Intersections

Exploring the crossroads of religion, culture, and science through a Pagan lens

Tarot, Astrology, and Bollocks: When science challenges magickal practices

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So it seems that we Pagans really like our science. Every person in the community that I talked to while I was writing last week’s post on evolution and the Big Bang was enthusiastically in support of science, its explanations and its methods. Pagans love science. But it’s not all rosy in Pagan-Science Land.

Sometimes research findings over many years cast extreme doubt over practices that are common within the Pagan community. It’s easy to be in support of the scientific worldview when it champions the cause of evolution over the biblical story of creation and the Big Bang over “Let there be light,” but what about when science also says that the magickal practices that are at the heart of much of the Pagan worldview are just as false as the idea that one god created the world in seven days?

This week, the science website “I Fucking Love Science” posted this picture, which clearly dismisses many of our common practices along with beliefs of other religions:

There’s a lot more on that diagram that dismisses many of our practices than there is dismissing Christian or other monotheistic beliefs. Ideas that are common to many religions under the Pagan umbrella and the magickal community are there. Astrology and numerology; automatic writing and Tarot; remote viewing, Reiki, angels, and homeopathy, among other magickal practices, are dismissed just as enthusiastically as creationism and religious fundamentalism.

Venn Diagram of irrational nonsense: I fuckong love science

Photo Credit: I Fucking Love Science
http://www.iflscience.com/

And the thing is, I agree with a lot of this diagram. So how do I reconcile that with the fact that I have participated in and have had profound personal experiences with many of these practices. I have had extraordinarily accurate remote viewings, powerful instances of automatic writing, life-changing contacts with deity, and very accurate Tarot readings both for myself and others. How can both sides of the argument be true? And more – how can I participate in the contradiction of supporting science when it debunks creationism, but not support it when it equally dismisses my own practices as “bollocks”?

Are we being intellectually dishonest?

I don’t think so. Some people, including myself, feel a call to the great mystery, to spirit, to something greater than themselves. In this, we Pagans are in line with Christians – we need spiritual food to sustain our lives. I felt that call and tried to be a Christian, mainly because it was the most well-known spiritual path. It just didn’t work. I never really believed it, and yet I still felt that call. That’s how I ended up in the Pagan world.

That call is undeniable, and it resides within a large segment of the population, including the growing “spiritual but not religious” crowd. Something creates that call. Something beckons to spirit. What that thing is may be the greatest mystery.

Yeshe Rabbit, founder and High Priestess of the Bay Area’s Come As You Are Coven, recommended that:

“For anyone who struggles with this reconciliation, I recommend three books: Science Set Free by Rupert Sheldrake, Science of the Craft by William Keith, and Real

Yeshe Rabbit Come as your are coven, Science and bollocks

Yeshe Rabbit

Magic by Isaac Bonewits. In that order. History of science folks might dig these, too.”

She went on to describe her own view of ways that people of all faiths can reconcile our beliefs with the findings of scientific research:

“For my part, I do not divide my view into “this versus that.” Comparison is only one method of coming to understanding. Debate is another one, and in spiritual communities it builds skill in the logic of devotion. The scholars of Buddhism’s various lineages engage in debate, the scholars of the Torah debate, individuals within an Interfaith group might debate. Pagans seem to love to debate, at least from what I see online. So this skill is not unknown to us. Why are we surprised when science shows up to the debate and starts asking hard questions and busting out microscopes to show their devotion the same way we might show up with sutras or prayer beads or obscure translations of ancient texts to show ours?

Inclusion is a third method of understanding. By choosing to radically make room for many points of view, systems of data arrangement, and ways of knowing, I am better able to create connections and draw networks of knowledge. Science is a foundation. Then, I take the risk, as a magic maker, of stepping beyond where others choose to stop. I tend to ignore contrived tensions between science and spirit, and look at whatever is useful instead…whatever will be most beneficial for a given situation. Might be prayer, might be a mathematical formula, might be a blood test, might be a ritual. They are all equally amazing and can yield miraculous results when put to proper use.”

Lux Terrea of Moonlit Grove Pagans offered another response to the seeming paradox:

“In my own practice I only use these disciplines in an ancillary manner. I think there may be something to metaphysical disciplines like those you named; especially shamanism, but I don’t put my faith in them. My knowledge, built on observation and personal experience, is that the individual *IS* the magick. You and I are the magick. You may believe in spells, fairies, astrology, shamanism, etc. or you may not but we manifest our wills in one way or another. The will that is weak manifests weakness and is blown about by the winds of change whereas the will that is strong makes conscious manifestation in the physical world based on awareness and decision making.
I say, “I want ‘X’.” I do what it takes to obtain ‘X’ and then I realize I now have ‘X’. That is an act of magick and the manifestation of will.
When Christians say a prayer, “Lord, please give me a job.” and then sit on the couch and wait for an employer to knock on their door the Christian will almost always never get a job. Same with spellcraft in Paganism. Spellcraft is a way to direct and focus the power of the mind to make things manifest. There may be something metaphysical to spellcraft but, IMO, it would require a level of training that the average Pagan doesn’t have and I have known a lot of Pagans across the U.S. Think of Shaolin monks who can raise their body temperatures and various things. How long have they trained to be able to do such things?
In my opinion, a Pagan can benefit from learning about these various disciplines and use them to great effect in focusing the mind. I love layering the products of these disciplines within ritual, for example. However, these things are not needed for a Pagan to gain all of the benefits from the spiritual aspects of the Pagan religion. I would add even that they can become a distraction if one isn’t careful.
In my experience the root of Paganism lies in these three key components:
We are all children of the Earth and Sun which are, in turn, the children of the Cosmos.
Evolution is a sacred path and we must continue to evolve to higher levels of existence.
The Cosmos is deity and we are a part of the Cosmos which means we are also deity.
Within each of these aspects is an entire universe for every individual to explore but those three main aspects are pretty foundational. Furthermore, science would support those concepts as perhaps “romanticized” or “spiritualized” versions of scientific discovery but it would support them none the less. Of course the scientists would refer to the Pagan, foundational aspects as “romanticized” etc. because they can’t put spirit into a test tube.”

 

There seems to be three types of people in this picture. For one group, their religious beliefs exclude science, despite the growing body of research that debunks their beliefs. For these people, nothing will change, and they will blindly adhere to their dogma. That is where they feel spirit has called them.

For others, scientific findings exclude religion. They adhere to the skeptical principles of science: if I can’t see it, touch it, feel it, measure it, and replicate it, it doesn’t exist. This is a necessary current in our society. Without it, we would know nothing about the universe, medicine, or technology. Both Penicillin and your iPhone would never exist.

The third group can find the balance between extremes. They stand at the crossroads. They live between worlds. These people can acknowledge the findings of science while choosing to accept the existence of unseen, and as of now unmeasurable, forces in the universe. Spiritual experiences may not be replicable and the research findings on them may not be statistically significant, but that does not mean they don’t exist, just that we haven’t figured out how to measure them yet. For centuries, no one could see or measure a virus, yet now we can. It existed all along, just under the edge of our perceptions.

I naturally gravitate toward the second group, but I made a conscious choice to join the third. By doing so, I have become a happier, healthier, person. I feel a greater sense of life purpose, and I’m more emotionally and physically healthy. The group you choose should do the same for you.

The true tests of any spiritual belief, be it religion or otherwise should be: does it improve your life? Does it challenge you to do good things and support you in times of pain? Does it give you comfort and help you lead the best life possible, or does it make you angry and limit you from understanding the perspectives of others who aren’t like you? Does it encourage you to open your mind to the mysteries of the universe or to close it?

If it does the good parts of that – if it opens you up and makes you happier; if it supports you through the difficult times and challenges you to live a better life – then it is good whether or not your experiences are scientifically replicable. If it angers you, closes you to the alternative viewoints, or limits your soul’s purpose and understanding of the mysteries of life, then it’s all just bollocks.

 

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Author: Tim

I am a teacher, a theater lover, and a High Priest in the Temple of Witchcraft. I love to point out the places where the everyday world, arts, science, and religion intersect. I stand for interfaith cooperation and the belief that people of all religions, political beliefs, and nationalities have more in common with each other than differences.

10 thoughts on “Tarot, Astrology, and Bollocks: When science challenges magickal practices

  1. Thanks for this post. That Venn diagram was clearly compiled by a Reductionist, i.e. someone who rejects the existence not only of any “god” but of anything *at all* in the universe not explicitly revealed by the scientific method. In my view Reductionists are just as arrogant as religious fundamentalists because they too assume they have the full “truth” of how the world works. — It’s not scientifically provable, therefore it’s “bollocks”. And yet, to paraphrase Arthur C. Clarke, “bollocks” are just phenomena that haven’t been technologically verified — yet.

    • Thanks Dave. I agree. The very means by which we are communicating would have seemed like bollocks to the greatest scientific minds 100 years ago.

  2. I see it a bit differently. The way that I understand things, “Truth” is what is important, both in the world in which we live, but also within our various spiritual paths. More specifically, I believe in at least two (2) different types of “Truth”, which,on the surface, might seem rather in-congruent: I believe that there are Empirical Truths as well as Personal Truths.

    The Empirical Truths are the easy ones. They meet all of the scientific criteria regardless of whom is considering them or in what context they are being considered. For example, “The sky is blue” is an empirical truth, explained by the refraction of light through the moisture in the atmosphere. With exceptions for certain meteorological phenomena, such as storm fronts or pollution levels, it is true whether you are in upstate New York or Dubai. These Empirical Truths are supported by facts, and are easily repeated. These Empirical Truths are completely separate from, and not dependent upon, an individuals belief in their status as “Truth”. They don’t care if you are a Scientist, Atheist, Christian or Gardenarian Wiccan.

    The “Personal Truths” are where things potentially get a bit hinky. The best way I’ve figured out how best to explain them (at least, so far) is the mythic truth of Santa Claus. As adults, we all know that Santa is myth and has no actual “reality”….The existence of Santa is simply not a “Truth.” However, when you were a little child, there was no doubt in the “Truth” of the existence of Santa Claus. He was real, and he lived at the North Pole, and he delivered toys to all the good children of the world at Christmas. While the veracity of this “truth” was shattered as you grew up, you still maintained the illusion of this “Truth”: you kept the stories and the mythology alive by sharing in the stories of it. When the time came that you had kids of your own, or family or friends had children, you actively supported and enabled the “Truth” of Santa as part of the magic of childhood. You told the children the stories, threatened them with “his” lack of a visit to ensure their good behavior, and even helped in the delivery of gifts that got attributed to being delivered by Santa himself. In short, you became part and parcel of the “Personal Truth” of Santa Claus.

    In short, both “types” of Truth exist….even if they exist in two different worlds….the “real” world where they are empirical and the personal where they are mythic. Neither disproves the other, nor renders the other as completely “False”. Both have a very real and necessary part in our lives.

  3. I have never understood why people need to make a distinction between spiritual thought and science. I am a scientist. I make a living doing research while clawing my way slowly toward my PhD in biochemistry. I am a deeply spiritual person living in an environment that is driven purely by raw data and reproducible results. To say there is no room in the sciemces for spiritual thought is, on the surface, true, but nothing is ever skin deep. All science is driven by two major things – a need (such as drug discovery), or raw curiosity. Deep down, every scientist has that giddy, child-like wonder, that awe, about something, and that is what drove them to science in the first place. I am absolutely no different. In fact I hold on to that sense of awe and mystery about the world and let it fuel my drive to discover. And that is why spirituality, to me, not another realm of thought, but the reverse side of the coin. One needs the other in order to survive. The commonly held notion that science is out to “disprove” religion is patently false, and because I know that I am not threatened by it. I am also unconcerned with science soundly disproving the creation myth of my faith. Of course that is not literally true. That isn’t the point. It is all symbolism and metaphor, speaking a the language of imagination. For that reason I am still unsure as to why any spirituality takes such issue with science. There cannot be a conflict when you are comparing apples to Godzilla. Apples are a tangible thing, known, understandable. Apples are logic and reason and knowledge. They are food for thought. Godzilla is everything else – wonder, mystery, imagination, storytelling, metaphor, symbolism. Godzilla is the force that shakes logic and makes you restructure your thinking, take a different look, and inject a little “what if” into the rigidity of reason. Godzilla is just as necessary to scientific inquiry as apples, because if you did not have a sense of awe and wonder, you would never ask the great underpinning question of science – “what if?”

  4. I’m loving seeing how other people think about science and its intersection with spirit. There is an ethereal, hard to grasp middle ground that can’t be empirically proven nor religiously dictated. Thank you!

  5. “Ah, it is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all; and if it explain not, then it says there is nothing to explain.” – Abraham Van Helsing from Dracula by Bram Stoker

    When I was a Christian, I had no trouble believing in God and Evolution. For me “God made the universe and it evolved” was not a problematic line of thinking. I think it makes God very small to assume that only the literal sex day creation story could be true.

    Now I believe in relating to the Divine as multiple deities and I really, truly believe in reading Tarot. I do not for one minute think of Tarot reading as some sort of misunderstood science, that would require results that we can replicate with a high degree of certainty. I have not come upon that in my years with the cards.

    • Thank you Charlie. I was the same way as a Christian. Evolution never competed with the creation story (of course I never really believed it anyway, I was just looking for some connection to spirit).

      For a long time the scientific part of my minds kept me from exploring magical practice, including Tarot. When I made the conscious choice I understood what I had been doing wrong. Not everything has to be scientifically verifiable to be true.

  6. I’m writing a response to this, and will publish soon, on my blog: http://theseapriestesspath.blogspot.com

  7. Pingback: Tarot, Astrology, and Bollocks « WiccanWeb

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