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Sunday, 15 October 2017

Astrology and New Age Stuff

One of my favourite YouTubers, Jaclyn Glenn, recently released a web series called ‘The Skeptic’s Guide to Wellness.’ It’s a five episode series with each episode lasting 10-12 mins. Currently there is only one season but she is considering a second. In the series she explores alternative methods of healing to traditional medicine such as crystal healing and hypnotherapy. Generally she is sceptical of most, finding that most of these therapies work through the placebo effect. Whilst some do have a relaxing effect, there is no solid evidence to prove any of these therapies as safe alternatives to Western Medicine.

Jaclyn states in one of her YouTube videos that not all atheists are sceptics and not all sceptics are atheists. She is a sceptic and atheist; I would say I am both – I like to try things out to see if they work before making conclusions. I know atheists/non-believers that believe in ghosts or afterlife or ‘paranormal activity.’ Astral projection, tarot cards, healing crystals; there are all sorts of alternative therapies and ‘New Age’ practices. (Also see my post on Witchcraft):

I don’t dispute it all; as mentioned I don’t fully dispute anything until I have tried it for myself and weighed it all up. I am going to discuss my opinions and delve into some experiences with ‘New Age’ ideas and practices.

As a younger teenager I went through a phase of being super into Astrology and reading up about it. I believed it for years; I had a book all about Astrology from the library, I researched it, and it is undoubtedly highly interesting. I know my birth chart and could tell you all the different signs and symbols and meanings. (Sun sign: Gemini; Moon sign: Aquarius, Ascending/Rising sign: Aquarius, Descending sign: Leo, Midheaven: Sagittarius, Immum Coeli: Taurus).

There is not one single piece of evidence on the planet that supports Astrology. Humans are shaped by our genes and our experiences. The idea that the planets have some metaphysical effect on humans is extremely self-centered and anthropocentric. Billions of humans have come and gone; separating the lot of us into twelve distinct ‘personality characteristics’ based on no evidence is absurd. I’m not sure where Astrology came from (pretty such it was the Ancient Egyptians); my guess is they used this stuff to try and figure out how humans were, just like they invented Gods to understand why the sun rose in the morning and set at night.

Confirmation bias is extremely powerful, and I believe it plays a large role in things like religion and alternative beliefs. When you read your horoscope or your astrological sign, your brain finds patterns that make you think ‘ah, that totally fits me!’ There is no logical reason to believe that every single person born on the same day or the same month is going to have similar personality characteristics. 

Sure, Gemini is ruled by Mercury, the alleged planet of intellect (and who decided that anyway? Humans? Mercury is nothing but a burning rock of fire) and yeah I’m pretty chatty and intellectual. But plenty of people born between the end of May and June are not chatty or intellectual, and plenty born at other times of the year are. If one really wanted to objectively measure Astrology they could design a set of questions that asked people about their individual personality (as well as their date of birth) and then quantify the results based on people born at x time of year correlating more with said personality. They could give this to thousands of people in different countries and see what the results were. I don’t know what they would be, but the likelihood is it wouldn’t prove Astrology is real.

As for other stuff, like tarot cards and non-traditional healing, I have dabbled. Tarot cards are purely interpretive; I have them, and I know how to do them. All they do is fit around what you think and confirm what you already know. There is no actual evidence that they mean anything. They’re fun, but a lot of the cards boil down to similar things: some are positive (the Sun, the Star, the Lovers) and some are negative (the Tower, the Devil, the Moon.) Don’t take tarot cards too seriously; no one can predict the future (unless we live in a finite ordered deterministic universe, which scientists are trying to figure out).

In the summer I did visit a very kind lady in a ‘magic shop’ with my brother. The shop was beautiful and smelt of lovely incense, and had pretty crystals and lucky Chinese cats and little ornaments everywhere. My brother and I both had separate readings done for us by the lady. I won’t go into detail about what she said, but a lot of what she said regarding me was true and correlated with my life and how I see myself. She didn’t come across as a ‘charlatan’ or someone who was just trying to con me for money; she was very kind and genuine. Whether what she did was ‘real’ or not, it had a positive effect on me and I would visit her again.

In terms of Eastern Medicine, I have had acupuncture done to me. Acupuncture is widely recognised as a practice with health benefits, like massage and meditation. How it works is little needles are placed into the body, stimulating the release of pain-releasing endorphins. Some people have acupuncture to help with back-pain or chronic migraines. 

When people have ‘near death experiences’ and claim they ‘saw God’ or ‘know the answers to the universe’, they are having a subjective experience. Their brain produces chemicals that make them think what has happened is ‘seeing God’, but in reality is just chemicals being released due to the shock or adrenalin after the near-death experience. Same goes for astral projection; it’s another method of confirmation bias in which our brains take us to ‘somewhere else.’ In terms of parallel universes and the multiverse theory, that is a widely held belief in the scientific community and something I also believe in, but that’s separate from Astral Projection which claims to enter some sort of ‘astral plane of existence.’

Some people take psychedelics like DMT, shrooms or acid, and claim they have this ‘spiritual experience’ that makes them know all the answers to the universe. I think taking drugs to ‘achieve’ some sort of ‘spiritual enlightenment’ is extremely dangerous and spiritual satisfaction and wellbeing can be achieved without the use of harmful drugs. If some people take these drugs and it has positive effects on them, good for them, but long term these drugs have a poor effect on the brain and can re-wire the brain, in some cases leading to severe mental illnesses.

Crystal Healing is something Jaclyn covered in her series, and her video on it was quite funny. She stated and I agree that carrying a crystal to remind yourself to stay positive can have a positive effect on the brain. What we think, we become. Positivity breeds positivity, just as negativity breeds negativity; correlates with the laws of physics. Crystals are also very pretty to look at. I have a rose quartz necklace (that I bought from the shop where I had the reading) that I think is lovely, but I don’t believe it possesses intrinsic power. Crystals are rocks, they don’t intrinsically hold ‘healing power.’

Everything in the universe is made of energy waves and atoms, including us. When one speaks of ‘chakras’ or ‘auras’ or ‘karma’, I don’t think it’s good to mystify it too much. Our aura is the magnetic field around our bodies. If you look vacantly at a person, you can see yellow or green bright light coming off them. I have done this on people multiple times; I see their ‘aura’ – what I am simply seeing is the energy jumping off them. When we speak of ‘positive vibes’, we mean certain people give off good energy or good vibes, and some don’t. Chakras are the energy centres in our bodies. When we meditate, we are connecting to our ‘inner self’ or ‘higher potential’ or the channels that flow through our chakras. I don’t pretend to be an expert on this; I think that’s roughly what happens.

Karma is just the fact that what goes around comes around; if you treat someone like shit, you’re likely to receive that back. It correlates with a causal deterministic universe where everything is linked, and we are all connected and part of each other. I’m no expert in Physics, Science, Buddhism or any of that stuff, but I do think that is the simplest crux of it and no more need be read into it then that. I think mystifying things can lead to some becoming confused and creating unnecessary ‘heebie-jeebies’ that don't need to be there.

So yeah, there was my very long post on, erm, astrology and new age stuff. I hope you enjoyed it; please leave your thoughts below on anything I have covered within the post!

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I'm Zarina Macha, an author, blogger, and musician from London. I write about stuff on the internet 'cos having opinions is fun -- if you want to join the games, please note your thoughts below. All thoughts welcome, even if they're mean (just no spam links please -- can't tell you what a liability those are to remove).
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