Two weekends ago I spent six days in Chicago with 1,500 of my closest friends—the fellow weirdos who believe and act as though there is something to be said for the way the motion of the heavens around us actually does correspond in meaningful ways with what’s happening on our pale blue dot.
It was much akin to my first experience ever attending an LGBTQ Christian conference: people from all walks of life gathered around this One Significant Thing™ they have in common, and for a few fleeting days, were able to be fully who they are while finding themselves enriched by the nascent and long-standing relationships with others “like them” within what amounts to a community of faith.
Let me say this at the outset: those of you reading this who haven’t had an experience of a faith community (or perhaps for whom “faith community” is a triggering appellation) might not immediately intuit where I’m going with that turn of phrase to describe our shared experience at the United Astrology Conference but stay with me.
One of my cherished memories from the weekend was sitting next to Dayna Lynn Nuckols in Dr. Dorian Greenbaum’s talk on the daimon and writing notes back and forth as though we were kids scribbling on the bulletin in church to communicate just how excited we were to be there as we related the content of the talk to our own experiences of mainstream religiosity and practice. We were gone to church, wouldn’t you know it, and we sat in that meeting room about to shout and holler praise.
Faith communities emerge out of people gathered around ideas that matter to them. And indeed, what was the UAC experience but a wave of people gathering around an idea that matters to us? That shapes the way we live and move and work in the world? That gives us insight into ourselves and our neighbors and assists us in moving through the world as a healed and healing people, cracked open in compassion to one another?
My post-conference high was shattered when I received an email on Sunday morning from a family member articulating “disappointment,” concern for my “mortal soul,” and overall rehearsing the same kind of emotionally abusive rhetoric that emerges out of fear of the unknown in a bid to shame me into dumping astrology. The curious thing is that the content of that email was almost word-for-word the same kind of acerbic critique I expected and, in some part, received when I came out as a gay man in 2012. It was the same kind of rhetoric which I still have to deal with from time to time coming from people who don’t see how “gay” and “Christian” can coexist within the same person. I’m fortunate in that I’ve got a tough enough skin to be able to handle it at this point in my life, but such was not always the case.
Indeed, for a split second I considered taking down my website and social media account and dismissing all my clients in order to appease this family member whose opinions, concerns, and expectations I’ve desperately tried to meet my entire life. I just want to make them happy and proud of me at the end of the day (after all, I have their corresponding house ruler conjunct the IC and in detriment natally). But I held back, relying on the steel in my spine that this person’s loving presence and influence in my life had put there. As my blood pressure dropped and I began to see straight again, as the pounding in my chest abated, I drafted the best response I could and sent it in order to set a boundary.
As I chatted with astrologer upon astrologer in Chicago about my life and work, I found it endlessly fascinating that my vocational identity, specialized training, and professional life proved not to be a turn-off or a barrier to having conversations, but rather served as a point of entry for deep and soul-expanding exchanges of spirit, intention, and joy. What I have not made public on this site is that I am a pastor in a mainline Christian denomination and am actively serving a church, doing theological work, and directing my energies and my efforts in a bid to make the world a better place from the narrative framework of my faith tradition. My divinity school training and study of classics has made stepping into the Hellenistic worldview in order to interact with and contextualize it in astrological practice as easy as changing lanes on a country highway.
So as these conversations emerged and progressed over the course of the weekend, what came to the fore was an emergent desire (or so I perceived) from astrologers to see how mainstream religiosity might, in fact, have room for astrology therein despite the supposed prohibitions against divinatory practice within the Tanakh and the New Testament. I mention those specifically because they have arguably been, along with the Koran, the most influential sacred texts in the West. And Lord knows, those same texts have been levied as bludgeons against people with “outside the lines” spiritualities and religiosities, like me, to the same extent that they have been weaponized against people—also like me—who have “outside the lines” sexual identities, politics, or anything that does not serve the express purposes of the party in power (viz. cishet Caucasian men).
Being explicitly for or against any one practice, activity, posture, position, or what have you “because the Bible says so” is the least helpful of any argument precisely because it fails to take into account the socio-political context of the people who generated the sacred text, and likewise it depends on several hermeneutical and philosophical assumptions that the person who receives such an argument does not necessarily share. Such Biblicism assumes that the world is indeed stacked towards the people in power, and belief in a rarefied and systematic collection of truth claims adapted from scripture becomes the means by which people in power gatekeep who is in and who is out (when, interestingly enough, the narrative arc of scripture suggests that God is roundly on the side of the powerless).
It is ever tempting simply to jettison the text and its attendant traditions of faith as a relic of a bygone era and to set out on uncharted territory. The desire to say “byeeeee” to the Church wholesale is an attractive one—I know this as well as anyone, having spent the better part of the last six years fighting for my rightful place at the table as a homosexical. I have a suspicion that this is the path that many astrologers took: they saw the way that the Christian story had been made into a prod for separating the sheep from the goats, so to speak, and I suppose many would rather the Bible, its story, and its interested parties simply disappear into the ether.
Yet that cannot simply be, in my estimation; the presence of the sacred text in history and people’s actions in response thereto is something that all people need to recognize whether they claim a faith tradition or not simply because of the extent to which a Constantinian Christianity shaped the unfolding history of the west for the past, oh, 1650 years (give or take). And, just as a “faith community” of sorts has emerged around astrology, so have faith communities emerged around the shared idea of the meaning and power behind this mythic narrative and our fractalized interpretations and manifestations of the same.
From everything I can tell, people want to know how Christianity and astrology might coexist and, perhaps, even improve one another. I hope to do this work, but to be frank, there is too much to be said. The issue is that there are more than one astrology, and there are more than one Christianity, both of which are reminiscent and influenced by the value memes operant in society at any given time. As I continue this conversation, the terminology of Spiral Dynamics is going to factor in prominently, so I would recommend listening to this episode of the Liturgists podcast as an accessible introduction, or this article from Spiral Dynamics Integral as a starting place.
Leaving aside the question of astrologies for the moment, let’s consider the fact that there are more than one way to skin a Christian. These different stripes of the Christian movement are, as I said, largely determined by socio-political factors and the dominant value memes out of which particular communities arise throughout history.
By far the loudest and most vocal component of Christianity in the West is the evangelical stripe who has created an entire metanarrative of themselves contra mundum and whose entire understanding of their faith story is that the world is going to hell and needs to be saved as swiftly and decisively as possible. One receives salvation, of course, putatively by “making a decision for Christ” and saying a particular prayer (which is magical thinking if I’ve ever seen it), and such decisions are arrived at by any collection of tactics, to include emotional coercion and clever leveraging of societal benefit.
The tragedy here is that most evangelicals don’t realize they’re engaging in this sort of manipulative behavior, and what’s more, evangelicalism as a whole has been coopted by those who would manipulate them with promises of societal position in order to garner political support for agendas that stand in stark contrast to the anti-imperial ethos of the man from Nazareth.
These are arguably the Christians with the most airtime and presence in media, which is a damn shame, because of the PR problem such religiosity has created for the Christianities whose theory and praxis are rooted in the non-violent and contemplative ministry of Jesus among the marginalized. Conservatism isn’t a good look for the Jesus movement, because the whole thing was about coloring outside the lines of society and finding people whom society had said “you’re worthless” and telling them, “no, in fact, you’re worth more than you can imagine and you have a part in healing this world, too.”
That said, there is a tension between the value memes that generated Constantinian Christianity (viz., Christianity as a political power) and the value memes that generated the original community of all the wrong people that gathered around Jesus of Nazareth and his closest friends. Consider the emergence too of monastic communities and off-the-wall renewal movements throughout the history of the faith tradition too: with their hearts set afire by a mystical experience of union with the divine, folks attempt to bring that to the greater mainstream church, and voilà, in attempting to nail down something that is ultimately impossible to encapsulate in words they have created a new denomination or sect. Such was the case with the church of my upbringing, the Methodist tradition, and such has been the case with any number of communities, sects, denominations, or branches of the Jesus movement. I daresay the very same mechanic is responsible for Paul of Tarsus penning the bulk of the New Testament.
My point is that Christianity can never be understood monolithically but is best understood as a collection of Christianities that have emerged as different communities with different priorities rooted in their particular value memes, priorities, and ways of talking about the thing we call “God.”
All that to say, my Christianity and the Christianity of the person who sent me that email are not the same. My Christianity and the Christianity of the better part of my congregation are not the same. My theological methodology is not one that jives with American Evangelicalism, such to the point that there’s not enough common ground between us even to facilitate a conversation. Moreover, the way I approach astrology as a component of my Christianity will not work for everyone either.
“How then shall we live?”
For now, I want to begin this whole foray into the question of astrologies and Christianities with this: I came to astrology in earnest not because my mom forbad me from reading the newspaper horoscopes as a kid (thereby ensuring that I would do everything in my power to read them), but because the Christianity I had been handed from my upbringing and my divinity training wasn’t leading me into the contemplative experience of God that I needed. It wasn’t dealing with the questions I was facing. “Believe, behave, belong” did jack shit to account for the active suffering of the world and the suffering I had personally undergone in my life. Yet the mythos of the Christian story was so integrated into my bones that I couldn’t simply excise it wholesale.
I know from my own personal experience that the practice of my astrology has, for lack of a more elegant way to say it, made me a “better Christian.” By that I mean that astrology in general, and horary in particular as I’ve received it from the Lilly tradition, has become a means of seeing beyond the myths that our egos, complexes, and presuppositions about The Way It’s Supposed to Be™ would readily present to us as fact.
Astrology has given me not only a way to sit with these questions, but it has also assisted me in listening to the “sound of silence,” to borrow a phrase from Elijah’s conversation with God on Horeb, to know deeply that my actions are emerging from a place that is in harmony with the will of the One who holds the universe together in an all-loving embrace and powers the whole thing with an engine of illimitable joy. To borrow a line from Paul of Tarsus, who in turn borrowed it from the pagan writer Aratus of Cilicia, “in him we live and move and have our being” (cf. Acts 17).
It has helped me to understand, in some mystical way that quite defies words, that I have a place in the Universe that is intended and purposeful as much as any of the planets or stars or plants or insects or plankton or fellow human beings have, and such place is a place of love and of grace and of the voice of a divinity that calls us each into being by name and calls us “very good” on the first page of the story, a divinity of whose weight “the heavens are telling,” and whose handiwork “the firmament proclaims” (cf. Psalm 19).
And because of all of that, I can see, ever more, the image of the one whose love binds the universe together emerging in my neighbor—their Jupiter, their Saturn, their nodal placement, their ascendant, whatever, all bearing witness to the unyielding diversity of the One in whose image they were made. Seeing the image of the Cosmic Christ in people you’d prefer simply to relegate to your own concept of hell and be done with it will mess you up.
There’s a tremendous amount to be written on this. Truthfully, I have no desire to create a “here’s how astrology systematically interfaces with Christianity” manifesto and promulgate it as the only option for engaging in this conversation—that would defeat my purposes entirely! That said, here’s what I’m going to attempt to do in this process of unpacking Christianities and astrologies:
- I intend to articulate my own theological and hermeneutic methodologies in a way that is as accessible as possible. My astrology is a component of my theology so I have to go in that direction first. Suffice to say, as a postmodern theologian I am in good company.
- I’ll do this by looking at individual concepts on which my astrology leans from a narrative framework, for example, the trinity, the Cosmic Christ, the incarnation, and the resurrection. In this, I am solidly a panentheist (which, bafflingly, is the historic understanding of the nature of God among the mothers and fathers of the desert).
- At the same time, I’m going to attempt to offer historical-critical insight into some of the “clobber passages” against divination with an eye towards the socio-political realities of the people who generated the text. The short version is this: if a people group is in slavery in Egypt and exile in Babylon, they are going to take issue with the practices that support those regimes, viz. astrology, and their mythos is going to be stacked against the powers of those entities.
- I am going to interact with the text’s treatment of the concept of divination in general and astrology in particular. I know full well I will never win over any fundamentalist by making appeals solely to textual evidence. I’m not going to try. But, I will attempt to highlight some of the ways that the Tanakh and New Testament speak to the revelatory importance both of the heavens and of divinatory practice in general.
I don’t have an agenda in any of this other than to articulate and demonstrate how various Christianities and astrologies may coexist and cooperate, while offering some encouragement to those who perhaps have some tension or cognitive dissonance about the two coexisting within themselves. I desperately believe that the union of the two can enrich one another and assist people in their respective journeys to integration, wholeness, and union with the “LOVE which moves the Sun and the other stars” (Dante, Paradiso, Canto XXXIII). Astrologers are my people, and weird-ass Christians are my people too—as is anyone who has been told that they don’t belong. I don’t belong either. I love you all.
The featured image is a fresco from the Dekoulou Monastery in Greece, a community of the Greek Orthodox Church.