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The Age of Aquarius, All Over Again!

AgeofaquariusDavid Brooks of the NY Times is no fan of astrology but his article gives some interesting facts:

We’re living in the middle of a religious revival; it’s just that the movements that are rising are not what we normally call “religion.” The first rising movement is astrology. According to a 2018 Pew poll, 29 percent of Americans say they believe in astrology. That’s more than are members of mainline Protestant churches.

This surge in belief is primarily among the young. According to a National Science Foundation survey, 44 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds say that astrology is somewhat or very “scientific.” Unsurprisingly, online horoscope sites are booming. Stella Bugbee, editor of The Cut, told The Atlantic that in 2017 the typical horoscope got 150 percent more traffic than it had the year before.

Another surging spiritual movement is witchcraft. In 1990, only 8,000 Americans self-identified as Wiccans. Ten years later there were 134,000, and today, along with other neo-pagans, there are over a million. As Tara Isabella Burton put it in an excellent, deeply researched essay in The American Interest, “Wicca, by that estimation, is technically the fastest-growing religion in America.”

The third great rising spiritual force is mindfulness, which seems to be everywhere. The fourth is wokeness, what some have called the Great Awokening. Burton’s essay is really about how astrology and witchcraft have become important spiritual vocabularies within parts of the social justice movement.

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In March, she wrote, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shared her birth time with the astrologer Arthur Lipp-Bonewits, who then shared her birth chart with the world, creating an online sensation. “AOC’s Aries Moon indicates that she’s emotionally fed by a certain amount of independence, self-determination, and spontaneity,” Jeanna Kadlec wrote in Allure.

During the Kavanaugh hearings, 13,000 “resistance witches” cast a hex on Brett Kavanaugh. There is now a plethora of guidebooks for how to use astrology and witchcraft to advance left-wing causes. They have names like “Magic for Resistance: Rituals and Spells for Change” and “The New Aradia: A Witch’s Handbook to Magical Resistance.”

 
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These surging movements are people’s attempts to solve the major needs of the current moment.

The first need is simply to find a way to be spiritual. People are always saying we live in a more secular age, but secularism never really comes. Humans are transcendent creatures who have spiritual experiences and instinctively appeal to supernatural powers. Even in the most secular parts of society, there is great and unfulfilled spiritual yearning.

Second, there is a widespread need to slow down, to escape the pace of life technology wants and to live at a human pace.

Third, there is a widespread need to express alienation. Interest in the occult rises during periods of transition and disillusion. It happened in the late 1960s, and it’s happening today. For many, the traditional organized religions are implicated in the existing power structures. Being occult is a way to announce that you stand on the fringe of society, that you stand against the patriarchy, against the heteronormative culture and against the structures of oppression. Political alienation manifests itself in the alt-right and the energized radical left. It makes sense that it would manifest itself in the spiritual realm, too.

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Fourth is the need for identity markers. We live at a time when many of the traditional sources of identity (ethnicity, rooted neighborhood) are being erased. Astrology tells you who you are and what traits you have. In a highly diverse society, it also tells you what sort of people you’re likely to be compatible and incompatible with. When I hear people talk about astrology, this is how they are using it.

Fifth is the desire to live within a coherent creed and community, but without having that creed impinge on your individual autonomy. Being an Orthodox Jew is a thick but binding life. The emerging spirituality is a hodgepodge spirituality. Each person borrows practices from, say, Native American, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish and SoulCycle traditions and blends them in a way he or she finds moving. There is no grand narrative, no specific way one is expected to live, no set of laws you have to obey or even a specific cult leader who might boss you around. Religion bows before individualism.

Finally, many people seem to want to be alternative without actually leaving the mainstream world. The people I know who talk about astrology sort of believe it, but they sort of don’t. Their attitude is ironical, attached and detached all at once.

Even the occultists are not really that countercultural. For example, David Salisbury’s book “Witchcraft Activism: A Toolkit for Magical Resistance” is surprisingly normal. Salisbury gives standard advice on how to be an activist. It’s just that he asks you to say a prayer to Hermes, the messenger god, when you send an important email.

I doubt that much of this will be sustainable. I doubt it’s possible to have tight community and also total autonomy, that it’s possible to detach spiritual practices from the larger narratives and cultures and still have something life-shaping. But society is groaning. New forms are coming into being. We really are living through a moment of major transitional change.


How Victorian Mediums Gave Shy Ghosts a Megaphone

Sabrina Imbler writes for Atlas Obscura about ghost megaphones. Though it sounds hard to believe, there were folks who believed this worked!

Ghost megaphoneOne of the biggest issues with speaking to the dead in the Victorian era—beyond the whole “being dead” thing—was that ghosts could never seem to speak loud enough. Spirits only spoke in whispers, unintelligible spectral babblings that the living human ear could barely hear, let alone decipher. A medium’s solution to this ghostly conundrum? The spirit trumpet, a fancy name for a skinny cone that allegedly amplified the voices of the dead.

Before the spirit trumpet, conversations with ghosts were restricted to more primitive, nonverbal forms of communication, according to Collectors Weekly. Spirits were known to rap on the floor or spell out words in a painfully slow manner, and mediums would speak the entire alphabet out loud until the ghosts stopped them at a certain letter. The advent of the spirit trumpet broke down these linguistic barriers by allowing the dead to speak directly with the living, kind of like a mobile phone for beyond the grave.

The spirit trumpet barged into the séance scene in the late 19th century, popularized by the spiritualist medium Jonathan Koons. In a cabin by his farm in Athens County, Ohio, Koons built a fantastical spirit room wherein guests could witness free public séances conducted by Koons and his family. As Brandon Hodge, a former magician and spirit-communication-device collector and blogger, told Collectors Weekly, Koons’s son Nahum probably invented the spirit trumpet.

According to the mediums who used these tools, the spirit could speak by possessing the vocal cords of the person speaking into the trumpet. Too soft-spoken to really project in a spirit room, the dead required all the sound-amplifying help they could get. While in use, these trumpets would supposedly float around the air, buoyed by the power of psychic energy, according to the psychic researcher William Jackson Crawford’s investigation in the 1919 collection Experiments in Physical Science.

The first spirit trumpets were homemade, either out of metal or cardboard, and resembled simple narrow cones. But as trumpets took off in popularity they became fancier, leading to steel trumpets that could extend or contract via sliding segments that slotted into each other like tubes in a jointed telescope. Some even sported glow-in-the-dark rings at the end. Everett Atwood Eckel, perhaps the best-known manufacturer of spirit trumpets, churned out the first commercialized versions from his tin shop in Anderson, Indiana.


Making Astrologers "More Professional"

Astral projectionThe New York Times ran an interesting article about how astrologers are establishing more professional credentials for their work. The paper takes it "tongue in cheek" with a snarky undertone. But I believe that astrology is a profession and requires, if not specific certification exams, years of practice and research.

In the old days before computers, you needed to know math to calculate ones horoscope by hand. Now that process is (happily) calculated in seconds. But the ability to analyze what the chart says is something that requires a bit of math, a bit of professional experience and a bit of artistry. Just like locating the perfect therapist, finding the perfect astrologer for you takes time and patience.

Here is the article from the NY Times with all of the snark intact:

On the morning of the International Society for Astrological Research’s Certification of Astrological Proficiency (ISAR CAP) exam, which was held at a Marriott in Chicago on a balmy morning in May, the cosmic weather boded well. The moon was in Sagittarius, the most erudite of the signs, and the communication planet Mercury had just entered quick-witted Gemini. There had been a dramatic full moon the night before, but the handful of astrologers who’d signed up to take the test didn’t seem too shaken by it. They were, after all, professionals — or at least, hoping to be, having undergone years of intense preparations for this six-hour “metaphysical SAT,” as one called it. Though technically open book, the ISAR CAP has a reputation for being one of the most grueling exams in the astrological field.

Yes. In 2018 there are multiple rigorous exams that assess one’s ability to read the stars.

And yes, it may seem strange to apply extremely technical standards to this abstract spiritual practice, but doing so isn’t without precedent. Astrology has existed, in some form, since at least ancient Babylonian times and was long considered a completely logical means of making sense of the world. It wasn’t until rationalism became all the rage in the 19th century that astrology was relegated to the realm of the mystical and absurd.

Today, it’s mostly considered the province of women’s magazines and Instagram memes, at best a harmless fiction and at worst a pernicious pseudoscience. But for a rising number of students and specialists, the practice is extremely serious, if admittedly unscientific.Getting certified, Ms. Stapleton said, “would give me the professional confidence moving forward that I’d been evaluated by the elders in my community, by my peers, and that there are these standards.”

The uptick in astrology’s popularity has been attributed to a rise in unconventional spirituality, a playful brand of post-recession nihilism (in which it doesn’t even matter if “astrology is fake,” as the meme goes) and, of course, the internet. (Alternatively, it could be that everyone born from November 1983 to November 1995 has Pluto in Scorpio, which draws them to occult practices and magical thinking.)

There are also more ways than ever to become well-versed in astrology. Star charts can be quickly generated online and delivered by apps, emails and the like, and astrologers can speak to thousands of students using social media. It beats the old-fashioned way: Pre-internet, generating a star chart required a number of byzantine conversions and calculations and at least two separate esoteric reference books.

In other words, to do it by hand, it takes an expert.

For example, in order to calculate a person’s natal chart, which is used to assess personality, psychological patterns and life path, one must first identify the precise placements of planets within the sky at the time of someone’s birth, relative to the exact location at which their birth occurred. That information is then cross-referenced with the 12 astrological houses — fixed, conceptual divisions of the celestial sphere, each of which rules a specific area of life (e.g. the subconscious mind, marriage and partnerships) — and the 12 zodiac signs, which are in constant motion through the houses and correspond to the sky as it appears from the earth, our terrestrial home.

A full astrological natal chart reading accounts for all these variables, as well as the exact angles each celestial body makes to others in the sky, and yields personalized results. This part is as objectively “real” as any other time-related conception of Earth: It involves applying unchanging mathematical formulas to finite historical data. It’s the next part — the interpretation of those results — that plunges astrologers into the realm of what they might call inference or intuition, and what nonbelievers might call memorized random associations.

Interpretation is one of many skills that the ISAR CAP tests. It includes an essay portion and about 600 multiple-choice, true-false and short-answer questions, which cover chart calculations, the history of astrology, basic astronomy as applied to astrology and forecasting skills. Sample questions include: What is the Sun’s greatest distance from the celestial equator? What is the harmonic of a quintile aspect, and how many degrees is it? And how often are Mercury and Venus trine? (Trick question! A trine is a 120-degree angle between two planets, which never occurs between Mercury and Venus!)

“Since astrology tends to be something people perceive as mystical and magical, maybe a bit made-up, I just really thought that having a certification would show due diligence,” said Debbie Stapleton, a hairstylist with bangs and ornate beaded earrings. An industrious Capricorn, she had traveled from Canada to take the test. Getting certified, Ms. Stapleton said, “would give me the professional confidence moving forward that I’d been evaluated by the elders in my community, by my peers, and that there are these standards.”

This year’s exam was held during the United Astrology Conference (UAC), a major astrological networking event that has been hosted once every four or six years since 1986. (It remains unclear who, exactly, decides when it will be quadrennial or sextannual, or how they do so.) The conference in May was the best attended in history, attracting around 1,500 astrologers, who spent the week attending panels with names like “How to Work With the Moon,” “Eclipses: Portals of Destiny” and “The Astrology of a New Vision of Capitalism.”

The astrologers were there to share research and meet luminaries in the field. Possibly also to purchase crystals and psychedelic caftans at the pop-up marketplace, yes, but many said they were deeply invested in establishing astrology as a legitimate profession. Astrological certification is a crucial part of this last goal; throughout the weekend, a handful of people compared it to passing the bar or getting accredited as a therapist.

“It’s good that we have this standard of learning — very, very good,” said Shelley Ackerman, the official spokesperson for UAC and a diplomatic Libra. “Not that it guarantees absolute perfection in the field, but it certainly does eliminate and address a lot of mishaps that could have happened if you don’t have the training.”

“We can say things that can inspire people,” Ms. Stapleton said, “but if we’re not careful, we can say things that frighten and damage and alienate people.” (ISAR expressly forbids members from making predictions that are scary or extreme, such as prophesies about deaths or other calamities, even when they can clearly see them on someone’s chart.)

ISAR’s isn’t the only astrological certification exam in existence — there are other metaphysical organizations with certification programs of their own, most notably the National Center for Geocosmic Research (NCGR). But the ISAR CAP stands out in the astrological community for its strong emphasis on how to properly counsel clients. In addition to the bafflingly rigorous exam (446 questions longer than the nonmetaphysical SAT), students must also complete a two-and-a-half-day counseling skills training and an ethics course, which culminates in a second test. (It is, thankfully, much shorter.)

“The bottom line is astrology is not for the impatient or faint of heart,” Ms. Ackerman said. “You have got to love puzzles, math, myth, and the complexity of life. You can’t be in a rush and be a good astrologer.” “It is not for morons,” she said.


A Museum Dedicated to the Last Witch in Europe

The interior of the Anna Göldi museum.Interesting article from Atlas Obscura: As the Local reports, an anonymous donor has given one million francs—about 1,080,000 American dollars—to renovate the Anna Göldi Museum. The museum, which is located in Ennenda, Switzerland, is focused on human rights and women’s rights, topics it explores through the story of the wrongful execution of Anna Göldi, known as “the last witch in Europe.” It’s currently only open in the summers, but will use the money to operate year-round.

Göldi was, of course, not really a witch at all. Born to a poor family in Sax, Switzerland, and subject to a series of misfortunes during her younger years, Göldi eventually fled her hometown for the canton of Glarus, where she worked as a domestic servant for a doctor and aspiring politician named Jakob Tschudi. Göldi looked after the household for 17 years, until one day Tschudi fired her. Soon after, he reported her to the authorities. He claimed that he had found needles in the family’s bread and milk, and that Göldi was using witchcraft to try and poison his children. But modern scholars think it’s more likely that Tschudi was having an affair with Göldi. When he fired her, she threatened to expose this fact, and rather than risk his political career, he decided to use the law to get rid of her. As scholar Walter Hauser told the BBC, “Anna Göldi was a threat to powerful people. They wanted her out of the way.”

Göldi was tortured until she admitted to colluding with the devil. She later retracted that confession, but after she was tortured again, she re-confessed. She was found guilty, and in 1782, she was beheaded in the public square. This execution caused a backlash in her time as well: “Educated people [in Switzerland] did not believe in witchcraft in 1782,” Hauser said.

Over the past few decades, Göldi has found a kind of second life as a symbol of women’s rights, human rights, and what can happen when the powerful are allowed to abuse their authority. In 2008—after much lobbying from Hauser—the parliament of Glarus officially exonerated Göldi, deeming her trial a miscarriage of justice. The local courthouse now has a memorial to her, consisting of two perpetually-lit lamps. There have been books and movies dedicated to her story, and there is even a new musical about her, which opened last fall.

There is also the museum, which first opened in early 2017, and moved to a new location—a historic textile building—that same summer. The large donation will fund the building’s heating and insulation, as well as the construction of a new staircase that will enable easier access.

“With this investment, we can open the museum all year long,” says museum board member Maggie Wandfluh. It’s too little, too late for Göldi—but, perhaps, just in time for the rest of us.

 

 


The New York Times is Obsessed With Astrology

Zodiac signsMaybe it's because it is the dawn of a new year, but I have found that the New York Times is running more and more articles on astrology.

Not a horoscope, but a series of different looks at how astrology is in our lives. From an astrology themed bar in Brooklyn to the new astrologer of the Daily News to the power of astrology on the internet.

The conclusion is that astrology is trendy again, especially with coveted Millennials. I ask, was it ever not trendy?? Astrology was very popular in the late 1960s (Remember The 5th Dimension's Age of Aquarius?)

Or how about The Supremes No Matter What Sign You Are?

Some articles are a bit snarky but astrology has been around much longer than the NYT so I will side with the stars.

#astrology, #TheNewYorkTImes, #