The Drama of Karma


According to astrologers worldwide we are in the age of Aquarius – traditionally the Messianic era and as such are experiencing a spiritual shift, with the collective spirit of the world seeking to break free from constricting identification with material reality and in doing so, bravely attempt to retrieve what alchemists referred to as a Conjuctio or ‘The Sacred Marriage’ – the union of Heaven and Earth.

This article is the outcome of my attempt to find a place for the divine concept of Karma within the general framework of existential humanistic psychotherapy and counselling within the discourse of spirituality. This piece then is concerned with the issue of birth, the possibility of rebirth and relationships from the cosmic perspective of reincarnation.

As a professional practice, psychotherapy – like religion - is also concerned with a devotion to a cause, a set of ideas and a distinct path paved from experience. Therapists as agents of moral and social justice working within an ever changing emotionally geographical social climate need to be equipped with a deep understanding of the importance of diversity within their therapeutic relationships with clients if they are to help facilitate real change.

Welcome then to The Theatre of the Divine, a contemporary production dealing with a higher reality and featuring one of the century’s most celebrated philosophies – Karmic Astrology. As an audience many of you will have your own views on what you consider Karma to be and these opinions will have been shaped by your current life experiences, the influential input of significant others, your own present level of awareness and the learning and wisdom that you have acquired and retained as a result of your past lives.

Webster’s Dictionary (2008) offers the following definition of Karma: “The sum of a human being’s actions, carried from one life to the next.” Edgar Cayce the prophetic visionary and mystic (1877-1945) described the fascinating cosmic law as “ The Law of Meeting Self”.

During his lifetime Cayce had made the discovery that every external condition is simply a mirrored reflection of our own personalized interiors. In accordance with the universal Cause and Effect interrelating principle of Karma there are apparently within each one of us actions and reactions. The space where these energies of these polarities unite represent the centre of our being.

Rabbi Berg, the renowned contemporary Kabbalist, suggests that as spiritual beings forming part of a cosmic pattern; Karma is about dissolving the ego through the process of reincarnation. Through the doctrine of reincarnation we are offered the opportunity to discharge the cosmic debt with which our souls are weighted down at birth. He maintains that as long as we remain attached to our ego we must live in a Karmic condition. In fact anything that provides the illusion of security through the acquisition of self importance at the expense of spiritual development.

Karma is concerned with cultivating non-attachment to form of any type since form is ruled by the physical body, which in turn is ruled by the ego. The more we can discipline ourselves to exercise non-attachment to thoughts and learn the value of not thinking then and only then, possibly can we can begin to perceive and correctly estimate the significance of our earthly life in all its karmic significance.

As soon as relating through non-attachment is achieved a powerful ability to experience the subconscious commences and a genuine non-directive empathy for others emerges. Individuals who have receive proper training in developing their imagination in this way often are able to obtain atavistic insight which becomes an integrated part of their psyche enabling them to directly experience elemental energies and alternative realities.

So what are the conditions that have to exist in the world in order for Karma to be brought into existence? Each of us is placed within a certain human life and at the same time directed by a higher divine purpose. During the course of that life we are obliged to enter into pre-destined relationships with other individuals that offer us karmic adjustments and compensations. This experience nearly always involves a set of key players, each equipped with their own special role to play in our cosmic drama. The reunion of one soul with another creates the basis for a psycho-spiritual energy transfer within which each assists the other to achieve spiritual equilibrium and psychic balance. The particular relationship in any given reincarnation is a learning experience that hopefully brings about correction and altered states of consciousness. Depending on the level and nature of the personal deficiency that requires adjustment, our spiritual teachers will appear to us in the guise of parents, siblings, friends, children, employers, lovers, enemies, therapists and clients. An emotional reaction against another person is in effect a recollection of the contents of our unconscious. The more we struggle with others, the more we struggle with ourselves. It could be said that everything that is found in the psyche is projected. What we see in others and the environment is what we carry in our unconscious self. Much of the mystery and transcendence of Karma is linked to self awareness.

Centuries before Sigmund Freud, the founder of Psychoanalysis, was to revolutionise psychological thought with his then radical theories of psychic determinism and theory of personality, astrology as an ancient system dating back from 3000 BC was already actively involved in the scientific measurement and evaluation of psychological patterns of identity, effectively examining consciousness through a sophisticated means of analysis.

If we take the view that the Earth plane is a vast working laboratory in the universe where spiritual forms are constantly being revised and  symbolized by the planets; Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter as guiding principles we can them begin to understand how one method by which we can build up a detailed picture of how a particular relationship will challenge us is through comparing our natal chart with that of the other individual in order to determine the precise nature of the relationship and the demands it will be presenting us with in order to achieve further personal development. When a particular planet rules at the time of birth, the cosmic influence of that planet provides us not only with valuable information about ourselves but also with significant knowledge about other individuals who in some way or other will touch our lives. It is true that one area in which to obtain this is through the therapeutic relationship, although there are also many others. Remember, every significant relationship that you will ever have, was contracted for you by you ,before you were born.

In this life and those to follow, it is not the interpretation of circumstances that is important but rather the understanding of the relationship between these circumstances and their psychological factors.

Ghost Stories: Part 1 – A Potted History

Ghost stories, it would seem, retain a timeless appeal. In this first of another two-part article, I will be looking at the history of the ghost story.

In the second, I will be exploring why ghost stories are still capable of captivating us today, how the Victorian model of the ghost has shifted from dehumanised to humanised spectre and why. I will be examining the treatment of the subject in modern films and television, arguing that contemporary writers and film-makers treat the world of the afterlife and the idea of the ghost quite differently from our Victorian predecessors.

This cultural shift, I will argue, is one that reflects our greater tolerance for those once confined to the margins of society.

People throughout the ages have enjoyed stories about ‘spooks’ and spirits. Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth are gripping ghost stories that still appeal to the contemporary imagination.

Hamlet is plagued by the ghost of his father, urging him to avenge his death by murdering his uncle, Claudius; while Macbeth is troubled by disturbing visions of Banquo’s ghost after sending two assassins to murder him whilst he is out hunting.

However, the era most notable for its ghost stories was the Victorian period, when the gothic novel was at the height of popularity.

The Victorians loved a good ghost story and literature of the time abounds with tales of hauntings and ghostly happenings. Writers in the Victorian gothic genre included Henry James, Sheridan Le Fanu, M.R. James, Oscar Wilde and Charles Dickens, to name but a few.

Perhaps the most famous ghost story of all is Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, published in 1843, which tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, who is visited by the spirit of his business partner, Jacob Marley, described by Dickens as having, ‘a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar.’ Scrooge is subsequently visited by Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come.

In traditional ghost stories the apparition, the visiting spirit wants something, often, but not always, revenge. An apparition is usually a portend of doom, a sign that bad things are going to happen to the person to whom they pay their ‘visit,’ and the experience of an other-worldly visitation is, more often than not, an unpleasant one.

The etymological root of ghost is, ironically, quite hard to pin down but its most common derivation is the German word ‘geist,’ from geis, meaning to be excited, amazed or frightened and this is invariably the effect upon the character in the story who sees a ghost.

Scrooge is all of these in turn, since the three ghosts of Christmas appear as catalysts for his emotional and psychological transformation, and ultimately produce a positive effect upon him but they are also sinister because what Scrooge sees frightens him, and they frighten us too, because, as the reader, we do not initially know what their purpose is.

It is this sense of the unknown which is a key factor in creating the dramatic tension in any ghost story. Yet this unknown is a paradox because it is also the known; the familiar fear, the primal terror of something beyond our understanding which has its origins from somewhere deep within the human psyche.

Sigmund Freud describes this in his essay The Uncanny (1919) – as Das Unheimlich, ‘the opposite of the familiar,’ but is actually foreign and familiar at the same time – ‘heimlich’ and ‘unheimlich,’ sometimes translated as homely and unhomely.

The Uncanny presents a highly persuasive explanation of the cultural role of ghosts, in our folklore and in our literature and one which serves us well in understanding how the role of the ghost has shifted in modern times, moving from dehumanised to humanised as our cultural values have simultaneously shifted from prohibitive to permissive.

Culturally, Freud argues, taboo subjects and ideas with which we are uncomfortable – often of a sexual origin – become repressed and then projected onto objects or figures that are then imbued with the very fears and anxieties we carry within us and as a result, deemed frightening or, in Freud’s word, unheimlich: uncanny, unfamiliar.

Traditionally, ghosts represent our repressed fears and anxieties; cases where the familiar has become strange, sinister, threatening – beyond the realms of the human, no longer living and yet not dead. They invoke feelings of distaste and fear because we cannot identify them.

We are unable to pinpoint their origins or work out where they belong within the polarity that is life/death. They belong in the shadows, on the margins, outside the boundaries of society. Of course, the Victorians had far more clearly defined boundaries than we do, coupled with a greater sense of censoriousness defining their notions of the acceptable and the unacceptable.

For example, to name a couple of Victorian taboos, homosexuality was still punishable by law and having a child out of wedlock would condemn the mother to the life of a pariah.

Thus, if as Freud argues, ghosts are an expression of repressed fears and anxieties; the familiar turned frightening, then it is no surprise that the traditional Victorian ghost – perhaps with the exception of the affable Simon de Canterville in Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost – should be unidentifiable and sinister.

The Victorians had stricter moral and social codes than we do; stronger boundaries for what was within and what was outside, the realms of society and the norm; stronger prejudices and beliefs, both secular and religious.

It is no wonder then, that the classic Victorian literary ghost should be a sinister figure hovering on the margins of life and death, a figure mostly devoid of humanity who cannot be brought into the realms of the human but remains mysterious, elusive and unsettling.

In Part Two, I will be discussing the post-modern ghost, a new, humanised figure, who is a reflection our culture’s absorption of previously marginalised identities and value systems as well as our need to overturn the polarities that many minorities have found oppressive.

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