Mercury Retrowhat? Oh Astrology . . . . .

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.

Beautiful, but hard for me to believe it affects me in any way what so ever. Now kids, get off of my lawn!

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.

About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.

  • Selene

    I personally do believe in Astrology, but as much as it’s my right to believe in it, it’s your right to not believe.
    Granted, I don’t use Astrology as an excuse for things. I’m proof in itself that not all Libras are neat and organized.

  • Tavin Sparrow Robinson

    I tend to have more “fun” with astrology. I am not quite a believer. My chart has never been done by me…only by the programs on the internet. However, Sasquatch? A resounding YES. My Dad believes and so do I.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    Nice to see someone else shrugging off Astrology. Not that there is only kind, mind.

    To me, (Western) Astrology is just a form of psychology that bases its profiling method on when you were born, in relation to celestial bodies.

    That said,as a form of divination, I feel it can have some merit. Most forms of divination are about looking at patterns to cause the viewer’s mental state shift to a more intuitional and perceptive one.. Astrology is just looking at the patterns of the stars, really.

  • Angus McMahan

    Jason – I think you need to make a distinction between Astrology as practiced by people who know what that hell they are doing, and “Newspaper” astrology, which is what almost every non-pagan practices. Your Mercury Retrograde chirping is justified, but don’t dismiss Astrology because of that. Those are the people who think you can get something valid out of a daily horoscope – as if there were 12 types of people in the world. Now if you would submit to having your chart done, instead of just dismissing an art that you have not done enough research into, I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how well the houses and degrees describe you. And using that knowledge of yourself (“Witch know thy…..”) you could then see how you react in given situations and whether or not these reactions are valid or justified. The closing paragraph about how you are a skeptical Capricorn is just the icing on the iceberg of information available to you.

    • JasonMankey

      I’ve have it done a number of times, and it’s never been anything that’s grabbed me as “Ah ha! That’s me!” I certainly believe that anything is possible, and I think astrology is a belief that you really can’t prove or disprove, but it’s never made much sense to me. And it’s important to remember I married a scientist, she doesn’t even believe in Bigfoot!

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      12? What about Ophiuchus?

      • Freeman

        Ophiuchus is a nonsense periodically proposed by people who know some astronomy, but no astrology.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          Yet it is made use of in the Sidereal Zodiac by many (admittedly not by all).

          Considering that each of the Western Zodiac signs is defined by their being behind the sun at certain points of the year and Ophiuchus fits that definition, I wouldn’t say that it is nonsense.

          Unless, of course, you are more interested in astrological orthodoxy than accuracy.

          That said, my point was less about one contentious constellation and more about the fact there are numerous Zodiacs and astrological systems of practice each with their own interpretations and characteristics.

          What your ‘star sign’ is depends on which zodiac you are using.

    • Debra P.

      Angus thank you for making the distinction I grew up in a home where Astrology was practiced (my Mom) I called her a professional Astrologer while she claimed she was a student of the art till the day she passed….I can honestly say to anyone I tried like heck not to believe in the stuff but watching my mom over the years erecting charts for numerous people, myself included it has opened a door for me, I am now (and have been over 30 years) a believer.
      I am not an Astrologer but I do know many tidbits of the art that help me understand rhyme and reason.
      Daily horoscopes are generalizations of a sign, very rarely are they even remotely accurate.
      Mercury Retrograde has nothing to do with how someone behaves. That my dear Author of this eloquent article is nonsense from a person who has little knowledge of the actual art of Astrology.
      Being a Capricorn…well that helps me to understand exactly why you do not believe in it (and while Im using a generalization its true) Capricorns generally dont believe in hocus pocus, ghosts, witches etc etc…Thats not to say you wont try give something the benefit of the doubt…I love Capricorns for that they keep me on my toes ; )
      Instead of poopoooing Astrology lets try to help search for answers like what to look for in a “Real Astrologer”
      If you want to have an actual chart erected and deciphered you need to find a real astrologer.
      Not a person who hangs a big fat sign out their front door but one who is unassuming, humble, and a person who claims they are a student, not a teacher. A person who has practiced MANY years and who is not afraid to say “I might have got that wrong let me recheck my calculations”
      Has MANY books of reference in their inventory….not just an Ephemerise and some planetary books but an actual library in their home.
      I have inherited a good number of books that my mom collected over the years BTW many from Lewellyn, some from local Society’s (Theosophical Society) some dating back clear to the 1700′s……This is the type of astrologer you want to erect a chart for accuracy and and I may add a Gemini Astrologer (in the Astrological world known as “The teacher” for their voracious appetite of the written word) may be an actual bonus. Happy Hunting

  • 2nd Wife

    My standard line is always, “I don’t believe in astrology, I’m a Capricorn.” And it works!

  • Stifyn Emrys

    That took courage. Bravo! I personally see so many logical problems with astrology I can’t begin to list them here. The last time Mercury went into retrograde, I had a wonderfully prolific month of writing, my relationship was going wonderfully and I was enjoying life to the fullest. I guess I’m just not the “retro” type!

  • Ywen DragonEye

    So relieved to hear this – I thought I might be the only one! As Leoht mentions below, as a form of divination, where the star patterns guide the diviner, maybe. But as for what most people think of as astrology – professionally done or not – no, I don’t believe in it. And I agree about Pluto – always a planet if only in my heart. I’m a Sag, BTW. Not sure if that is supposed to make me skeptical or not!

  • Marc

    I’ve come to the conclusion a long time ago that people need to have some external force to blame their misfortune on. Be it “karma”, Mercury Retrograde, or something else. Bad things, inconveniencing things, can’t happen to GOOD people, because that means that the universe is inherently UNFAIR. It’s something that’s always bugged me. It is a shirking of responsibility, just as surely, as when Christians claim that “the devil made me do it”, as you said.

    I think Astrology is one of those things where if people go LOOKING for something, they’re going to find it. The same thing with the idea of Friday the 13th. People look for misfortune and will find it and, in many cases, blow minor incidents out of proportion that they’d otherwise ignore. I tend to find that I do in fact identify with my sign, and general disposition based on time of when I was born. But beyond that, it’s all coincidental, I think.

  • Agni Ashwin

    No one is a “sign”. The signs don’t do anything. The planets do. No one is a “capricorn” (whatever that might mean). However, one or two planets might be particularly powerful in your chart. If it’s saturn, one might tend towards melancholy. If the moon, emotional intelligence.

  • Freeman

    Of course the planets don’t “cause” accidents or variations in people’s behavior, not in the modern materialist-atheist sense. The planets and signs are a map of the psyche that can be used by magicians in various ways, provided they actually know something of traditional astrology. Modern astrology was watered down, and at best can say something about one’s superficial psychology, but it can’t predict anything or be used to DO anything.

  • Artor

    I am completely with you on this one. I place zero faith in prophecy, and the idea that the movement of planets can affect us directly, or can be used to predict the future strikes me as absurd & ignorant. Study the planets all you like & learn the lore if that brings you closer to knowledge, but don’t try to tell me it means jack.

  • Astro Guru Vinod Ji

    Astrology Prediction can be used to understand a person’s personality, successes and failures and to forecast how someone will feel or behave over a period of time. It can even be used to plan the best time to do various things. Astrology can be divided into natal astrology and mundane astrology.

  • Mary Frampton

    There are people that take Astrology far too literally. There is no magical core in Mercury that emits special behavior changing juju any more than there is in the moon. There are also those that believe Astrology is a science, however I am not one of them. Astrology is a form of divination, just like tarot cards, runes, tea leaves, etc. It’s the process of taking something physical (planet, card, leaves, written symbols), applying a definition to it, then applying that definition within the context of some sort of “map” with plots that are also defined (chart, tarot/rune spread, tea leaf position). Along with intuition, these definitions are read and interpreted.

    I think the connection between Paganism and Astrology (or divination in general) is that divination is a tool often utilized within Pagan traditions. I haven’t personally met a Pagan that didn’t practice some form of divination within their spiritual practice (doesn’t mean they’re not out there), whether it’s used to gather information on some question they have, or to communicate with their gods.

    It doesn’t mean that people don’t use Mercury Retro as an excuse, many people do. But I don’t see that as any different than blaming the weather for a bad mood or blaming someone else for a poor choice made. It’s just one of many things in the world that people will use to absolve themselves of responsibility. Can’t say I would cast aside Astrology as a useful tool because of that though.