Astrology by Hand Week 17
Last week, I said that I was going to try to define consciousness. Let me say at the outset of this that such an attempt could be considered pretentious in the extreme. The nature and essence of consciousness has been a debating point for philosophers for centuries, and I cannot reasonably claim that I am going to end the debate here with a final word. What I want to do is a bit humbler than that (quite a bit!). What we really want to know is what does consciousness have to be in order to play the role that we see it playing in magic and, I would contend, astrology.
Our word ”consciousness” comes from Latin roots meaning ”knowing together.” This emphasizes a social aspect of consciousness that is interesting, but does not completely help us to understand the idea. However, it does raise a point that we will come back to shortly.
The German word for consciousness is ”Bewusstsein,” which means literally ”knowledge of being,” that is, either knowledge that oneself exists or that something exists. Simply put, when I am unconscious, I do not know either that I exist, or that anything else exists. This basic idea is that consciousness involves being aware of something. Of course, then we might have to ask what ”aware” means. But I would argue something like the old line about jazz. If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know. Same with awareness!
I Think, Therefore I Am
Probably just about everyone has heard the line from Descartes, ”I think, therefore I am.” Obviously he thought of thinking as a key component of consciousness. I prefer another line that is admittedly my own formulation: ”I know that I know, and I experience that I experience.” In this case, the phrase ”I know” could easily be replaced with ”I am aware.” But what I am aware of when I am thinking about these things? I am aware that ”I” am a center of experience, and that I refer to myself as a central point of observation even when, like all of us, I get so caught up in my experience that I forget that I am there being aware. Thus, at the center of my being is an awareness of a subject, myself, experiencing an object, everything else.
The Problem with Objects
Each of us knows that we exist. I may not know what I am, or what is my true nature, but I know that I am and that I possess awareness. Objects are more doubtful. We know that objects exist, but we are even more insecure as to their true nature than we are about our own. Even more important, when we encounter an object that we identify as living—a dog, cat or other creature, or even a human being—do we know that it is aware? And if we do know, how do we know?
Language as the Key to Seeing Consciousness in Others
Well, one way that we know for sure is when we can talk with other beings. Once we establish communication with another person, we have little doubt that that person is aware. When we cannot communicate, we are not so sure, even when the entity involved appears human. History is full of examples of clashes between cultures (especially where there is a major technological or cultural gap) that arose because of the inability to communicate fully.
So consciousness as we know it has two elements: 1) Awareness of being. 2) An awareness that can be shared through language. This second is at the basis of our word consciousness from the Latin for ”knowing together.” When we know something together with someone, we experience each other as fully alive and aware. When we do not, we do not fully accept each other as conscious, or, ultimately, as human. We accomplish shared awareness by means of language. Shared languages enable us fully to experience someone else as aware. So while it is debatable that language is necessary for us to experience our own awareness, language is necessary for us to experience each other and to share awareness.
Free Will as an Element of Consciousness
But there is another element in consciousness also. We are aware of things being true or false. Based on this, we can make judgments and plan actions based on those judgments. This is free will. While every living thing seems to have the capacity for directed movement, movement that has an intended object (plants reach for the Sun, animals hunt for food), only conscious beings have free will. This is true of human beings, even though we clearly exhibit the primitive, almost machine-like drives that we see present in animals and plants. When we operate from free will, there is something between our awareness and our actions, something that is not determined, something that is not predictable. So we have these three elements in consciousness.
Next week, we will begin to develop the consequences of this for an understanding of the world that leads to astrology and magic.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rob Hand, author of Planets in Transit and other works, is now involved in the translation and publication of texts regarding ancient and medieval astrology through ARHAT Media Inc.