The Complex and Its Origin
As so much in modern psychology, even at the popular level, turns around the use of the term "complex" and of what it stands for it is important for the astro-psychologist to gain a basic understanding of the subject. To know intellectually what this or that complex means in terms of the psychological ideas of Freud, Adler or Jung is not enough. The astrologer should have a clear grasp of the process according to which complexes form and develop, of their original causes in man's negative approach to life and experience, and of their correlation with the four fundamental drives in human nature — drives which have definite and adequate representations in astrological symbolism.
The astrologer should also understand clearly how far he may be able to detect complexes through the study of a person's natal chart and progressions, and in what way he can use this astrological knowledge to help his clients, instead of (unwillingly) adding to their fears and their negative approach to life. In other words, he should be fully aware of the possibilities and of the limitations of astrological techniques when dealing with psychological complexes and all that relates to their development and cure or transformation.
The first task, in meeting the needs of the modern astrologer who seeks above all to be a psychologist and a helper of human beings, is to define the nature of the complex, as a general factor in psychology, and its origin.
The Columbia Encyclopedia defines the term "complex" as indicating "a group or system of ideas which originates in the mind of an individual as the result of an experience or set of experiences of high emotional content, and which is repressed from the conscious mind, but continues nevertheless to show its presence through the subsequent mental activity and behavior of that individual. . . . The more or less complete dominance of a group of ideas making up a complex over the mental activity of an individual gives to a complex its abnormal or pathological significance."
Carl Jung, to whom modern psychology is mostly indebted for the concept of "complex," defines complexes as "psychological parts split off from the personality, groups of psychic contents isolated from consciousness, functioning arbitrarily and autonomously, leading thus a life of their own in the dark sphere of the unconscious, whence they can at every moment hinder or further conscious acts" (cf. "The Psychology of Jung" by Jolan Jacobi, 1943, p. 35, etc.) Everyone has complexes. Complexes do not necessarily imply inferiority for the individual who has them they merely indicate that "something ununited, unassimilable, conflicting exists; perhaps a hindrance, perhaps too a stimulus to greater efforts and so even to fresh successes." Yet they point out too "the unquestionably weak place (emphasis mine) in every meaning of the word." The origin of the complex "is to be found frequently in an emotional shock or the like. It probably has its ultimate basis, as a rule, in the apparent impossibility of accepting the whole of one's own individual nature."
I shall deal later on with some of these statements, but at this time the main facts to remember are that the complex is a group of set and unyielding "psychic contents" (ideas, feelings, sensations, memories, etc.) which have acquired a kind of solid rigidity and which are constantly adding to themselves similar mental-emotional elements according to a snowball process. Any complex begins with a particular experience, and grows in strength and inertia as similar experiences occur which the person identifies (rationally or not) with the first. More accurately, a complex originates in a person's reaction (either as an individual, or as a member of a group) to a particular experience; and any reaction to any experience can basically be classified as positive or negative — even though obviously the distinction is not absolute, and most personal reactions include both positive and negative factors. Yet one of these two categories of factors can normally be seen to dominate and thus to give a characteristic "feeling-tone" to the individual's response. In time, an attitude to life or at least to a certain type of event is built in which either positiveness or negativeness clearly predominates.
It is often said that an individual is "equal to the occasion." This means that as a new and as yet unexperienced event confronts the man, the latter has enough strength to meet its challenge. The momentum of the event and the resilient strength or power of adaptation of the individual are dynamically equal.
In order to grasp the full meaning of this, we have to realize that many natural events tend to disrupt the individual structure of any physical organism or personality. Life and individual consciousness or intelligence are precariously balanced within a field where intense forces of nature operate, ebbing and flowing according to the rhythm of vast cosmic tides that no man can control directly. Living organisms on earth can be killed by relatively very small changes of temperature; the body's heat needs only be altered some five degrees to cause death. Likewise, the functions of the individual psyche are so delicately balanced, and the development of an intelligent, harmonious, sane, vibrant and individually creative personality is such a "new" factor in evolution on earth, that any violent and unexpected event — a shock or "trauma" — can quite easily disorganize and injure the individual organism of personality. The more individualized and conscious this bio-psychic organism, and the greater the sensitivity of the individual, the more disturbing or destructive tend to be the shocks which he encounters in a world that seems essentially alien, if not inimical.
Man can resist successfully violent shocks, either if he is very tough and insensitive, or if he has great creative (i. e. rebounding) power. Toughness, in most cases, is only of the surface; and if the blow is sharp and straightly aimed, the near-animal organism, once its hide is pierced, collapses at once. On the other hand, the sensitive but creative person, while his or her power of recovery may be great, has nevertheless to fight against an ever-increasing inner fatigue. He is not killed; but he may become "weary to death" of forever creating himself anew.
An experience of high emotional content is caused by an event with great dynamic power; that is, an event which hits a vital point in our bio-psychic organism — an important nerve-center of our personal life, from which the blow radiates in many directions affecting a great part of our psyche and our ego-structure. Psychologically speaking, anything in our inner life to which the ego has given a very great value (thus around which he has organized his patterns of response, of enjoyment, and his symbols of meaning) becomes such a vital center. If the event destroys the object that represented this value in the world of experience (whether through death or disillusionment), a shock is the result.
Under this shock the sensitive and highly differentiated person will either tend to collapse, or with tense fervor set himself to the task of creating a new value. The less sensitive person may absorb the shock with far less injury, but his rough psychic skin may become callous from sheer self-protection. Under repeated similar shocks the callus may degenerate into a hard tumor which in due time may become malignant. In other words, the strong shock aimed at a vital "center of value" in the psyche may have one of three types of result (and often something of all three!): a disintegrative process sets in which, if it does not destroy, at least tends to corrode the creative springs of the inner life — some kind of rigidity and crystallization develops which eventually may turn highly toxic — or the individual, setting into operation the inner powers of his being, buries the dead and creates new values.
If one of the first two types of processes start, the bio-psychic organism, sensing itself diminished and vanquished, develops fear when faced by a recurrence of the same kind of event. On the other hand, if the result of the original shock has been a deeper arousal of the power to create new values and new goals, and thus a strengthening of the victorious realization "I am I no matter what," then self-confidence — the faith in one's ability to face any new crisis with triumphant creativeness — is established.
Fear is produced by the memory of defeat — whether this memory is strictly personal in nature, or is based on a subconscious memory of previous collective defeats. But we must differentiate between the objective fact of defeat and the subjective sense of defeat. When a man in a small boat meets a storm and while making harbor sees mast and sail torn by the winds, he is defeated by forces of nature operating outside of him and obviously so far superior in strength that he cannot dream of overcoming them by equal force. What he can do, however, is to tap within his inner life creative powers which, step by step, will enable him to adjust himself successfully to the outside impact of the storm, to deviate it or use it to his own purpose. In proportion as the individual uses his inner powers for a creative purpose he may be vanquished but not defeated; he experiences objective defeat, but does not develop a subjective sense of defeat and ultimately a defeatist attitude.
Here, however, the essential distinction is not only between objective facts and subjective reactions to these facts, but even more between placing the life-emphasis either upon meeting forces, or upon developing one's inner creative powers. It should be clear that, if in any life-contest between man and Nature the individual focuses his attention upon the meeting of his own consciously available forces and the forces of Nature, the picture he sees of the results of the encounter must indeed be dark for him. It is true that human beings by working in groups and synthesizing the recorded activities of many generations have succeeded in using many natural forces to their advantage and in altering their environment for more comfortable living; and today our civilization is very proud, and justly so, of its mechanical force-against-force accomplishments.
Yet a man returning from the last World War might well have asked: "Where has this led mankind?" It led to the worst condition of wholesale starvation, destruction, insanity and haunting fear that human history has ever known; and no one should be satisfied with the remark that, if Hitler had not lived, everything would have been all right. The tragic suffering of millions of human beings was not caused by any one man, group, or nation. It was the result of a collective attitude to life — a deeply rooted one — according to which human existence is seen primarily as a contest between forces, as a matter decided by laws of mechanics.
Where force meets force, there man must ultimately be defeated; the irresistibly moving forces of nature, either in the physical world or in the psychic realm of the unconscious whose depths are unending and unfathomable, will always in the long run defeat the forces of humanity, and especially of an individual person alone. Therefore, to believe that human life is primarily a contest between forces can only logically lead to a negative attitude to experience, to philosophical pessimism and defeatism. It must also lead to collectivism; for it seems obvious that the only chance individuals have to successfully oppose human force to the power of Nature is through complete cooperation and unanimity of purpose. Scientific materialism leads inevitably to social collectivism; Marxism to totalitarian communism.
Yet there is an alternative. Once we realize that the essential purpose of life for man is the progressive actualization of inner powers inherent in the creative spirit within the individual, the whole outlook is changed. There is no longer any particular importance or significance in the fact that the immensely superior forces of the universe are able to beat us repeatedly; the only fact with crucial meaning is: how much more of his inner creative powers is man able to actualize and to understand while struggling against the constant down-flow of nature. And as we deal here with the individual and his spirit-centered creative potentiality as an individual, Nature refers to social and generic human nature in his unconscious depths as well as to the natural forces of the physical universe.
A purposeless force-against-force struggle versus a purposeful training through the tests of individual experience in order to develop inherent creative powers in the field of earth-conflicts: these two interpretations of human existence may seem to the casual reader to differ only in a highly abstract and metaphysical way. In actual fact, the difference between them defines the most practical and the most critical issue which every person has to face, both as part of a society or group, and as an individual. This issue means today life or death for Western society; because picturing human life as a blind struggle for survival has generated a spiritual defeatism which is not only sending millions to asylums, but has brought Western mankind to the verge of destruction. Mechanized and atomic total warfare on a global scope is simply the concrete exteriorization of the psychological and intellectual attitude which believes human life (and indeed all life) to be a total, universal struggle between purposeless forces.
This attitude is at the root of all defeatism, social and individual. If a person with such an attitude to life experiences the frustration of any one of his highly valued instinctual desires — once, twice, three times — what reaction is to be expected except a negative one, a sense of defeat, a complex? He is weak; outer repressions are unbearably strong — so, what is the use?
Consider, on the other hand, an individual permeated with the belief that he is born in order to develop his inner powers through storm and sunshine, pain and happiness alike, and that the only superiority worth striving for is that which comes through a fuller and more effective use of these inherent powers, whatever the cost or the outer results. If he is beaten in any meeting with the mighty energies of nature (inner or outer) such an individual will not acquire a "sense of defeat," however bruised and hurt he might be, as long as he may feel that he has learnt and grown as a personality out of the tragic experience.
If the person considers his gain in subjective values and in creative self-development the one factor having essential significance this positive attitude utterly transforms what could have been interpreted as a crucial defeat. When, instead, the attention is focused upon objective losses in the man-against-nature struggle, and these losses are repeated again and again, no man can avoid feeling inferior and defeated. Such feeling is bound to color the next similar confrontations with life; the individual becomes incapacitated by his memory of defeat translated into fear. Outer conditions may actually have changed; he may have actually grown in strength; he could easily win this time. Yet, gagged by fear, prisoner of the complex, the man is already beaten before he even faces the new experience. He is beaten because he sees himself vividly as a puny, weak force confronted with a mighty opposing force which has become a cosmic entity, a relentless undefeatable enemy. Anything which makes him "see" his life experiences in such a way is inimical to psychological health; whether it be religion, science . . . or the astrology which makes of some planets or aspects evil powers bent upon man's destruction!
It seems important to explain at length the manner in which all complexes are basically formed, however different their fields of operation, because it is only as one understands clearly their origin in a negative attitude to life that one can deal with them practically and safely, and search intelligently for signs of their existence through astrological techniques. Nevertheless, the astrological search for complexes and their roots, or for the probability of their development in the growing personality, is a very difficult one. It requires extreme care and the delicate weighing of "progressions" against "natal" indications; for, as in the case of indications of sickness or physiological unbalance of one kind or another, the astrologer is faced with the task of determining not what events are expectable, but how a person will react to these events. No event, no shock in itself can be said to cause a complex — and this is why Freud's "reductive" analysis through mere association of images, etc., should not be considered sound, or at least adequate.
Granted a forgotten event is found, to which, with the analyst's assistance, the neurotic can trace the emotional experience which has remained associated in his subconscious with the origin of the complex or neurosis, the important point is not that there was such a shock or "trauma," but rather that the individual reacted to it in a negative manner. Why did he react thus? This is the real problem to solve. It is a problem concerning his family, social, cultural, religious background just as much as his native endowment or temperament. No man lives alone, or faces life's confrontations alone and on the basis of his own experience and of nothing else. He faces love and death, pain and disappointment, emotional or business failure as a social person far more, in most cases, than as an individual.
Most complexes originate in childhood or youth; for then come the first shocks which catch the child unprepared or negatively conditioned by a force-against-force philosophy of life held by his parents or taught in school and college. How can we know, from a study of a birth chart, the kind of life-attitude which the person as a young child has imbibed, by a process of psychic osmosis, from his family and its cultural-religious beliefs and modes of behavior? What we have to discover in the birth chart is a pattern of bio-psychological tendencies, as well as a pattern of relationship to the universe in terms of the individual's "weak points"; then, as we watch the gradual unfolding of individual potentialities into actual characteristics of personality by studying the astrological progressions and transits (and all similar methods), we can to some extent see the child, then the youth, meeting his life-crises with whatever equipment his chart suggests is his by birthright. The combination of this equipment and of the crises of growth (their intensity and their timing) will tell the story in general terms, which in turn the astrologer has to interpret with reference to the concrete relationship of the particular person to his particular environment.
The positions of the planets Neptune and Pluto will have to be depended upon to give us very general indications as to the basic over-all attitude to life of the person's society and of the way in which he will be affected by it. The distribution of planets in angular natal houses will give us some clues as to his essential individual orientation to problems of selfhood and relationship. There will also be clues to the impact made upon the child by his parents, and to his behavior in experiences affecting the roots of his personal being, his security, and the inevitable changes in his relationship to his mother and to whatever represents for him an external authority.
Here I should emphatically state that, where the exact time of birth is not known and thus the cusps of the houses cannot be determined, any valid analysis of tendencies toward complexes or similar psychological factors is practically impossible. It is only the framework of the birth-horizon and meridian that can define the orientation of the individual to his life-experience. Whether or not complexes will develop in a personality is almost entirely a matter of orientation, and not a matter of events. The orientation of an individual person (conditioned by his family and society) toward any event that disturbs the bio-psychological balance of his personality by striking at some of the main "nerve centers" of this personality is the essential factor.
What an analysis of the birth chart should reveal primarily is the nature of these nerve centers. It can tell which bio-psychological function or functions constitute weak points in the personality, and when these are likely to be spotlighted by the individual person's need for growth and renewal. As these times of crisis occur — either following the generic rhythm of biological development which brings such crises as those of adolescence or "change of life," or according to a purely individual pattern of destiny — the weaknesses of the personality will be emphasized. The time and the general circumstances of the crisis can be indicated by astrology; but no astrologer can tell with certainty what the results of the crisis will be.
As a complex is the end result of a crisis, in this sense astrology cannot determine whether or not a person has or will have specific complexes. It cannot even rightly try to measure somehow the relative strength of the individual and of the life events assailing him; for that would be viewing the situation as a contest between two forces — thus, a negative approach.
One might say rightly that the majority of individuals tend to follow such a negative approach to their own crises; and thus, in most cases, they tend to experience to some degree a sense of
defeat which, if reactivated, will lead to the formation of a complex. But no astrologer can tell (at least solely from a study of the birth chart of an individual) that this individual will develop a negative attitude; for even the worst combination of astrological factors might instead arouse the creative powers of his deepest self and compel him to reorient his consciousness and his will in terms of the positive use of these powers.
If this be the case, though he be apparently beaten in contest with life, the individual nevertheless would be spiritually victorious. To develop a complex is to accept defeat at the hands of overwhelming forces. But for him who can see defeat only in his inability to grow, to learn and to actualize more of his spiritual potential, for such a person there can be really no complex — only fatigue. His attention is focused upon inner creativity, not upon the relative strength of his organism and of life-blows. He uses all life-experiences as pedestals to the creative demonstration of the spirit within. And a cross on Golgotha has proved to be a far more effective pedestal than wealth, social fame or personal happiness.
By permission of Leyla Rudhyar Hill
Copyright © 1966 and 1976 by Dane Rudhyar
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