The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton: astrological archetypes through literature

I thoroughly enjoyed this 800 odd page novel, set in gold-rush New Zealand. The astrological symbolisim is obvious from the outset with star charts drawn up to represent the planets at the time. It doesn’t include Uranus, which was discovered some seventy years earlier, just the old astrological planets. Incidentally, Neptune was being discovered around the same time the novel is set (1865). I just found out that Eleanor Catton read the collected works of Jung before she embarked on the novel and had the idea that 12 characters would represent the zodiac while others would represent the planets. It’s very clever but doesn’t cut in on the story which is wonderfully well written, so much so that it has been shortlisted for the Booker.

I do believe Catton used the movements of the planets to guide the plot and decide the scenes she was writing.  It would take much re-reading to figure out all the intentional synchronicity.  She takes great care to describe each character, slipping in the properties of the astrological archetype in a way which could easily go unnoticed. Of course every zodiac sign and planet has many different facets and Catton seems to draw on a few of these for each character and also incorporates other characteristics which might better fit the story.  I won’t go too much into what is obviously stated, I will focus instead on broader reflections of the novel’s symbolism.

This story begins in the 12th house of the psyche, whereupon Walter Moody (Mercury) unwittingly interrupts a secret meeting of 12 very different men at the crown hotel. It must be in the 12th because we are so in the dark, and where else would we find 12 men, symbolising the twelve zodiac signs, than in the natural home of Pisces? In fact, this whole story belongs to the 12th house as the character symbolising the sun and psyche, Emery Stains (fantastic name) is literally stumbling around in the dark for the almost the entire journey.  Therefore, treating this novel as a Jungian journey means delving into the exploration of one’s psyche in the dark, with minimal illumination that grows as we progress.

Despite not being represented, the archetype of Neptune is obviously in the room, probably sitting in the back corner smoking opium. Opium is very prominent in this story both in the pipe and in laudanum tinctures.  There are many delusions at play, of grandeur, of love, of mysteries and plots that might actually not exist. This story also has a very strong Pluto/Scorpio theme, secrets, suspicion and paranoia add tension to the narrative. There is gold involved as well as prostitution and death. You can’t get more 8th house than that.

I would indeed like to re-read this novel and observe the characters in relation to my own personal archetypes in the style of Clarissa Pinkola Estes. It promises to be an interesting and illuminating journey into the dark recesses of the subconscious.

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The Predator Archetype (part two)

In my previous post about the predator archetype I didn’t go into the back-story of this universal archetype.  Of course such a dark character must have a story. According to Estes he is a fallen magician. A personification of the psychopathic wounded ego trying to be more than one is. Icarus flew too close to the sun and suffered the consequences and the this damaged part of the psyche over-extended in a similar way and exists in a state of permanent over-compensation.

On a personal level, the predator is a fragment of the shadow: the part of ourselves seeks redemption in all the wrong places. It has lost its own light and plots to steal the light of the psyche. It is our internal psychic vampire, pilfering our creative potential, holding us back with fear. This archetype offers a warning against the reckless pursuit of power.

On a wider social level, this archetype makes easy prey of women who have been trained since infancy to ‘be nice’, it seeps out of advertising. In the West it is disguised as the freedom to choose to be exploited, in more conservative cultures it is the invisible dominating force that women hide from.

Some people seem to unwittingly personify this fallen magician archetype all too well. I have met a few people who have tried to pursue the occult for power, either favoring hierarchical traditions or claiming to be far too unique, too special, too powerful to follow others. There was always something odorous about these people, something of the rodent in their appearance, a dangerous kind of cunning.