Understanding Our Moment in History

Richard Tarnas, Ph.D.

FRB & MAR 2013

Photograph by: Raymond Gehman, www.raymondgehman.com

Teresa Oster MSW, MS, CJSSF board member

CJSSF: Your acclaimed cultural history The Passion of the Western Mind was a bestseller and a textbook. You revisited that history in your 2006 Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View. What made you ready to present the perspective of archetypal astrology?

DR. TARNAS: I actually wrote The Passion of the Western Mind as a preparatory foundation for Cosmos and Psyche. My original intention was to describe how the concept of archetypes had evolved from Plato to Jung, and also how our view of the cosmos had evolved from the ancients through the Copernican revolution to our own age, so that my readers would be in a position to appreciate the cosmological and psychological implications of the planetary correlations. What ultimately became Passion I had intended to be just the first few chapters ofCosmos. But books can have a mind of their own and it seems a full history of Western thought from a depth psychology perspective wanted to be written, and that became Passion. Once that was done, I became a professor of philosophy and cultural history, which has been wonderful, though it did prolong the process of completing Cosmos and Psyche.


CJSSF: Joseph Campbell lauded your work and was a mentor of yours at Esalen. How did he influence you?

DR. TARNAS: Joseph influenced me in at least two major ways. In person, he was an inspiring model of how to be a joyful, confident teacher with an original vision, grounded in a tremendous range of knowledge of the world’s religions, myths, and literature. He loved to study, and he loved sharing what he had learned. And second, from his writing as well as his lectures I learned to recognize certain deep archetypal patterns that underlay and unified the wide variety of human cultural manifestations – “the patterns that connect,” as Gregory Bateson would have said. 


CJSSF: How did your many years at Esalen shape your work?

DR. TARNAS: For a decade during my twenties and early thirties Esalen was basically my graduate school, as well as a nourishing community, place of work, and counter-cultural experiment. I studied with quite a few teachers there, some of whom like Stan Grof and Gregory Bateson lived there in the community, while others like Joseph Campbell or Huston Smith taught extended seminars there each year. Esalen was an enormous influence in my life. It deepened my study of many perspectives that I had begun at Harvard in the late 1960s – Eastern religions and mysticism, Jungian and trans-personal psychology, the psychedelic revolution, Western esoteric traditions, new paradigm sciences. I began my years there as a student, eventually became program director, in the later years started to lecture and to write. Robert Bly once told me that if I had stayed at Harvard, I could never have written my books as I would have simply been too weighed down by the sheer gravity of the scholarly past surrounding me there.


CJSSF: Jung, Stanislav Grof, and James Hillman you cite as seminal influences. Why were they important to you and archetypal astrology?

DR. TARNAS: Jung, Grof, and Hillman all richly illuminated the complexity and depth of the human psyche, and they all studied serious astrology and recognized the ways it connects the archetypal psyche to the cosmos itself. I’ll certainly draw on all their work during my talks in Florida.

CJSSF: Did Jung’s focus on synchronicity open him to astrology?

DR. TARNAS: Actually, the sequence went the other way: It was Jung’s long engagement with astrology, which began as early as 1911, and then later the I Ching, which helped lead him to formulate the idea of synchronicity as a more general principle. Both astrology and the I Ching represented for Jung ancient traditions that studied how events at a given time that were not causally linked could be meaningfully connected, reflecting a deeper patterning of reality. His later interests in parapsychology and quantum-relativistic physics were similarly part of his long-developing thinking about synchronicity, which he finally made public at Eranos in 1951.


CJSSF: Is there another book on the horizon for you? Who is inspiring you most these days?

DR. TARNAS: I have been greatly inspired in the past couple years by Robert Bellah’s magnificent magnum opus Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age. My colleagues and I in the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness program at CIIS, like Brian Swimme, were all very grateful that Bellah lived long enough to complete this extraordinary contribution to our human self-understanding. In our faculty study group, we spent the last year and a half carefully reading and discussing it.

The book I’m working on now involves the idea of “deep history,” and the need to understand our pivotal time in history by integrating the perspectives of depth psychology, the history of world views, and the larger context of Earth and cosmic evolution. All these bring a greater depth dimension – awareness of the archetypal psyche as well as deep time — to our conventional sense of history which has tended to focus on major military and political events and external socioeconomic forces. We need that level of reflection to engage this dramatic turning point in our collective journey.

Richard Tarnas, Ph.Dis a professor of philosophy and cultural history at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, where he founded the graduate program in Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness. He also teaches archetypal studies and depth psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara. A graduate of Harvard and Saybrook Universities, he is the author of The Passion of the Western Mind, a history of the Western world view from the ancient Greek to the postmodern that became both a best seller and a required text in many universities. His most recent book, Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View, received the Book of the Year Prize from the Scientific and Medical Network in the UK. He frequently lectures abroad as well as at various Jung institutes and societies throughout the U.S. He is on the Board of Governors of the C. J. Jung Institute of San Francisco.


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As a Not-For-Profit organization we exist because of the generosity of our friends, volunteers and donors. None of the work that we do would be possible without you.