Leaving the Body Behind

In my previous post, I looked at the implicit mind-body split that is assumed in much of our modern culture, and in our astrology.

This post is about the influence of the Theosophy movement on modern astrology, and how that movement shaped the value system implicit in our modern astrology.

The roots of twentieth century psychological astrology, with its emphasis on character rather than prediction, can be traced back to the overwhelming influence of a single man, Alan Leo.  Leo is responsible for asserting that Character determines Destiny, and that the stars Impel, they do not Compel.

It is really interesting – if you look at astrology books published prior to Alan Leo, and then after his work, there is a very marked difference. It is a completely different world, and books prior to Leo feel antique.

Leo was British, and a member of the Theosophical Society when it was at the height of its influence. The language and values of Theosophy, which drew heavily on Hindu and other Indian sources,  became part of the language of modern astrology through Leo and his many influential books, which are still mostly in print today. Thanks to Leo, our modern astrology looks mainly to Asian sources for its spiritual underpinning, rather than to our own Western spiritual tradition.

Leo introduced the concept of karma, and the whole notion of past lives and reincarnation, into our modern astrology. Those concepts are so much a part of our astrological language that most people don’t realize it is very much a twentieth century phenomenon.

In the worldview of Theosophy, it is considered desirable to transcend the body, and everything to do with it, and ascend to spiritual realms. Unevolved people are limited to the earth, and to earthly desires and goals. At that level they are completely under the control of the forces of astrology, the influence of the planets and stars. By contrast, higher or more evolved people are able to transcend the earthly plane, and the influence of the planets, and to live from a spiritual level.

The concept that you can transcend your chart through awareness and choice goes back to this Theosophy worldview.

The language and values of Theosophy permeate our astrology language. This is the language of lower and higher. We speak of  transcending the body, of rising above our charts, of controlling our lower desires.

Leo himself had a celibate marriage. He speaks of Mars as an energy which is crude, lower, unevolved, to be severely disciplined. This is in contrast to Venus, which is higher, unselfish, risen above crude bodily things, unless it has fallen so low as to be corrupted by the influence of Mars and physical desire.

This was from an era where it was considered that women should not have sexual feelings.

From our perspective a century later this extreme anti-sex bias can sound almost comical, but much of the language of lower and higher, physical and spiritual, still underlays our astrology vocabulary.

As we said, Theosophy introduced karma and the whole notion of past lives and reincarnation into our astrology vocabulary.  This can give a multi-lifetime perspective, a sense that the trials and misfortunes of this life have a larger context and meaning within a person’s overall spiritual growth.

However, the disadvantage is that it moves the locus of attention and identity out of the sphere of the body to a plane of existence that transcends it. The assumption is that here on earth we are in a lower state of existence, and our task is to grow through it, past it, transcend it. Implicitly, our individual sense of identity, and our existence as separate beings in bodies,  is either a flaw or an evil or both, and we are here to get past it, give it up, renounce it.

Altruism and self-less-ness are assumed to be the highest ethical values. Those ethical values are so, so very deeply ingrained and assumed in our culture that it is almost unthinkable to even consider questioning them. Being selfish is bad, being selfless is good; the statements are almost tautologies for most people.

This worldview implies that there is a Self or Spirit that is somehow above or beyond the chart, and that we are not constrained by it if by choice we rise above it. This implies another division, of spirit vs ego. There is our ordinary separate earthly self, and there is our Real spiritual self within which is above all that, spiritual, unstained, pure, selfless. A selfless self.  Ego versus Soul, where Ego is inferior and Soul is superior.

The net result is to create a split where we are divided against ourselves.  In order to attain spirit we need to leave the body behind.

This parallels other dualisms or splits – rationality vs emotion, intellect vs feeling, mind vs body. The rational mind can be detached, can rise higher, above the physical, and aspire to the spiritual world.

I think that it is important to become aware of these implicit values, so that we can examine them, and choose whether or not we want to consciously embrace them. I personally think that we need to get past this spirit/matter, mind/body split to experience what it means to be a whole human being, where our spirituality and our physical being, our minds, emotions and desires, are all woven together.

Rather than needing to transcend our physical being, I am convinced that our real need is the opposite. Quoting Erica Jong in talking about Henry Miller, the way to the Soul is through the body.

I think we are starting to see some considerable signs of a shift towards a body-positive, earth positive and individual positive kind of spiritual stance. That is the topic for our next post.

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