The word astral appears in many paranormal and occult paradigms. Within paradigms of energy work and Western ceremonial magic(k), it tends to connote mystical planes of existence or states of experience, albeit ancient people viewed it more literally. The words astrology, astronomy, and astral have the prefix astro. The prefix astro signifies a relationship to celestial bodies. Celestial planets are things that we can see in the sky, such as stars and planets. From that perspective, astral energy would be the influence of planets. Metaphysical practices that use astral influences are forms of planetary magic, astrology, and ceremonial magic. Some Hermetic branches of occultism subscribe to Idealism, so there is an overlap between psychic power concepts of astral influence. Our ability to see these objects in the night sky means their influence is traveling to us in the form of light. That type of influence is very different than the influence mystical schools of thought say the planets have on us.
From an epistemological perspective, astrology is incorrect. Astrological sidereal times are inaccurate, astrological predictions tend to be inaccurate, and the geocentric model was disproven centuries ago. From that perspective, astral models are neither realistic nor do they accurately predict the behavior of real things such as the outcome of events or where celestial bodies are in the night sky. An eclipse is just an eclipse, and the winter solstice is just the shortest day in the year. Their power comes from how witnessing these things impact human experience, consciousness, and society. Humans have fought significant battles over something as simple as seeing something in the sky.
Metaphysical systems that use astral correspondences also tend to use a classical elemental system and a framework of planetary intelligence. The proposition that intelligences inhabited celestial bodies is an arcane way of expressing belief in extraterrestrial intelligence. We know there is no intelligence in our solar system besides us, and any other form of intelligence on any other celestial object, I.e., a planet is extraterrestrial. The metaphysics of classical elements was in opposition to Atomism. We scientifically know that Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire do not comprise matter; instead, atomic properties comprise matter. While we can reconcile the idea that a psychic influence manipulates a physical system’s harmonic operators to shift statistical properties, it is hard to reconcile Chemistry with planetary, ceremonial, elemental, or “astral” forms of magic without dissonance or regarding them as purely symbolic systems.
Thaumaturgy: The Magical Black Box
When asked what I practice, I refer to myself as a sorcerer that practices Thaumaturgy. Because my sorcery is real, abstract, and lacks the authenticity of a tradition, my sorcery tends to exasperate occultists who define magic in the scope of religion or cultural traditions and identity. The term magic within art is ambiguous and somewhat subjective. From an archetypal perspective, we may recognize magic as fantastical, miraculous, and awe-inspiring phenomena. While watching or playing Skyrim, Once Upon A Time, or Constantine, we can recognize that conjuring up fireballs is intended to be magical.
On the other hand, things we take for granted, such as flying in airplanes, would be magical to someone 2,00 years ago. Magic is like a “black box” technology. A black box technology is a machine that does something through mysterious interior workings where it can be viewed from the perspective of its inputs and outputs. The more advanced and abstract the technology, the more like magic it appears. People use computers daily, but an average person might not know the machinations behind what a computer does. From the perspecte of an end user, a computer is an enigmatic black box. Since complex mathematics, physics, and computer code are mysterious and enigmatic, they can elicit the same associations and experiences. Advanced feats of engineering and science can feel magical.
“What sorcery is this” is a common phrase that refers to bizarre technology, situations, or phenomena that summarizes how something enigmatic can appear to be sorcery. In Mathematicall Praeface to Euclid’s Elements, John Dee expressed the view that mathematics was an esoteric aspect that explained the wonders of Thaumaturgy. When Dee referred to Thaumaturgy, he referred to machines that operated through compressed air, springs, strings, pulleys, or levers. Uneducated people would view that as “sorcery.” From that perspective, natural magic would be an arcane way of regarding feats of science, engineering, and mathematics.
When attempting to represent something as magical within fiction, a typical illustration is geometries and mysterious symbols. The definition of magic is intuitive and rooted in how people recognize magic. People in an audience can recognize magic in a show or story without the art explicitly telling the audience it is magical. That recognition occurs regardless of if there is exposition that explains that system of magic. Ancient civilizations saw lightning and how the sunset at night and rose during the day as magical. Since nothing defines what is necessary for something to be magical, we can define magic by how we recognize magic in art. Magic is an aesthetic quality of enigmatic phenomena that inspires awe or is sublime. The setting of the sun can be magical.