The Planets aren’t Puppeteers
One of the most common questions that I have had during my time of studying and practicing astrology is this:
How can a planet that’s so far away have any kind of control over your life?
My simple answer is that it doesn’t. Or at least, I don’t subscribe to that idea.
But I understand where the question is coming from. It’s a question that perplexes a lot of people – astrologers and non-astrologers alike.
I’d like to talk a bit about how I answered this question for myself. Then I’ll get into a few reasons as to why I think that this question continues to seem relevant, and why the challenge isn’t just about educating people outside the community.
When I first started to look at myself and the world through the lens of astrology, I struggled to reconcile what was happening.
Did I believe that the planets were puppeteers? That they were agents of change?
Hmmm, I was pretty sure that I didn’t believe that.
Even though I had a strangely synchronistic dreamlife, an attraction to occult aesthetic and a lifelong love of fantasy fiction – I just couldn’t bring myself to believe that objects millions of miles away from me could be having an impact on me directly.
Not the explicit and nuanced kind that they were supposedly having anyway.
I mean, sure, the Sun and Moon have their obvious, verifiable biological effects…
But could Jupiter be physically responsible for my desire to travel? Could Neptune be held accountable for my dreamy experience of everyday life?
Saturn out to ruin my day again.
I had major doubts. But I wasn’t sure how it could work otherwise.
I’d never really thought that much about thinking. So it took me some time to figure things out for myself.
Meanwhile, I continued to explore astrology, tarot and the I Ching.
Because, despite my discomfort, these methods were working too damn beautifully for me to just let them go based on an inability to figure out how they were doing their thing.
Astrology’s cosmic vocabulary re-contextualised my worldview, as well as how I saw myself, into a wondrous mythic poetry.
It wasn’t about being able to control or predict the future. It was about identity and perception.
Astrology provided me with a new way of conceiving reality at a time when my previous worldview was failing to provide me with the support that I needed.
I had words for aspects of my core identity that I never had before.
Aspects that had polarised me for much of my life.
I was able to comprehend and empathise with other people at previously unimaginable levels (especially when they spoke this same language).
Personalities became poetry. Their diverse and nuanced palettes were now cosmically articulated.
And somehow things now made more sense. I made more sense. My interpersonal relationships made more sense.
The world made more sense.
Eventually I understood that through my studies of various systems and techniques, I had undergone a significant paradigm shift.
I came to realise that the planets were not the animating principles themselves.
They were not responsible.
I had reoriented my thinking, in part, from a cause and effect mechanistic model of the world into one that also recognised synchronicity, correspondence and correlation.
There was no longer any irreconcilable contradiction to the mechanistic paradigm. I’d finally come to realise there was another level that reality could operate on.
So I made my peace with astrology and the rest of my tools.
But even now that I’ve rationalised things, I still remain uncomfortable.
I remain uncomfortable with the assumptions made by people outwith the field and some of the approaches of those within it.
Let me go back to the issue of the mechanistic ‘cause and effect’ dilemma.
Through a mechanistic lens, astrologers appear to designate power and authority to outside agencies (eg.the planets).
It’s as if they were blindly worshipping the gods that the planets share names with.
This does happen to look very much like superstitious thinking, so I can understand why clever people could have problems with this.
The perception of astrologers subscribing to this idea is a big enough problem for a lot of people that they will never progress beyond a dismissive, or even hostile, opinion of the subject.
It’s not possible to say that astrologers are entirely blameless for this perception, but the complete reasons are manifold.
Partly it’s due to astrology being a system involving the measurement of objects through space and time.
The vocabulary that is used to talk about these dynamics often seems to imply action and reaction. Causal events.
Here are some examples of some of the phrases that are regularly bandied about by people using astrology that confuse matters:
- That a situation occurred due to the influence of a Venus-Saturn conjunction.
- That an argument happened because of a transit of Mars.
- Her depression was a consequence of Pluto opposite the Moon.
- That a terrorist attack was triggered by a transit to the exact degree of that recent lunar eclipse.
It’s not that surprising that an outsider would look at this and think we were talking about planetary activity literally causing something to happen.
It makes it difficult to see that we’re talking about synchronistic events. That we’re speaking in metaphor.
Which is what we’re doing, isn’t it?
It doesn’t seem that clear that we are referring to a map and not the actual territory.
Something tells me that not all of us are doing this though.
I believe that there are still some astrologers (particularly newbies, but not exclusively) who are still trying to mash up their astrological understandings to the mechanistic paradigm.
And I’m not sure that this is entirely conscious.
I think that there may still be too many people who do believe that cosmic objects are causing things to happen.
I also wonder about those who have recognised astrology as a system of correspondence at one level but who haven’t totally committed to that idea, or reconciled it effectively.
Those of us who still seem committed to giving their power away to something external.
It’s tricky psychological territory to navigate and the language that we are prone to using doesn’t help.
Mainly, my theory is that arrested development occurs thanks to the psychological phenomenon known as transference.
While you’re learning astrology, you discover new meanings for a lot of words.
You suddenly have labels that identify elements of your interior experience that you may never have been able to pinpoint and define so accurately.
You may, for example, learn that you have a relationship between the Moon and Saturn in your own personal horoscope that helps you to make sense of a relationship with your mother that was never much fun. (In astrology the associations for the Moon include the experience of mother, and Saturn includes a sense of restriction).
Before having the astrological terminology to demarcate this dynamic, perhaps you consciously or unconsciously held either her or yourself accountable for the shitty vibe between you.
The danger now is that it can be too easy for the planets to take center stage in the blame game.
You now have more theatrical ways to assign fault, judge others and victimise yourself.
The language that we use doesn’t help.
Astrological narratives can articulate and provide greater context for what is happening. It can show you where that phenomenon may be happening. It can even show you when it may happen.
What it doesn’t claim to do is explain why something happens. We are the ones who are implying that. Sometimes by accident, and sometimes purposefully.
Astrology ultimately shouldn’t be giving anyone an excuse for anything at all.
It shouldn’t absolve personal responsibility for depression or destructiveness or a history of crappy relationships.
Its narratives can offer advice, warnings and suggest courses of action.
But it doesn’t actually do the work or walk the path. It doesn’t completely explain why we are walking it at all.
Why is the eternal mystery.
Why is something that no system of philosophy, spirituality or scientific principle has yet to explain thoroughly, as far as I’m concerned.
In this day and age if people see astrologers as trying to do this then of course it’s going to turn them off.
And if you practice this kind of astrology then it’s important to recognise that you may very well be treating it as a doctrine of faith.
As astrologers I’m not sure there’s a lot we can ‘do’ about the semantic issue except to all be a bit more careful and ensure it’s clear that we are talking in terms of significance and correspondence than cause and effect.
It’s about taking more conscious responsibility for how we represent ourselves and our community at large. So there is a need for each of us to be honest with ourselves about our personal approaches to the system itself.
It’s important to be mindful of how confusing using astrology can potentially be, especially when we are talking to people who have had limited exposure. And to be especially mindful when we are talking about anything personally or politically sensitive.
And, dear reader, if you yourself are a practitioner or dabbler of astrology… please take the time to ask yourself: Are the planets puppeteers or not?