Book Review: The Archetypal Universe

Renn Butler is an astrologer with 35 years in practice and a parallel interest in non-ordinary states of consciousness. The author studied with Richard Tarnas and Stanislav Grof at Esalen, where he lived for several years, and is a Holotropic Breathwork practitioner as well as astrologer.

This work, published in 2017, is informed in part by Grof’s articulation of the four stages of the Basic Perinatal Matrices – four distinct phases in the birth process, which he and Tarnas found, in their pioneering and influential work, to be connected to different planets. Both men researched for decades, with Tarnas studying the natal charts and transits of cultural figures and historical cycles, culminating in his seminal work, Cosmos and Psyche. (For readers unfamiliar with Grof’s work, Renn Butler’s short introductory material lays a good foundation. In essence this application of archetypal astrology considers that the experiences of the birth process will be recapitulated throughout life for further healing and deeper integration of the psyche.)

The book’s full title, The Archetypal Universe: Astrological Patterns in Human Culture, Thought, Emotion and Dreams, well describes its range. Renn Butler researched his book between 1993 and 2017. Along with Holotropic Breathwork, Butler draws upon important research in psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy and plant-medicines. He has collected images from people’s dreams – along with extensive study of the birth charts of musicians, filmmakers, actors, and artists – to observe the planetary alignments concurrent with creative or other unusual breakthroughs.

Although Butler’s interest in non-ordinary states informs the research, The Archetypal Universe is an encyclopedic astrological book that will be of great use to astrologers of many persuasions. Formatted like Reinhold Ebertin’s The Combination of Stellar Influences, Butler’s book describes 45 planetary pairs, (e.g., Sun-Moon, Sun-Mercury, Sun-Venus). For each pair, he includes the Principles, Character and Themes, and Shadow Qualities, as well as how the pair is on display in Nature and the Arts, Spirituality, Dream Images, and Deep Self-Exploration. He also includes each planet connected to the Ascendant and Midheaven.

While the author follows Ebertin’s basic formatting, his descriptions are far more expanded – there are three or four pages for each pair of planets. He suggests themes that can emerge in people’s lives when that pair is activated. In discussing the archetypal possibilities, he is not just inferring or imagining but, as mentioned above, the work is based on decades-long research into the astrological charts of filmmakers, artists, musicians, along with guiding others in breath work and dream analysis.

He next writes on the 120 planetary triads (Sun-Moon-Mercury, Sun-Moon-Venus, etc.), with a succinct formatting of Principles, followed by possible positive and negative expressions.

The insights about the planetary pairs and triads can be applied using virtually any technique – i.e., transits, solar arcs, progressions, relationship analysis, etc. – and there is a cornucopia of fresh ideas throughout. (One example, for the Moon connected to Uranus: “An emotional resonance with the magic of the night, ‘And thence we came forth, to see again the stars.'” The author is quoting Dante, who had the Moon trine Uranus).

There are occasional specific findings from Grof and Tarnas’s work connecting planetary archetypes to the birth processes – mostly, it seems at first reading, in the sections involving Pluto. (“Tarnas recognized that the dynamic stage of birth labor, with the propulsion down the birth canal and arousal of intense driving energies, is an important manifestation of the Pluto archetype in human life.”)

This book is a massive and extensive handbook, which benefits from its clear organization and language. Butler also includes a Quotes Index and a Dream Index for easy reference.

Although the book is comprised of the author’s specific distinctions and delineations, the underlying motif of the planetary cycles infusing all of life is recorded clearly as well. “As people learn to perceive the synchronicities unfolding in the universe within and around them, they develop the sense of a higher cosmic consciousness aware of the most intimate details of their lives, and interacting with them in deeply subtle and complex ways.”

If blog readers are interested in ordering The Archetypal Universe, please see the author’s website: Renn Butler.

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