The Rise of Astrology: Pseudoscience, Millennial Narcissism, or Spiritual Revolution?

It may seem that the rise of magical thinking is just a reaction to the uncertainty of the times, grasping for something to cling to in the absence of steady career, relationship, and “life according to plan.” Uncertainty is part of it, but there are larger currents at play as well. As the limits of our current worldview reveal themselves, old ways of knowing intermingle with new to open wider realities.

Not only are the limits of the traditional path to “adulthood” showing. Science’s limits are showing too.

While science has wrought advances benefiting health, quality of life, and economic productivity, we are now seeing the shadow of lifestyles based on these advances: over population, resource depletion, cancer, auto-immune diseases, depression, anxiety, ADHD, disparity of wealth, racism, mass extinction, and global warming. Things science swore were safe, now routinely wreak environmental and health catastrophes (pesticides, flame retardants, nuclear disposal, oil drilling and transport, dams, etc).

Even our explanatory systems have reached their limits. Quantum mechanics took us to the infinitesimal limits and revealed that solids are mostly empty space, that locations in space and time blur into probability, and measuring reality changes it. Relativity pushed the limits of speed and revealed the malleability of our measuring systems. Our best, current cosmological theories describe the universe as 73% dark energy, and 23% dark matter – neither of which we understand.

One does not have to be a student of the evolution of consciousness to see that we’re at a turning point. Joanna Macy calls it the Great Turning. Thomas Berry called it the transition from the Anthropocene to the Ecozoic. Richard Tarnas recognizes it in the cycles of the outer planets. Jean Gebser calls it the transition from the Mental to the Integral structure of consciousness.

Whatever you call it, we’re at a turning point. The main task of our time is to decide if we want to participate in a flourishing biosphere or continue to take ourselves down with it, as we try to turn it all into money. The decision to work with the planet instead of against it requires a complete 180 in terms of worldview.

Science, and analytical thinking in general, is spectacular at breaking things down into isolated chunks, but not great about putting that information back together into coherent wholes. It does not deliver meaning.

The worldview we need in order to survive recognizes the profound interconnectedness of everything. While that may sound easy enough, and even logical in terms of scientific linear causality, the implications of the shift are nothing short of radical.

As a platitude, “All is one!” sounds like an idealistic vision of beatific unity. When taken seriously however, accepting interconnectedness means taking an unflinching look at the horrific atrocities that we have committed against life to build our prosperity on. We have to look at our own shadow, the traumas passed down through generations of disconnected living. This is hard emotional work. It requires profound grieving and humility in the midst of a world that medicates sadness and defines success as independent, self-sufficient, hoarding of personal wealth—the opposite of interconnected sharing. The disconnect between the need to change and being trapped in the system of destruction causes psyches to fray at the edges. As this paradox becomes more obvious, as it does with each successive generation, the tension between business-as-usual and mental health becomes too great to bear.

Mental health issues are on the rise in the US: 1 in 5 people overall, 1 in 4 Millennials, 1 in 2 for adolescents age 13 – 18 in 2017, (National Institute of Mental Health, 2019). While it may be easy to blame this on a generation of coddling and subsequent narcissism, it requires considering the bigger picture to see it as a symptom of a sick system. In the words of Jiddu Krishnamurti, “It’s no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” (Vonnegut, 1975) Perhaps our track record for mental illness illustrates less about human frailty, and more about how it is increasingly difficult to thrive in the world we have created, particularly as our knowledge of it’s interconnectedness increases.

In order to grow into a healthy interconnected worldview we need integrated systems of knowledge. We need analytic logic and science, but we also need psychological and emotional intelligence, we need the wisdom of myth and religions, and the magic of synchronicity–all of which give life meaning, purpose, and hope. The analytic mindset has disregarded many of these ways of knowing in order to focus it’s prowess to control. But as we find the limits of analytical thinking, we will begin to recognize the worth of multiple ways of knowing once again. We can reclaim different ways of knowing for different purposes, and achieve a balanced, integrated worldview.

Astrology is a gateway drug of integral worldviews. Falling down that rabbit hole opens the door to learning astronomy, mythology, history, self-reflection, depth psychology, and a sense of being seen and empowered by the universe at large.

More people thought astrology involves science in 2012 than in 2010, because astrology does depend on science. Without astronomy, there would be no astrology. Astrology itself, however, is not a science, because it is not causal. While the alignment of the planets does govern the surges of the tides and even the sun’s activity cycle, they do not cause personalities or historical events any more than the clock causes it to be noon or causes you to eat lunch. Rather, like a clock tracking many scales of time, the planets indicate cycles of energy. The intersection of the planets’ rhythms map out unique yet, predictable patterns, which when we learn them, teach us to dance with them.

Astrology is a divination system based on synchronistic self-similarity—the idea that the part and the whole mirror each other. Thus by seeing something outside of yourself, you can learn about similar dynamics within yourself. It is not coincidence that astrology arose along with the dictum, “Know Thyself.”

Bringing all the archetypes into dialog within one’s self is a psychological practice of accepting all of one’s parts, the beauty and the shame, the light and the shadows. When we can do that for ourselves, then we can more easily accept others in all their glories and failings. Astrology is a spiritual and psychological system because it is fundamentally about relationship building: between parts of self, between humans, between humans and the natural world.

By linking mythological stories with heavenly bodies, astrology serves as mnemonic device where the sky reminds us of the stories, and the stories help us navigate the sky and our lives. This is how indigenous people have carried their knowledge, in dialog with the sky and land, for millennia. When our maps of land, sky, and soul mirror each other, we find our place in the order of things. Alienation vanishes. Recalling just one brings the others present, and the way becomes clear.

The fact that astrology steps beyond the bounds of science is its strength. Without the limitations of science, astrology speaks to the irreducible complexities of meaning, emotion, and purpose.

Of course, astrology is only a tool, and all tools are only as effective as their wielder. In the right hands, astrology can facilitate self-reflection, compassion, and motivation–empowering people to do what they already know they need to do, feeling the force of the universe behind them.

Astrology, like science and religion, has limits and a shadow. As with any powerful tool, it can be used to discriminate, belittle, escape reality, shirk responsibility, or manipulate others. Jamie Wheal’s critique of the psychedelic renaissance can apply to astrology too. He points out that powerful tools to get out of ourselves can be co-opted by the social media echo chamber of self—as shallow trends, vacuous memes, and selfie backdrops—in service of gaining likes and followers rather than depth of thought or experience. “Narcissism+hedonism+commercialism,” he identifies as the corrupt combo that could abort the potential for transformation of self and society through psychedelic experience. The same can be said for the potential transformation through astrological study. Integral systems of knowledge are not immune to human failing.

I like to think that while it might start with a meme, the journey of discovery may be more transformative than expected. As with a beautiful astrological transit, an opportunity may arise, but it is up to us to bloom it’s full potential.

Not astrology, nor science, nor religion is any substitute for critical thinking or one’s own moral compass. Is astrology going to save us from the ecological hole we’ve dug ourselves into – of course not. It is, however, an indicator of the human psyche removing the blinders of science to remember that the world is much more complex, mysterious, and personal than we can begin to fathom. We’ve had systems to navigate this mystery before and we do not have to give those up, just because we now have the help of science too. The trick is to allow them to be mutually enhancing rather than mutually exclusive.

As an astrologer, I would be remiss to not point out the main defining aspect of the Millennial generation: the Uranus Neptune conjunction active from 1987 to 1997, signifying an impetus toward spiritual revolution. Our current Saturn Pluto conjunction, active from 2019 -2020, associated with breaking down previous structures and rebuilding new ones, just happens to be transiting the Millennial Uranus Neptune conjunction. So, to astrologers it comes as no surprise, that Millennials are rewriting the spiritual script.

As soon as we get over the fact that astrology, while based on astronomy, is not a science itself, we can begin to recognize it for what it is, an invitation to a more integral way of thinking and being. What one does with that invitation, of course, is up to them.

References:
Vonnegut, Mark (1975). The Eden express: A memoir of insanity. New York: Praeger Publishers Inc. p. 208.

Cover Image: Prague’s Astronomical Clock, Photographer Martin Vorel

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