We're Made of Mud and Magic

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We’re not the centre of the universe

Penny: "Okay - I'm a Sagittarius, which probably tells you way more than you need to know." Sheldon: "Yes - it tells us that you participate in the mass cultural delusion that the sun's apparent position relative to arbitrarily defined constellations at the time of your birth somehow affects your personality." Three or four times a year, people find reason to blame the normal problems of modern life on Mercury going backwards in the sky – the dreaded so-called “Mercury retrograde”. People who are normally quite rational seem to buy into this superstition.


It is silly enough to believe that the movement of a planet some 77 million kilometers away has an impact on our emails and travel plans, but to believe that an illusion of movement of a planet affects our lives is ridiculous. See, Mercury doesn’t actually move backwards; it just appears to do so from the earth’s perspective. If we were the centre of the solar system, Mercury would be moving in loops, but we’re not the centre of anything. We circle around an average star in a mediocre neighbourhood, universally-speaking.


Humans, as a species, are arrogant. In mainstream Western culture, nature is about our needs. The God of the Bible created everything to feed and clothe and serve us, and we are the ultimate creation – the reason for all the rest. Some Pagans may say that we worship nature, but sometimes we fall victim to delusions of human importance too, and we end up worshiping nature only in relation to its utility to us, where autumn is all about our harvest and spring is all about our planting, and never mind that that’s the human wheel of the year, not nature’s.


That same thinking feeds “Mercury retrograde” fears. At it’s core, that superstition assumes that the earth is the centre around which all things revolve and that we’re so cosmically important that the fact that we see a planet going backwards from our limited viewpoint is enough to create communication and travel chaos.


I have recently read several articles that explain why Mercury retrograde is nonsense and then go on to say that the author believes in it anyway because they’ve experienced it. One author lists a whole bunch of reasons why they personally might be experiencing communication difficulties, including some long term stress, and somehow concludes that those reasons are not sufficient to explain some recent problems they’ve had and that the difference must be Mercury. Humans are awful at evaluating this kind of stuff. We have huge perception biases, we are terrible at calculating risk, and we often have little understanding of how certain factors actually do affect us.


I really like this: “… if there’s any life lessons to learn from Mercury retrograde, it’s that we may be vulnerable to illusions when we think that everything revolves around us.


Pagans, we are better than “Mercury retrograde”.


ETA: Looks like I’m not the only Pagan finding the “Mercury retrograde” thing particularly obnoxious right now. Read Lupa / The Green Wolf’s take on it: “Is Anyone Else Getting Weird Vibes?”: On Confirmation Bias and Emotional States.

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