Rudhyar, Dane

Rudhyar, Dane

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Dane Rudhyar was the leading figure in the movement that reoriented twentieth-century astrology from the prediction of events to its present emphasis on the analysis of personality. Born Daniel Chennevierre on March, 23, 1895, in Paris, to a middle-class family of Norman and Celtic stock, he spent his first 20 years in Paris. A serious illness and surgery at age 12 led him to begin developing his mind; he passed his baccalaureate at the Sorbonne at age 16, majoring in philosophy. He began meeting people who introduced him to the artistic and musical world of Paris, then in a great ferment, and to the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche, who freed him from what remained of his past conditioning and introduced him to the concept that all existence is cyclic in character. At this time he wrote Claude Debussy and the Cycle of Musical Civilization, in which he saw Western civilization as having reached an autumnal state.

Rudhyar then refocused his attention on music and the piano and was able to meet M. Durand, the music publisher, who read his book on Debussy, commissioned another booklet on him, and published three of Rudhyar’s piano pieces. Rudhyar began studying with Émile Pessard at the Paris Conservatoire but broke off his studies when World War I began. He was exempted from military service for health reasons and in 1916 left for New York with two friends to prepare for a performance of their dancedrama Metachory, for which he had written some music. His pieces Poemes Ironique and Vision Vegetale were performed at the Metropolitan Opera under the baton of Pierre Monteux in April 1917 and were the first polytonal music heard in America.

Having met Sasaki Roshi, who later became a Zen teacher, Rudhyar spent much of the summer of 1917 in the New York Public Library, reading about Oriental music and philosophy and Western occultism. In December of that year, he parted ways with his former friends and moved to Toronto, where he stayed with Sigfried Herz, and later to Montreal, where he stayed with Alfred Laliberté, a pupil of Alexander Scriabin. He gave lectures in French and recited some of his recent poetry, published in 1918 under the title Rhapsodies. After a summer in Seal Harbor, Maine, where he met Leopold Stokowski, he moved to Philadelphia. There he wrote an orchestral work, Soul Fire, which won him a $1,000 prize from the newly formed Los Angeles Philharmonic. He also wrote Mosaics, a cycle of piano pieces; Ravishments, a series of short preludes; and Très Poemes Tragique, for contralto. He also wrote French poems, essays on the Baha’i movement and social organization, and plans for a world city (anticipating those for Auroville, the international community founded by the Indian saint Sri Aurobindo). During the winter of 1918–19, he had free access to the Philadelphia orchestra’s rehearsals; at one of them Stokowski introduced him to Christine Wetherill Stevenson, founder of the Philadelphia Art Alliance and initiator of the Little Theatre Movement, who had been producing a play about the life of the Buddha, on the Hollywood grounds of Krotona, then the headquarters of the American branch of the Theosophical Society. She asked Rudhyar to compose scenic music for a play about the life of Christ; it was produced in the summer of 1920 in an amphitheater close to what would become the Hollywood Bowl.

Living among Theosophists and studying astrology, music, and philosophy at Krotona in 1920–21 further deepened Rudhyar’s interest in Oriental philosophy, in which he found confirmation of his beliefs about the cyclic nature of civilization and inspiration to dedicate his life to building a new civilization on a non-European basis. Working as an extra in the movies, he met a Dutch woman from Java, Aryel Vreedenburgh Darma, and with her founded a store that imported artifacts from Indonesia. Unfortunately, the store was destroyed by a fire. In other film work, he was cast as Christ in a long-running theatrical prologue at Grauman’s Egyptian Theater and also worked with John Barrymore and Alla Nazimova.

After leaving motion picture work in 1927, Rudhyar eked out a living giving lecture-recitals and composing a new type of music, mostly for the piano. He also wrote many articles on music and philosophy, had his Rebirth of Hindu Music (1928) published in Madras, India, and published a volume of poems, Towards Man (1928). He was a charter member of the International Composers Guild, founded in New York in 1922 by Edgar Varese and Carlos Salzedo, and of the New Music Society of California, begun by Henry Cowell, who featured Rudhyar’s orchestral Surge of Fire at the society’s first concert in the fall of 1925 in Los Angeles and published several of his compositions with financial backing from Charles Ives.

Living in Carmel, California, in 1929, Rudhyar composed music, including a piano piece, Granites, a poetic novel, Rania, and Art as Release of Power. (Except for two works for string quartet written in 1950 and revisions of earlier work, all of Rudhyar’s music was written before 1930.) In 1930, he wrote a booklet entitled Education, Instruction, Initiation. After moving back and forth between California and New York, on June 9, 1930, Rudhyar married Malya Contento, then secretary to the writer Will Levington Comfort. Through her he met Marc Edmund Jones, then living and teaching in Hollywood, in September 1930; Rudhyar then returned to New York, where Jones sent him his mimeographed courses for the Sabian Assembly, in which he presented astrology in terms of what was then an unprecedented philosophical approach. These courses and a growing acquaintance with the depth psychology of Carl Jung awoke Rudhyar to the possibility of marrying astrology and depth psychology into a new kind of synthesis. In the winter of 1931–32 in Boston, he wrote a series of seven pamphlets under the general title Harmonic Astrology; he later renamed his concept “humanistic astrology.”

In 1931, Rudhyar started a small magazine, Hamsa, but the Depression, ill health, and lack of support led him to drop it in 1934. By then he had met Paul Clancy, who had, in 1932, founded American Astrology, the first successful popular magazine in astrology. Clancy was willing to publish anything Rudhyar wanted to write on his new kind of astrology. Month after month, Rudhyar was able to write two to five articles for one, then several, astrological magazines with national circulations of several million readers.

During the summer of 1933, while staying at Mary Tudor Garland’s ranch in New Mexico, he was able to read through all of Jung’s works that had been translated at that time, and realized he could tie together Jung’s concepts and a reformulated type of astrology. Rudhyar used his new approach to write on many topics—politics, philosophy, psychology, esoteric traditions—that no other magazine would have printed, simply by centering the discussion on the birth chart of a person important in one of these fields. Alice Bailey encouraged him to develop these articles into a unified treatise, which he wrote during his summers in New Mexico in 1934 and 1935 and which Bailey proceeded to publish under the title The Astrology of Personality (1936). Rudhyar dedicated the book to her in gratitude for her support and for the influence her earlier works had had on him in the 1920s. His next book, New Mansions for New Man (1938), was also published under her auspices. Rudhyar was also writing poetry during these years, gathered in a volume entitled White Thunder (1938). After 1939, he began developing a style of nonrepresentational painting and composed music during two summers in New Mexico.

In his forties, crises of personal development and marriage difficulties led Rudhyar to question many things he had accepted on faith, and he wrote two more (unpublished) books, Man, Maker of Universes (1940) and The Age of Plenitude (1942). His circumstances worsened during the war, and his marriage broke down completely. Rudhyar was sustained during this period by his friendship with D. J. Bussell, head of a small, liberal esoteric Christian church.

The crisis over, on June 27, 1945, Rudhyar married Eya Fechin, daughter of a famous Russian painter, Nicolai Fechin, who died in Santa Monica, California, in 1955. They left for Colorado and New Mexico, where Rudhyar did most of his paintings and wrote The Moon: The Cycles and Fortunes of Life (1946; reprinted as The Lunation Cycle, 1967) and Modern Man’s Conflicts (1946; rewritten and published as Fire Out of the Stone, 1959). He also continued writing his monthly articles for astrology magazines. All of Rudhyar’s colored paintings were done between 1938 and 1949, although he continued doing works in black and white during the 1950s.

In 1948, the pianist Bill Masselos discovered and performed Rudhyar’s piano piece Granites, thus setting off a new period of interest in Rudhyar’s music among a small group of musicians. Rudhyar and Fechin moved to New York, where some performances took place. The rendition of a string quartet by the New Music Quartet at the McMillan Theater of Columbia University was particularly memorable.

After several years of apprenticeship to Jacob Moreno, the founder of psychodrama, financial pressure forced Fechin to accept the task of starting a psychodrama department in a mental health institute in Independence, Iowa, where she and her husband lived for two exceedingly difficult years. During this period, Rudhyar turned to science fiction, writing short stories, novellas, and a novel, Return from No-Return (1954). When Rudhyar’s second marriage collapsed, he returned to California, accepted his 1954 divorce philosophically, and began rebuilding his life at age 60.

After a few months at the Huntington Hartford Art Colony in the Santa Monica hills, where he completed his orchestral work Thresholds, Rudhyar began a series of lectures on astrology while still writing his articles, mainly for Horoscope and American Astrology. With secretarial assistance from a friend, Virginia Seith, he began publishing monthly mimeographed booklets under the series title Seeds for Greater Living. These came out regularly for seven years, until 1962. Despite the maturity of his philosophy, he could find no publisher for any of his later works, astrological, musical, or literary.

After years of isolation in a small Hollywood apartment and another painful crisis in 1957–58, Rudhyar accepted an invitation to visit Switzerland from a Madame Honegger, whom he had aided with astrological advice. During this trip, he stopped in Boston, where Marcia Moore arranged lectures for him; in New York, where he lectured under the sponsorship of the astrologer Charles Jayne; and in London, where he was honored at an official dinner arranged by Brigadier Roy C. Firebrace, at which the major British astrologers paid tribute to the effect that his early book, The Astrology of Personality, had had on them. In Switzerland, after Madame Honegger became ill, Rudhyar found himself alone in a renovated sixteenth-century tower overlooking the Rhone Valley. There he completed and translated into French Fire Out of the Stone.

After a few months of lecturing in Paris, Rudhyar returned to the United States, but after a dismal year in Redlands, California, he returned to Europe for a longer stay. At a lecture in Holland, he met the Dutch publisher Carolus Verhulst, who offered to reprint The Pulse of Life, a Dutch translation of The Astrology of Personality, which had been circulated in 1946–47. At last the logjam blocking Rudhyar’s career was broken; a gradual stream of his other books was published by Verhulst’s Servire Press.

In 1963, Rudhyar, while in Italy on a third journey to Europe, received a letter from a young woman named Gale Tana Whitall, then living in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, where she had heard about his work from a music teacher. Returning to America on November 22, 1963—the day of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination—Rudhyar met Whitall about a month later in Palm Springs, California, during her Christmas vacation. They were married on May 27, 1964, and after a lecture tour to St. Paul, Minnesota, and Boston, they settled in San Jacinto, California, where they lived for the next ten years. Whitall soon became a proficient typist, editor, and organizer of Rudhyar’s work and sustained him as he learned to cope with his growing popularity among the young. As often happens to creative innovators who live on into their seventies and eighties, Rudhyar finally received the recognition and respect he had worked so hard for during the last decade and a half of his life.

The far-seeing initiative of Samuel Bercholtz, founder of Shambhala Bookstore and Publications in Berkeley, California, allowed Rudhyar’s books to become acceptable to such New York publishers as Penguin, Doubleday, and Harper & Row. Beginning in 1965, life became very full for Rudhyar and his wife, as she diligently typed manuscripts for offset printing in Holland. The volume of correspondence mounted, as did the number of lectures from coast to coast. His books during these years included The Practice of Astrology (1966), Astrological Study of Psychological Complexes and Emotional Problems (1966), The Rhythm of Human Fulfillment (1966), Of Vibrancy and Peace (1967; poems) Astrological Triptych (1968), and Astrological Timing: The Transition to the New Age (1968). In March 1969, feeling the need to promote his approach to astropsychology more vigorously, Rudhyar founded the International Committee for Humanistic Astrology but refused to build an official organization that could lay claim to this new field. About this time, thanks in part to Claudio Naranjo’s interest in him, Rudhyar was invited to speak at Esalen, a human potentials institute in Big Sur, California, and to similar groups.

More books followed: Birth Patterns for a New Humanity (1969), A Seed and Directives for New Life (1970), Astrological Themes for Meditation (1971), The Astrological Houses (1972), The Magic of Tone and Relationship (1972), Person-Centered Astrology (1973), An Astrological Mandala (1974), and The Astrology of America’s Destiny (1975). The number of his books in print grew from zero in 1960 to 25 in 1975, and most of them were either entirely new or thorough revisions of older works. Of these, Rudhyar considered The Planetarization of Consciousness (1970) to be his most basic work, condensing all his thought into a single integrated statement. It was followed by We Can Begin Again—Together (1970), My Stand on Astrology (1972), Occult Preparations for a New Age (1975), The Sun Is Also a Star: The Galactic Dimension in Astrology (1974), From Humanistic to Transpersonal Psychology (1975), and Culture, Crisis, and Creativity (1977).

Rudhyar’s marriage to Whitall ended in 1976, and he married Leyla Rasle in 1977. The last years of his life were especially rich. He wrote Astrology and the Modern Psyche (1977), Astrological Triptych (1978), Beyond Individualism (1979), Astrological Insights (1979), Astrology of Transformation (1980), and Rhythm of Wholeness (1983). Rudhyar died in California on September 13, 1985.

—Aidan A. Kelly


Brau, Jean-Louis, Helen Weaver, and Allan Edmands. Larousse Encyclopedia of Astrology. New York: New American Library, 1980.
Melton, Gordon, Jerome Clark, and Aidan A. Kelly. New Age Encyclopedia. Detroit: Gale, 1990.
Rudhyar, Dane. The Astrological Houses. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1972.
Rudhyar. The Astrology of Personality. New York: Lucis Publishing, 1936.
Rudhyar. The Lunation Cycle. The Hague: Servire, 1967.
Rudhyar. The Planetarization of Consciousness. New York: Harper, 1972.
Rudhyar. The Pulse of Life. Philadelphia: David McKay, 1943.
“Seed Man: Dane Rudhyar,” Human Dimensions 4, no. 3, 1975.