Please note that this is the 1st in a series of 4 articles from 4 different authors on the topic of Shamanism & Astrology.
I spent much of my twenties sitting in Friday-night ceremonial circles with my mentor, author and ecofeminist Eileen “ike” West. We didn’t call our work “shamanism,” but that’s the word our modern world is most familiar with.
As you know, sitting in a shamanic circle is about co-creating with Spirit. We work with the spirits of our ancestors and dream keepers, of the rocks and trees and animals. The spirit of the Earth herself, the Sun, and the Moon. And, yes, planets too.
My mentor had lived on a closed reservation for a decade. She’d married into one of the tribe’s medicine families, which initiated her into many traditional practices. With permission from the tribe, and to keep her own practice alive, she held her own ceremonial circles.
But since none of us – her students – had that same lived experience with the tribe, it wasn’t going to be appropriate for us to represent tribal ways. “Go explore your own tradition,” were words I took deeply to heart.
So my search began. As fate would have it, I lived across the street from a New Age bookstore aptly named “Celebration.” There was nothing I didn’t read and explore. When I stumbled across astrology, my childhood love of the stars reawakened.
But in all the astrology books I read, there was still something missing: a living experience of the sky. I set out to find it.
Soul of the Planets
For cultures that spent a lot of time under the night sky, it’s clear the planets are special. Against the background of the fixed stars, the planets move. Our word for planet comes from a Greek word that means “wanderer.”
To the ancients, things that moved had desires. They had Soul. And if it had Soul, it had the possibility of Intelligence — what we might call “consciousness.”
In fact, the word Zodiac — the band of the heavens through which the Sun and all the planets move — was Zoidia (from the Greek ζῷον, zōion). As Hellenistic Astrologer Joseph Crane points out, Zoidia (pronounced Zoy-ja) is a complex term referring to a “living thing, also the seat of a god, or a picture or icon.”
Zōion also means “animal” — which shares a root with the word animism, that concept so essential to the shamanic worldview.
As such, shamanism may be the most ancient form of astrology. It certainly predates astrological chart-making. In fact, every indigenous culture on Earth has had its own version.
Toward a Shamanic Astrology
Shamanic astrology recognizes that the planets have a living essence. One that works differently from our human version of consciousness, but is no less real. This living spirit is something with which we can interact and experience all the way down to our bones.
Shamanism uses techniques and tools to induce altered states of consciousness in order to allow us to interact directly with the Spirit world for healing, divination, and communion.
These tools have included guided visualizations, energy work, channelling (aspecting), music, drums, chanting, dancing, attuning with natural objects and spirit allies, dreams, and entheogens. And astrology, too.
In fact, astrology chart-making was a tool specifically designed to enable us to cultivate a deeper communion with the living essence of the planets. To understand what they want, and how we can best co-create with them. As well as the obvious: to know when the planet would be visible so community rituals could be planned to connect with specific planets.
To the Hellenistic Greeks, who invented our familiar form of astrology with signs, houses, and charts, the planets served as midwives to our Soul’s embodiment. They acted as mediating agents, weaving the divine and terrestrial realms together.
To know them was to know who we are and why we’re here.
A Brief History of Planet-Talking
This need to connect to the cosmos is so embedded in the human experience that every time and place has found its own way of “talking with the planets.”
In ancient Greece and Rome, astrology was used to help you identify your guardian spirits. The healer-seers of the Asclepian dream temples used dreamwork and guided visualizations to bring healing and wholeness. Neoplatonists used astral theurgy to commune with the planets to forge a path toward enlightenment.
Even after the institutional Church tore down the temples to the old gods, archangels came to be associated with each planet, acting as their messengers. During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, we used astral magic techniques to create talismans and rituals to work with planetary spirits.
Though the Scientific Revolution squashed talk of “living spirits,” modern psychologists such as Carl Jung and Roberto Assagioli advocated using active imagination to work with what they called archetypal energies, employing techniques involving dreamwork, hypnosis, and guided visualization.
In the 1970s and 80s, astrologers developed experiential forms of astrology, including astrodrama and guided visualizations, as part of chart interpretations.
All these techniques encourage personal experience with the planets. As psychologist and author Babs Kirby wrote, “experiential astrology creates a richness and diversity rarely found in cookbook interpretations.”
The shamanic elements of astrology pop up again and again, century after century, because shamanism is an ancestor of the astrological tradition. Even if someone hasn’t studied history, the urge to connect will re-emerge, because it’s hard-wired into the astrological system itself.
Beyond Astrology Schools
There’s a challenge many face when setting out to learn astrology: There are so many different astrological “languages” it’s easy to get caught up in the intellectual whirl of which school of thought is right.
Fortunately shamanic astrology provides a solution to the challenge. It crosses these boundaries because it operates on a level beyond such distinctions by encouraging us to develop our own personal connections with the planet spirits.
So, for example, there’s no conflict that I’m both a traditional astrologer and a shamanic astrologer. Traditional astrology has a rich magical heritage, which fits well with how I work with clients. But I’m also a shamanic astrologer because I’m consciously engaging with the living spirits of the planets and using various ways to induce altered states to connect with them.
There are modern shamanic astrologers too. Evolutionary astrology’s concern with Soul also resonates well with the shamanic worldview. Using active imagination techniques to connect with Soul to find healing certainly has roots in shamanism. The Shamanic Astrology Mystery School also grew out of modern astrology’s techniques and world view.
Indian astrology, called Vedic or Jyotish, never lost its shamanic essence. Planetary invocations and remedial measures are a common part of the practice of this tradition. You can still find altars to the planets (called navagrahas, the “nine who seize you.”)
You don’t even need to be able to read an astrological chart to do shamanic astrology. You may be practicing without realizing it. If you’ve ever participated in the ritual Drawing Down the Moon, you’re doing shamanic astrology even if you haven’t called it that.
If you believe in Gaia — that our planet is alive and conscious in her own way — then it’s a small step to consider other planets have their own consciousness.
Re-Enchanting the Worlds
Today I realize how very fortunate I was to have had so many years to connect with the living cosmos in a real-world community. It was a precious gift, one that’s becoming even more rare in our modern world of “Netflix and chill.”
Community is not optional. Co-creating with Spirit is so much more powerful when done in a community of embodied-human-spirits. The circle holds the bridge in a stable, grounded way. Working in community follows the path of the Heart.
So, you can imagine my delight and excitement when, in 2015, I met Amanda “Pua” Walsh. She had a passionate vision to build an “Astrology Hub” online – a place where we could gather our star-loving tribe to work together in intentional, heart-centered community to explore and embody our cosmic connections.
One of the first courses we launched was my own shamanic astrology program. For the last several years, I’ve experimented with how to marry shamanic techniques with astrological wisdom, to create an initiatory experience for those who want to connect more deeply with the planets.
But the most magical part of the program was the profound sense of community it generated. As part of the course, we created a private Facebook group to share experiences from our inner planetary journeys. For many, it was an ecstatic homecoming – “I’ve been doing this my whole life, but I thought I was the only one. I had no idea there was a name for it!”
I love working with shamanic practitioners who want to deepen their connection with the planets.