While studies show that religious affiliation has decreased significantly over the past few decades, there is no shortage of people who identify as spiritual, but not religious — and who are increasingly attracted to New Age practices. There is a rise in women who identify as “witches” and people who rely on popular apps like CoStar for daily horoscopes to guide them. And yet, they reject organized religion and its practices. What does our Church say about this phenomenon, and how do we respond? I write to share my own experiences with some of these practices and my realizations about them, as well as to unpack a balanced, Catholic feminist perspective.
As a little girl, I was fascinated by magic. Like Matilda, I wanted to make things move with my mind. Like Harry Potter, I longed to attend a special school and study magic. I grew up with movies and TV shows like Hocus Pocus, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Charmed. I was attracted to those images of powerful women with supernatural abilities to affect and control a myriad of things in their lives.
Looking for Answers
Although I was raised Catholic, conversations about zodiac signs were normal in my home, and I grew obsessed with learning about astrology and its assessments of different personalities. When I experienced bullying and felt the pain of unrequited love interests, I wanted to understand why, and astrology seemed to offer solutions. The night sky mesmerized me, evoking a sense of wonder and awe as I looked up at something so much bigger than me. Though small and powerless in the context of the cosmos, I felt a sense of significance and connectedness to it all.
The night sky mesmerized me, evoking a sense of wonder and awe as I looked up at something so much bigger than me.
Astrology claims to makes connections among our identities, the events of our daily lives, and the vast expanse of the universe. Astrology posits that your personality is shaped by the location of the sun, moon, and other planets in the sky at the time of your birth and that the continuous movement of the celestial bodies across the path of the sun affects your daily activities. By learning the zodiac signs of my bullies or love interests, I believed, I could understand and predict their behavior. I devoured monthly horoscopes in the hope that they would provide wisdom that would help me navigate my social and emotional lives.
By the time I was in college, I had turned to tarot cards, oracle boards, and star charts to find the answers to my most pressing questions about the future. Ultimately, I sought self-awareness so I could develop as a person, and I believed that those things would help me. All the while, I was attending Mass and participating in a weekly Bible study. I knew that my Catholic Faith condemned participation in witchcraft and the occult, but somehow, I rationalized that these other things were more innocuous. I wasn’t making potions or casting hexes; I just wanted answers to questions in my life.
Eventually, I began to recognize that the cards, boards, and horoscopes never gave me answers, resolution, or peace. I was left with more questions and an increased need to know the future, rather than with a sense of contentment and trust.
Eventually, I began to recognize that the cards, boards, and horoscopes never gave me answers, resolution, or peace.
Our Deepest Longings
The first of the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses is, “You shall not have other gods beside me” (Exodus 20:3). God created us for relationship with Him, and He knows that nothing except Him will fulfill our deepest longings. The first commandment is not just an arbitrary rule but, rather, an orientation that will lead to the proper worship of God and the satisfaction of our restless hearts. The Catechism unpacks this commandment, saying:
All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to “unveil” the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone. (2116)
When life brought hard questions and I sought answers, I didn’t want to put everything in God’s hands; I tried to take matters into my own. Astrology and tarot readings made me believe I had some kind of control, but they only left me anxious. One of the leaders of my college faith group often counseled me with words from Psalm 23 and Isaiah 55, reminding me that God wanted me to come to Him for the richest wine, milk, and bread, to have my cup overflow, because of His great love for me. In seeking answers from cards and stars, was I really trusting in Him? Did I really believe that God loved me and desired my greatest good? As I reflected on these questions and grew in my relationship with God, my attraction to divination started to wane.
God wanted me to come to Him for the richest wine, milk, and bread, to have my cup overflow, because of His great love for me.
Ultimately, my intellect and my heart made me confront this desire for a supernatural ability to predict and control things in my life. If I really believe that God loves me, wants good things for me, and has my best interests at heart, why don’t I go to Him directly? Why go to the stars for answers and consolation when I could go to the One who made them? In 2003, the Vatican released a document presenting a Christian reflection on New Age spirituality. The heart of the document is this statement:
The success of New Age offers the Church a challenge. People feel the Christian religion no longer offers them – or perhaps never gave them – something they really need. The search which often leads people to the New Age is a genuine yearning: for a deeper spirituality, for something which will touch their hearts, and for a way of making sense of a confusing and often alienating world (Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life 1.5).
In our desire for guidance and wisdom, we need look no further than the voice of God speaking in the depths of our own hearts (so long as we learn to listen). While He does not answer every question or offer us every explanation, God Himself satisfies all of our deepest longings. It is in Christ alone that we find peace.
God Himself satisfies all of our deepest longings. It is in Christ alone that we find peace.