There has been a significant rise in the popularity of astrology, crystal healing and manifesting. But for those of us first dipping our toes in to the woo-woo world, the guidance can seem overwhelming. Sabina McKenna engages the experts to find out how to set intentions purposefully.
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Owing its fame to Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, and more recently to the pandemic - which sent us all indoors with nothing to do but think - manifesting has become a kind of new age self-help.
I have personally tried almost every ‘ritual’ and ‘cleanse’ that has crossed my For You page, and, judging by the amount of astrology content online right now, I think it’s safe to say I’m not alone.
Videos reciting ‘I don’t chase, I attract. What is meant for me, will simply find me’, boast a very appealing idea in an era of hustle culture. But while consciously practicing optimistic thoughts might be easy, it’s much harder to quantify the effects.
In an effort to confirm some of these magical thinking allegations, I reached out to a TikToker who I have followed for a while, Ryan Lu (or @e.mo.tions on the platform).
As we started talking he mentioned the large pile of astrology books sitting next to him. He has a BA in Psychology, which he says laid a solid foundation for his current work, but as an astrologer he is entirely self-taught.
Due to his expertise he has built an impressive following of nearly half a million people on the app. He describes his practice as umbrella-spirituality and posts a lot about energetic gateways. I like his videos most because they are practical.
I ask him whether the internet (and I) are doing it all wrong. He says there isn’t really a right or wrong; spirituality is based on the idea of free thought and personal interpretation (phew).
"A misconception people have is that this is the new-age of religion, but it’s not. Spirituality is freedom and it is your own practice. While everyone may believe different aspects of astrology to mine, it’s about what you identify and resonate with."
Ryan’s spiritual methodology involves "looking at the moons primarily, and then transits and what they can do for us." And he doesn’t post just anything: "I practice what I preach," he says. "When I post a video about a way to manifest on a specific new moon, I’m doing that too."
I tried one of Ryan’s rituals back in August. It was a new moon in Leo and the opening of an astrological event called the Lion’s Gate portal.
I wasn’t sure how portals work — transits, conjunctions, squares and other astrological events having gone over my head so far, but being an especially powerful time for manifesting, I gave it a try.
After burning a pile of bay leaves, on which I had written the 30 or so (really important) things I wanted to manifest, I felt anxious that some of the leaves had not burned entirely.
Months went by and they were still on my desk - I was worried that throwing them away would mean discarding my manifestations.
"At the heart of everything is your intention," Ryan assured me. "The universe is going to align with that regardless." Hope was not lost for my Lion’s Gate desires after all.
"It’s best to think of those little nuances as tools that make the experience better rather than make or break your practice. A lot of what works is saying: I have this power to create the life I want for myself."
That being said, I learned it’s worth more to understand not how to manifest but when; while talking to Astrologer and life coach Celeste Brooks.
She shared that understanding short and long-term moon cycles in detail can move your manifestations to another level.
Celeste specialises in tailored goal and intention-setting according to the longer (nine-month) cycles of the moon, as well as the more commonly understood four-week cycles.
Each new moon (or cycle) begins in conjunction with an astrological sign and in alignment with a planet, which is matched to your personal chart.
Celeste explains: "There are 12 houses in a birth chart (which is calculated using your time, place and date of birth), referencing a different sign and aspect of life."
Using this information, Celeste is able to predict the best time for someone to manifest a set of intentions around a specific area of their life. "Typically you take the sign, and you take the house and you come up with goals that help you progress things. The houses, in the way they move also in the signs, is just a beautiful system."
With a corporate background, Celeste approaches her work from a more behavioural lens. She and Ryan both echoed the sentiment that the most important way to make manifestations ‘work’, is by putting action behind them - doing things to bring your aspirations into reality.
Other popular content online falls short in this respect. There are countless videos saying: "all you have to do is like this video" and money will show up, or "your manifestations aren’t coming true because you aren’t believing them enough" - so it was good to hear Celeste laugh when I asked for her thoughts on "the power of thinking optimistically as a stand-alone tactic".
"I’m not so much into magical thinking," she says. "How you talk to yourself is really important, but setting intentions is about what you’re going to do and how you’re going to take action.
"All this love-and-light and easy street has become so popular, but I don’t think it’s realistic. It’s not goal-setting."
Setting aside the time to write down goals and the actionable steps toward them is a great habit for anyone to form – a cathartic way to welcome in (or let go of) aspects of our lives.
I checked with Ryan if approaching this type of spirituality in its most basic framework is that you manifest during a new moon, and cleanse during a full moon. He agreed: "It’s not really that much more complicated.
"As someone interested in spirituality, astrology and manifestation and the umbrella of it all, it’s just a part of my life.
For those who want more intricate rituals and practices, that's absolutely fine, but for those who don’t have the time or interest, do it on your own way, whatever makes the most sense to you."
Celeste recommends starting with an astrology reading too.
"Understanding your chart and specifically the big three - your Sun (the essence of your identity), your Moon (your subconscious and underlying behaviour), and your Rising (your mask or how others perceive you), can be really helpful for understanding what drives your inner and outer world, and any self-limiting beliefs.
"Mindset is very important. You can see your blind spots in a chart, acknowledge them and move forward."
As an earth sign, the irony of expecting everything to happen while doing nothing has never been lost on me.
But at the same time (and in fear of accidentally proclaiming myself a skeptic), there is something to be said for having faith that anything is possible.
After all, now that we know our thoughts can dictate our behaviour, how can we create the reality of our dreams if we don’t believe in our fullest potential?