Monday, September 9, 2013

Do You Believe in Magic?

            A number of years ago, I read several articles concerning the falsity and implausibility of astrology, a discipline near and dear to my heart. Many skeptics argue that astrology is false and tell us why it doesn’t work. The academic research into astrology that I’ve seen demonstrates that the claims of astrology are not true in a literal, falsifiable manner. Oddly enough, this is not at all hard for me to say though I frequently use astrology in my life and work.

            My belief over the last 30 years is that astrology is much closer to religion than to science, more in line with drama and poetry than equation and fact, more fictive than empirical. The attempt to address astrology through quantitative research is similar to evaluating a poem by the criteria of good legal contract writing, or describing a Beethoven sonata as a particular array of sonic disturbance in a gaseous medium. We can do this but it would not capture the power and beauty of the verse or the music. In other words, we would not be able to see the value of poetry and music if we used the wrong tools to address them.

            Astrology works in the fashion of great drama, lyric, or narrative. It captures us with its elegance. Who among us has not been deeply moved by dramatic presentation, enriched by poetry, caught up in musical ecstasy, entranced by art, or enchanted by ritual? To suggest that these experiences have little value by not being amenable to empirical testing or demonstrating a literal truth is simply specious.

The late psychologist, Rollo May writing in The Cry For Myth, about science’s failure to realize that astrology has a different basis than science notes that astrology “is a myth and requires the language of myth. It has both the shortcomings and the positive effects of myths.” The word “myth” is used by May not to denote falsehood (perhaps the popular understanding), but to speak of that category of human experience in which value, significance, and meaning reside. He further writes that myths are “essential to the process of keeping our souls alive and bringing us new meaning in a difficult and often meaningless world.”

            Astrology is a form of imagination, an imaginal poetics that is better placed in the humanities than the sciences. We do not argue the truth of art and literature but rather indicate that they are vehicles for conveying, suggesting, or disclosing truth, and so it is with astrology. In the same manner that a portrait reveals, evokes, or presents a particular view of its subject, likewise, the drawing up of a natal chart allows the astrologer to construct a rough draft of the person which becomes increasingly refined through dialogue with the client.

            Astrology provides a framework for imagining a profound intimacy between ourselves and the world. It gives us the fantasy of belongingness and connection. It situates us naturally in the world, part and parcel of an interdependent universe. It gives us a place, bespeaks of home. Through its archetypal images, it can give voice to our deepest connections.

            I believe that we go to astrology, tarot, I Ching, enneagrams, and the like not seeking the facts of our life but rather the truth of our existence. Like beachcombers walking the morning shores at low tide, we seek a revelation from the larger mystery out of which we all originate. We yearn to bring to the foreground of our lives a hint of a larger order to sustain us, if only for a brief moment, in the ground of our being. After 40 years of experiencing astrology, my faith in it rivals the empiricist’s faith in reason. I do not know why I believe what I believe, perhaps because it comes not from the head but from the heart. 

            Despite several centuries of scientific discrediting, we seem to need astrology, myth, and magic. Some veiled part of the soul yearns for mystery. Astrology works not because it gives us the facts, but because it provides a satisfying aesthetic. It suggests elegance, beauty, and the sublime. What better task for astrologers than to spin beauty back into the world, to reawaken in us some of the abracadabra of life?    

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