Neopagan Spirituality and Astrology

Astrology can be found in the roots of most religions, if not all, and indeed, astrology may be the oldest of them all, just as astrology's evolution to astrology is among the most ancient of sciences. Stone-age artifacts, including the carving of notches on bones coinciding with lunar phases point to very ancient uses of skywatching to keep track of time, presumably to make it possible to anticipate cyclical change. These, along with other carvings and cave paintings, suggest that ancient humans saw both spiritual and practical use of such observations. They saw spirits—gods—within all of nature, within the lights in the sky, and within animal and plant life of Earth. This idea, that deity is immanent within nature, is central to Paganism.

An engraving of the goddess Nemesis from Spiegel Der Sibyllen, 1685. Reproduced by permission of Fortean Picture Library.

Over thousands of years, a dualistic philosophy developed that saw deity as transcendent and inherently superior to nature, which was seen as inferior or evil and in need of redemption. This concept of dualism influenced all of the religions of Abra ham: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. A little over halfway through the 20th century, in part spurred by the women's movement, a revival of the Pagan philosophy of immanence began. Though amorphous, with no central organizational structure and many forms of practice, the movement, generally called Neopagan, is growing rapidly and steadily. Contemporary Neopagan practice takes on many forms: Wicca, Native American, feminist spirituality, eco-spirituality, and "new age," are a few of the names by which it may be identified. Both because it is autonomous and as individual as the solitary people or groups that practice it, many of whom are private or even secretive in their practice, the movement is probably much larger than any official count has ever yielded. Some studies, according to the Encyclopedia of Modern Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism, suggest that the count of 750,000 people in the United States is likely a conservative estimate of those involved in Neopagan practice.

Virtually all Neopagans use at least some astrology in their practice because their ceremonies and rituals follow the cycles of correspondence between earth and sky: lunar phases, primarily New Moon and Full Moon, and the seasonal holy days based on the equinoxes, solstices, and their cross-quarters (Sun at 15° of each of the fixed signs: Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius). Conversely, it would not be at all true to say that all astrologers are Neopagans. Astrologers come from a variety of religious or spiritual paths. Just as in the general population, though, growing numbers are interested in Neopagan spiritualities and practice.

Modern astrological thought is influenced by similar concepts as those that have emerged within Neopaganism. This can best be defined by additional explanation of the difference between the dualistic split of spirit and matter at the core of established religion and the immanence within nature of Neopagan thought. When deity is seen not as set apart from Mother Nature and self, but instead is seen within nature, within all living things, and within oneself, there is a sense of oneness, of being part of a great Whole. Stemming from that is a greater sense of personal responsibility.

It may have been be the importance of sky movements for timing that first gave root to the idea that deity is "above," and somehow that which is above is inherently superior to that which is below (Earth and its people). That pattern of dualistic thinking developed within patriarchal religion and it also developed within astrology. The residue remains within astrology in language and thought that assigns the power to the planets, in believing that their movements cause both birth characteristics and current events. On the other hand, modern psychological and spiritual astrology, like Neopagan spirituality, emphasizes the power of choice and self-determination. The power is not "out there" with the planets; it is within.

In seeing the power, or deity within, one must realize that the whole of deity means all aspects of being, not just the "good" ones. In this, Neopagan thinking is more akin to Jungian psychology in that one must own one's shadow in order to become whole and gain the full power of free will. One is always free to govern one's own response, even when external events occur beyond personal control.

Astrological philosophy is in a state of transition in this time of paradigm shift throughout many aspects of our culture. During the centuries of development of the worldview that characterized God-above as beyond not only Earth but beyond the lights in the sky, as well, astrology, seen as the worship of those lights became condemned as idolatry. Developments of scientific astronomy, although born to serve the interests of astrology, rejected (in the so-called Age of Enlightenment of the 18th century) astrology's correspondence of the cosmos with life on Earth. The detachment of both religion and science from ancient Pagan acceptance of the energy and divine spirit within all of nature and within self has left many in our contemporary culture hungering for a spiritual center. As contemporary students and practitioners of astrology come to realize that astrology is truly a divine science, retaining a place for mystery and deity within its most careful and scientific explorations and observations, a sense of spirituality grows. Of all spiritual paths, those of Neopagan philosophy are by far the most comfortable with astrological roots.

Within the form of Neopagan practice known as Wicca, a very basic form of astrology is taken for granted. Rituals of worship are timed according to the cycles of the cosmos in correspondence with the monthly and seasonal cycles of life on Earth, and symbolism derived from those correspondences permeates virtually all facets of supporting practice. One may or may not learn an advanced level of astrology, but all learn the basic astrological correspondences for the tools used on altars, the herbs and the oils in various preparations, the times to plant and reap, the days and hours of the planets, the planet and sign correlations with the elements, and so on. Modern Wic-cans may characterize lights in the sky as gods—the Moon is commonly seen as Goddess (as is also Mother Earth)—but this is with the realization that they are using an archetypal language to describe aspects of an all-encompassing energy. God/dess, the life force, the energy of the Universe, is within self and within everything. In that, the Neopagan view is supported by modern physics.

Beyond merely knowing of the energy, Wiccan/Neopagan practice includes magick, belief in one's ability to learn to focus the mind, to tap into that energy, build it within, and direct it according to will. (For Wiccans, this means primarily to effect creative change within self. The ethic of harm to none bars intent that manipulates the free will of others.) Most have heard the adage "thoughts are things," and so they can become. The use of the "k" among practitioners differentiates the power to direct energy from stage magic, sleight of hand, or sparkly, magical feelings of romance and wonder. It is in choosing appropriate timing that astrological practice comes closest to an act of magick, and a Neopagan practitioner knowledgeable in astrology may use it to select appropriate times for acts of magick and ritual. Other disciplines stemming from "new age" thought, train the mind in various forms of creative visualization, tapping quite similar abilities as the practitioner of magick, but minus the color and flavor of Wiccan/Neopagan spiritual paths, and often without that taken-for-granted use of astrology.

Wiccan/Neopagan ritual work can be practiced as a form of astrology that has been termed "experiential," the dramatizing or role-playing of astrological themes in order to raise personal awareness of them and effect healing. Experiential astrology emerged as a tool of psychological astrology. In recent years experiential astrology has, for many, taken on a more spiritual tone, as astrologers, who others who have become dissatisfied with establishment religion but yearn for a spiritual center, have found within their own study of correspondences a path to Spirit. In perhaps varying levels of con sciousness, they recognize that the experience of ritual can give a whole new spiritual dimension to their work, enriching their understanding of astrology and of themselves.

In Wiccan terminology, the effect of ritual on learning can be explained by the need of "young self" (the subconscious or child within) for an experiential form of learning. Young self is bored by objective reasoning or forms of communication, and learns best through the senses: sight, touch, smell, sound, taste, and through the intangible intuition, of the right brain rather than the rational left. Astro-drama (experiential astrology) recognized this, and for some, it worked, whether it had any spiritual meaning or was just for the fun of acting out—role-playing the planets—and in so doing, learning a little more about their meanings. For others, conservative or shy, overt role-playing is not quite comfortable. Group spiritual ritual based on astrological themes, on the other hand, can be comfortable for most anyone, providing one is not singled out for a "solo" part before he or she is ready, or is not deeply conflicted from background within an establishment religion. Ritually invoking the planetary gods within, as personifications of the various aspects of Spirit that are within the Universe and within each individual can enrich one's understanding of astrology, as well of one's purpose in life.

—Maria Kay Simms

Sources:

Rabinovitch, Shelly, and James Lewis. The Encyclopedia of Modern Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism.

New York: Citadel, 2002.

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