Astrology, the Grief Pipe & the Modern World

Let’s take a moment and try to bridge our understanding of Astrology from the marginally meaningful and generalized pop culture horoscopes of today to the exalted high art of divination it once was for so many of our ancestors, for thousands upon thousands of years. What a grief-tempered mixed blessing it would be if only we could see the magnitude of what we have lost and forgotten in recent generations. Sacrificed on the altar of modernity are the eloquent birth rites and richness of skilled, traditional life-ways that held and nurtured ancient astrology-astronomy as a sacred science and prophetic art-form. Like much indigenous ingenuity our relationship to the sky has been traded-in for false certainty, technological dominance, easy answers, and a reckless convenience. 

If we could read our own cultural and ancestral landscape like a skilled naturalist can read the scarred history of a place familiar to them, what would we see: the old-growth trees gone, the soil lost, so many essential relationships destroyed, the hoards of gifts and blessings bestowed once-upon-a-time now vanquished and vanished. And if only we could sense the great presence of absence that fills our historical denial maybe we could begin to unravel the tangled knot of personal and social amnesia that was once a rightful and abundant tapestry of land-based, sky-conversant wisdoms and hard-earned profundity. Maybe then we’d be able to properly feed and honor the Old Gods of Astrology and Myth and Divination, deities who once shared the feasting table with so many others, including the humbled hearts of our own human ancestors. It seems to me that a properly imagined and discernable astrology walks hand-in-hand with a living cosmology and mythos. It is kin to the animate psyche that calls down the stars, courts the thunderous clouds, and blesses the babbling headwaters of our holy and now jeopardized belonging.

There is an old story I heard once about the now extinct passenger pigeon, the mighty bird that was a keystone species of sorts in North America. James Audubon was once travelling to Louisville, KY when he encountered a flock of them flying in such abundance and density that he personally witnessed them dim the sunlight for three consecutive days. In his journal he wrote the following: “the light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse; the dung fell in spots, not unlike melting flakes of snow, and the continued buzz of wings had a tendency to lull my senses to repose… I cannot describe to you the extreme beauty of their aerial evolutions.”

Take a moment now, walk over to the window and look outside.  Try to imagine the impact it would have on your day if the power of the Sun was eclipsed for days on end by the passing of a flock of wild birds.Try to imagine the impact this would have not just on a single day, but on your week, year and probably your life. How it would impact the crafts and skills and callings, the relationships and aspirations and pursuits of your daily lived experience. Try and imagine how rich the world could be. How soulfully prosperous and textured a culture, and the lives of its members, could be when planted in a world of such plenty. That is the world we must long for, ache for, remember, notice & behold. From that anchor, astrology and the other divinatory and healing arts take their proper place in the temple of cultural renewal and soul-work.

I share this story for a couple reasons. First, because for much of us living in the 21st century we do not know a world with that much wild and ecstatic abundance of life. It’s not hyperbole to claim that it drastically alters our perception, character and very humanity. Without that sort of landscape the very geography of our imaginations is dimmed and dulled down. That is part of the undesired but consequential payment for this civilized life we live, plush with convenience & privilege. Heavy and hard truth be known, this Anthropocene mass extinction of ours is not very promising, not for most of life on Earth, nor for the kingdom of imaginal creativity so much human meaning and magic depends upon.  

What Jung Knew: An Animate Astrology

But what does this have to do with astrology? Everything. Astrology, like every other divine art and divinatory skill has been dumbed down severely. The muscles of the beast have somewhat atrophied within our inanimate, popular culture. I’m not just talking about the sophistication of its techniques. That’s there too, but I’m talking about the very way we moderns, especially in the West, carry the thing. Largely without ritual, without sophistication or beauty, absent of the pre-industrial practices and presence that allows us to properly behold vision, myth and divine interpretation. Jung knew that grief. And Hermes himself has been watching & waiting. Remember, Hermes, that old Messenger of the Gods was the ancient Mediterranean deity that bestowed the gifts of astronomy and astrology.

We should be reflecting upon the very way we moderns, especially in the West, carry Astrology. Largely without ritual, without sophistication or beauty, absent of the pre-industrial practices and presence that allows us to properly behold vision, myth and divine interpretation.

If we could begin to perceive what has been lost it would surely stir our souls a little, maybe wake up some lost longing and grief, maybe encourage us to more frequently turn off the electric screens and lights during the dark hours. Maybe even to stop and look up at the stars a little more frequently, with a little more awe & reverence for the great mysterious vault of the heavens that is revealed nightly. And there are things to be gained in those moments, things you can’t read in a book, or research on the web, an inevitable contemplation and form of praying alongside mystery & awe. Of course memory & study and discipline and technique are necessary to this craft, but our astrology practices need to conjure and soothsay from those moments where we honor and court the wild of the night sky our ancestors slept under.

I love that the old ornithologist Audobon compared the passing of these now extinct winged and Mercurial nomads to the power of an eclipse. It’s with this in mind that I mention this story, because it reminds me of the proper and integrated place of a deeper cultural astrology. Not as some technology of personality assessment or efficient timing analysis for the ego’s latest desires, but as a midwife to the prophetic and animate imagination, a borrowed tool that allows us to communicate and commune with the many Gods and Goddesses who dance between sky and Earth.

Astrology is a window to the world-soul, to how that soul localizes in each of us. It is part and parcel of an enchanted world-view, of a cultural consciousness that is at home in the world of myth, ritual, & divination. It is a bit of embodied celestial presence that we have the fortune to carry with us down here on Earth, the way our ancestors carried fire inside a tinder conk.

Astrology is an archetypal bridge from the terrestrial human world to the incarnate heavens, a golden thread of psyche that ties together our innermost and most authentic experiences and karmas with the patterned, dynamic cycles of the living cosmos. Astrology is a tool, an art, a science, and a medicine of the starry heavens.

Remember: We are all stardust. We are alive and breathing and animate because the Universe embodies those same qualities of existence. No matter how big the cities get down here on Earth, or how bad their light pollution, or how far the juggernaut of modern living carries away a proper and mythic understanding of the celestial sphere, the stars will be there shining bright and dancing. And with them, the planets and moons of our solar system will continue on their storied way. And for us: the human psyche, whenever it takes a moment to get quiet and stilled and listen, will remain a welcoming, inspired and divine interpreter of the wisdom and guidance hidden in the evening skies.