REINCARNATION & THE STARS
Issued as a penultimate reminder for the Dion Fortune seminar at Glastonbury on 24th September 2016.
For programme and booking details see Company of Avalon website.
The following text is taken from letters to students by Dion Fortune in 1942/3. Also published as part of ‘Principles of Hermetic Philosophy’ by Dion Fortune & Gareth Knight (Thoth Publications 1999).
There is a factor which neither astrology nor psychology have taken into account, and that is the question of reincarnation. Without some doctrine as to the whence and whither of the soul, psychology is a descriptive science and no more, and this lack is particularly felt in its application as psychotherapy. Astrology equally, though one of the occult sciences, has in its modern form nothing to tell us concerning the relationship of its findings to the doctrine of reincarnation. Nevertheless it is in this particular concept that we must seek the link between the two sciences which deal with man’s soul and its fate. I cannot in these pages go deeply into the doctrine or reincarnation; its outlines can be found in many excellent books published by the Theosophical and Anthroposophical Societies and by independent writers, and to these I refer my readers who want exact and detailed information on this subject. If the doctrine of reincarnation is disputed, my argument can go no further, so I do not propose to discuss the matter, but to leave those who dispute it to drop out at this stage of the argument and proceed to show how the astrological concepts would be affected if reincarnation were a fact.
It has often been pointed out that the exact moment of the birth of an infant is dependent upon many factors, not least among which are the previous engagements of the doctor, who may expedite the birth by instrumental means or leave it to take its natural course, thus profoundly modifying the natal horoscope which may subsequently be cast. How can the doctrine of karma or the laws of heredity be correlated with astrological findings in such circumstances? What shall we say of divine justice if the future life of a human being is determined by the fact that the doctor got tired of waiting and applied the forceps?
Matters become clear, however, if certain esoteric concepts are taken into consideration. Let us grant that conception takes place exactly as described by the biologists through the union of germ and sperm, each bringing with it the characteristics of their respective stocks to express themselves or inhibit each other along Mendelian lines. These physical factors determine the physical organism through which the incoming soul will have to express itself, and in view of what we know nowadays of the ductless glands, it is obvious that its temperament and the reactions based thereon are closely conditioned by heredity, and that only a will and intelligence of a very high type can control the emotional reactions due to a defective thyroid. Let us accept all these biological data, as we cannot very well refuse to do in the face of the evidence, but let us nevertheless continue our enquiry into the scope of free will and the means of determining the destiny of the soul.
These are the conditions, then, under which the newly originating body is conceived and formed; its nature being biologically determined and conditioned within very narrow limits; some modification, but not a great deal, being brought about by the health of the mother during her pregnancy, and the exact birth moment being determined partly by Nature and partly by the doctor. Now let us conceive of an innumerable host of discarnate human souls of all types and degrees of development awaiting upon the Inner Planes their chance to incarnate and continue their evolution. These souls will be of many and varied types, and at widely different stages of evolution, and will require an equally wide range of conditions to afford them scope for development. When conditions are present that fit a soul, might we not conceive that it slips into incarnation in the same way that a key slips into a Yale lock, and that it is not the condition of the psychic atmosphere at birth that puts its stamp on the blank page of the new-born soul, but a soul of a corresponding type that incarnates under given conditions. This is a more rational, and also a more ethical concept of astrological determinism than that which ascribes our fate to our stars.
Let us see how this method of incarnation works out in detail. At the end of an incarnation the soul enters into a subjective state of consciousness on the Inner Planes, for it possesses no senses or muscles through which to lead an objective existence. In this state it contemplates its past life, and this contemplation constitutes its heaven and hell. If it is a soul of an undeveloped type it profits by its experience to the same simple and direct extent as a burnt child dreads fire; if it is an evolved soul, its contemplation may extend itself into meditation and the work of the creative imagination. In due course it will have absorbed all the nutriment of experience that its past life can yield, and will need to gather fresh experience in order to make further progress. Having lain down in the byre of heaven to chew the cud of earthly experience, it must now return to the fields of earth to graze again.
Time and space on the Inner Planes bear no relation to time and space on the physical plane save insofar as they are anchored thereto by means of symbolism and the association of ideas. On the physical plane, time is measured by the revolution of the earth on its axis and its circuit round the Sun, and space is measured in relation to the earth’s surface. On the Inner Planes, time and space are modes of consciousness, as modern philosophy is beginning to realise. To consciousness unconditioned by matter, time present is that of which it is conscious; time past is that of which it is not thinking at the moment; and the future is that of which it is unaware. Space likewise is near or far according to its occupancy of the focus or fringe of consciousness. What we are thinking of is present, and what we are not thinking of its absent. We can demonstrate this by working up a state of terror by imagining ourselves to be in a place of danger, the degree of terror being determined b y the degree of vividness of the picture thus built up.
We can therefore conceive that souls awaiting incarnation are not hovering at some particular spot on the earth’s surface, but are abiding in the state of consciousness to which their evolution has brought them, and that whenever and wherever the astrological influences produce that condition in the earth’s atmosphere, a relationship is established with souls of a corresponding type, and if a new-born body is available, one or another of them will enter it. We can thus see why it is that horoscopes are cast for the moment of birth and not for the moment of conception, which seems the more rational method, for it may be that, despite tradition to the contrary, the soul enters the body with the first breath. We know what importance is attached to the breath in Eastern occultism, and the philological relationship between ‘breath’ and ‘spirit’ in all languages, and may well take a hint from the testimony of such independent witnesses that enables us to explain one of the greatest anomalies of astrological doctrine.
We can also see in the light of this explanation why horoscopes are seldom the exact fit astrologers would like to believe them to be. “The stars cannot lie,” they say, when the subject protests at some obvious discrepancy between him and his horoscope; but if we realise that unborn souls are coming into incarnation as best they can in the circumstances available to them, and that the unevolved have little choice or discretion, we can see that during the earlier phases of its evolution, life is apt to be a little haphazard and that it is only the more highly evolved souls who have the power to exercise any discrimination in the choice of a vehicle or an environment, or have the patience to do so. We are dragged back into matter by the urge of unfulfilled desires just as a thirsty horse seeks water. In consequence our environment often presents us with difficulties which have to be overcome before we can start on our life work, for it is our lower nature that has most to say about the manner of our incarnation, and only a very highly evolved soul has the knowledge and power necessary to overrule its own urges.
It will thus be seen that the state of the psychic atmosphere during which a soul incarnates is a very useful guide to the spiritual condition of that soul, though it has no influence whatsoever on that condition, which is the product of past evolutionary experiences. The lock does not affect the key, but the key can only enter the lock it fits: thus while key and lock are not causally related, they are nevertheless functionally related. Upon this analogy is astrology justified of its wisdom.
The spiritual entity that thus takes flesh will also require vehicles of mental and astral substance as its subtle sheaths. Are these sheaths built up by the incarnating entity on a spiritual basis, or do they build up around the nucleus of the physical germ, so that the immortal spirit takes over its astral and mental vehicles ready made along with its physical body, all three being determined by the astrological conditions of the earth atmosphere? In view of the fact that endocrine conditions so closely influence emotional and mental states, and also influence not only closely but precisely the physical type and rate of growth, it is probable that the physical germ is the nucleus for the organisation of all the vehicles of manifestation; but in view also of the fact that emotion immediately influences the functioning of all glands, it is not only probable but certain that the incarnating entity exercises an influence upon the subsequent development of its vehicles in proportion to its own development. That is to say, if it is self-conscious and self-directive it will exercise control over its vehicles extending even into the functional activities of its most dense. Evidence of this is afforded by the various forms of mental healing, which are dependent upon the power of the subtle vehicles to influence the dense, whether by the influx of spiritual power, mental suggestion, or the emotional manipulation of the astral through the imagination. But equally, because the spiritual self is congruous to the conditions in which it incarnates, it is improbable, unless extraneous influences are brought to bear upon it, that it will cause its vehicles to deviate widely from their natural type because that type represents its condition. When such influences are brought to bear, as in the case of religious conversion, hypnotic influence, spiritual healing, or the training of an initiate, then we may expect wide and even startling divergations from the original condition and line of development of both mind and body.
It is clear in the light of such experience that the vehicles of man are not so many mass-produced machines, incapable of alteration or adaptation. We know that they are capable of a wide range of adaptation, and consequently would be capable of alteration if we knew how to set about the process and where to open up the sealed controls. Even the physical body, the densest and most set in its ways of all the vehicles, is capable of profound modification of function, if not of organic structure, under the influence of mental healers as well as of environment and disease; the subtler vehicles are malleable in proportion to their subtlety. All depends upon the influences brought to bear upon them. In the case of the highly evolved being, self conscious and self-directing, strong and direct spiritual influences can be brought to bear; but as the spiritual philosophy of the more highly evolved cultures is an ascetic philosophy, a turning away from matter to spirit, such influence is seldom brought to bear, and in consequence the vehicles of the more highly evolved are often grievously mismanaged, their sensitivity being blown about by all the winds of emotion prevailing on the astral, and it is left to the more primitive cultural type to exhibit the spectacular phenomena which certain yogis and fakirs have displayed as evidence of spiritual powers.
Unevolved types of souls have little or no self consciousness in the earlier stages of their development, and consequently no insight into their condition or power of self determination based thereon. Only in proportion as man acquires power of thought control can he become master of his fate, ruler of his stars and healer of his body. The direction taken by such control, however, will always be determined by the fact that a character is congruous to the stars under which it incarnates, and to its own physical type, else it would not have incarnated thus and then; consequently as has been pointed out in another context, it will tend to work along the lines it laid down for itself when it incarnated, and drastic changes are unlikely in the absence of drastic stimuli. Nevertheless, we must not overlook what can be effected by drastic stimuli in the case of the more highly evolved types of souls.
It might then be said that man’s subservience to the stellar influences is in proportion to his primitiveness, but this would be incorrect, for the unevolved are insensitive, and the less individualised they are, the more they are at the mercy of psychological type and environment. The average man shares in the unmodified fate of the society in which he is born. He starves in its depressions and prospers when it booms. The evolved type may struggle out of the rut into relative freedom. It must never be forgotten, however, that all freedom is relative, and can only operate within the fixed laws of its nature, whether these be astral or social, for each plane and mode of existence has its own laws, which are simply the limitations of its nature that determines its type.
We can see, then, that people react to astrological influences according to their degree of development, but not in a steadily rising line of sensitivity. The unevolved are relatively insensitive; the psychically evolved are highly sensitive; the spiritually evolved are sensitive, but can control and direct their functioning, reactions and development by virtue of the power to react which their sensitivity confers when directed by a controlled and purposive intelligence. Not enough has been made of this fact in popular astrology. We can perhaps sum all this up by saying that the unevolved are influenced predominantly by earth conditions; the psychically evolved by lunar or emotional conditions, and the spiritually evolved by solar conditions; or translated into less esoteric language, the unevolved react blindly and helplessly to the physical conditions of their environment and the physiological laws of their being, not realising the possibilities of modification and control that can be exerted by the mind; the minds of the psychically evolved influence their bodies and environments powerfully but blindly, there being no directing intelligence to guide their activities; the highly evolved, through auto-suggestion and mind control are able to guide their own processes on all planes.
The wide range and development of mental healing in all its aspects, from the most spiritual to the most superstitious, has made us familiar with the powers the mind can exercise over the body when it gives itself seriously to the task, as it very seldom does owing to the bondage of habit and the inhibiting power of negative auto-suggestions due to incredulity. Such experience encourages us to ask whether the astrological influences which cause the various factors in our being to react in sympathy can also be controlled by the power of the self-directive mind possessed of insight. The initiate answers this question in the affirmative. He does not ignore the power of the stars, as does the sceptic, but he believes that the proper way to use a birth chart of a progressed horoscope is for diagnostic purposes and that it should never be regarded as a blueprint of Fate. To the unevolved, unable to cope with stellar influences, the revelation of the significance of a horoscope can do little good and much harm, and for this reason astrology should rightly be an occult or hidden wisdom, reserved for initiates.
The initiate is as averse to its indiscriminate and unenlightened use as any magistrate fining a fortune teller because he knows the power of auto-suggestion to reinforce the influences of the stars and make bad influences an excuse for inertia or rashness. Moreover, although the casting of a horoscope is a matter of arithmetic about which there can be no two opinions, the reading of it is a very different affair, and the old saying – “So many men, so many minds” necessarily applies, especially in view of the fact that but few people know their exact birth moment. It is well known that the unanalysed psychoanalyst invariably projects his own complexes on to his patient, and the same is true of the astrologer. He is a creature of his age and his inhibitions, and he will regard the planets as malefic or catalysts, benefices or karma according to taste. A bad aspect will be regarded as an evil fate or an abreaction of repressions and a good aspect will be regarded as a stroke of luck or a release of inner power according to the degree of enlightenment of the mind that studies it.
To assess the influence of the planets in terms of good or bad luck of various types is a gambler’s way of making a living as distinguished from honest and creative work. Folk watch their aspects to learn their fate in the same way that the stock gambler watches the market reports; and as the stock gambler is worthless as a citizen, contributing nothing to the wealth of nations, a mere unproductive parasite, so the superstitious believer in astrology will mark time on the evolutionary path because his fatalistic attitude prevents him from assuming mastery over his fate and denies him the power to learn by experience and become a bigger and better man as the result of battling with the storms of life.