The Story of the Stars: How Church and Science led me to Astrology
I’m a big fan of Joseph Campbell, a scholar most famous for illuminating the wisdom of the “Hero’s Journey”. While wandering aimlessly and earnestly through the forests of pain in my own life, I discovered his work just when I feared I would be lost forever. All the most important stories I had been told, including the story I had been living out, had crashed down around me and Truth seemed about as real as Santa Claus. I could tell you a long story about the lies, mistakes, and heartbreaks that led to this particular juncture. But you are human, you get how it feels, so let’s skip to the part where I’d checked myself into rehab and curled up in a hiding place overlooking a cliff, under the stars where nobody could find me. I was angry everything: my parents, the church, the patriarchy, you name it…but mostly I was angry at myself, that I had believed the lies I’d been told, and thus created such a mess. I no longer believed in miracles, but I knew it would take nothing short of magic to help me re-write my life’s narrative.
What I love about Joseph Campbell is that he understood the importance of storytelling. Telling stories is how we make meaning out of life. It is how we teach and learn and remember and relate. Our stories frame our thoughts, and they cultivate our beliefs. People kill for their stories and they die for them.
As a child, I spent many summers at various Christian sleep-away camps, where my fertile mind was filled with a huge collection of stories. Some were very damaging: stories about sin, sacrifice, and how a “good woman” was supposed to behave tangled themselves into my psyche, where they festered and ate away at my sense of self. But it was not all bad. In fact, my first intense spiritual experience took place at one of these camps. It was dark, in the way only woods away far from cities can be dark, and there was no moon. We campers tromped out with our sleeping bags and chaperones to a vast clearing in the wood, where a man with a massive flashlight told us the most fantastic stories about the constellations above us. I barely recall the stories themselves — something born from Revelations, I think — but I remember they were moving and grand. Lying there on the earth looking up at glittering patterns in the sky, something in my heart opened, and something in my spirit awoke. I stayed awake long after the man had finished talking, looking at the stars and enjoying the timeless feeling of my own smallness within a Universe so vast and beautiful.
Every culture I’ve ever studied has some sort of story about the stars, making Astrology one of the oldest and most pervasive facets of human culture. It fell out of the mainstream when denounced by the Church, who feared its ability to undermine its power over people in the same way it later feared Science, which dominates much of our western thinking today.
Science is an extraordinary tool for storytelling: it has logical rules and methods that make it a potent tool for finding meaning. It gives us a sense of strength as we ask questions of the Universe and find answers. The thing that is so powerful about science though, is that people believe in it. The meaning that Science brings to our lives is deeply important, and many brilliant people take it just as seriously as fanatics take their religion. Science, however, is reductionistic in nature, whereas Astrology is integrative. Science could not shed any light on my dark night of the soul the way the moon could.
Perhaps it was because I was jaded by all the “truths” being bought and sold in the name of science and in the form of pharmaceuticals. Perhaps it was because I’d suffered long enough from the cognitive dissonance of trying to reconcile truth with my dogma-chained spirituality. In any case, when it came time to piece my sanity back together, I needed something bigger and broader than science or religion to help me re-write the narrative of my life. I had already watched myself go through huge transformations in my way of thinking. I begun to understand that the only way for me to stay open to Truth in my life was to adopt a fluid belief system, where there is room for growth and change and paradox. Freed from the attachment to One Truth, or to Proven Facts, I turned my eyes skyward once again.
People groan about the newspaper horoscopes, even when their own reading has some accuracy to it: “It’s bullshit!” they’ll say, “They write that stuff so that it could apply to any of us!”
I love astrology because it’s so broad. In this way, astrology is like yoga. Its possibilities are endless, and we can use it to deepen our relationships to ourselves. No matter when you are born, your natal star chart will contain all twelve zodiac signs and all the planets. So, too, do you contain all their archetypal energies within you. The positions of the planets and the relationships between them in your natal chart signify various aspects of your life’s potentials, purpose, and style. Unraveling the story told in a personal horoscope is a tried and true healing art that has persisted all around the world, and will be around long after we are dead.
The wisdom tradition of astrology illuminates the relationships between things. It is deeply tied to the cycles of nature and the evolution of the human psyche. The significations of one’s sun sign or the phase of tonight’s moon provide a starting point to help us place ourselves in time and space, and there is infinitely more to learn and understand from there. In this way it works like the I Ching or the study of a sacred text. The wisdom which comes through the stars is dynamic rather than static.
Astrology is especially gratifying to attune to for me because of how sensuously tangible it is: you can see the stars and planets with your own eyes and watch them move across the sky over time. Like the animals and the ocean’s tides, I can tell the difference between a full moon night and a new moon one. Astrology, like yoga, knows the wisdom of both light and dark, of both masculine and feminine, of both tension and ease. It helps to integrate all parts of myself, including those that hid in the shadow under more oppressive belief systems. Attuning to the movements of the planets over the years has connected me more deeply with nature, and certainly to that sense of something much bigger than myself. And who really cares if we get the stories “right” or “wrong”? There are as many interpretations of the stars as there are astrologers, even if there are common themes throughout. The scientist within me is comforted by the fact that it is reasonable to assume that the planets, given their mass and gravity, exert some kind of force on us, and even though there is no way for us to understand this in its entirety, it is much bigger and more important than I am in whatever grand scheme of things there is.
I do not use astrology to predict the future; rather, when looking at future transits, I use them to inform creative ways in which I might use the potential energies at hand: Oh, mercury is in retrograde? Well, maybe a good time to think a little more carefully about what I say and put out into the world. And when I go through difficult times, as every human does, knowing that astrological transits are temporary helps me put my life events in better perspective, and this gives me peace. I am not a person who is overly concerned with proven facts anymore when it comes to asking the biggest questions about life. This is where I turn to my intuition, and I follow whichever path helps my heart and mind to stay the most open. Most importantly, I remember that there is always more to the story that I do not know, and that all parts of the story can be re-written at any time if need be. In fact, this must happen if we are to grow!
Collectively, our consciousness is expanding and integrating in new and exciting ways as we enter the Age of Information. More and more of us are breaking free of the molded stories that kept our forefathers bound to the status quo. We are waking up to the parts of ourselves that have been kept hidden or oppressed for too long. We see all around the world a growing interest not only astrology but other ancient spiritual traditions such as yoga, shamanism, and the sacred use of psychedelics. Life changes at a faster rate now, and if we are to adapt we require systems that support our growth and help us rewrite our own inner stories. We see more than ever how desperately we are in need of working with greater synchronicity, both in our own lives and as an integrated global family.
May your own heart be open to whatever systems of knowledge help your soul to express itself the most fully.