How Do I Reconcile A Skeptical Attitude With A Belief In Astrology?
“How do you reconcile a skeptical frame-of-reference intellectually, with a belief in astrology?” is a question that I have found it necessary to answer so many times, both to myself and to others, that this has become a rich subject for me.
For once, I can almost adequately sum up the answer in a few words–I don’t. I don’t really reconcile my “scientific” mind’s conception of astrology as something that simply cannot possibly work, and my “practical” mind’s empirically based realization that “but damn it it does work!” But I’m prepared to offer my explanations even though they do not result in a complete reconciliation of my skeptical self with my astrologer-self, because they may be useful for sparking a debate on some topics I’d enjoy.
When I started investigating astrology, in 1983, I wanted to be a professional writer of fiction and poetry. My experiment with astrology had three agenda items:
Learn, adapt and improve upon it’s system for classifying human characteristics and their interactions into something I could use to give characters in my stories a consistency that is hard to arrive at through pure imagination.
Study it as a part of a comprehensive survey of the occult arts, as a part of my self-given curriculum.
Find out what works, what doesn’t and why–so I could better understand the occult arts in general. In other words, go behind the curtain at the magic show and see how the macigian does the tricks. Pure “Randian” skeptical method.
My initial (ignorant) appraisal of astrologers and all occult artists for that matter was that their “art” was nothing more than a crafted combination of damn good guesses, and some suggestibility and some gullibility on the part of those being read for.
But I soon saw that this was only a part of the process. Sure, all three of these factors *do* come into play–in every reading. (Today, I am a professional astrologer and I’m not ashamed one bit to admit that these factors are a part of the process, whether I like it or not. In fact, I’d be leery of those who *are* ashamed to admit it.) But I was surprised to discover that if the influence of these variables was ruled out–there was still something there–something that did not seem amenable to being rationalized away.
So I’ll try to address the explanation of that “something” that’s left when you remove the power of suggestion, self-fulfilling prophecy, gullibility, desperateness to believe in something, damn good guesses, etc. (all of which are present and important ingredients in contemporary psychotherapy by the way, and I don’t see anybody asking how that works…)
The traditional explanation for how astrology works is that there is a synchronistic relationship between everything in the universe and every other thing in the universe. Actually, in this world-view, there are no *things* at all, just one smooth (but to ordinary human perception chaotic, and shredded) process. It is as if you might tell who is going to be the next president of the United States by looking at any grain of sand on any beach in the world–if you knew what to look for, or more specifically *how* to see it. This same theory can be extended as an explanation for the mechanism of operation for every occult art’s mode of operation.
A slight variation on this theme (one more in harmony with my way of looking at things) is that all the information in the universe–outside of time–is accessible from any one of the “terminals” we call “human minds.” By assuming the right attitude, and placating the conscious mind by intensive study of some mystical art, the unconscious mind is empowered or permitted to access this information, and pass it along to the conscious mind. In this mythical conception, even the personal unconscious mind is a terminal or a node on a much greater network.
Somehow, when the mind focuses in on any pattern, the unconscious mind is able to project the needed information onto the pattern, and the conscious mind sees it as being somehow “in” the pattern itself. Astrology is a way of training the mind to project and to read the projections. If this theory is correct, you could also do a reading off of a drawing that a person has made, or a sculpture. What you project the information upon does not matter so much as the belief that you *can* read the information off of that particular pattern.
You see, belief–while not objectively real–is an important player in the determination of what a mind can and cannot do. Science is built upon the belief that what we think about nature doesn’t matter, because nature operates according to laws which don’t pay any attention to our beliefs. And they are right…about outer nature (at least for the most part). However, when it comes to understanding the mind, and specifically when it comes to asking “how” the mind does something, belief and unbelief are facts. They have *power* in the realm of the mind. If you believe you can paint, you will eventually learn to paint reasonably well, I’d imagine. If you believe you can’t you will *certainly* confirm your own belief.
I believe that every healthy human being, and especialy children, are normally psychic. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of types of pyschic ability, but I believe that everybody has a few–and some have them very strongly. But most of this capacity, right along with it’s active brother-capacity imagination, are short-circuted and rooted out (at least to some socially-determined “safe” level) when it first really starts to emerge. Occult arts, astrology in particular, taps back into this native ability and develops it into something practical.
Again, we’re dealing with my personal beliefs here, but I would contend that every human has to some extent, psychotherapeutic abilities–in-born abilities to access information when another person seeks their help.
Why the emphasis?
The unconscious mind seems to know the difference between a sincere attempt to help someone and an attempt to gain power over someone, and in my experience the unconscious does not seem to be very fond of cooperating when one’s motives are self-oriented. Why? Because we are accessing information, I believe, from the other person’s mind. At the level of unconscious-to-unconscious communication, there is a very honest and growth-valuing relationship.
The person who seeks astrological counseling has an unconscious (as well as a conscious) *desire* to solve some problem. But their surface and deep mind are not communicating. So the astrologer steps in as a third party (in much the way a dream might be the vehicle to carry such information–although in this example, the dream comes with an interpreter) to help the person resolve their difficulties.
If the person seeking astrological counseling is trying to “trip up” the astrologer, both will surely know it because the dynamic that I believe is necessary for the process to work (one seeking help, the other helping) is not there. There is no reason for the two persons’ unconscious minds to communicate, and so they don’t. Again, to make a comparison to psychotherapy, a person who goes to a therapist to expose them as a quack will derive little benefit from the therapy and may very well come away with their ideas “proven.”
This is why skepticism, while perfectly appropriate for scientific investigation, is a bit naive when one is entering into investigations of things that involve the unconscious mind–like parapsychology. Here, you can only see what you believe you can see. Skeptics mis-apply the scientific paradigm to the workings of the mind (which is an information system, and information need not follow the kinds of laws we are accustomed to matter and energy following) and they respond by saying that the mental processes MUST work with or without belief or else they are not “real.”
This is not to say that I think people should give up their reasoning abilities when they visit an astrologer or psychic or whatever. Use these to determine how much the practitioner is using the real thing, instead of relying on those “other factors” I discussed earlier, such as your gullibility–because there are plenty of fools masquerading as adepts out there. It is best, IMHO, to use word of mouth to choose an astrologer, not the yellow pages.
(This whole second explanation is really very close to first and more traditional monistic-world version, but for me, with my background more in Jungian and transpersonal psychology, rather than advanced mystical experience, it *feels* better in my gut.)
Now, assuming for a moment that this second explanation is how astrology works, then there is a diference between astrology and other arts. In Astrology, there is a symbology so rich and dense, so multi-faceted and stimulating to the mythologizing mind, I personaly think it is unique in it’s power to overcome the inhibitions that are inevitable for anyone with a developed intellect. That is, while Tarot works wonderfully for people who are more able to let there imagination really reach out there and give shape to a ghostly symbol-image, and tea-leaf-reading has it’s advocates, and while they all work to one extent or another, astrology is the best for people who are thinking-dominant.
But there are more possible “explanations” that my rational mind has thought up to defend itself against the evidence of my senses. For example, it might be that the heavenly bodies were such a striking and *meaningful* thing to the ancients that they have made a reality in which the inner *is* the same as the outer. A good friend of mine has mentioned on many occasions his suspicion that collective consciousness may be stronger than we would all like to think it is. Maybe the planetary orbits and cycles did not once have the slightest influence, but now they do because you and I exist in a reality-path that has descended from the materializations and patternings of reality that those star-awed people of eons ago brought into existence (for fans of Shroedinger’s cat).
Or it might be, in a psychological variation of a theory that occurred to me to explain the effectiveness of the I Ching, that it does not matter what hexagram happens to be indicated. As long as you take it’s advice, you will be conceiving and responding to a pattern that, even if it’s not there already, will form in response to the patterning of your behavior. Or perhaps the interpretation polarizes your perception and that polarization allows action. Perhaps it is better to have a story to explain what is going on in your life, a mini-myth, even if it is not the “right” one. We humans have an extraordinary ability to take a myth into ourselves and give it life through our living of it. This explanation is acceptable *within* the scientific paradigm, as far as I can tell.
But perhaps the single hardest thing for me to explain is how astrologer can give a correct reading with the wrong chart. (this happens from time to time). The only conclusion I could draw is that the chart is a catalyst, but somehow not a determinant of the reading. Otherwise, we have to fall back on the synchronicity explanation–that is that the “mistake” was a collusion between the perspective unconscious minds of the astrologer and the person seeking advice.
Even though I “know” the chart doesn’t have to be perfectly accurate, I still believe that the more accurate it is, the better I can read for a person. As a highly intellect-dominant person, I *need* the crutch of astrology to occupy my surface mind with a million precisely calculated details so the necessary info can get by my intellect. I have met people, however who seem to be able to read the information directly off of their own unconscious–they project information into fantasies and then relate the fantasies.
The “Clock Theory”
The final point I’d like to raise in this discussion of the mechanisms of astrology is the “clock theory.” This is the idea that the planets have absolutely no causative power whatsoever over our lives–the planets are like a giant, highly sophisticated and accurate clock. I agree with the conclusions of this theory. The motions of the planets represent patterns and cycles that are somehow inherent in the physics of our solar system and are somehow also reflected in the behavior of living entities on earth.
Does your clock CAUSE you to get out of bed, or eat lunch, or go to work?
Well, yes and no. Not in any sort of physical, objective sense. A physicist would not be able to measure any radiation or anything CAUSING you to do certain things at certain times. Excluding the operations of minds in this scenario we’d have to come up with some kind of synchronicity explanation to cover this too!
On the other hand, if you’re hungry and it’s 2:00am, you may have trouble eating with everybody else. All the restaurants are closed. You may have to feed yourself. If you don’t go to work when everybody else does there will be repercussions. The repercussions keep you “in synch” with everybody else, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do what you want, as long as you’re willing to deal with the consquences.
Objectively speaking, it’s never “dinner time” and not “breakfast time”. It’s just 5:00 or whatever. We make 5:00 into dinner time by our consensual, but arbitrary, agreement.
If the planets are a sort of metaphysical clock, timing largely unseen energy movements and manifestations, then we are not predestined, only damn likely to behave in certain ways. We can be sensitive to these energies or insensitive. If we are sensitive, we can use the energies for growth. If we are oblivious, we are likely to stay in the rut–because we don’t see that we’re in a rut. If we’re aware of what “time it is” we can move in harmony with patterns that will provide us with opportunities to make the most of our efforts. And of course, we can learn to sense these movements without astrology–it’s called intuition, but it’s pretty hard to develop.
Nevertheless, there’s no use worshipping a clock, no matter how accurate or sophisticated.
So, the bottom line, for me, on the “validity of astrology” is:
strology, in actual practice works because of a confluence of known and unknown factors including such things as suggestibility, gullibility, flatterability, the need to seek encouragement, the need to get “objective” or “impartial” advice, but also including the strange and powerful factors that I have discussed at some length above.
What this means is that there are charlatans, and largely-innocent fools among astrologers, and among Tarot card readers, (just like there are in every profession) but there are also people who can be of real help to a person who needs a type of advice that is simply not available elsewhere in our culture. Astrologers and other occult practitioners are, perhaps, for modern people what the shaman was for thousands of years of human history.
nother of the conclusions I draw from this is that the practice of astrology requires the practitioner be a human, or at least a sentient being. That is, I cannot explain how computer-interpreted charts could possibly utilize the mechanisms described above, since they, presumably, do not partake of the universal unconscious mind which is necessary even for the synchronicity explanation. I also do not believe a computer as therapist or as dream interpreter could possibly do as well as a human until they do, one day, partake of the One Mind.
Before I wrap this up, I’d like to mention two things. I haven’t discussed the part of astrology that is useful even without a belief in the efficacy of astrological counseling or practice. Perhaps I can go into this in a later post, but I’d like to touch upon it:
For example, astrology teaches that all pain is associated with learning. All difficulty obscures hidden potentials for gain. All crisis is opportunity. Everyone is on a path that only they can tread. Every living human is entirely, absolutely, gloriously unique–and yet, we can all live together in cooperation and love. Ultimately, astrology teaches that the meaning of life is specific to each individual, and that it is achieved through personal growth–growth that we have chosen and programmed ourselves for and do naturally, if we are given half a chance.
inally, I’d like to emphatically state that astrology DOES NOT “determine” what a person will become. There is no such thing as a loser or a winner in terms of astrological charts, and the people they represent. In fact, the theories that hold that some people are born to win and others are born to lose are probably not only fallacious, they are also based on ideas that run contrary to the teachings of astrology. That is, the people who start off as “losers” often are the ones who are motivated by pain, suffering and the contempt of others to really WORK on themselves. Thus the born losers are likely to pass up the born winners because the “winners” are so busy sitting around patting themselves on the back!
Astrology provides no “back door” by which people can get out of doing WORK to accomplish their goals, whether internal or external. A person’s attitude and the things that they choose to do, are the real determinants of “fate.”
Last updated on May 3, 2017 at 9:34 pm. Word Count: 2950