Astrology and Reality
This post is going to be about astrology, and about reality, and about how the human mind works. I am going to be using astrology to question the validity of astrology.
Hopefully, by the time I am done with this meditation, reality will seem just a bit weirder, a bit less absolute, a bit more tentative.
You are about to enter a Hall of Mirrors – or rather, you about to realize that you are always living in a Hall of Mirrors whether you notice it or not.
Are you ready for a strange ride? Hang on to your hats and let us proceed.
We human beings do not experience “reality” (whatever that word means) – we experience symbol systems created by our minds. For most people most of the time we forget that we are viewing the world through our own symbol systems, and we take our experience as “reality”.
Using the language of general semantics, we mistake our map of reality for the territory itself. We walk into a restaurant and eat the menu. Eating the meal, we don’t experience the food itself, we experience our concept and expectations of what the food should be like. If someone hands you a glass of wine and tells you it is an expensive aged vintage, you will experience it as such. If someone tells you that same wine is a cheap generic, it won’t taste as good. Your expectation of what the wine should be like is more important than the physical glass of wine itself.
If you had just finished a delicious gourmet meal and someone told you there were rat hairs in the sauce, you would likely feel nauseous and want to vomit, even if that statement about rat hairs was a complete fiction. You would physically experience your concept and not the food – you can make yourself sick with imaginary rat hairs.
What does that have to do with astrology? Precisely everything.
Astrology is a symbol system that people use to make sense of reality, to give their experience coherence and meaning. For people who “believe” in astrology it works very well, and they take it as True. For people who do not “believe” in astrology it is obvious nonsense that could not possibly work.
To complicate the matter further, different astrologers use the symbol system of astrology in radically different ways, to come up with very different realities and different conclusions. If you read at all widely in the history of astrology that is blatantly obvious. For instance, the Hellenistic astrologer Vettius Valens, who lived in the second century C.E. (Common Era, era since the birth of Jesus) lived in a profoundly different world than the contemporary Hellenistic astrologer Chris Brennan, who uses Valens’ work as his primary textbook.
There are also profound differences between the systems of astrology that people practice today. I am a (mostly) traditional astrologer strongly influenced by Medieval writers, and I sometimes have a hard time communicating with modern psychological astrologers. Even though we both label what we do as astrology, I sometimes feel like we are speaking a different language. As soon as a modern astrologer starts talking about Manifesting your Positive Intention I fell like I’m living on a different planet. As soon as I start talking about Saturn as Malefic they look at me as if I were some kind of superstitious medieval relic.
There is no One True and Valid Astrology that exists outside of the mind of actual practicing astrologers and that is True for All Time. Astrology only exists as people interpret the world through its symbol system.
So, is astrology “True”? Ultimately that is a meaningless question. It is more accurate to say that many people find astrology to be a useful and valid system for making sense of the world around them. Astrology is self-validating to people who practice it – they use it and it so obviously works, it is so obviously “true”.
Timothy Leary coined the very useful phrase “reality tunnel” for any sort of symbol system that people use as a map to make sense of reality. Astrology is a reality tunnel, and sometimes it is a very useful and profound one.
However, as Leary and others have pointed out, reality tunnels tend to be self-validating. This means that whatever map I am using to view reality tends to prove itself, because I order and filter my experience based on the map. Look at the world through a given reality tunnel and it appears that tunnel is true. You see what you expect to see.
The astrology reality tunnel is obviously true if you practice astrology.
The conservative Evangelical Christian reality tunnel is equally obviously true to a person who happens to inhabit that particular system. They look out on the world and see Sinful Deviants destroying the Moral Fiber of our country by ignoring God Given Ethical Commandments. That is so obviously True – to them. That evangelical Christian looks at me in my Astrology reality tunnel and sees someone deluded by the Devil and destined to burn in Hell – and Hell is an obviously real and true Fact to that person, every bit as real (or unreal) as Cleveland.
Which one of us is “right”?….
Sometimes, if you are lucky (or unlucky), something happens in your world that makes you question the validity of the reality tunnel you are currently using. It can feel like your whole world has been shaken, that what you have taken for “true” may not be true at all.
That is what my experience has been like this winter, since the presidential election. (I am writing this on December 22, 2016, the day after the Winter Solstice, right after Mercury turned retrograde – more on that a little later in this post).
Like many astrologers I know, I predicted, and expected, that Clinton would win the election, and that Trump’s period of influence was about to end. And oh, boy, was I wrong.
The symbol system I used to make sense of the world at that point, suddenly quit making sense.
I’ve been experiencing quite a bit of cognitive dissonance since then. I look at what shows up in the news media and on the Internet, and a lot of it plain old makes no sense to me. Either I’m insane or I am looking at a collective reality tunnel that is completely insane, out of its bloody mind (please substitute a stronger word for “bloody” in that last sentence). I am looking at a “reality” that feels like a bad dream, a surrealist nightmare.
This isn’t fun.
This has also shocked me out of the astrology reality tunnel that I have been living in for most of the past several years. I look at the tools of my trade, the symbols I use to make sense of the world, and wonder what went wrong.
I can use astrology now to go back and see how “obviously” it points to Trump winning – but that is after the fact, and beforehand at least some of the astrology pointed to Trump “obviously” losing.
What is going on? I look out on the world with astrology now and “see” a different reality than I did two months ago.
This experience is making me stand back and question the validity and usefulness of astrology as a predictive tool. When the perceptual bias that was obvious to me is now so obviously in error, I now don’t “believe in” astrology in quite the same way I used to.
Now here is where it starts to get really weird.
This chart is a biwheel. On the inside wheel is my natal chart, and on the outside wheel is a chart of the Winter Solstice chart at my current location, Minneapolis, Minnesota. This is one day after Mercury turned retrograde. Notice that Mercury is currently conjunct both Pluto and my Ascendant, and that it is at the point of a T-Square with Uranus and Jupiter along the Aries Libra axis. That opposition happens to be sitting right on an opposition in my natal chart between Jupiter in Aries, and Saturn and Neptune together in Libra.
This Mercury retrograde hit me very hard – this Monday I was very spacy and had a hard time concentrating about anything.
With Mercury and Pluto at the point of a T-Square conjunct my Ascendant, this can be logically interpreted as my going through a period where my entire sense of reality, my worldview, my sense of who I am, are all being thoroughly shaken, questioned and transformed. Pluto is transformation, Mercury is mind, the Ascendant is myself, my self-concept, and how I look at the world.
Dig that – my astrology tools point to my going through a period where I question the validity of my worldview, including astrology. Everything is up in the air, including the tools I am using to make sense of being up in the air.
The astrology makes sense of my going through a period where I question whether astrology makes sense.
So, does astrology work? Is it “true”?