The poet Wallace Stevens once wrote, “The final belief is to believe in a fiction, which you know to be a fiction, there being nothing else. The exquisite truth is to know that it is a fiction and that you believe in it willingly.” For many years I have pondered Stevens’ meaning and through time, my understanding of the phrase has shifted, adding various subtleties and shades of meaning. I have wandered into a space in my life where I have adopted this as a personal credo.
There are certain propositions about the world which I assent to, which glue my world together, and that quite naturally, I hold dearly. I recognize their empirical unverifiability, they are fictions, but for me they are what James Hillman refers to as “healing fictions.”
The first is that there is a Way (perhaps Tao) expressing itself continuously.
The second is that elements of the Way are potentially knowable.
The third, that historically there are numerous disciplines by which we may discern this Way.
Fourth, the practice of astrology is one of these disciplines.
Now I don’t mean the trivial astrology found in the sun sign columns in the newspapers and magazines, nor am I interested in anyone attempting to tell me what the future holds, the future can take care of itself. I mean the kind of astrology that rather than providing answers to my worrisome problems, generates questions about what it means to be living this life here and now. It provokes new questions that lead off on adventures in meaning, that help to create/discover shifts in understanding. In some ways, it is astrology as spiritual practice. My only basis for believing these fictions reside in the heart of my own experience. I do not doubt their veracity though I could in no way prove them to you.
I think it is fair to say that astrology falls short of empirical validity There is a blatant attempt by astrologers to move into the neighborhood of science where most cultural validity resides, kind of like gaining increased status by having rich and important friends, or they simply know little about the workings of science. Astrology is an art form, an applied poetics as writer Thomas Moore suggests. Like many good things in life it is not to be taken literally. The painted portrait is not, nor does it necessarily reflect, the literal person, the well told tale (Shakespeare, for instance) does not need to be historically accurate to imbue its listeners with meaning and value, the stories of the Christ or the Buddha do not have to be authentic to carry power and import into our lives. These are mysteries and fictions with the capacity to heal and move us into new spaces.
Fictions and fantasies do not reflect categories of diminished value or useless inquiry, but have great consequence and that even science and technology are expressively permeated by many fantasies. There is no need to be locked into a monocentric view of things. There is no longer one right way to approach life, no quest I need go on to find it, but many ways now. I can also recognize that there are many styles of being in the world and though mine may be right for me, it is not necessarily right for others. Each person is a unique expression of life, a particular facet on this gem of the world.
The astrological imagination is effulgent with polycentric perspectives and respect for others. Almost by definition, it includes tolerance and diversity with less need to pathologize the ways of others. Every person is fitted perfectly into their lives with even the struggle to fit, fitting.
To see the beauty of celestial rhythm reflected in the everyday affairs of my life grants a certain feeling of serenity and contentment upon which I can fall back in the midst of my own crises. I have said this before but I think it bears repeating, because my life at times seems out of my control is not to suggest that it is out of control, there may be larger guiding factors in play. To engage the fiction of astrology to acquire this learning is for me a worthwhile endeavor.
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