The Heresy Gremlin
No matter what spiritual path I find myself on, I seem to stumble into the territory of blasphemy pretty quickly. Since I started asking around to see if any of my astrologer friends had experimented with True Sidereal astrology, I’ve been getting the same looks that I used to see from Pastors and Sunday School teachers when I asked if Buddha and Jesus were just saying the same thing in two different historical contexts, or suggested that there really wasn’t a huge difference between prayer and witchcraft. So its not unfamiliar territory for me to be on the outside of “acceptable” belief within a system, but I guess maybe I wasn’t expecting it to happen in the astrology world.
Like my previous forays into heresy, this one started with a crisis of faith.
I remember the first night that I realized that the astrological zodiac didn’t match up to the stars in the actual night sky. I was new to witchcraft and even newer to the idea of elective astrology. I hadn’t really dug into astrology any deeper than occasionally reading my horoscope in the newspaper at that point, but everything I was reading about magic and witchcraft was talking about astrological correspondences and the moon phases and I figured it must be important to start paying attention to it. In just a short amount of time, I found myself falling in love with the multi-dimensional craft that tied in my love of astronomy with my love of mythology, philosophy, psychology and occultism. So I was doing one of my first elaborate, outdoor full moon rituals. I gathered all my correspondences, candles and tools and marched outside at peak fullness to cast a large circle. I used my phone’s compass to find the four directions and set a candle at each point. I had set up my entire ritual around the moon being in Virgo that night. I couldn’t see many stars, but I wanted to see how the moon lined up with the constellation. I got out my phone again and pulled up my SkyView app that I used whenever there was an interesting astronomical event.
I remember thinking that something must be wrong with my app. The moon wasn’t in Virgo at all…it was nowhere near it. I tried turning the app off and back on again to see if it would refresh. But then I realized that all the other points in the sky were correctly mapped by the app. The moon was certainly not in Virgo. I suddenly remembered something I had learned long before that, way back in my college astronomy course.
My astronomy professor used to make a point to ridicule astrologers at every turn. Now I didn’t know diddly squat about astrology back then, so I didn’t put much thought into his arguments (unless he was attacking Christianity which was another one of his favorite targets). Like many materialists, he would cite the extreme distance of planets and stars as why it would be impossible for them to have any influence on life here on Earth. Now that I’ve been studying astrology, I can see that this is a bit of a straw-man argument….I don’t know any one who follows astrology that believes that the planets themselves are physically causing events or emotions or otherwise. At the core of a sound belief in astrology is the concept ‘As above, so below’ which implies that the same sublime, cosmic, mystical forces that are affecting the universe on the macro- level, also affect us on a smaller, but relative scale. This is why we see the greater universe as a sort of clock or map for reading the subtle energies at work in our souls’ evolutionary paths. For me, this isn’t all that different to the scientific practice of testing to see whether the laws of physics apply on both the macro- and micro- levels, something that has driven scientists and physicists for generations. But instead of working strictly in the material realm, these energies charted by astrology have their greatest influence in the spiritual realm. My Present-Day Self sometimes wishes she could pass a message to College-aged Rose so she could tell her old prof that he was arguing a moot point.
But this professor had another problem with astrology, one that is echoed by many astronomers and astrophysicists (plus any atheist who has seen Neil Dygrasse Tyson drag astrology on late night talk shows). And it is this point that I had somehow suppressed deep in my memory in the years since my astronomy courses, only to have it resurface as I was standing there with my star map, preparing for a ritual based on the moon’s position: The placement of stars and celestial bodies in the actual night sky does not correspond to where your astrologer is telling you they are.
Because of the natural movement of the sun and the planet Earth, the signs are about one full zodiac sign off in the present age. While all my astrological preparation for that ritual had told me the Moon would be in Virgo that night, I could clearly see with my own eyes that the full moon was rolling up to Leo the Lion like giant ball of yarn before a playful kitten. I will never forget the heavy sense of disappointment that hit me with that realization.
That night, I continued to do the ritual until it was completed. It was important to me to finish what I had started, even if the wind had been taken out of my sails with the “discovery” that astrology was some sort of sham. The rite was still surprisingly successful. In the days that followed, I did a little research and learned that in Western astrology, the zodiacal signs are assigned invariant seasonal periods, based on the Precession of the Equinoxes. This zodiac that most of us are familiar with is called the tropical system and was adopted by Ptolemy over 2000 years ago to standardize the Zodiac with the seasonal calendar. 2000 years of astrologers can’t be wrong, right? I convinced myself that if this was the accepted zodiac, then it didn’t matter that it wasn’t what I saw when I looked up at the stars. After all, I was just a newbie to this astrology stuff….it must’ve been my ignorance causing me to not understand. So again, I put the knowledge that the zodiacal signs were just theoretical, symbolic representations of the stars into a small box in the back of my mind, and locked the door to that room so it wouldn’t threaten my newly acquired “occult faith.” After all, a major component to making witchcraft work is believing that the craft has power. Any doubts that popped up were detrimental to my ambitions.
But still, I couldn’t ever be completely rid of that voice in the back of mind reminding me that there was something just not quite right when it came down to tropical astrology, even as I progressed through my study of astrology. I ignored it, but it never went away. It was like an annoying little gremlin that sat beside me, poking holes in all my astrological studies. I would silence him with the evidence collected in my journals, charts and calendars. Astrology (as I knew it) worked really well for me. It was certainly not perfect or 100% accurate, but that wasn’t the point. And sure I didn’t really relate to some of the parts of my natal chart…but look how much was accurate. It couldn’t all be coincidental.
Still the gremlin sat on my shoulder through the years, occasionally rolling its eyes at how much time and effort I was putting into learning astrology and charting my life by its suggested course. You’re not helpful, I would say to it whenever it got my attention, look at how much I have accomplished with astrology. Look at all the fruit of these labors. The gremlin had lost its voice at this point, but it would tug on my ear and point up to the sky, reminding me of the doubts and disappointments I had felt the night I discovered the Moon wasn’t where they told me it would be. You just don’t understand…it’s more complicated then that, I insisted. But the gremlin didn’t go away.
There were a few times I considered going “all in”with Astrology. For me, that meant dropping some major cash to dive into some extensive teaching courses with the intent to become a full-time astrologer. To put my money where my mouth was, so to speak. And then the gremlin would show up, jumping up and down and throwing a little hissy fit. In those moments, it was easier to concede to him. You’re right, I don’t even know if this stuff is real or just some theoretical system put together by some old dudes thousands of years ago. In other words, it was just like every other religion I had studied and left behind in my life, at least according to my little Doubt Gremlin. You see, astrology had first appealed to me because of its perfection on a grand, universal scale. The night sky reflecting the energies experienced here on this tiny blue dot floating through the galaxy…it was cosmic and mystical and marvelously synchronistic. It represented everything that my developing occult philosophy of Life, the Universe & Everything was revealing to be Truth. But any time I would get too far down the rabbit hole, the Gremlin would appear to remind me that the synchronicity I had experienced in astrology wasn’t real. At least it wasn’t real in a physical way. And for some reason, that really bugged me.
So I’d back off a bit to wallow in my doubts, until the Enchantress that is the art of astrology would lure me back with morsels of truth and mysterious coincidence. But always I remained guarded and skeptical, afraid to once again give all my devotion and faith to a possibly unworthy dogma. Afterall, I had spent ten years in Christian ministry; I wasn’t prepared to throw myself into something that I wasn’t 100% sure about again. Through these years, astrology has remained an important tool in my doctor’s bag of occult devices, but I never was able to give it my whole heart. I was acutely aware of the impact of bad astrology, shallow horoscopes and at worst, greedy or unethical “astrologers” that preyed on folks’ vulnerabilities. So I studied diligently, but always kept it at arm’s length, wishing it could be my Divine Guide in all things metaphysical, constantly doubting that it could ever be.