Stanislav Graf: Holotropic Research and Archetypal Astrology

By Stanislav Grof

In the concluding article in this section, Stanislav Grof addresses the interface between
transpersonal psychology and the astrological perspective, describing his collaboration
with Richard Tarnas and the connections they discovered between the planetary
archetypes and the psychodynamics of the unconscious. This paper, previously
unpublished, presents the remarkable evidence in support of archetypal astrology from
Grof’s research into non-ordinary states of consciousness over the last five decades.

Psychedelic substances, in general, and LSD, in particular, can profoundly influence
the functioning of the human psyche. Depending on the personality of the individual who
takes them and on the “set and setting,” their effect can be extremely beneficial or deleterious.
Two people can take the same substance, the same dosage, in the same location, and yet have
radically different, even diametrically opposite experiences. For this reason, since the
beginning of psychedelic experimentation, researchers have attempted to find ways of
predicting what impact these substances would have on the person who takes them.
The effort to discover a method for predicting the reaction to psychedelics and the
therapeutic outcome was one of the objectives of a large clinical study that our research team
conducted at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center in the 1960s and 1970s. We used for
this purpose a battery of standard psychological tests, including the Minnesota Multidimensional Personality Inventory (MMPI), Shostrom’s Personal Orientation Inventory
(POI), the Rorschach Inkblot Test, our own Psychedelic Experience Questionnaire (PEQ),
and others. This research confirmed my earlier findings at the Psychiatric Research Institute
in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and the conclusion from the study of professional literature, that
the results of the tests developed and commonly used by Western psychology were essentially
useless in this regard.
Ironically, when after years of frustrating effort I finally found a tool that made such
predictions possible, it was more controversial than psychedelics themselves. It was astrology,
a discipline that, even after years of studying transpersonal phenomena, I myself tended to
dismiss as a ridiculous pseudoscience. I came to realize, however, that astrology could be an
invaluable tool in the work with both psychedelics and with other forms of non-ordinary
(or “holotropic”) states of consciousness such as those induced by powerful experiential
techniques of psychotherapy (primal therapy, rebirthing, and holotropic breathwork) or
occurring spontaneously during psychospiritual crises.
The radical change in my attitude toward astrology has been the result of collaboration
with psychologist and philosopher Richard Tarnas, my close friend and colleague. For over
three decades, beginning in 1976, we have been jointly exploring the astrological correlates of
mystical experiences, psychospiritual crises, psychotic episodes, psychedelic states, and
holotropic breathwork sessions. This work has shown that astrology, particularly the study of
planetary transits, can predict and illuminate both the archetypal content of non-ordinary
states of consciousness and the timing of when particular states are most likely to occur. Our
systematic study of the correlations between the nature and content of holotropic states and
planetary transits convinced me that a combination of deep experiential therapy with
archetypal psychology and transit astrology is the most promising strategy for the future
development of psychiatry and depth psychology.

Astrology and Modern Western Science

I am aware that this is a very strong statement, particularly in view of the fact that
many mainstream scientists consider astrology, as I did myself, to be in principle incompatible
with the scientific world view. Like many other esoteric systems, astrology was one of the
victims of the rationalism and materialism of the Scientific Revolution. It was rejected not on
the basis of scientific proof that its premises were false, but because of its incompatibility with
the fundamental metaphysical assumptions of Western science dominated by monistic
materialism. More specifically, there are several important reasons for the dismissal of
astrology by materialistic scientists.

First, Western science portrays the universe as an impersonal and largely inanimate
mechanical system, a supermachine that created itself and is governed by mechanical natural
laws. In this context, life, consciousness, and intelligence are seen as more or less accidental
products of matter. By contrast, the basic assumptions of astrology are that the cosmos is a
creation of superior intelligence, that it is based on an inconceivably intricate deeper order,
and that this order reflects a higher purpose. The astrological perspective closely reflects the
original meaning of the Greek word Kosmos that describes the world as an intelligibly ordered,
patterned, and coherently interconnected system with humanity as an integral part of the
whole. In this view, human life is not the result of random forces ruled by capricious chance,
but follows an intelligible trajectory that is in some way attuned to the movements of celestial
bodies and can thus be at least partially intuited.

Second, because astrological thinking presupposes the existence of archetypes—timeless
primordial principles underlying and informing the fabric of the material world—it recognizes
a dimension of reality that cannot be detected using techniques of modern science. Under the
influence of positivist materialism, science only recognizes the existence of hidden, invisible
dimensions of reality if these can be made accessible through the use of devices that extend the
range of our senses, such as microscopes, telescopes, or sensors detecting various bands of
electromagnetic radiation. The archetypal dimension clearly does not fall into this category.

The tendency to interpret the world in terms of archetypal principles first emerged in
ancient Greece and was one of the most striking characteristics in Greek philosophy and
culture. The archetypes can be seen from several different perspectives. In the Homeric epics
they took the form of personified mythological figures, as deities, such as Zeus, Poseidon,
Hera, Aphrodite, or Ares. In the philosophy of Plato, they were described as pure
metaphysical principles, the transcendent Ideas or Forms, that possessed independent
existence of their own in a realm not accessible to ordinary human senses. In modern times,
C. G. Jung brought the concept of archetypes into modern psychology, describing them
primarily as psychological principles.

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