Identity politics and astrology

A momentary excursion away from my main theme brings me to this speculative discourse on the question of the extent to which astrology is informed by a need to understand and know one’s self.

Land-crab with Tapia trifolia plant, 1731
Land-crab with Tapia trifolia plant, 1731

However, this question, “who am I?” inexorably leads us to the issue of identity. The overriding goal most people seem to have when it comes to their use of astrology is to try to identify themselves.

Astrology is a tool that offers, at the very least, the illusion of providing access to self-identification, and it is used to help define thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

To say I am “a Cancer,” of course, has absolutely no meaning, unless I align that symbolic thought with a host of beliefs, prejudices, behaviors, attitudes, expectations, and so on. Now, a scientist will see me as a collection of DNA, genomes, brain waves, cellular constructs, etc.

Philosophers will see me as a person on a quest to discover the depths and profundity of the existential experience. Also, I get to have a soul, I guess, since Aristotle, who believed women did not possess souls, has been dead for a long time, and his 4th century BCE Athenian sexism is no longer taken all that seriously by most people I know.

Identity politics is crucial to an understanding of who we “are,” yet it cannot begin to explain us beyond our social roles, in my opinion. In other words, to tell you who I am by saying I am a white woman born in the United States of America, at the middle of the previous century, and to situate myself in an economic bracket, and to tell you what kind of work I do.

All of this information is necessary if you’re going to pinpoint my identity in the world and fit me into my social cohort. Okay. What does this have to do with astrology, you wonder? Here’s where astrology and Marxism part company: the astrological chart is not really the way to determine one’s identity beyond the theoretical and purely philosophical.

In other words, to say “I am a Cancer” tells astrologers something about my core personality (if you believe in astrology, that is). Yet it says nothing about my social status, what I believe, who I vote for, what my gender is, my deepest fears, etc. There are those astrologers who do, however, believe that you can see indicators of class, gender, and social identity in the chart.

Not that long ago, I was involved in a study that attempts to determine gender from certain indicators in a chart. The obvious problem with these kinds of studies is that they are too small to represent anything like a proper scientific sampling, and therefore, have very little meaning in the cold, cruel world outside the temple of belief that astrology students and practitioners find ourselves hiding in.

This leaves me with the question, what does the chart actually tell us about ourselves, and is the information useful? We live in a world bounded by prejudices. Doesn’t astrology, with its tendency toward reductionism, mostly work to feed those prejudices?

If I label myself, and declare I “am” a certain sign, aren’t I telling you how to think of me, how to treat me, what to be afraid of, based on prejudices that arise around the mythology of that sign? Are these prejudices now so deeply ingrained in society that we rely on them, superstitiously, to tell us who we should befriend, who we should avoid, and why we are right to fear Scorpios, for example?

I ask this tongue-in-cheek, yet there is a fair amount of truth to the fact that we bring our biases with us to the study of astrology.

My concern, ultimately, is that studying astrology might be making us less tolerant, not more, toward social difference. People who do not fit into our schema can be easily sorted and classified via astrology. Who am I? I know I am more than “a Cancer.”

Thorough astrologers will say, but of course you are; let’s see the rest of your chart.

Yet the chart cannot contain me. I am so much more than my chart, and my chart is bounded by the limits of social constructionism—in other words, that which we say is so, is so. Since we, people existing within the complicated interconnectedness of society, determine what has meaning, what do you think I mean when I say I am a Cancer? Does that statement have any meaning for you? If it does, what meaning does it have, and who do you think I am?

Ultimately, determining your identity is up to you. Do you identify yourself through your chart? If so, why?

Although the caterpillar asked Alice, “who are you?”, I think the more perspicacious question is “where are you?” Are you in the astrological chart? Are you in the social construct that provides the borderlines for your life? Are you located in the “soul,” or the brain? Where can you be found?

8 thoughts on “Identity politics and astrology”

  1. Alison, If someone were to say to me, “I am a Cancer,” my initial thought would be, “If this person believes themselves to be ‘a Cancer,’ a description that comes from pop Sun-sign astrology, then that would tell me something about that individual: that they have a limited vision of who they are, and perhaps have not gone too deeply into astrology. I don’t go around saying, “I’m a Capricorn,” as I would not limit myself to Sun-sign self-identification. Rather, here’s how I approach the identity of the self: from the chart the self-image or ego (a vortex of energy within consciousness) can be gleaned from the Ascendant (“my quest”), 1st house (“I am”), 2nd house (“I value”), 3rd house (“I think”), and 4th house (“my inner consciousness of myself”). Other considerations are the imprint of the early parental environment (Moon), societal, cultural or socio/political context of the individual (which are not found in the chart), followed by the examination of the whole chart. The ‘bottom line’ dynamics of any soul correlates to Pluto and the nodal axis. My favourite self-identification phrase is, “I am infinite consciousness,” and that covers just about everything!

  2. While I view astrology as a very useful tool in self-understanding, I’ve never believed that our charts define us, just as I don’t believe we can ever truly know the mind of God (please feel free to replace the word God with whatever spiritual term you choose). Hopefully, we are all greater than the sum of our individual parts, and even the best alchemist can only go so far in their interpretations, especially if they aren’t intimately familiar with the person they’re reading for.

    You can tell a lot about a person by how they live their life, as well as by the actions/non-actions they choose to take –“By their fruits, you shall know them”. Unfortunately, most astrologers don’t have access to that kind of information, or if they do (as in the case of political analysis), it’s possible to interpret that knowledge based on individual prejudices or preferences — two different astrologers coming from two different political perspectives may view the same chart in two completely different ways.

    Having said all that, I do think it’s possible for astrology to decipher the path of least resistance, and for someone living an unexamined life, a more accurate analysis may be possible. I’m not a professional astrologer, but I do study astrology and find the insights it provides to be pretty amazing – sometimes it feels as if I’m unlocking a secret formula – the deeper I go, the more intricate it becomes. I’m also beginning to appreciate it as an art form, with the best astrologers practicing it as such.

    I really enjoyed this post and appreciated your insights. I think you make a very good point. Thanks

  3. Yes I agree with you! In this case the horoscope is exactly as you said, I can’t understand why other people consider it differently. Anyway It doesn’t matter and I wish succes with your blog!

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