now!” she said. “Maybe we shall meet again, by the Queen’s leave.”
Although clearly of a fictional nature, Smith’s encounter with the Elven-maiden has certain resemblances to the young girl with whom Jung walked in the Swiss mountains, and perhaps she had a similar significance to each of them too. Indeed, Jung even wrote in The Red Book that he sees “the anima as elf-like; i.e. only partially human.”During Smith’s final visit to Faërie his most profound meeting occurs:
On that visit he had received a summons and had made a far journey. Longer it seemed to him than any he had yet made. He was guided and guarded, but he had little memory of the ways that he had taken; for often he had been blindfolded by mist or by shadow, until at last he came to a high place under a night-sky of innumerable stars. There he was brought before the Queen herself. She wore no crown and had no throne. She stood there in her majesty and her glory, and all about her was a great host shimmering and glittering like the stars above; but she was taller than the points of their great spears, and upon her head burned a white flame. She made a sign for him to approach, and trembling he stepped forward. A high clear trumpet sounded, and behold! they were alone.
He stood before her, and he did not kneel in courtesy, for he was dismayed and felt that for one so lowly all gestures were in vain. At length he looked up and beheld her face and her eyes bent gravely upon him; and he was troubled and amazed, for in that moment he knew her again: the fair maid of the Green Vale, the dancer at whose feet the flowers sprang. She smiled seeing his memory, and drew towards him; and they spoke long together, for the most part without words, and he learned many things in her thought, some of which gave him joy, and others filled him with grief. . . .
Then he knelt, and she stooped and laid her hand on his head, and a great stillness came upon him; and he seemed to be both in the World and in Faery, and also outside them and surveying them, so that he was at once in bereavement, and in ownership, and in peace. When after a while the stillness passed he raised his head and stood up. The dawn was in the sky and the stars were pale, and the Queen was gone. Far off he heard the echo of a trumpet in the mountains. The high field where he stood was silent and empty: he knew that his way now led back to bereavement.
The encounter with the Queen of Faery may be as significant as the encounter with the Anima, and perhaps that is who the Queen of Faery is. Smith of Wootton Major is considered to be something of an autobiographical tale, or as close as Tolkien would ever come to writing one. Perhaps he is writing of his own encounter with his Anima, or rather an encounter with the archetype of Anima as present in all myths, within the individual human soul and in the mythic dimensions of the cosmos.
Jung identified what he called the “transcendent function” as that which bridges the conscious and the unconscious. The transcendent function takes the form of a symbol that transcends time and conflict, that is common to both the conscious and the unconscious, and that offers the possibility of a new synthesis between them. In The Red Book Jung writes of the power of such a symbol:
The symbol is the word that goes out of the mouth, that one does not simply speak, but that rises out of the depths of the self as a word of power and great need and places itself unexpectedly on the tongue. . . . If one accepts the symbol, it is as if a door opens leading into a new room whose existence one previously did not know.
Symbols are present in myths and stories, and in the living visions of the creative imagination. Symbolic, archetypal story can open doorways between the conscious and the unconscious, between this world and the enchanted realm of Faërie. “Such stories,” Tolkien writes, “open a door on Other Time, and if we pass through, though only for a moment, we stand outside our own time, outside Time itself maybe.” Perhaps Fantasy, or Imagination itself, are the transcendent function of which Jung speaks.
In reading Jung’s and Tolkien’s Red Books side by side and seeing the profound similarities in their experiences, and in the writing and artwork produced from those experiences, I came to feel that they may have been entering into the same realm. Whether we call it Faërie, or the collective unconscious, or the Imagination, both men seemed to be crossing a threshold and walking down parallel and even overlapping paths in the same kingdom. Jung writes, “The collective unconscious is common to all; it is the foundation of what the ancients called the ‘sympathy of all things’.” It is the fertile ground from which grows the Tree of Tales, it is the wellspring of the Imagination born anew in each creative person. Tolkien too had a sense that this place in which he witnessed his stories was the unconscious. In a letter to W.H. Auden, Tolkien writes,
I daresay something had been going on in the “unconscious” for some time, and that accounts for my feeling throughout, especially when stuck, that I was not inventing but reporting (imperfectly) and had at times to wait till “what really happened” came through.
I have come to believe that Imagination is a place, a realm, that is both inner and outer. The Imagination is not merely a human capacity, a function of the mind or the workings of the brain. It is a place that can be accessed through human capacity, through creativity, but Imagination extends far beyond human capacity as well. It is a world as infinite as the physical one in which we daily dwell.
Now that the particular leg of this journey is drawing to a close, we can ask how Jung and Tolkien can inform each other’s works. Jung advised that each person could make their own Red Book from the Fantasies that arise through the practice of active imagination. He said to return to your Red Book like you would to a sanctuary or cathedral, for your soul is within its pages. The Red Book that Tolkien created for himself he gave to the world in the form of The Lord of the Rings. It is a text that is treated by many as a sacred text, one to be returned to year after year, or read aloud with loved ones. Why is that? Because The Lord of the Rings, like Jung’s Red Book, is an invitation to enter the realm of Imagination. It is an invitation to find our own stories and learn to tell them. Indeed, when Tolkien was first conceiving of his Middle-Earth legendarium, at the same time that Jung was writing down the visions of his Red Book, he saw it as a great mythological arc in which space would be left for others to take it further with their own art and stories. He once wrote, in his usual self-deprecating tone, “I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama. Absurd.”
Sonu Shamdasani, the historian of psychology who took on the great task of editing Liber Novus, captures succinctly and elegantly what Jung’s and Tolkien’s respective Red Books are inviting each one of us to do. He writes, “What was most essential was not interpreting or understanding the fantasies, but experiencing them.”
Carpenter, Humphrey. J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.
Flieger, Verlyn. A Question of Time: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Road to Faërie. Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 1997.
Hammond, Wayne G. and Christina Scull. J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist & Illustrator. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.
Jung, C.G. “Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious.” In Collected Works. Vol. 9, i. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1959.
–––––. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Edited by Aniela Jaffé. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1989.
–––––. The Red Book: Liber Novus. Edited by Sonu Shamdasani. Translated by Mark Kyburz, John Peck, and Sonu Shamdasani. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009.