The spiritual meaning behind our love of astrology
Astrology sanctifies our experiences, along with the cosmos itself. That is something humans are always attracted to, in whatever form or tradition it appears.
Words by Acyuta-bhava Dasa
Over thousands of years, horoscopic astrology has been used by aspirants of a wide variety of religious and spiritual traditions. It may be impossible to say exactly what astrology accomplishes for the soul, or exactly what its benefits are to spiritual devotees, and yet the weight of historical evidence alongside of the continued interest in astrology by spiritual seekers in the modern era testify to its importance as a religious artefact.
As a full time, practicing astrologer for the past ten years, as well as a yoga studio owner and initiated monk in the Bhakti Yoga tradition, I have had ample opportunity to consider what makes astrology beneficial to spiritual seekers, or why people continue to seek out astrological wisdom throughout the ages. I would like to share a few personal insights through one particularly memorable client of mine, who recently died, after many years of working together. I do not expect that everyone will share my observations or conclusions about the spiritual benefits of astrology, but I do hope that in sharing this story we might encourage more thoughtful conversation about why we do astrology in the first place, as well as what kinds of benefits people receive from spiritual astrology and how astrology may complement a wide variety of spiritual and religious traditions.
For the sake of anonymity, I will call my client Betsy. Before she died, Betsy regularly let me use her chart as a teaching demonstration for my students and at conferences where I lectured. When Betsy first came to work with me I was surprised. Betsy had been a next-door neighbor of my family during my childhood and her children were playmates in my neighborhood. She was a very devoted Roman Catholic and I could not have imagined her ever taking an interest in astrology. In our very first session together, when I asked her why she wanted me to read her birth chart, she said, “Ever since my husband died, I have felt lost, and my faith has been struggling. I see you posting things on social media about astrology, and you still seem to love God just as much. I wondered if my birth chart would have some answers for me about what I’ve been going through.”
Some further context here might help. In my northern Minnesota neighbourhood my family was well known because my father was the United Methodist Minister in town. What I understood Betsy to be saying to me was that she felt like her crisis of faith, and her questions about the loss of her husband, were safe with me because she still saw me as retaining something of my spiritual roots in the Christian faith. When we met for the first time, it was clear that her only question was, “Why would God take my husband from me? Can spiritual astrology help me understand why this was part of God’s plan?”
She had reason to be shaken. Her husband had been in his late fifties and died suddenly without any warning or signs of poor health. Betsy imagined “…at least 20 more years together,” she kept telling me. “What does my birth chart say about this? Can you see him being taken from me? What does it mean?”
Looking at Betsy’s chart for the first time — using the Hellenistic delineation techniques that I practice and teach — here is what I noticed. In her birth chart we see a stellium of planets, including the New Moon, in the sign of Libra in her whole-sign 7th House of Marriage. We see the host of those planets, Venus, in her fall in Virgo in the 6th House of Misfortune and Sickness. We also see both malefics, Mars and Saturn, in their fall and detriment, in the 4th House of Home and Family, in a superior/overcoming square to the Libran stellium (a grouping of three or more planets) in the 7th House. On several different levels, her natal chart speaks to the strong focus on marriage and family, as well as the potential for losses and hardships around the same topics. In addition to losing her husband in a sudden and unexpected manner, Betsy also had a child with special needs who presented her with many challenges as a mother.
In my first session with Betsy, which lasted about ninety minutes, I simply explained these placements as carefully as I could and discussed them from the standpoint of the events and themes that she was already aware of. Toward the end of the session I became nervous that I had not offered her a solution to her pain or a real answer as to why any of this had happened in the first place. But, much to my surprise, she was elated. “This was the most helpful thing I have heard since he died,” she told me. I asked her why. “I can’t explain it,” she said. “The themes and symbols that you talked about, I don’t understand any of the technicalities, but the symbolism you described, that it’s all right there in my chart, it just felt so deeply validating.”
She then asked me a question; “Do you think that God designed my birth chart?” To which I said; “That is my personal belief, yes. I believe that divinity lays out a path for each of us. And each path, just like each soul, is sacred and perfect in its own way.” She then asked, “Can you read why God gave me this destiny of losing my husband?”
I could not tell her that, but it is my belief that if we spend time with our birth charts, talking through the symbols and continuing to ask these kinds of questions, that divinity starts to speak through the planets and signs and offers us encouragement or direction, and sometimes corrections, too.
From that point on I saw Betsy a few times a year for almost a decade. For most of that decade almost every minute of every session was spent talking about why her husband had died so suddenly, and why God might have given her this fate. I do not think we ever answered her questions, but prior to her death I witnessed the way in which astrology became a part of her spiritual path. I saw the way astrology complemented and helped her to rekindle her Catholic faith. I also saw astrology help her to reclaim her own role in the unfolding of her destiny. Her words over the course of our ten years together impacted me and informed how I now perceive the spiritual practice of astrology, both in terms of why I practice and what I believe spiritual astrology can accomplish when it is at its best.
The most important thing I think astrology gives people is context. I think it is hard to overestimate how vital Betsy’s response to her first birth chart reading was. And yet, it may be one of the most underestimated benefits of astrology. It is a simple and profound fact that the cosmos, at the hour of our birth, deeply and poetically mirrors the stories of our lives, as well as the inherent psychological tensions we experience within those stories. That this is possible seems to inspire within people a religious experience.
The word religion, from the Latin word religio, means “to reconnect”. When Betsy saw the symbols within her birth chart addressing the storyline of her life so beautifully, and the multivalence of her psychological experiences addressed by the same symbols, she suddenly felt held in the loving arms of something bigger. She felt seen by the cosmos itself, witnessed, and testified to. This was not a process that took away or negated her pain and loss, nor did it offer pat answers. Astrology had simply described her interior life as well as the objective events that she had experienced in terms of a beautiful cosmic picture. She was suddenly introduced to a divine cosmos that was vaster and more mysterious than she had imagined, yet granular enough to include with great eloquence and precision her unique story, her pain, and her deepest questions from the moment of her very birth.
The word cosmetic, like the word cosmos, comes from the Latinised form of the Greek kosmetikos, which means “skilled in adornment or arrangement”. Put simply, it is hard to stay stressed out when one witnesses the divine craftsmanship, the skill and arrangement of one’s life found in a birth chart. The beauty and intelligence we see at work in our birth charts can overwhelm our pain without negating it. I believe this is why astrology has lasted. This is why people seek it out. This is why it has been adapted to so many different religious and spiritual traditions over thousands of years. Astrology sanctifies our experiences, along with the cosmos itself, and that is something humans are always attracted to, in whatever form or tradition it appears.
As we worked together over the years, one of the ways that Betsy tried to take her mind off the loss of her spouse, rather than moving forward into a new phase of life, was to keep her house as close to the way that her husband had liked it. Doing exactly the kinds of things that he would do to take care of it, even keeping his clothes in his closet. She often lamented that she was unable to keep up with the house all by herself and she often wondered out loud about whether she should try to sell the house and let go of the past. She would often say, “I know. At this point, I know what my problem is. I just need to move on from the past and sell the house, but I can’t do it.” She would sometimes ask me if this was her purpose. “Does it tell you in the chart that I will eventually sell this house, or am I stuck?” I never suggested that she sell the house and I would offer the same kind of response each time; “I think that’s up to you.”
Year after year, transit after transit, Betsy would talk to me about selling her house and starting a new chapter in her life but find herself unable to do so. In fact, extraordinarily little seemed to change in her life, to the point where I wondered if the transits were simply not working for her. I also wondered how she could possibly keep wanting to come back to talk with me about the same old subjects. One of the things that she told me was holding her back was her concern for her child (now an adult). At one point, she said to me, “I think that if I have him come and live with me that it will keep me distracted from the pain. Then I won’t have to sell the house, because there will be more use for it. If he does not come and live with me, then I will keep feeling tortured living here by myself.”
I asked her if her son was doing okay on his own and if she thought it was healthy for her to bring him back to live with her, especially if one of her underlying motives was to use him to avoid selling the house. “It’s not right. But I don’t feel like I can get rid of the house yet,” she responded. We often talked about her home in relation to the placement of Saturn in Cancer in her 4th House, or of Mars in Cancer in her 4th House. Each time we did, without any prompting from me, she would say; “I wonder if my life purpose isn’t to learn how to live after family and marriage?” To which I would respond, “Maybe. It would be fascinating to see how these symbols would start speaking in your life, and changing, as you make new choices and relate to your birth chart in a new way.”
As our work continued in this way, I often wondered if I was doing anything of benefit, or if astrology was at all helpful to her. I would sometimes feel frustrated and impatient. Why couldn’t she just let go of the past? Still, even though I felt like astrology was not doing anything special for her, it was undeniable that astrology was becoming a part of Betsy’s spiritual life. Her Catholic faith practice had returned full strength. She no longer felt that God had abandoned her or that her husband’s death was evidence of a cruel or absent deity. She also started taking yoga classes. Betsy often said that she felt like her birth chart was God’s new way of talking to her. “It helps me realise that it’s all a part of God’s plan,” she would say.
In the ancient Greek world, the word for the sensation she often described might have been harmonia, which invokes the picture of an ordered, beautiful, just, true and good universe. I began to realise that astrology was not interfering with her Catholic faith at all, rather it was demonstrating to her that God could speak to her through different channels. After her husband’s death she apparently needed some new channels through which to understand her life and astrology was serving that purpose, even though I could barely perceive it at first.
In one of our final sessions, however, Betsy began using astrology as a kind of crutch. She once said; “I know I need to let go of the house. It only makes me sad and miserable. But I figure if the astrological timing took away my husband, then it will take away the house whenever it is meant to be.” To this, I finally challenged her, telling her she must consider that her chart could also describe someone miserably stuck in the past, who expects other people or other things to fulfill them too much and might well die that way. I suggested that she should at least consider that the cosmic weather will be exactly right whenever she is ready to become somebody different. How else could her relationship with God grow except by the choices that she makes to deepen your faith and surrender. It was the most forward I had ever been with her. She agreed with me and expressed her desire to sell her house again, but I could tell that I had disturbed her and I regretted it. I did not hear from her for a while after this.
Finally, in the early part of 2018, just as Saturn moved into Capricorn and began opposing Mars and Saturn in Cancer in her birth chart, while also squaring her Libra stellium in her 7th House, she wrote to tell me that she had at last put her house on the market. We had one final session after this. During this session her emotions poured out as if from a tap. “He was the best husband. He was kind and gentle. He was a good provider and a wonderful father. He was faithful and honorable, and he loved God so much,” she claimed. “I always felt lucky. And I always felt like I would never have amounted to anything if it were not for him. I did not think I had it in me. And I knew from the first time you read my birth chart that it was my destiny to lose him because without that loss I would have learned to have real faith, a faith that was not utterly dependent upon him, even though he was the best example of faith I could have ever asked for.”
“Now I have to ask you,” she continued. “After my house sells, and I try to start a new life, will I be doomed to meet the same fate? Will the symbols in my chart deliver the same thing all over again? Could I meet someone and lose them all over again?” While I honestly did not know the answer to these questions, I assured her that I had no doubt the symbols would change as she changed, and that is worth finding out about.
Within less than a year of selling her house, just after Saturn squared her sun and moon in Libra in the 7th House of Marriage, and opposed Mars and Saturn in the 4th House of home and property, Betsy died suddenly of a stroke. She was still healthy, like her husband had been, and still relatively young with no signs of poor health. Her children, my old neighbors, reached out to let me know, and expressed how much she really loved working with me. My family sent flowers to her funeral. The last thing she had said to me after our final session, was that she felt free for the first time since her husband had died. She felt that astrology had helped her to reclaim her life and her faith. I still sometimes struggle to understand exactly how astrology managed to have such a positive impact on my childhood neighbor.
And so, this is why I do astrology. It is my strong belief that astrology can complement any spiritual path, or act as one unto itself, simply by affirming the skillful adornment and divine arrangement of life, of each and every destiny path we walk, as well as our mysterious participation in all of it.