Horoscopes, Manifestation and Secular Religion

Before the clock struck twelve and we bid our farewells to 2019, many people began “manifesting” wealth, success, and travel into 2020. The irony of what ensued aside, there has been a growing emphasis upon the power each individual has in realizing their own future. While one could joke that manifestation is just dua in disguise, or that “energies” are souls with a different name, understanding the semantic lining makes it clear the former is steeped in a worldview quite separate from the Islamic perspective.

While no one would call interest in horoscopes a religion, especially if we only take the aspect of it which focuses on personality, a strong conviction about birth charts does qualify it as at the very least a belief system. Hinduism has even already codified birth charts as a part of its religious creed. While most people have decided to ignore the ‘future-telling’ tail end of horoscopes, ‘manifestation’ has stepped in to make up for it. Although in a much different form, it is no less whimsical. The seemingly ‘innocent’ side of horoscope culture which deals with character traits should also be looked at with a critical eye.

Manifestation ignores the will of God and reducing the human spirit to “energies” tells us enough about the extent to which we can reconcile these concepts with Islam. Some Muslims have tried to co-opt the essence of manifestation by adding in sha Allah to their self-affirmations. It is argued that, by adopting this oral practice, the remembrance of Allah as the ultimate bearer of fate is simply underlined with an extra source of motivation. In other words, “speaking things into existence” is a virtue that can be embodied with the help of God. The issue here is that God becomes secondary. 

New Age Spirituality

Wouter J. Hanegraaff writes in “New Age Spiritualities as Secular Religion: A Historian’s Perspective”, “…while spiritualities had traditionally been embedded in the collective symbolism of an existing religion, New Age spiritualities are manifestations of a radically private symbolism embedded directly in secular culture.”[1] The problem with secularism is not only that it distances society from a religious corpus – subjects of the movement try to convince themselves that it is not a religion of its own. A civilization’s ‘religious membrane’ is thus not carefully sliced away but replaced. In the modern world, each individual is a god. The individual orbits around oneself, all at once claiming to “connect with the universe” in pious meditation.

With the rise of horoscope culture, New Age spiritualists trust astrology as if it is not, in reality, an appropriation of religious spirituality regurgitated into new texts. This contradiction exposes a gaping hole in secular religion, which seeks to find refuge in a higher power, but refuses to identify what that higher power is. This new religion, as described by Durkheim in 1995, consists entirely of interior and subjective states, freely construed by each person who takes their oath of allegiance to the mirror before them. This ‘higher power’ is whatever your heart desires. Perhaps people overestimate their ability to abandon the concept of religion all-together. While it is easy, at face value, to turn away from theologies established centuries ago, it is another matter to forfeit religion as the basis for human perspective as a whole. This speaks to our fitra or innate nature.

Durkheim’s hypothesis has become a fact of contemporary times. Hanegraaff defines New Age religion “as a form of “secularized esotericism”: it is rooted in so-called Western esoteric traditions which can be traced back to the early Renaissance, but underwent a thorough process of secularization during the 19th century.” [1] Religion was placed under much philosophical scrutiny. This slow and steady devaluation, built off of a false antithesis (religion and science as sworn enemies), can be broken up into stages. Hanegraaff uses his historical analysis to give names to certain periods, “The new phenomenon of a secularized esotericism is best referred to as “occultism”; it had come to full development by the beginning of the 20th century and was eventually adopted by the New Age movement as it emerged during the 1970s.”[1] The ‘need’ to replace Christianity in the West with this secular cosmos may not only be the result of a seed planted during the Enlightenment, but the ongoing evolution of Christianity itself.

Hanegraaf proposes that,

“Christian doctrines and theologies have undergone tremendous changes and transformations […] indeed, the disputes of theologians appear usually to have produced discord and discontinuity rather than maintaining certainty and safeguarding the cohesion and continuity of Christianity as a religion.”

Lambert produced a study supplementing this claim, using data from religiosity surveys in England. “He identifies three trends: evidence of ‘internal Christian renewal’, but within a shrinking base of churchgoers; an established shift to believing without belonging, although expressed mainly through beliefs that are ‘less typically Christian’; and also, a continued growth in the numbers of young people who have never belonged to a Christian religion at any point in their lives.”[3] It is no wonder that there is widespread attraction toward New Age spirituality in this part of the world.

Horoscope Culture

Bob Franklin writes in Pulling Newspapers Apart: Analysing Print Journalism, “Somewhere between 25 per cent and 70 percent of the adult population of most western countries read horoscope columns.” [2] Quite a normalized part of Western life, “The horoscope column is considered an essential feature of most modern media aimed at a mass audience.” [2] 

By the 1970s, when the New Age movement really took steam, magazines began to prioritize innovative ways to include horoscopes. It followed right along with the development of more advanced technology, so when running pre-recorded voice tapes became possible in 1988, daily, weekly, and monthly horoscope readings were broadcasted. Promoting astrologers the same way they did celebrities yielded a lot of profit. To this end, the capitalist venture of New Age spirituality cannot go ignored. Jonathan Cainer was reputed to be earning a million pounds a year providing the Daily Mail with horoscope lines that people could call.

While it is seen as overly didactic of “Muslim Twitter” to remind people that being invested in horoscopes steers eerily close to shirk, it doesn’t take a religious perspective to see that horoscope descriptions are often so general that most people can recognize them as true regardless of their alignment with the stars and moons. According to Franklin, “only the Marxist-Freudian Theodor Adorno set out to establish a comprehensive critique of horoscope columns in the 1950s.” [2] Adorno decided that horoscope columns reel in individuals willing to surrender authority over their own lives to a higher power. These people, in his eyes, would then go on to look down on those who don’t –  apparently the perfect formula for supporting fascists. The logic is that they are inclined to reproduce the same power hierarchy they base their spirituality on. The issue isn’t submission to a higher power; as we know this is the very meaning of Islam. Surely enough, however, horoscopes as a starting point for this epistemology is problematic.

The secularization of spirituality remains a strange phenomenon, and horoscopes are only one facet of its appearance. A study conducted by Glendinning and Bruce using a sample of Scottish men and women found that the majority of people who called themselves spiritual but not religious, or said that ‘there is some sort of spirit or life force’, admittedly ambiguous, consulted ‘alternative practices’ like horoscopes. More than that, “Respondents who once participated but say they have rejected organized religion altogether are almost three times as likely as weekly churchgoers to have used and to see practices associated with divination as important in their lives.” [3]

While secular religion is rather free-form, following the indefinite course of fleeting pleasures, it still follows a general pattern. That is to say, it does not exist in a vacuum. Even Franklin admits that, “Astrology has a huge appeal and it is implausible to suggest, as its critics do, that it is, or should be regarded as, merely of mass entertainment, even if horoscope columns tend to appear alongside jokes and cartoons.”[2] While most people would view these columns as a mindless read, its place in culture goes far beyond editorial theory.

Veneration of the sun traces back to an ancient Greek and Egyptian concept of a ‘central spiritual sun’, “which occupied the same space as the physical sun, but acted as a lens for transmitting the divine light of God into the visible universe.” [2] This is where everything comes full circle: New Age spirituality characterized by a resurrection of pagan beliefs and post-modernist rejection of a singular truth. Religion was on-par with astrology and yet, the depletion of religious thought led to the unfortunately influential words of Dane Rudhyar, American successor of English astrologer Alan Leo:

“Today is a new birthday for the ancient gods. New men call for new symbols. Their cry rises, beyond their logical intellects ashamed of mystical longings, for new gods to worship and to use in order to integrate their harrowing mental confusion and to stabilize their uprooted souls. Young gods, fresh and radiant with the sunshine of a new dawn, glorified with the ‘golden light’ of a new Sun of Power, ecstatic with virgin potentialities after the banishment of ancient nightmares.” [2]

A deprived Western soul still prevails. And as we see by Leo’s exclamations, it has been given the wrong medication. The shell of the oxymoron that is secular religion is cracked wide open. While the common consumer of horoscopes is unaware of the intricacies of ancient Greek/Egyptian thought, based on an aforementioned ‘central spiritual sun’, the subscription to its modern and commercialized derivative is so strong that offense is taken when even interest in horoscopes is berated.

New Fad or Faith?: Manifestation

Manifestation isn’t fortune cookie business. In other words, it doesn’t deal with predicting the future, nor does it make presumptions about your personality like what horoscopes are most referenced for. For many, it is as harmless as yoga. To make a loose comparison, they both aim to center and clear the mind, give the opportunity to build confidence in oneself, and promise that other aspects of life will sort itself out with the right attitude in place. Unlike yoga that hinges itself on general emotive states like peace or gratitude, manifestation is about the spiritual capacity to summon specific things into your life. This distinction is one highlighted in Glendinning and Bruce’s study: “alternative practices representing well-being” and “practices concerned with the revelation of hidden things and a desire to know about the future.”[3]

While Muslims have tried to find ways to mesh the art of manifestation with Islam, manifestation as a secular ‘holistic milieu’[3] was never meant to include a god. It precisely owes its thanks to the “mortal manifester” if a certain desired outcome was achieved. Even associating the universe with Allah would be an inappropriate form of address. In Al-A’raf Allah says,

“Do they associate with Him those who create nothing and they are [themselves] created?” [7:191]

Now, this isn’t to say that those who believe in success through the power of positive reinforcement and self-encouragement are deliberately engaging with a harmful frame of mind. Pushing oneself to carry out the necessary steps to attain something is normal, and more than that, it is something good. The insistence of the word manifestation, however, and fully accepting what it means, is very much in line with New Age spirituality, and so it may be worth revisiting the language we decide to use. Manifestation compromises our understanding of destiny. No matter how much we ‘manifest’, if something is not meant for us, it will never come to be. In fact, we manifest nothing. Allah is He who manifests all.

Lisa Love’s Beyond the Secret: Spiritual Power and the Law of Attraction[5] outlines steps on how to manifest. She claims that everything she’s gotten in life – her home, marriage, children, and more, were the result of manifestation. Step one in her guidebook is to “Orient toward Spirit”.  She writes, “Before you start wishing for something, invite Spirit into the process.” She never defines what this Spirit (with a capital S) is. Attributing what we have attained in this life to our own ability of generating the proper energies is to willfully ignore qadr or divine will. Using manifestation and Islamic supplication (dua) interchangeably shows a shallow understanding of what manifestation is at its core. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ did not discover manifestation when he prayed istikhara, he demonstrated to us how Allah can answer our calls, if He so sees fit, through sincere worship and plea.

The law of attraction is a strong tenet of manifestation. Through William Walker Atikinson’s practice of thought vibrations, thoughts of love would attract love from other people into your life, along with circumstances and surroundings in accord with that thought.[4] The same would be the case for thoughts of anger, hate, envy, malice and jealousy. The more you dwell on a certain emotion, the more you become the center of attraction for such emotion or state of mind.

There can be a parallel drawn to our own ethos, but it is best to derive our teachings from Islam directly. One must have trust in Allah while supplicating and think positively of Him. A hadith narrated by al-Tirmidhi and al-Hakim from Abu-Hurayrah and authenticated by al-Albani in Sahih al-Jami reads,

“Make dua to God in a state that you are certain that your dua will be responded to, and know that God does not respond to a dua that originates from a negligent, inattentive heart.”

There is another that states,

“Allah, may He be exalted, says: ‘I am as My slave thinks I am.’” [Narrated by al-Bukhari, 7405; Muslim, 4675]

These notices to us are intrinsically tied to our prayer experience and perception of Allah, rather than a vague notion of transmitting energies into the universe that will then be circulated by mother nature. Furthermore, once we move away from our desires in the material world, manifestation appears to be much more questionable. There is a reason why one would not speak of ‘manifesting’ their place in jannah (Paradise) – it speaks to superseding one’s own power to cause an effect.

Although those who grew up in irreligious households tend to express little sympathy for non-materialist beliefs, the emergence of terms like manifestation at least goes to show that for many, something beyond and above themselves is a source of comfort. The existence of a higher power is a conclusion many are drawn to, but what they call it differs from the truth. The uniformity in horoscope and manifestation beliefs represent a new kind of collectivism, this time sprouted from individualism.

Works Cited:

[1] Hanegraaff, W. J. (1999). New Age Spiritualities as Secular Religion: a Historian’s Perspective. Social Compass, 46(2), 145–160.
[2] https://amzn.to/3jEGnL6
[3] Glendinning, T. and Bruce, S. (2006), New ways of believing or belonging: is religion giving way to spirituality? The British Journal of Sociology, 57: 399-414
[4] Atkinson, William Walker. Thought Vibration: Or, The Law of Attraction in the Thought World. Library Shelf, 1906.[5] Love, Lisa. Beyond the Secret: Spiritual Power and the Law of Attraction. Hampton Roads Publishing, 2011.
[6] Juneja, Almasara Mustufabhai, and Dr. Krishna D. Daiya. “A study of elements of law of attraction embodied in ‘The Prophet’ by Khalil Gibran &.” (2020).

Photo by Farzad Mohsenvand


About the Author: Sabrina Amrane is a journalism and political sciences student. Her interests include Maghribi history, literature, and philosophy. You can follow her on Twitter here.

2 thoughts on “Horoscopes, Manifestation and Secular Religion

  1. Asalaam u alaykum Sabrina,

    You are a very talented journalist – I have read this article and the article regarding the Mukhbang culture, I profoundly impressed how you can direct the issues with modernity and add the intersectionality of Islam in your articles.

    Yours sincerely,

    Qasim

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wa alaykum assalam,

      JazakAllah khayr for these kind words. I sincerely appreciate this feedback, can’t express how encouraging it is. May Allah bless you and thank you for reading!

      With gratitude,
      Sabrina

      Like

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