Astrology Critics Don’t Even Know What They’re Criticizing

The urge to cry ‘pseudoscience!’ may be about something else entirely

AtAt a recent party, my friend and I were discussing astrology — what else? — when a stranger sidled up to us. Our new friend confessed that he didn’t know much about astrology — and wasn’t compelled to — because, as he put it, “Everyone hates my sign.” Since I’ve been on the internet in 2019, I knew this disclosure meant he was either a Scorpio or a Gemini.

It was the latter.

“I don’t hate your sign,” I told him, which is true. I don’t hate any sign (although I occasionally dislike what happens when a sign is poorly expressed through an individual personality). My view of astrology, and there are many, is that the signs and planets are shorthand for universal archetypes. Meaning, they’re inherited psychological structures, or energy patterns that are native to the human experience. (In other words, j’suis Gemini.) These archetypes are part of what pioneer of analytic psychology Carl Jung called the “collective unconscious.” Distinct from the contents of the individual unconscious mind — say, a repressed childhood memory that informs one’s conscious dislike of dogs — the patterns of the collective unconscious are ancestral, timeless, belonging to all of humankind. Mother, child, trickster, shadow. Plato referred to them as Forms, or transcendent first principles. They’re the reason disparate ancient cultures managed to produce the same stable of gods, which differed in name and in cultural context but not in ultimate meaning.

Astrology has also been described by many as the study of — not the science of — cycles. In his book The Lunation Cycle, Dane Rudhyar writes that:

Astrology can be defined as a technique for the study of life-cycles. Its main purpose (is to establish) the existence of regular patterns in the sequence of events constituting man’s inner and outer experience; then, to use the knowledge of these patterns in order to control or give meaning to these experiences…Indeed, the study of cycles — that is, of periodical activities in nature, human and otherwise—is the root of all significant knowledge, be it scientific or philosophical. And the study of cycles is a study of time.

It’s also what astrologer Stephen Arroyo calls a “language of energy.” Fluency in this language gives one the ability to identify, and correct for, unconscious patterns in our thoughts and behavior. Like therapy, meditation, or any tool that provides the potential for expanded awareness, it’s only as useful as a person is willing — willing to spend the time, willing to make the effort, willing to accept the premise that we don’t always have the clearest picture of who we are, nor do we have a perfect understanding of why we behave the way we do.

I think we’re experiencing wide-scale upheaval in the first place because of a growing disconnection to ourselves, each other, and the planet.

Perhaps this helps clarify why dismissive cries of “pseudoscience!!! have failed, for centuries, to red pill the astrologically savvy into submission. A common retort from self-styled “rationalists” whenever astrology reenters the zeitgeist, the pseudoscience argument is exhaustively trotted out to provide critics with a quick shot of intellectual superiority over an ancient, multifaceted, and evolving domain they have likely spent little if any time thinking about, let alone researching. It also entirely misses the point.

Pop quiz: Is it rational to dismiss outright anything one has not taken the time to understand? To attack something based on one’s own flawed assumptions about what it claims, rather than on its source material? Is it rational to assert that science alone can explain all we need to know about life on earth, despite the fact that today’s universally accepted theories directly contradict those that preceded them? What about the fact that most scientists will happily admit that there are things we don’t yet and may never understand (at least, not through the scientific method)? Is it rational to demonize astrology when accepted fields of social science are in the midst of a reproducibility crisis? Is it rational to believe that, as products of the universe ourselves, we are capable of measuring it without mistakes, bias, or limitation? Most of us barely have the capacity to be objective about our own mothers, let alone Mother Nature.

The pseudoscience argument presupposes a couple things. First, it assumes that astrology claims to be or wants to be a science. There are scientific and mathematical elements of astrology — astronomy was borne from astrology, not the other way around — and you will certainly find those who make the case that astrology should be recognized as a social science. But insistence that astrology follow the scientific method is not one of its fundamental principles, nor is mainstream acceptance of that premise an overarching goal. Many astrologers hold an opposing view: that we do astrology a disservice when we attempt to legitimize it by wedging it into a scientific framework. Rather, a commonly held view is that astrology and science are complementary, not incompatible.

As Swiss physician Alexander Ruperti wrote in 1971:

What is the value of trying to fit astrology into the straight-waistcoat of scientific knowledge, when its technique and basic philosophy enable one to escape from the prison into which science has put man’s mind?… Science gives us knowledge, nothing more. It has nothing to say concerning the why of the universe, and everything dealing with the understanding and the significance of individual human values and goals is outside its domain.

…[A]strology’s gift to mankind is its capacity to solve and explain that which science cannot and does not attempt to do. We need more vision, more constructive imagination, if we would free ourselves from our present bondage to analytical and mathematical details, to statistical methods. The whole is always more than the sum of its parts and no collection of separate data, however complete, on the outward behavior and characteristics of a person, will ever reveal him as a living human being with a life purpose of his own.

This introduces another assumption of the Man Who Cried Pseudoscience (and it is, often, a man): that science should be the sole arbiter of our collective truth. Remember when religion had that same distinction, and it was awful? Science is critical to humanity — most if not all of us would be dead by now without it — but treating it with the same reverence we once treated religion is reductive. It’s certainly not the universal position of the scientific community. Our capacity to make sense of the world is multifaceted. Those who demand everyone pray at the altar of intellect do so to the exclusion of intuition, feeling, and sensation — all of which play necessary and complementary roles in human development. Isolating and championing one element while failing to recognize its relationship to the others does not make a person more intelligent, more productive, or more emotionally aware than anyone else — it just makes them imbalanced.

RRecent articles examining astrology’s return to the limelight — along with tarot, witchcraft, and other occult practices — often suggest that these disciplines rise in popularity alongside mass uncertainty. Everything from decreasing faith in organized religion to environmental doom to mental health crises to political chaos can explain, at least partially, why so many seek an alternative framework. I agree with this assessment, but I think it’s incomplete. I think we’re experiencing wide-scale upheaval in the first place because of a growing disconnection to ourselves, each other, and the planet. We are deeply unsure of who we are and what we should be doing with our time here. In the West, there seems to be a shared, unspoken belief that the only useful observations and contributions one can make are those that beget external recognition and validation. (The drive to quantify everything is no doubt partially an unintended consequence of science-as-religion, as well as capitalism.) So we hoard money, measure our worth in likes, and worship intelligence, ignorant as to how this limited focus requires us to sacrifice parts of our nature that we might actually find personally meaningful. Worse, we’re not even aware that anything is being sacrificed. All we know is that no amount of material success or external validation seems to make us any less miserable.

Some of us miserables continue to march on in the unconscious pursuit of More, developing a sociopathic affect that alienates us from those whose validation we seek. Others, presuming that this unending feeling of incompleteness stems from our own lack of worth, beat ourselves up: for our inability to achieve More, or for not being content with what we’ve already accomplished. Here, too, our perceived inferiority only serves to alienate us from ourselves and others, as we imagine our “failure” is the result of our unique, individual brokenness and not of the misguided, collective ideas we hold about what will finally make us feel like we’re enough. Few of us recognize that we’re miserable because we spend most of our energy pursuing what we believe will demonstrate our value to others, rather than cultivating a sense of self-worth that isn’t subject to social and cultural whims.

More so than a salve for uncertainty, astrology provides us with the language to unpack and address the collective and conditioned ideas we have about ourselves and humanity. This makes it a powerful tool for developing self-awareness, and it explains why therapists have seen an uptick in fluency among their clients. Using astrology to recognize urges, needs, and values we don’t even know we have, those so inclined can slowly — sometimes painfully — examine every knee-jerk reaction, self-limiting belief, and socially conditioned response that guides their actions. It is through this process that one can become themselves. Rather than suggesting that we don’t have free will, astrology liberates us to act more consciously: to see who we really are and to choose to be that person, rather than clinging to an idea of who we believe we should be.

As Anaïs Nin once said, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Those who approach astrology with knives out would do well to examine what drives them to invalidate it. They may find that the urge to call bullshit is really about something else. It could be an unconscious need to be seen as intellectually superior: Maybe they’re not recognized as an expert in their own field; perhaps they have not yet found a field in which to become an expert. Or it could be a need to be seen, period — to hop onto the low-hanging-fruit bandwagon and take an uninformed, popular position that risks nothing and moves the conversation nowhere — because sharing their informed opinions on things they actually know and care about would make them vulnerable. Or maybe this combativeness springs from an unconscious rejection of one’s spiritual or feminine side: To entertain these ideas is to acknowledge that parts of oneself have been muted for decades, if not a lifetime, and it’s easier to dismiss an already maligned area of study than to grapple with the pain of recognizing one’s own fragmented existence. Who can say?

It’s not that astrology is beyond reproach. Astrologers criticize their own all the time — though mostly for shoddy work that undermines the field and makes it an easier target for lazy critics. But I do have questions concerning this need some have to dismiss it without understanding the fundamentals. It seems to me that we typically don’t write off an entire field of study — especially one that has survived centuries despite a constant barrage of uninformed attacks — based not on its claims but on what we assume those claims to be. Sure, you can do a quick Google to prove that you have a solid argument — just like any climate-change denier with an internet connection — but finding evidence of an irresponsible astrologer, a poorly phrased horoscope, or a material scientist who shares your opinion but realistically knows as much about astrology as you do is an intellectually dishonest — dare I say unscientific? — way to go about invalidating anything.

We could go through the common protests one by one, but we won’t, because most are based on the assumptions of people who have engaged with astrology on only the most superficial levels. I’ll even take it a step further and suggest that these critiques serve as a great distraction from the more difficult task of looking at oneself—one of the more compelling challenges presented by astrology. It’s a challenge to see our biases for what they are, to accept complexity in ourselves and others, to take responsibility for where we go next. It’s a challenge most of us will make any excuse not to accept.

Those who approach astrology with knives out would do well to examine what drives them to invalidate it.

This, by the way, is what I believe is at the core of Gemini hatred. The Gemini archetype is changeable, hypocritical, contradictory — according to those not willing to confront their own contradictions. Really, the Gemini ability to be of two (or more) minds forces us to confront our own, often repressed, duality. We don’t like that. But if we’re honest with ourselves, most of us can identify a war or two waging within us at any given time. Our need for a secure relationship warring with our desire for complete autonomy. Our need to be valued for our worldly accomplishments warring with our desire to fuck off and daydream. Our masculine energy warring with the feminine, each fighting for acknowledgment and expression and, ultimately, integration. The flexible-minded Gemini excels at a game most of us don’t even realize we’re playing.

So, in the spirit of astrology, I challenge those of you who seek to teach its students without having first done the homework. I challenge you to get honest about the impulse to shut it down rather than to curiously engage. (For those of you compelled to do so, Cosmos and Psyche by Richard Tarnas is a comprehensive place to start.) Astrology — of which sun signs are an important but singular component — is deceptively complex; it is not something that can be understood through light engagement with monthly horoscopes and entertaining memes. Its study is a time-intensive undertaking and, in my experience, one that forces a person to confront themselves in unpredictable, sometimes unsettling ways. It is a commitment — to growth, to understanding, to oneself, and to others. If it’s one you can’t see yourself making, that’s your journey. All I suggest is that you get curious about what makes you resist that commitment before trivializing those who choose to make it.

former editor-in-chief of human parts. west coast good witch. student of people.

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