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Astrology, Magic and Psychology

Though there is a common belief that Carl Jung must have been into magic- the truth is not quite that simple. One of the first bits of evidence that people like to bring up is that he’d been heavily influenced by William Butler Yeats- but, first, when works by Yeats on that topic were published around 1901: Jung hadn’t read much into it. As a matter of fact, when asked about this in an interview around the same time of A Letter to The Listener on God, Jung is quoted as saying that he wasn’t even acquainted with Yeats’ work, nor had he read anything by him.

I got to thinking about this after reading this horribly written article about how psychology has “ruined” astrology. The piece, written by Ida C. Benedetto reads like one imagine’s a drunken Southern socialite might express herself is highly critical of the influence of psychology on astrology- and frankly, conveys not only the author’s ignorance of psychology, but astrology, as well. Pretentiousness only really packs a punch if there is in fact, some intelligence behind it. When there’s not, it becomes an illustration of the Dunning Kruger effect- and Astrology Isn’t Fake, It’s Just Been Ruined By Modern Psychology is, to its credit, certainly that.

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Though her brevity in exploring both may well have been due to the article format- it reads like she skimmed a couple of Wikipedia pages and took notes. Though just about every astrologer I know would agree with her assertions about Sun Sign astrology: that’s about it. She’s just thrown the baby out with the bath water in this piece and simultaneously insults the astrologers for whom she offers high praise at the end. I could practically hear the “Bless your heart!” and a “Well, though I did just describe much of your techniques up there, of course I wasn’t talkin’ about you, girl. You know I love you!” as she did so. Though she touches on Hellenistic astrology, what she fails to convey is that even that had its detractors- Cicero and Carneades to name just two and this was quite some time before psychology even came into the picture in a solid sense: philosophy, however was reigning supreme. The reason for the earliest objections were based in free will- something to which psychology also fosters via understanding of the elements of the mind which may hinder or help bolster it. Additionally, though, just like today, many snickered at the idea of noting the influence on the tides might also influence human choice.

Magic Begat Science

This is a cliche that gets beaten so much even the dead horses are looking on in pity. It’s not exactly false, though- nor is the idea that Jung was into magic. It’s just not as Point A to Point B as I think that people would like it to be and much of this has to do with what people’s misconceptions of all of these things are.

There’s an ironic sort of opinion on the part of atheists that rational thinking is what drove out the use of things like astrology, alchemy, Hermeticism and otherwise when…that’s not really true, either.

For quite some time, most of the more learned individuals did in fact study the occult intensively and incorporated it in their practices.There is quite a lot of truth to the fact that study of the occult did in fact lead to scientific advancements- and a little truth to the idea that science disproved quite a bit: but what really ran it out wasn’t rational thought. It was religion- and though we would like to place the onus of blame entirely on the Judeo Christians: if you look at most belief systems, the fact is that practitioners of magic were often looked upon with superstitious awe: which may sound flattering- but it often meant they were feared and not exactly socially well accepted in those early societies.

As a matter of fact, that’s what “occult” means. Looking at 16th and 17th century philosophy, for instance, you’ll find its use usually means hidden from view or secret. Even during the Renaissance, when it was a more commonly explored thing- the reason it was, was because those who were studying it were attempting to figure out and to utilize those secret causes behind things. This isn’t so very different from the more modern goal of science.

Though the goals were similar, the methods were not. Those exploring these things during the Renaissance weren’t exactly scientific in their methodology, nor does what they did really resemble the science we know today- which is why most scientific minds are of this opinion:

Beyond that, since I am an astrologer, let’s look at the facts and as it stands: the fact is that there have been no studies to date which have proven the validity of astrology, in particular. I think perhaps some practitioners of various occult practices believe that kissing the asses of the atheists will somehow curry favor: but the truth is, it won’t- not any more than denying that there is no empirical data on the subject.

The only thing I’ve found that does more or less keep them from riding your ass is ethical practice and honesty. (And even then, of course, you have some who are every ounce as fanatical about what they do as any fundamentalist.)

Rather sadly, honesty is not something that you will often find in those who attempt to pull an “Enemy of my enemy is my friend” because in the first place, that only works if said new friend respects you- and they do not– most atheists, whether you want to believe it to be true or not, find your magical thinking just as ridiculous as they do the Christians. In many cases, such as with holistic “medicine”, they find it akin to faith healing- and rightfully so, in most of that.

If you’re still denying the fact that science has yet to prove or disprove these things: you’re not being very intellectually honest. It simply hasn’t. This is not me decrying this, at all- but reaching out to those who will trot that out at the drop of a transit to back your play that people “just don’t understand it’s more than Sun signs!” is fairly ill advised.

That doesn’t mean that your belief is invalidated, but it does mean that you have a problem with understanding how scientific evidence works. Could further research possibly change this? Perhaps. But right now, it simply hasn’t. Now, quite obviously, in spite of this, I still believe in astrology and I clearly still work with it- but, I really don’t have to stubbornly refuse evidence to do that.

Benedetto’s little attempt there takes aim at one of the more commonly criticized aspects of much of the new age movement- but, falls short because frankly: a die hard atheist would find what she believes to be a bit more ridiculous than say, someone utilizing valid psychological concepts- which have been proven.

This does not, however, merit the allegation that science alone was responsible for the “driving the occult back to being occult”, because that isn’t precisely true, either. Religious backlash, post Protestant Reformation likely had a much bigger hand in this than science at the time. As a matter of fact, historically speaking, even psychology was seen as something of a field for quacks and kooks for quite some time and they weren’t really all that keen on other sciences, either. What many people don’t realize, however- and this is just a funny side note, one of the first motivators for the rising popularity of psychology wasn’t magic or science or even something all that altruistic: it was sports.

Right around 1898, Norman Triplet, one of the first social psychologists, who had already been studying the impact of group and competitive engagement on children- published a work in which he showed that cyclists performed better when in groups. For a little perspective, Wundt had only just founded the first center for psychological study 19 years prior in Germany. Freud’s work had only just begun in the 1890’s. He was definitely not without his detractors, even then- and it wasn’t just the religious who felt his unconventional ideas were outrageous. Criticisms continue into the more modern- and to this day. (Oh god, don’t get me started on Grunbaum and that mess with Tally Theory- we will be here for months and though Sulloway would have contended that wasn’t his intent: Biologist of the Mind is easily one of the more critical works.) The criticisms, going way back and to this day are entirely appropriate- but, there is no question that Freud got the ball rolling on much more beneficial work: and here’s where we come to Jung.

Correlation is not Causation

There is no question that Jung had an interest in the occult- what is the question, and seems to be missed by those who seek to champion this connection: was Jung’s definition of it. What he meant by magic. One of the reasons for the connections to Yeats is that people noticed a lot of similarities. If you read Olney’s The Rhizome and the Flower, you get a much clearer understanding of why this is. Essentially, they were drawing on many of the same influences in their interpretations.

Whereas Yeats was very much into ceremonial and ritual magic- Jung really was more about an understanding of intuition might bridge the power of the mind with the underlying powers of the Universe. From a cultural standpoint, at the time of his writing and publication, that was very magical thinking- though, this differs a great deal from ritualized magical thinking, which was where Yeats was going with all of it. The reason I bring up this connection is that most of what we see posited on Jung and magic is actually a conflation of the two. Though this may sound as though I am saying that Jung didn’t believe in magic or he didn’t believe in the occult- that’s a pretty ridiculous assertion, too. He obviously did, he just felt that it was a more natural flow of things and that it threaded more into daily life than perhaps more ritualized forms might.

I feel like this conflation is as detrimental as the erroneous distinction that spirituality and religion run counter to one another. Benedetto and her ilk would have you believe that in order to be “mystical”, it must be fantastical. I have mentioned before that I am actually highly religious and I have a lot of respect for and practice ritualized forms of magic- however, when we decry the power of the mind and the influence of the mind and we hold planetary influences above those things: we might as well decide that Mickey Mouse in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice is our lofty example for what those practices should look like.

I would contend that there is in fact, no greater power than that of our own minds- and, so, trying to remove psychology from the equation or downplay its significance is to state that you truly don’t have any control over your life, you are at the whim of planets and fate.

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