You Have to Believe We Are Magic


Cherished readers, I write to you from the tail end of the ISAR Conference, a biennial affair that brought together some of the most esteemed astrologers in the world… and me.

As I told you a few weeks back, this was the first time I've attended a professional astrology gathering of any kind, so I had a lot of expectations banked on this experience. (I'm sure you all know how the fragile ego, especially when tied to our own biggest career aspirations, can play nasty tricks on us.) I'm happy to report: My expectations have been far exceeded, and I've had a most exceptional time.

To tell you the truth, my mind is fluttering wildly… essentially too full of information to integrate much of anything on the spot, other than knowing I have a whole lot of ideas and considerations to ponder over these coming weeks and months. The thrill of seeing the faces and hearing the voices of astrological experts whose written works have helped teach me my craft—and finding faces so friendly and voices so informative—has been a profound one. I made some contacts, distributed some business cards, and energetically meshed with the members of the industry I call my own. (Plus, I bought too many books to fit in my luggage, and had to hunt down a post office so I could ship them all home.) It's been a full few days, to say the least.

While I'm quite sure the rewards of my fruitful hunting-and-gathering-of-astro-wisdom sojourn will eventually show up in the future writings I'll produce for you—once I've had a chance to deflutter and integrate and unpack—I'd like to share one surprising insight I stumbled upon during my time at the conference.

One of the sessions I attended was a panel discussion entitled 'What is Astrology?', featuring some truly great minds of the contemporary astrology community. Prior to the conference, while excitedly scouring the many tempting options on the workshop, 'What is Astrology?' had caught my eye… not just due to the stellar cast of featured players, but because, obviously, it's a most fundamental philosophic question.

What is it, after all, that I do?

(I'd hoped to put my personal thoughts on this matter to paper while flying to the conference, in advance of hearing others' perspectives. Yet, lo and behold, I found the latest issue of US Weekly more enticing airplane entertainment.)

Not surprisingly, there was no clear consensus on exactly what astrology is. How indeed could such an open-ended question be definitively answered by a group of passionate intellectuals, all with their own thought-out-over-decades opinions?

Actually, though, the viewpoints didn't diverge as greatly as I'd anticipated. Everyone, of course, agreed that astrology has something to do with what goes on 'out there', and its intriguing correlation with what goes on 'down here' and/or 'inside us'. The exact nature of that correlation, however, served as the philosophic up-for-grabs.

Is there a total absolute divine Truth (big 'T') out there, to which astrology leads us ever closer but never quite all the way (like a mathematical limit approaching zero, or is it one)? And can we maybe get to it someday, if we get better and better at what we're doing and pay closer and closer attention (with perhaps the use of more and more sophisticated technology)? Will science eventually prove astrology to be True?

Are there multiple truths (little 't') which, though they may all point to the same interconnected matrix of a single unified experience of being, take us on a million and one journeys along a million and one method-pathways? And, in that case, aren't those particular truths observed along the journey a simple unique factor of which astrologer and client are traveling together? What if, as Nick Campion posited to the panel, we have the wrong birth information and thus the wrong chart… and still, in the marvelous moment of the consultation, we help lead the client to his/her Truth (big 'T' again) via a more divinatory form of our art? How do we describe astrology then? As magic?

When the issue of magic was raised, I couldn't withstand the urge to pose my own question to this panel of 12 diverse astrological experts. I wanted to hear from any of these 12 who had a negative reaction to the word 'magic': On what grounds does the idea of astrology as 'magic' stir a negative reaction in you?

And you know what? None of them resisted the proposition that what we as astrologers do is essentially magic. No one had the negative reaction I expected from at least a couple somebodies.

That blew my mind. I was sure this would be a major bone of contention among the more rational-seeming of the panel. Trust me, if you could hear these folks talk… I mean, if you think I'm smart (and I know you do), I pale in comparison to these accomplished astrological brainiacs. Yet, there they sat, those who thought science would eventually yield pro-astrology results or whose beliefs were more religiously monotheistic in nature, these brilliant historians and archivists and statisticians and cultural commentators… all implicitly agreeing that what they do professionally invokes some form of magic. Wow.

For me, this lack of dissension proved intensely comforting and reassuring, considering I also find a core of magical wonderment at the center of astrology. After all, I can't tell you how the darned system works, even though I've made a career of it… but I know it does. Since I was a very young child secretly trying to make things happen with the twitch of my nose, I've wanted so desperately to believe in this 'something more'… at the same time I was browbeaten into accepting that smart educated people aren't allowed to believe in things that can't be proven. Yet, in my life, developing an astrological craft has paralleled a similar development of faith. And when I believe in magic, that belief always seems to pay off—though with rewards quantifiably unmeasurable (at least thus far).

But magic, like any creative discipline, is not without its precise practical methods. And certainly the practice of astrology requires its practitioners to develop a lot of rational, material, quantifiable systems of knowing in order to glean its magical results. Even if astrology is magic, you cannot just sit cross-legged in front of a candle, say 'om' a few hundred times, and expect to usefully interpret a birthchart. It's the combination of left- and right-brain functions, intuition and analysis, that makes astrology work. As David Cochrane (a very practically-minded, multi-Taurus astrological-software developer) reminded his audience at another workshop session, those who actually initiate the huge leaps in the sciences are in fact intuitives and magicians themselves. How else would they land upon the hypotheses to test in the first place?

In my humble opinion, inspired by what I've learned this past week, the best way to search for truth or Truth (either 't' will do)—in astrology or any other system—is by skeptically refusing to blindly accept anything… and then still remaining open to the possibility of eventually believing any of those same things, should you be led there by who-knows-what-or-why.