Parzifal’s dear friend and colleague, The Rev. Elizabeth Green has done a fine job summarizing aspects of Tarnas’ newest book. Please note this is NOT a finished paper or presentation–it is a set of notes used to present at a Salon.



Richard Tarnas’ Cosmos and Psyche, pp. xii-70

Presented by Rev. Elizabeth L. Greene

Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

March 2, 2007


A great poem (slightly abridged) by Matthew Arnold x, who in 1867 captured the modern sensibility:

The sea is calm to-night.

The tide is fulol, the moon lies fair

Upon the straits:–on the French coast the light

Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,

Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.

Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!

Only, from the long line of spray

Where the sea meets the moon-blanced land,

Listen! You hear the gratig roar

Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,

At their return, up the high strand,

Begin, and cease, and then again begin,

With tremulous cadence slow, and bring

The eternal note of sadness in.


The Sea of Faith

Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore

Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.

But now I only hear

Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,

Retreating, to the breat

Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear

And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! For the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.


“Our psyche is set up in accord with the structure of the universe, and what happens in the macrocosm likewise happens in the infinitesimal and most subjective reaches of the psyche.” C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams Reflections

Sections written in italics are my summaries of each section. Section [in brackets] are my commentaries or questions about Tarnas’ ideas, not a representation of those ideas.

[To start with a note of appreciation, I am immensely grateful that Richard Tarnas knows how to write, and can communicate so coherently and clearly a lot of difficult concepts.]


Skepticism is the chastity of the intellect, Santayana declared and the metaphor is apt. The mind that seeks the deepest intellectual fulfillment does not give itself up to every passing idea. Yet what is sometimes forgotten is the larger purpose of such a virtue. For in the end, chastity is something one preserves not for its own sake, which would be barren, but rather so that one may be fully ready for the moment of surrender to the beloved, the suitor whose aim is true. Whether in knowledge or in love, the capacity to recognize and embrace that moment when it finally arrives, perhaps in quite unexpected circumstances, is essential to the virtue. Only with that discernment and inward opening can the full participatory engagement unfold that brings forth new realities and new knowledge.

This tension between critical rigor and openness to radically new truths is what has always been necessary for furthering human understanding of the biggest issues, and is what is needed now to address the disorientation, alienation and lack of deep insight that currently plagues humanity.

I. The Transformation of the Cosmos

The Birth of the Modern Self

It began with Pico della Mirandola’s Oration in 1486 [he was 23 years old!], when he prophesied the glorious Humanism that would inform everything through 1637—and beyond, in a different form—celebrating the human self as the crown of creation. God’s words, through Pico: “…with freedom of choice and with honor, as though the maker and molder of thyself, thou mayest fashion thyself in whatever shape thou shalt prefer.”(4)

Dawn of a New Universe [A process Tarnas hopes is happening now.]

Discovering the sun, not the earth, is at the center of things was a numinous, paradigm-shattering happening, elevating human capability to the level of being able to apprehend Divine order. Developments over the centuries had unforeseen consequences.

A highly spiritual, sacred discovery in its original form.

It hugely magnified confidence in human reason.

Copernicus, Kepler et al were unimaginably isolated, despised and rejected by almost all respected authorities, to whom a heliocentric universe was laughably dismissable—with their cosmology and basic assumptions [basically, everyone’s cosmology and basic assumptions], heliocentrism was physically and philosophically impossible. [Tarnas’ reasons for spending a bit of time with this point become clear in later chapters….]

The first Copernicans were first operating out of intuition, out of an ahead-of-their-time faith in the human capacity to grasp “the true forms of the divinely created universe.”

Definition of “reason” itself had to change—what can be accepted as truth and evidence, how to interpret and see patterns.

This seminal event began in faith and wonder, unforeseeably leading over the centuries to the antithesis of this sacred attitude.

Two Paradigms of History

Paradoxical human mythologies in the West: 1) “Progress of mankind, onward and upward forever” [Nineteenth-century Unitarian forefather James Freeman Clarke], and 2) Myth of the Fall, in which human hubris destroys the state of oneness with nature, alienates itself from the “spiritual dimension of being.” (13) It may be possible after all these centuries to rise above these intertwined paradigms and find a new synthesis, especially with the perspective offered by postmodernism.

Two paradigms articulated, raising question of humankind’s direction and end. [Isn’t the first paradigm, about humanity’s unlimited ability for—and right to—progress basically stronger than the second?]

John Stuart Mill’s comment that, in intellectual controversies, both sides tend to be “in the right in what they affirmed, though in the wrong in what they denied,” (13) meaning that both sides are “intensely partial” (14)

The ability to hold opposite truths at the same time—to hang around in paradox instead of dogmatism or even partiality—may lead us to discover a synthesis. Physicist Neils Bohr’s “The opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.” (14)

Postmodernism helps in deconstructing entrenched positions—although, in claiming paradigm-free relativism to be what reality is about, they ignore their own paradigm.

Forging the Self, Disenchanting the World

In the primal world view, everything in the world/cosmos had a soul and therefore was always invested with deep significance. This obviously included human beings, who related with each other and everything else as part of an interconnected whole, all of which had meaning. The modern mind, taking with deadly seriousness its perception of the self as isolated, autonomous, and self-perpetuating, has moved over the century to a profoundly-held sense that we are subjects (self-reflecting) and everything else is object (to be acted upon by us). We are the bosses and we are the source of meaning and purpose ,masters of our destiny and captains of our soul in a universe that has no messages to give us, no meaning from which we can take inspiration or solace or advice.

Modern mind asserts radical separation between subject and object.

Primal human saw everything as saturated with meaning, both human and cosmic—anima mundi. Humans saw themselves as full participants with the “interior life of the natural world and cosmos.” (17)

Modern mind believes that to project meaning onto the non-human world is an epistemological fallacy. To see the world as communicating with one in deep and important ways—to see it as a “sacred text” (18)—is probably a sign of mental illness. [My experience as chaplain on a psych ward.]

Modern mind understands “facts” to be true, free of values or undue meaning, while meaning comes from within human beings.

Hard for moderns to grasp that, for thousands and thousands of years, the cosmos was “universally experienced…, as tangibly and self-evidently alive and awake—pervasively intentional and responsive, informed by ubiquitous spiritual presences, animated throughout by archetypal forces and intelligible meanings—in a manner that the modern perception does not and perhaps cannot recognize.

Taking away pervasive meaning in the surrounding, non-human world, gives the human self a greatly increased sense of autonomy, power and freedom—no longer inescapably intertwined with forces we don’t understand. Now we understand them, and by golly, we control them.

God conceived as completely transcendent—creating us in His image—magnified subject-object assumptions into a Subject-object concept (God as Great Subject, acting on objects, who then, being created like Him, acted on objects lower than we). Human power greatly magnified by monotheism.

By the end of the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, human centrality and power and control were articulated in totally secular terms.

“The anima mundi has dissolved and disappeared, and all psychological and spiritual qualities are now located exclusively in the human mind and psyche…. The achievement of human autonomy has been paid for by the experience of human alienation. How precious the former, how painful the latter.” (25)

The Cosmological Situation Today (“The soul knows no home in the modern cosmos.” 28)

We live in a transitional age, longing for integration, but it can’t be done without a cosmology. In our present situation, all depth and spiritual insight found by individuals happen in an “atomistic void,” (9) “a meaningless vastness.” (10)

We live in a transitional time, and from the recent deconstruction provided by postmodernism, we are seeing tentative outlines of newness: 1) multidimensionality, many perspectives needed to approach it; 2) reappraisal of scientific method’s assumed adequacy to attain knowledge; 3) deeper understanding of importance of imagination; 4) appreciation of the power of the unconscious; 5) better understanding of the nature of metaphor, symbol and archetype in human life.

Major desire to overcome dualisms we have cherished (e.g., human and nature, spirit and matter, intellect and soul).

BUT we don’t have an adequate cosmology, coherent with human longing. Copernican revolution started in sacredness and numinosity, evolved into a “spiritually empty vastness.” (28)

With all the deconstruction that’s gone on, nothing has truly questioned the ultimate nature of the Copernican cosmos: empty of meaning, alien to human questing, mechanus mundi [I think I made that one up].

Romanticism-Enlightenment split: the objective world (mind) ruled by Enlightenment world view; the subjective (soul), by Romantic one.

Paradoxically, erasing all trace of pre-existing cosmic meaning has freed the individual to pursue all kinds of spiritual paths, but “the nature of the objective universe turns any spiritual faith and ideals into courageous acts of subjectivity, constantly vulnerable to intellectual negation.” (31) [A big deal in the Unitarian Universalist tradition.]

Absence of any enduring transcendent values leaves us in the clutches of the marketplace, bottom lines and the shallowness of mass media. Nothing is sacred, literally.

Question for our time: “What is the price of a collective belief in absolute cosmic indifference?” (33)

Our long, long human living in the assumptions of subject-object duality “imperceptibly bring into being the very world we consider unarguably objective.” (35) [This seems to me a startling assertion, reminding me that science itself has discovered that observing affects the observed; echoes, too of process theology See “Two Suitors,” below.]

May it not be true that our current cosmology is a gigantic act of anthropocentrism? Is it not, if we can emerge just slightly from our worldview, strange that we have clutched all meaning and purpose to our little human breast, ignoring the richness of human interaction with an ensouled cosmos over millennia?

II. In Search of a Deeper Order

Two Suitors: A Parable (“The pervasive projection of soullessness onto the cosmos by the modern self’s own will to power.” [40])

Lovely little metaphor asking us to see ourselves as the cosmos being wooed by a suitor beguiled by our depth and passion and wisdom and creativity and love and richness, and by a suitor who lets us know that we are devoid of inner value, have no intrinsic meaning or purpose, are primarily valuable for what the suitor can get out of us. Which would we choose?

The … “capacity for differentiation and discernment” must be maintained, as it clearly serves us well in some ways, AND we must also start using and respecting the imagination, intuition, spirit, art, symbolic perception, etc.

How about if our cosmos is just a reflection of the thought and times during which it was developed? “…like every other cosmology in the history of humanity.” (42)

The Interior Quest

As the modern mind assimilated more and more deeply the meaninglessness of the cosmos, it was inevitable that it would turn inward for meaning, hence the rise of depth psychology, notably in the person of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and William James. Depth psychology brought the spiritual back into what James called the “prematurely closed” universe of conventional Enlightenment science, and it also brought a commitment to “lucid rational analysis and systematic investigation”—crossroads of Romantic and Enlightenment attitudes. Alas, depth psychology is practiced in a meaningless universe, where it is subject to critique from narrow Enlightenment thinking, often even hostile to the heart’s and soul’s ways of processing and being in the world.

Synchronicity and Its Implications

Synchronicity, “the dramatic coincidence of meaning between and inner state and a simultaneous external event,” (50) is experienced as though one’s experience belongs to a ground of meaning not understood in the modern sense of “understanding.” Although they challenge both science and religion, Jung found them to be part of depth work, as important as other manifestations of the unconscious (e.g., dreams). He found archetypes to be the foundation of each synchronitous event, connecting inner and outer. Iin his later days moved toward a position that considered the world ensouled.

Synchronicity seemed to carry the numinous with it.

Jung and publishing proposal—his just-maintained watch mysteriously stopping during a conversation about which he had been negative made him realize that perhaps there was a “stoppage error” in his own thinking.

Being sensitive to synchronicities requires a bent toward metaphor and mystery—BUT it can easily be trivialized by those who see every small event of it as evidence of their staggering relationship with something mysterious; it can also be seen by paranoids as evidence that people and fate are out to get them. “A capacity for acute yet balanced discernment has to be forged, founded not only on an alertness to meaningful pattern but also on a disciplined mindfulness of the larger whole within which the individual self seeks orientation.” (55)

Jung’s position was that what makes an event of synchronicity significant is that there is always an archetype embedded in the relationship between inner and outer. Archetypes being: “Innate symbolic forms and psychological dispositions that unconsciously structure and impel human behavior and experience at both the personal and the collective level.” (57)

Example of the archetype Saturn-Kronos working in the publishing example. (58)

The parallelism between inner and outer in synchronicity suggests that it is more than a “subjective intrapsychic reality.” (58)

The Archetypal Cosmos (“Synchronicity, represented a phenomenon that, simply put, should not have been occurring, at least not in a random, purposeless universe.”)

Astrology (a complex system of deciphering thematic parallels between stars and humans, not sun-sign prediction or newspaper horoscopes), although an ancient study, is in almost complete disrepute in modern times, for two reason: 1) its manifestations as we usually see them are silly untrue; 1) way more importantly, astrology turns the modern worldview upside down, in that it denies the meaninglessness and random nature of the universe.

Tarnas, originally a skeptic like any good modern, began to be intrigued. Harking back by implication to the chapter about the Copernican revolution, he notes, “Widespread or even universal conviction at any given moment has never been a reliable indication of the truth or falsity of an idea.” (64)

He did an enormous amount of investigation [witness pp. 72-492 of this book], and found that planetary alignments correlated both with external events in the world, and with interior psychic trends and issues.

VERY important point: astrology as observed and practiced in this deep and complex way is not “concretely predictive”; it is, rather “archetypically predictive,” (67) which means that a discerned pattern indicate possibilities positive and negative, profound and trivial, destructive and creative, etc., depending on context and human participation.

The correlations between the stars on the one hand and our planet and persons on the other are rooted in archetype, calling forth participation and soul work from human beings, in response to dwelling in a universe that does, indeed, have intrinsic (although mysterious) meaning.


Here is a poem I love, softening the separation between Mystery and existence. “Fishing in the Keep of Silence,” by Linda Gregg

There is a hush now while the hills rise up

god is going to sleep. He trusts the ship

of Heaven to take over and proceed beautifully

as he lies dreaming in the lap of the world.

He knows the owls will guard the sweetness

of the soul in their massive keep of silence,

looking out with eyes open or closed over

the length of Tomales Bay that the herons

conform to, whitely broad in flight, white

and slim in standing. God, who thinks about

poetry all the time, breathes happily as He

repeats to Himself: There are fish in the net,

lots of fish this time in the net of the heart.


Parzifal says, “hope it touches your Heart!”