WHY MODERN INDIVIDUALS SEEK ANSWERS FROM ORACLES
A person seeks advice from a clairvoyant concerning whom he or she has heard glowing reports; another person attends a spiritualist meeting in the hope of receiving a message which might solve an emotional problem or give a clue to a disturbing mystery; still another consults an astrologer or learns to erect and interpret horary charts; and thousands of young and not-so-young individuals throw Chinese coins or yarrow sticks to seek from the I Ching answers pointing to a way out of their difficulties or revealing what is the best way to face their anxieties and decide between alternative courses of action. All these people are eager and ready to consult one kind of "oracle" or another. They have problems they feel unable to solve rationally and intellectually on the basis of what they know, and their traditional religious leaders seem unable to provide them with satisfactory answers.
Why do these people not go to scientifc experts to psychologists or psychiatrists, to doctors, to college-trained and officially certified men and women who have studied many new techniques? Many do go to these specialists; but just as many do not believe that they can rely on the type of modem intellectual and empirical knowledge taught in our universities a knowledge based on a multitude of data and completely lacking in an all-embracing philosophy of life. Moreover, because a great many persons today especially if quite young tend to look with disfavor upon any and all personal intermediaries between themselves and whatever they may call God, Life or the universe, they may not completely trust the many self-proclaimed spiritual Teachers whose personalities often reflect some of the unpleasant features of our competitive way of life. Neither do they completely trust themselves as they face the often-bewildering complexities of modern life.
What then can they do? Hardly any alternative is left except to learn how to use impersonal intermediaries. This means learning a "language" which transcends the analytical and rational level of knowledge at which our scientists operate. Scientific knowledge has brought an immense increase in comfort and in power. But in a great variety of circumstances, it cannot tell us which one, of many, is the most significant course of action; it cannot tell us what will make us more fully what we deeply, yet dimly, feel we are, but find ourselves unable to actually become.
There is a great difference between knowledge and understanding. We may know an immense number of facts and recipes, equations and formulas that enable us to perform acts which will have important results. But we may not understand the value of these results. Do we understand where modern technology is leading mankind? Can we understand, by the use of mere factual and rational knowledge, why we should choose between two or more courses of action, when the possible results of these actions obviously depend upon many unknown and to us unknowable factors?
Modern scientists may proudly feel that they have immensely reduced the number of such unknowns, and they seem to have done this spectacularly within certain well-defined fields. Yet our science-based civilization has produced new and more complex problems for every one it has solved. It has left the basic problem more acute and anxiety-producing than ever the problem of the meaning of human existence, and particularly the meaning and purpose of each individual person: the meaning and purpose of my life, or your life.
How can this meaning be discovered when, as is the case in all but a very few instances, it is neither clear nor unquestionably valid to the individual? How can we be sure that the alternative we choose is the one that will help us live more purposefully, more significantly? How can we be sure that the attitude we take in meeting a difficult situation involving an interpersonal relationship or a career opportunity is the most valid, the most fruitful one? How frustrating and anxiety-producing it is not to know!
For these reasons, men and women are consulting oracles today more than they ever have in the past (except perhaps during the slow decadence of the Greco-Roman society). And to consult an oracle means either to implicitly trust an intermediary, or to learn an oracular language a language of symbols.
In the first chapter of this book I tried to explain what symbols are. I shall now attempt to restate in a somewhat different way what I said there, for not only does it bear repetition, but it can be stated in many ways.
Any language is a coherent, consistent and traditional set of symbols. What we ordinarily call "language" is made up of words. Religion, art and mathematics are also complex and systematized organizations of symbols. Astrology, when properly understood and freed from either superstition or the scientific approach of many recent researchers and statisticians, is also a language that uses symbols to. communicate basic facts related to the organization of any living organism, and particularly of human individuals.
All languages communicate not only facts, but at least intimations of the meaning of these facts. These facts can refer to various levels of existence; their meanings may be related to several frames of reference, depending on the scope and quality of the consciousness seeking understanding and the solution of personal or social problems.
A very simple example may help to clarify the preceding statements. I see something moving across the street and I exclaim, "A dog!" I am using a symbol. This symbol the word-sound "dog" was created by my distant ancestors and has been used by billions of human beings to communicate to other human beings the knowledge they had acquired concerning billions of animals of a certain kind with which they had intimate dealings. As I say the word "dog," I tell my friend, who has not seen the dog, that a kind of animal is approaching from which we may expect a very general, but characteristic, kind of experience. The word "dog" signifies the possibility of such an experience.
If I say, "A mad dog!" this general possibility becomes limited to a smaller set of experiences with which the sense of danger and the emotion of fear are associated. As I add more words to the original - for instance, "A black police dog whose mouth is foaming!" I limit the field of possibilities even more, and I define more precisely the knowledge I am imparting to my friend. The symbol becomes not merely a vague picture of a four-legged animal with very general dog-like characteristics, but a clear-cut scene with dramatic, actional implications, in which the main actor presents us with a definite challenge to act in a definite manner.
If my friend or I have been bitten by a dog before, and a serious illness resulted, the challenge becomes very vivid; it calls up memories of past experiences and stimulates glandular activity in our bodies, arousing direct emotions. But even if we have not had such a personal experience, the word-symbol will be sufficient to evoke for us a condensed form of the essential experiences of our ancestors. Thus the symbol will make us feel; it will also give us some knowledge of how best to act. We will meet the particular situation confronting us, not as surprising, isolated and unrelated to anything that has ever happened, but as something already experienced by countless men.
The situation, then, acquires a "meaning," one which is commonly accepted by millions of people who have gained knowledge from the experience. Because I can identify the experience with a symbol, and can give it a name, there is much less chance of my becoming overwhelmed by it. I know that there is an effective way to meet it, a traditional way. I am no longer facing the difficulty or danger alone. The strength of multitudes of men is behind me. What they done with it, I can do and better. Because of them, I know more about the meaning and purpose of the event or challenge confronting me.
Symbols integrate the separate experiences of a vast number of men. They take events, from the realm of the fortuitous, the unprecedented and the incomprehensible, and put them into the realm of "universals." The logical sequence of symbols which one finds in all languages, in all scientific theories, in all traditional art forms and in all religious rituals makes the myriads of seemingly chaotic, unpredictable and senseless facts of life fall into patterns of order and meaning. A thousand events or personal situations come to be seen as mere variations on a central theme. The symbol depicts this one significant theme. And the theme is part of a coherent sequence of similar challenges, which acquire purpose through their relationship. Expressed through symbols, life becomes condensed into a relatively few, inter-related units of experience. Each unit is a concentrate of the experiences of millions of people.
While these symbols filled with meaning are the "seed-harvest" of the past experiences of a whole collectivity, they are ·also powerful in molding the feelings, thoughts and behavior of future generations. All children absorb these symbols, emotionally and mentally, throughout their formative years. From them the child learns to give definite meaning to whatever confronts him, and to feel "one with" all the people who accept these meanings as valid.
If instead of saying the words, "A mad dog approaching your house where your children are playing," I was able to project into the mind of my distant friend a picture showing the dog entering her garden and attacking her children, I would also be communicating the meaning of an approaching event. In this case the projection of the image would refer to a clear-cut concrete event that my friend could identify at once. But if such a literal and precise image could not be projected I might still perhaps send a danger signal, something that might suggest that the children were in danger and quick action was needed. The suggestion could take the form of a more general symbol that might require some knowledge of how to interpret it.
If a person feels himself faced with a confusing and potentially dangerous situation, he might attempt to gain a deeper understanding of what is involved in it by throwing Chinese coins. The I Ching hexagram he obtains might imply some danger and the best way to face it. This person is actually receiving a communication that increases his understanding and might save him serious trouble, just as in the preceding case the woman with children in danger received a communication from a friend or perhaps from a police officer warning people in a city block about a mad dog. Now, however, it is the I Ching that gives the warning. But what is the I Ching, or the Tarot cards, or the set of Sabian symbols? This is the puzzling question; and it so puzzles the mind trained in the intellectual and rational procedures of our classical Western mentality that it usually dismisses the whole matter as nonsensical. Yet oracles work! The problem is that they require interpretation. They also usually require certain procedures to ensure the validity of their answers, and above all they demand of the inquirer a certain frame of mind, an open attitude and even more a real need for an answer. This need exists when the person seeking a communication from the oracle has already earnestly tried to find a way to meet his baffling problem and has been unable to come to any logical or rational solution, perhaps because so many unknowns were involved.
In periods during which a particular society and its culture and religion flourished, the members of this society find in the traditional cultural structures basic answers that readily can be applied to most personal problems. A culture is founded upon archetypes or paradigms that is, on great images and symbolically valid scenes of the life of greatly respected exemplars who constitute embodiments of values accepted by all the members of this particular society. There are men who, having been trained in the understanding of all that these values imply, are easily available for help and guidance. But today we are facing a world situation characterized by the near-breakdown of all traditions, and the great images of the past seem empty of meaning. Where can one find new images, or symbols which are valid beyond all cultural limitations "transcultural" symbols rooted in the common experience of all human beings?
The search for such symbols inevitably leads to astrology, because astrology originated in the most basic, most primordial experience of mankind the majestic pageant of the stars across the darkness of the night sky, and the experience of seasonal and biological rhythms so obviously synchronized with the cyclic motion of the Sun and the Moon. The dichotomy of celestial order and earth-surface chaos has been fundamental in all religions. The sky became the one great symbol of order and of the rhythmic unfoldment of bio-psychological functions and activities. The sky was "the creative"; the earth, "the receptive" natura naturans and natura naturata. The whole problem of the meaning of existence could be solved if there could be a way to interpret the ever-changing pictures made by the Creative on the background of celestial space.
Out of this need astrology was born. All great civilizations of the past used its symbols. An oracular language of symbols was gradually developed, in which planets and their interconnections became vowels and consonants, and charts were made which revealed meaning and purpose to those who had carefully learned the celestial language.
It is a complex language, and like all languages it can be used at different levels. Ordinary English can serve to make possible clear-cut and entirely factual business transactions and now we have an even more concrete and bare form of it in computer language. But English words can also be used in poems to evoke complex feelings and spiritual insights. In the same way, dance music or military marches employ a language intended to move bodies and arouse biological emotions, while the great devotional music of old India and the music of Scriabin aimed at inducing mystical experiences.
Words can state facts, but in poetic combinations, they can also evoke images that act upon the deepest feeling and consciousness of the reader or listener. The astrology that deals simply with the planets (including the Sun and Moon) and the patterns they make in terms of this or that frame of reference (zodiacs, Houses) in most cases has been event-oriented whether at the biological, social or psychological level. But there is also an astrology that attempts to go beyond, or through, concrete events, and to evoke a deeper, less particularized mode of consciousness. This more transcendent kind of consciousness deals with the essence of events and the quality of being which undertones the functional activity of the planets. It seeks to transcend the usual kind of astrology by dealing directly with the phases of all cycles one might say, with "cyclicity" itself.
Somehow the old Chinese wise men realized this possibility and developed the mysterious, but extremely potent, patterns of the I Ching. The cyclic series of the 64 hexagrams no doubt developed against the background of the seasonal cycle of the year, but they transcend this frame of reference. They lead us to a world of archetypes, which subsumes or undertones seasonal changes and therefore can be applied, theoretically at least, to any cycle. Because of this they have universal validity universal, yet referring essentially to the level of consciousness at which the Yin-Yang dualism controls every existential manifestation, and the unfoldment of cyclic activity can best be identified by a 64-fold rhythm.
As already stated in the first chapter of this book, it is logical to believe that our complex society with its involved patterns of interpersonal relationships calls for a greater number of archetypal phases. The archetypal sequence of 360 symbols is an attempt to meet this need the number 360 refers cosmically to the abstract relationship between the period of rotation of the Earth around its axis and the period of its revolution around the Sun (cf. page 16).
The Sabian symbols, like the symbols of the I Ching, constitute a foundation for oracular pronouncements. But these symbols have to be adequately interpreted, and this interpretation naturally has to vary with the level of consciousness of the interpreter. Many commentaries have been written in the past about the I Ching; no doubt there already have been and there will continue to be many different interpretations of the Sabian symbols. I make no claim that the Sabian symbols are perfect or universally valid. The images and scenes they present are the products of a sensitive American mind operating shortly after World War 1. But the symbols have a very real oracular potency that is, they can communicate to the questioner valid answers to questions asked in great earnest about real personal or interpersonal needs.
Why they can do this will no doubt puzzle many people accustomed to find rational and "scientific" explanations for everything. Many will say that if valid answers are given by the oracle it is purely by chance. But what is "chance"? What kind of "scientific proof" could be produced in matters so personal and so susceptible of subjective interpretation, either by the inquirer himself or by some intermediary more skilled in the interpretation of the oracular language? Many Christians in moments of confusion or sorrow have turned to the Bible, opened it at random and with closed eyes have selected a line of the text which was interpreted by them as an answer to their inquiry or a solace to their grief. They established a communication with what they believed to be a divine source of wisdom, the very word of God.
But it seems obvious that, in any literal sense, "God" did not write the Bible, nor the Angel Gabriel, the Koran. At the time the Sabian symbols were visualized and recorded, some super-human or masterful intelligence may have been present, somehow inspiring (or in-spiriting) the process of formulation. But the actual images were Obviously conditioned by the mind of the clairvoyant, and the wording of the brief statements by that of Marc Jones. Still, if on one hand we consider the aleatory and amazing speed of the process of formulation, and on the other the remarkable structural organization of the symbols when reduced to their essential meanings, we cannot avoid deducing that some transcendent intelligence must have been operating behind the scenes.
"God," too, operates behind the scenes of the universe and through the immensely varied complex, yet ordered and amazingly organized and interdependent phenomena we observe and from which we forever learn. It has been said that the works of God prove His existence. This is a specious kind of proof. Nothing can be "proven" by the scientific mind except in the sense that a certain sequence of events is thoroughly consistent with some basic assumptions. No intellect can objectively prove the absolute Validity of these assumptions or postulates. We cannot really prove the existence of God, and even less disprove it; we can only observe what the belief in God as a Supreme Person with whom a dialogue can be pursued does psychologically to men and women who need the experience of contact with a divine Being. We can observe as well what the lack of such a belief can produce in many individuals who psychically require this kind of experience. The experiences are real to those who have them. Reality is that which satisfies the vital, essential need of a person or a collectivity. Any other definition of this much abused word results from the subjective illusion, and perhaps pride, of a mind which seeks self-glorification by asserting that its own values and concepts are "absolute" i.e. true for all people at all times. But even such an assertion may meet the very real need of insecure minds, so it too is "reality"!
We may dismiss as "pure chance" the way the Chinese yarrow sticks fall, gradually determining the shape of the one I Ching hexagram that is relevant to the situation of the questioner. We can speak of "synchronicity," (a word that actually only adds to the mystery) or we can place the responsibility upon the "unconscious" another word that is simply a modern and totally unclear substitute for the old concepts of a daemon within the soul, of the Higher Self or a guiding Angel. The simple fact is that when a person's need is real, some power or intelligence either within the person or intimately connected with him is able to use a language of symbols in order to communicate valuable information and directives for action. What this power and/or center of intelligence "is" can never be fully ascertained by our own conscious mind, simply because it must transcend the conscious mind if the oracle is to be at all effective in meeting the person's need. Perhaps it is simply the polar aspect of this need, as light polarizes shadow, and Yang polarizes Yin. The principle of universal Harmony requires that for every need there is a corresponding answer potentially neutralizing the need.*
*Cf. "The Gifts of the Spirit" in my book. Triptych, pp. 19-20.
I repeat that oracular communications may take a multitude of forms. They may be "dreams" remembered on awakening (a very special kind of dream), or words heard within the head, or "omens" one meets along the path to a goal. They may be Chinese hexagrams, or Sabian symbols, or Tarot cards if the person has attuned himself to the reception of guidance through these specialized means. The I Ching and the Sabian symbols are particularly significant as "specialized means" because, first, they constitute some guarantee against self-deceit and subjective giving in to biological or psychological complexes, and second, they reveal how the individual's problem relates to universal issues or at least to issues that are significant to, and faced by, a vast number of people because they represent specific phases in the unfoldment of human consciousness at a particular level of evolution.
An Astrological Mandala