I was honored to be the keynote speaker at the State of The Art (SOTA) Astrology conference in Niagara Falls this year. I love this conference organized by Donna Van Toen each year. It’s small, but packed with a lot of great speakers and notable astrologers like Adam Gainsburg, Maurice Fernandez, Donna Van Toen, Pam Gallagher, and Vedic astrologer Kenneth Miller; a nice hotel near a great tourist site; and it had a slamming banquet this year. I had a ball.
With this talk, I wanted to address some problems in our field that I’ve noticed for awhile. I wanted to talk about how we treat each other and what’s really important. I also wanted to address the lack of diversity in astrology, but without making it only about the diversity. It’s bigger than that. You be the judge for whether I tackled some of these issues adequately enough. But here’s the full transcript and mp3 of my delivery. I’d love to hear your thoughts, whether you’re an astrologer or not. Thank you!
The Crusade of Astrology
Talking about crusades doesn’t seem to be the likeliest of angles for usually secular or humanist astrologers. It seems likewise unseemly to evoke one of the bloodiest periods of human history replete with battles for prestige, land, resources and religious dominance as fodder for a keynote address. It seems an even odder choice for me as a former Baptist preacher-cum-atheist-cum-now Muslim astrologer. As you can see, I’ve had a few crusades of my own, so I’m not eager to make a public spectacle of any crusading efforts myself. Except in one very special way.
In 2001, then President George W. Bush and his administration were quick to remind us that the crusades between the East and West were far from over. And I certainly have no interest in boring you with the painful lessons of over 400 years of the history of East battling West, except in one important way.
And that way isn’t even really for Astrology’s sake. Who would I be–who would any of us be–to think that a thing as old and vast as astrology has to rely on our puny selves to wield even mental swords to champion for it?
We may all have our moments of our unchecked hubris, but this ain’t one of ‘em. At least not for me. Indeed, astrology has taken several heavy body blows over the last few centuries or so. Fittingly a lot of them came almost immediately after the Crusades ended in Europe. First, there were volleys of them from the Church. Then more landed from the skeptical Enlightenment that became the precursor of our “modern age.”
But, to be fair, it got hard, even brutal, for a LOT of people during and after the Crusades—from Jews, Native Americans, Protestants, feudal lords, and Africans to name a few. So Astrology’s beat down was part of a broader project for something else, something far more sinister and dangerous to human progress. Something worth crusading against.
And, of course, now would still seem a perfect time to take up a crusade for a field that appears to be besieged on all sides:
Take your pick with what.
By arcane laws evoked arbitrarily when we say we predict the future other than for “entertainment purposes only”;
By editors of “open source” Wikipedia who would shut us down when we attempt to demonstrate we’re anything other than a pseudo-science;
By the times we sometimes ferociously feud among ourselves to determine who is authentically practicing “real” astrology rather than any other permutations of flaky “Sun sign” stuff. (Never mind some of that “stuff” may have been the gateway drug for most of us );
Or when we constellate the borders of our organizations more with egos fearing personal extinction or when we loiter in online forums to skirmish for scraps of professional glory or just to let off some steam;
Or when astrology, once dubbed the “Queen of the sciences” can’t make an appearance at a major university unless as a continuing education course posted in a separate late semester catalog. Or as a class held in a basement of an old, soon to be razed academic building;
Or when major religions almost universally revile us though astrology has influenced all of their holy books and they still use principles from our art to mark their holidays as well.
And when it often seems easier for folks to come out of their sexual closets before coming out as an astrologer to their friends, family or co-workers.
Yeah, we have ample reason to stand up for ourselves, to muster up as many hurrahs as we can to crusade for astrology.
Yet I’m not confident that we could do that, much less should.
Which of the many versions of astrology would we trumpet for? Who should lead it when so many of our conferences bench the young to recycle veterans repurposing old lectures? Not too many conferences are as accommodating as SOTA. And it’s hard enough just to organize astrologers on a conference call, much less a call for a crusade for ourselves, by ourselves.
So if not for astrology, for what, as astrologers, should we crusade? It is this.
The “crusade” of astrology is to advocate for a living and meaningful Cosmos. A Cosmos that is as alive as feel we are—not a mere belief in astrology itself. Our crusade isn’t to recover our once vaulted position as the “queen of all sciences.” It’s not for a mighty, united last stand to preserve our star-gilded empire.
Astrology can’t be about the business of privileging a “holy land” to keep a portion of its widely public secrets sanctified for some and hard to reach for others. We’re not marching to pillage and conquer “infidels” or each other. Astrology cannot afford to believe more in its workings and tools than what all its tools and workings are for. If we do, we will surely lose a saner idea of a Holy Land, a figurative place that helps us become whole. We’re talking spirituality, not geography here.
Once, we were part of a whole and the whole was in us. We embraced something called an Anima Mundi, a soul of the world—before religion, before science came to take up so much space in our little cerebral cortexes. We didn’t see reason or revelation as set in a single moment of proof OR faith. We were in communion with a Cosmos that we saw REFLECTED in everything—in the heavens, in plants, in animals, in our organs, and our personalities.
Of course, modern science and philosophy have been far less interested in the dynamism of a whole than the grand workings of individual gears and parts, whether those be the orders of knights, kingdoms, nations, or corporations. We’ve left behind many of the schisms of faith to create an even more profound schism between ourselves and a primal encounter with the world.
As Richard Tarnas makes the case in his book, Cosmos and Psyche, the divorce of the self from the Cosmos as alive has led to an alienating disenchantment of the self AND the world. In fact, he says, “ …in a disenchanted cosmos, nothing is sacred. The soul of the world has been extinguished…the short-term and bottom-line rule all. “
And when the bottom-line rules all, our atomistic sense of ourselves has a price as well as a daunting tax. But it has certainly come with its benefits too.
The rise of the individual self has broadened and stabilized our definition of what it means to be a human being. When we were more in our holism, we found it almost impossible to ever depart from the demands of a collective. One of the powerful gifts, for instance, of the Abrahamic religions, despite their legacy of bloodshed, was each person is responsible for his or her sins and the expiations of them. The whole tribe didn’t have to sacrifice innocent animals, young virgins or whoever to appease angry gods.
Although we’ve still stayed fixated on our identities as part of a family, tribe, faith, kingdom, nation or race, it seems as if we’re getting progressively better, in fits and starts, with advocating for this idea of the individual. But we keep thinking that the individual, that non-divided thing as the word would suggest, can be separated from the Cosmos to which it inextricably belongs.
What’s the way out for us? Our greatest beauty and promise is in the first two letters of the word astrology, at least in English: AS. With A-S, we have a remarkable reminder of how one thing is like another yet wholly distinct. We unlock the mystery of the world by analog and analogy rather than the hubris and folly that we know exactly how the world is. It’s even in our Hermetic credo: as above, so below; as within, so without; as the Cosmos, so the soul.
Models of analogy are not lost on the modern world. We all know units of stock on stock markets reflect units of value, not the actual cash worth of the company itself. (At least we learned that, again, after the housing and Internet bubble bursts.) We know that a dollar is a symbol of a value, not the actual value.
Yet too many seem baffled that when we talk about Saturn “AS” something we must be talking only about the physical properties of Saturn. We also seem confused, wanting to explain our field by appeals to electro-magnetic gravitational fields and the like. We want it to be more real as if analogue is not real enough.
The powers of analogy and analogue have their own power, their own beauty for which we can crusade. Of course, this power does not come without its problems.
The digital modern world provides great consistency and accuracy without any natural degradation like the analogs of tape recordings, records, film or paper. We’ve come to believe what we can encode into bits & bytes is way better than the symbolism of what’s left to human assessment or vision, like your old Mercury thermometer. We have come to trust the binary readout of machines rather than how we once had to read things naturally or with simple devices.
Yet I believe we lose so much when we come to believe more in machines or even see the world as Machine rather than the miraculous and living Cosmos that inspires us toward more life itself. Beholding a living Cosmos begets more life and is so worth our crusading energy.
Fortunately, this crusade positions us to have a lot more allies with similar modes of thinking—whether we’re talking about the meridians of acupuncturists, the symbols of Reiki, the ingredients of homeopathy, the picturesque divinations of tarot readers, the complex simplicity of casting cowrie shells. Or the hermeneutics of activists who show us how race, gender and class are also more symbols of human value and worth than what the literalism of science or religion recognize. We are people who know the world AS something, not for what it is literally.
This even forces us to face a truth about our own practices. We often like to position astrological charts as things that speak plainly for themselves, that we can somehow know a person, a thing or event exactly as it is or should be. Or we’ll veer away from that altogether to read charts as an open field that’s impossibly fertile for any and every possibility.
Both of these paths construct an astrology that undercuts the true power of analogue and analogy in our work. Whereas digital media will attempt to reduce something to its exact similitude, analog seeks to make it just similar enough—leaving room for what can’t quite be described or known. You can call this mystery God, Noise, Chaos, the Cosmos, or nothing at all. We sweeten our analogs and parallels to coax this dark mystery out into the brightness of day. We’ve not known to many other ways. We’ll never quite get it completely right. And the “truth” may be that we’ll only ever see the world as we are, not as it is.
In this sense, we must become as children. But even a child’s world is becoming more literal. Once, we could learn the loopy beauty of cursive lettering in school. Not any more. Now all our “A’s” or “S’s” should look like the typefaces of machines, not what’s been fashioned by the uniqueness of our hands.
And speaking of hands, who has the time to think by way of analogy that the little hand on the eight and the big hand on the 6 means that it’s 8:30? Who cares if the clocks once mirrored the Sun’s motion of right to left? Who needs suns and stars twinkling in the night when we can have crystal dashes that flicker the time, down to the seconds if we want?
See, this is bigger than astrology and the only crusade worthy of astrology’s fidelity. And historically it’s the only thing to which we have been loyal, considering how diverse our field has always been. Maybe this won’t always be true. Perhaps we’ll see much of what Stevie Wonder saw, three Jupiter returns ago, when he says in his 1977 song, “As”:
As now can’t reveal the mystery of tomorrow
But in passing will grow older every day
Just as all is born is new…
Until dear Mother Nature says her work is through
Until the day that you are me and I am you
Until that day, let’s keep marching to the music of the spheres, enchanted by how things appear to be and spreading this enchantment of living Cosmos as far and as wide as we can.