Recently in a radio interview, Living Successfully host Bob Keeton asked me the question “Is astrology a cult?”

I never before realized how profound and important this question is. What exactly is astrology, and how does it relate to spirituality? When a fellow seeker asked on my online forum, “Is there room for God in astrology?” I knew it was time to write this article.

Is there room for God in astrology? You might as well ask if there is room for God in botany. It’s true that spiritual and/or religious people often work with astrology. However, you do not have to believe in a higher power to study and use astrology, any more than you would to study a flower blooming. Astrology is not a question of faith, but a fact of life, like the rising and setting of the Sun, the phases of the Moon, and the tides.

Common among world religions is belief in a creator, an infinite benevolent presence that is so large and intricate that the human mind cannot understand the entirety of it. This creator fashioned the universe with the heavens in synch with Earth. And this is where astrology fits in with almost all religious or spiritual beliefs— it is the study of the synchronicity of heaven and earth.

It is said that each of us carries a small piece of the divine within us, also known as the soul. The soul incarnates in human or animal form in order to help others, or to learn more about the nature of existence through interaction with others. It is only when the conscious mind cooperates with the soul’s needs that we find true happiness in life. Resisting or ignoring these needs leads to a feeling of emptiness, “there must be more to life than this.” An astrological chart, when applied in a spiritual context, is a “roadmap” that suggests concrete ways for an individual to engage and work with the soul.

Astrology is the study of planetary cycles. Over thousands of years, humans have noticed synchronicity between planetary patterns, and natural and social activity on Earth. The cycle of day/night, the four seasons, and the tides are the most obvious examples. But there are other more subtle patterns as well. Astrologers draw from a reservoir of knowledge, collected over several millennia of human experience, and then use their knowledge to help themselves or others.

It is possible to use this knowledge to further selfish interests as well as spiritual awareness. Consider our botanist for a moment. Her tree has many uses— she can build furniture with it, burn it for light and warmth, sit beneath it for shade and comfort, eat fruit from it, or simply embrace it, forming a connection by which she can access the divine. Likewise, astrology has many different applications. There are spiritual or karmic astrologers, psychological astrologers, financial, medical, relocation astrologers, astrologers who make predictions. There are even astrologers who forecast weather by the planetary patterns.

This idea is commonly misunderstood, as astrology has a reputation for being, at best, a titillating parlor game, in which the “fortune teller” predicts events in the querent’s future. This can make the idea of a chart reading seem daunting. Occasionally people say to me, “I’d rather not know,” because they fear I will tell them something bad will happen.

But the idea prevalent in modern psychological and spiritual astrology is that the stars impel, they do not compel. We can use astrology to read energies, tendencies or influences present in a person’s life, but we cannot say how that person will use them. I can tell you that a storm is coming, but what you’ll do with that information— whether you’ll plant a garden, buy an umbrella, or run outdoors with a lightning rod— is your decision.

Unlike God, we astrologers do not have all the answers— but we can help to reframe the questions by clarifying the energetic context.