People often say astrology is spiritual. But what does that even mean? It’s such a vague concept, isn’t it? The understood nuance of “spirituality” kind of depends on who you’re talking to in what context. If you say it in a church, it might sound like something religious. “Spirituality” to a Christian is their personal relationship with God. But in other circles, including those where astrology is a regular topic of discussion, the term has connotations of what’s also referred to as “new age” or “woo.” It’s used as a blanket term to encompass a whole assortment of things from tarot cards to healing crystals to psychic mediumship to yoga. When someone says “I’m on a spiritual journey,” you know they probably just bought a tarot deck and saged their apartment. Astrology often seems to get lumped in with that particular variety of “spirituality.” And while all those things aren’t necessarily bad, many of them are things self-identified skeptics instinctively recoil from. Some astrologers might say we shouldn’t care what skeptics think of us, but I think maybe we should, because not all skeptics are of the hostile variety. Some are simply intellectually cautious, but might be open to astrology and benefit from it if someone would just explain the astrology straight up without the confusing and alienating mix of assorted “spirituality” on top. I know, because I was one of those skeptics.

So, in this article I’m going to get a little personal and tell you about my journey from what you might call extreme spirituality (of the religious variety) to extreme skepticism, then eventually trying to find a happy medium between the two through my discovery and eventual practice of astrology. I’m sharing this story because it has a huge influence on the way I approach astrology, especially as it relates to so-called spirituality. I get the feeling my perspective on this is a bit unusual in the astrological community, but I think it may also be an important perspective. So I’m going to be vulnerable and share in the hope you can understand where I’m coming from.

Like many people in small town America, I grew up indoctrinated by religion in a conservative Christian church. At first, as a small child I don’t think I really understood the sermons, but mostly just got carried away by the worship music. I loved to sing, so I think that was what hooked me. My parents tell me I started singing in church as young as two years old.

Later, as I got older some of the church’s teachings started to bother me. It didn’t make sense to me that it was bad to be gay or that women should have to submit to their husbands, for instance. But by the point I became aware of these things, I was too deep into it to back out. I really was a true believer, and before I knew it my faith had become the center of my life and the core of my identity.

Some people in new age circles like to look down their noses at religion, as if religion could never be true spirituality. But I think it was for me, though I suppose it was just the only kind of spirituality I knew at the time. It was true spirituality in the sense that I truly felt a deep connection with the divine through my religion. Even though it did teach some harmful ideas, it also gave me a sense of purpose, wonder, and belonging. To me, God was everywhere. I heard God’s voice in the wind blowing through the trees, and He comforted me in the quiet moments when I had no one else. I felt His presence deep inside my heart. I was kind of a lonely kid, socially awkward and struggling to make friends at school, but thanks to my relationship with God I was never truly alone.

But the older I got, the harder it became to ignore those things that didn’t feel right. I became close with a boy who was even more conservative and entrenched in his beliefs than I was, and we got into heated arguments about things like whether or not women should be allowed to speak in church. It seems crazy now to think I would even entertain an argument about something like that, but I guess that’s what indoctrination does to you. The arguments planted seeds of doubt in my mind, yet somehow I was able to keep the seeds from sprouting, at least for a while. But that changed when I got to university.

Even though I chose a Christian university, it turned out to be surprisingly liberal. They had classes about different denominations of Christianity and even different religions, and they actually encouraged critical thinking and open discussions. Ironically, my Christian education dismantled my Christianity. By my third and final year there, I was starting to have serious doubts about my beliefs. And soon after I graduated, after I’d moved to Taiwan for my first full time job teaching English, the whole house of cards came crashing down.

Losing my faith was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life, but it was also very surreal. I don’t know how to describe it except to say that it was like God died. When I tried to talk to God the way I always used to, He simply wasn’t there anymore. Radio silence. I didn’t choose to stop believing, but I suddenly just couldn’t believe. Imagine realizing that the entire worldview you had built your identity and sense of purpose around was a lie. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but Neptune was transiting over my natal 9th house Jupiter and MC while Saturn opposed it on my IC. Translation: My belief system dissolved, and I was forced to face a new inner reality. It was devastating, and I became deeply depressed. I barely ate anything, and I became too thin. It took me about a year to pick myself up again, but I eventually did.

In the following years, I gradually grew into a new way of seeing the world. At first I called myself agnostic, but I eventually embraced the label of atheist. I saw no reason to believe in any God or gods, or anything beyond this life as we know it. The typical atheist worldview is a little bleak, but there’s something beautiful about it too: “You live once and then you die, and that’s all there is as far as we know, so you’d better not waste a moment. The meaning of life is what you make of it.” I tried to satisfy myself with this because it was all I could logically permit myself to believe, yet somehow it didn’t quite feel like enough. I got involved in the skeptical atheist community, read their books, listened to their podcasts and even attended one of their conferences, and that helped a little. But honestly, deep down it always felt like something was missing. I just wasn’t sure what.

Meanwhile, in all that time I had somehow never heard anything about astrology beyond “zodiac signs” and cheesy horoscope columns proclaiming Libras are sure to find love this month. It simply never occurred to me that there might be anything more to it, so I dismissed it as a silly superstition without much thought. I knew I was a Taurus, but I never related much to anything I heard about the sign. Taurus was said to be stubborn, materialistic, and averse to change, but I was a free spirit with insatiable wanderlust.

But then one day, when I was 35 years old, I was browsing a random Facebook group when I came across a post where someone had brought up astrology. People were talking about moon signs and rising signs. I had no idea what that meant, but it piqued my curiosity enough that I got on YouTube and looked up some videos about astrology. I found this video explaining what a birth chart is, and recommending the book “The Inner Sky” by Steven Forrest. The video intrigued me enough that I ordered the book and read it. And it blew my whole world wide open.

I have to give credit to Steven Forrest for being an incredible writer and teacher, because along with a little supplementary Googling, “The Inner Sky” took me from knowing nothing at all about astrology to being able to make enough sense of my birth chart to be shocked at how well it seemed to describe me. I found my personality depicted with more detail and nuance than in any personality test, my aspirations, talents, and struggles all apparently written in the sky from the moment of my birth. How could this be? The realization was so profound that it was almost like a mystical experience, somehow similar to what it used to be like hearing the voice of God on the wind. I didn’t understand how it worked or why, but somehow astrology seemed to be evidence that my life isn’t just random, that I’m somehow connected to the whole universe and was born with some kind of purpose. At one point, I actually found myself just staring at my chart and weeping uncontrollably, overcome with emotion. I knew I had found the thing I’d been missing, and I wouldn’t feel empty inside anymore. Astrology isn’t a religion, because it requires no faith, and yet there seems to be something about it that meets a similar need deep within us.

But even despite that initial revelation, I retained my skepticism and didn’t fully allow myself to accept that astrology really works until I had tested it out on several more people. And every time, people’s charts seemed to describe them uncannily well even to my novice eye. My friends soon became interested and started asking me to comment on the charts of their friends, people I didn’t even know. I was told I described them accurately too, sometimes in surprisingly specific terms. Once in a while I got things wrong, but the majority of interpretations seemed to be correct. This made it hard to deny there was something legitimate going on. So I quickly became obsessed, and once I ran out of friends to practice on I started practicing on strangers in astrology groups on Facebook. And astrology kept proving itself to me over and over with every chart I studied.

I have to say though, getting involved in the online astrological community was a bit of a culture shock. Remember I was a skeptical atheist who’d been burnt by religious trauma and was very wary of anything religious or even vaguely superstitious. I had tentatively accepted astrology only because it actually seemed to be demonstrable. And now here I was in these astrology groups full of people talking not only about astrology, but also about healing crystals, psychic abilities, past lives and so on, as if it was a given that anyone who accepts astrology must naturally accept all that other stuff too. I mean no offense to anyone who believes in those things, but try to imagine what it must have been like for me at the time. I suddenly had the very strange feeling of being stuck between two worlds, because my acceptance of astrology meant I no longer fit into the community of skeptical atheists who rejected all things “woo,” and yet I didn’t really feel like I fit into this new community of astrology enthusiasts either.

I really think it could be worth making a conscious effort to separate astrology from the assortment of metaphysical beliefs and “woo” it’s often lumped in with. There are historical reasons for these associations, because astrology fell out of favor with mainstream western society and lost its previous status as a respected academic discipline, hence only able to resurge in the 20th century via esoteric organizations like the theosophical society, which apparently quite intentionally brought together a wide variety of spiritual concepts from various sources. But now thanks to the internet, we have other ways of preserving and sharing knowledge, so I think it may be time to untangle some of that history. To be clear, I have no issue with some astrologers having a personal belief in past lives, psychic abilities, healing crystals or what have you. If those astrologers want to refer to those concepts in their practice, they will attract clients who relate to those concepts, and there is certainly room in the community for that. Some of these concepts are even baked into certain schools of astrology, such as evolutionary astrology which centers around the idea of reincarnation. But even so, there is nothing about astrology itself that inherently necessitates or proves any of these beliefs, and to just assume everyone accepts them is alienating to people who may be coming into it from a more skeptical point of view. We shouldn’t alienate skeptics, because skeptics are often smart people who could make good astrologers if they ended up getting into it.

And separating astrology from “woo” doesn’t mean astrology can’t still be spiritual. I didn’t need to believe in reincarnation or anything like that to be spiritually moved by astrology. So, what is spirituality? To me, it’s fundamentally just a feeling of connection to something beyond yourself. Whenever you feel a sense of wonder about things too vast for your mind to comprehend, that’s a spiritual experience. This kind of experience is a part of being human, and no religion or new age philosophy has a monopoly on it. In their awe at what they observed in nature, scientists have often expressed sentiments that sound incredibly similar to those of the deeply religious. Albert Einstein said, “What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.” I get a similar feeling from observing astrology at work. Astrology is spiritual in itself, with no need to impose any particular metaphysical or religious worldview onto it.

So I approach astrology with spiritual reverence, and yet, I am still a skeptic. I very intentionally do not refer to things like past lives or psychic abilities in my readings, unless maybe the client asks about them, because I don’t want to alienate anyone who may be in the same place I used to be in. I also don’t want to accept that a technique works just because some famous astrologer says so; I want to test it out and see for myself. I also don’t believe intuition alone is sufficient. I want to keep questioning everything, even my own assumptions, and strive to maintain the right balance between skepticism and open-mindedness. I think astrology needs more of this kind of approach. It seems to me that astrologers too often say things like “Just take what resonates” or “Just do what works for you” because we don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. We too seldom attempt to actually test anything in any objective way, much less to sincerely question our own beliefs and biases. In its struggle to survive on the fringes of society, astrology has become too Jupiterian, too tolerant, too bloated with untested theories and unrelated superstitions. Now it needs more of Saturn’s critical eye. Any astrologer knows that Saturn’s skepticism, caution, and contraction is the opposite and complimentary force to Jupiter’s faith, optimism and expansion, and that the two should ideally be in balance. When either one becomes too dominant, you get problems. As someone with a very prominent Jupiter in a Saturn-ruled sign, I guess trying to find that balance has been a theme in my life in general.

It’s been three years since I first discovered my birth chart and my whole worldview changed, and to be honest I sometimes still second guess myself even now. Once in a while I still wonder if I’m somehow deluding myself into believing that astrology actually works, because it just seems too crazy to be true. How could it possibly be that the positions of the planets at the moment I was born describe who I am today? I’m still in awe even at that fundamental premise. Maybe it’s just the religious trauma setting off overactive alarm bells, but at the end of the day I’m grateful for my skepticism, and I’m embracing it because I hope it will ultimately make me a better astrologer. And yet I also never want to lose that sense of awe I felt when I first started to see the truth of my chart, and I want to help others have that experience too. That’s really why I’m doing this, because that feeling is everything.