You might have missed the announcement a couple of days ago, but Patheos recently launched an Astrology page over on the Spirituality Channel. The launch of the Astrology Page here is well timed personally because it’s a subject that’s been on my mind a lot the last few months.
This summer I got into a little tangle (and not the good kind) with a friend and when it was time to put the whole incident to bed (and not in a fun way) she dismissed the whole thing by saying “sorry, I just got caught up in Mercury Retrograde.” Personally, I wasn’t looking for an excuse. I’m cranky without coffee in the morning, I’m irrational when my football team loses, there are all kinds of reasons for dumb misunderstandings; people get upset about stuff. It’s never the end of the world, you kiss and make up (figuratively, though better when it’s literal) and move on.
The excuse of Mercury Retrograde stuck with me for much of the summer, because I heard it dozens of times over the course of my June and July rambles. Did you forget something? Mercury Retrograde. Suddenly irritable? Mercury Retrograde. Have a bad day at work? Mercury Retrograde. It was like a bad mantra, and it was hard to escape from. Every time I heard the excuse “Mercury Retrograde” the person using it expected me to laugh about it with them and chalk it up as a legitimate excuse. This was hard for me to do because I had no idea what “Mercury Retrograde” meant, and even if I did understand its meaning, it wouldn’t matter because I don’t believe in astrology.
There, I said it. I don’t believe in astrology. I know I’m not the only Pagan to feel that way, but I still feel kind of guilty (dirty?) saying it. To a lot of Pagans, a near universal belief in astrology in our community is accepted as fact. To this day lots of Pagan 101 type books make reference to astrology and imply that learning to cast an astrological chart is some sort of requisite Pagan skill. Having me cast an astrological chart would be like asking me to write a column on why the world is only 6000 years old, I wouldn’t believe the chart and I wouldn’t believe my own column.
Now I don’t have any problem with people believing in astrology. I believe in lots of things that other folks (including my wife) often scoff at. I’m a firm believer in Bigfoot for instance, and I also believe in ghosts and reincarnation. I believe in all sorts of things beyond the naked eye, but I just don’t buy that the planet Mercury is responsible for me losing my luggage at the airport. I’m convinced that the blame lies with the airlines, or TSA for going through my bags for the 10,0000 time, it would never occur to me to blame the planet closest to our sun.Skeptics offer up all sorts of reasons for why astrology isn’t “real,” but I’m not interested in debunking astrology. I don’t think believing in astrology necessarily hurts anyone, and I’m guessing that the majority of people use it more like a mirror than a map. It’s something to reflect upon, to shed some insight onto how or why we are, or as a way to talk through a problem. While I was annoyed with all the howls of “Mercury Retrograde” this summer, and I have many friends who took it extremely seriously, no one locked themselves inside their house while it was occurring.
I’m not going to totally dismiss astrology even though I’m not a big fan. It makes sense to me that the moon might influence our moods, or that people born during the winter tend to be crankier than those born in June. Those things are close to home, and celebrating anything in the Midwest during late January is bound to be depressing. It’s more the idea that distant planets and stars hold some sort of power over me that I find incomprehensible. Venus (the planet) can’t produce her own microbes, and you want me to believe that she’s capable of messing with my head? I don’t think so.
The frustrating thing about Paganism and astrology is that many in our community think they are inseparable. Belief (or lack thereof) in astrology has nothing to do with the relationship I have with my gods. You can be a Pagan and not believe that the planet Saturn effects you in some weird way. Paganism and astrology might both be “occult” practices, but that’s as far as it goes. I’m concerned with this world, not worlds and stars billions of miles away from me. If you are concerned with how Pluto* influences you personally, that’s great, but that feeling is not universal.
When an Evangelical Preacher falls from grace and claims “the Devil made me do it” I tend to scoff. That’s the sort of excuse one uses to deflect responsibility. You made a mistake, you are human, things happen, just fess up to it and be honest. To me, the claim of “Mercury Retrograde” is about the same thing. You locked your keys in your car, we’ve all done it, brain farts happen and they aren’t caused by planets 138 million miles away. You don’t need a cosmic excuse for making a mistake, being a human is good enough. If astrology is something you believe in and you see it as legitimate reason for an action, that’s fine, just don’t expect everyone else to nod in agreement. There are a lot of us who disagree, and we still love you and I hope you still love me after reading this cranky old man diatribe.
Of course I have a lot of friends out there who not only believe in astrology, but are professional astrolegers. Every time I’ve shared my skepticism with them their reaction has always been “Of course you feel that way Jason, you’re a Capricorn, being skeptical is a part of your nature, it’s in your chart.”
*Oh Pluto, you will always be a planet to me.