A figure hiking on a rocky ridge is silhouetted in front of a full, bright yellow moon in a dark purple sky.
(Photo: Joel Sharpe/Getty)

Finding Magic in the Night Sky

A figure hiking on a rocky ridge is silhouetted in front of a full, bright yellow moon in a dark purple sky.

You don’t have to be an astrology buff to believe that the moon and stars have a special kind of power in our lives. Talk to almost anyone who’s spent time in the wilderness, and they’ll tell you that there’s a connection between celestial bodies and our own. In this episode, an astrology skeptic explores how our adventures can sync us up with otherworldly cycles and forces in ways that we don’t yet understand.

Podcast Transcript

Editor’s Note: Transcriptions of episodes of the Outside Podcast are created with a mix of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain some grammatical errors or slight deviations from the audio.

Maren Larsen: From Outside Magazine, this is the Outside Podcast. 

Renee Shetler: Everything is in constant relationship with one another. We know that the moon affects the tides, right?

Now, you take that one step further. We are about 70% water humans, right? Now there's that leap of trust I think in that space there that a lot of people have a hard time with. 

But I think, the idea that astrology can influence us, its science and trust.

Maren: This is Renee Shettler, senior editor at Yoga Journal, offering her take on why those of us who question the foundations of astrology might reconsider our stance.

I'm Maren Larsen: podcast producer, Gemini, and astrology skeptic. Classic Gemini, right?

Though I may not put much stock in my horoscope, I am an ardent admirer of the night sky. I love to sleep out under the stars, or to walk a trail that's illuminated by moonlight, because when I do, I get to take part in a human ritual that spans continents, cultures, and centuries. I get to look up, feel small, and wonder what it all means.

For today's episode, I invite believers and skeptics alike to do that with me–to take a moonlit jaunt and embrace the pull of celestial bodies.

To help open our minds, I asked Renee to share a bit of her journey. Because while she now oversees Yoga Journal's astrology content, she was once, like me, curious but unconvinced.

Renee: I was always a huge skeptic as a kid and as a teenager, because you know, that was back in the day when I'm dating myself, but they had newspapers and they had the little column where like, you should buy a lottery ticket today, or you're gonna divorce your husband today. And it just seemed ludicrous, quite honestly.

And I heard a lot of people really typecasting people with astrology too. And, I just, that did not feel comfortable for me, especially. I studied psychology in college and the one thing I took away from that was that you can never really get inside someone else's mind or perspective.

Maren: But over time, Renee's interactions with astrology's adherents began to shift her perspective.

Renee: A lot of people I respected who just have, not just book smarts, but just this innate intelligence around people and life and the world, talked a lot about astrology and they didn't use it to typecast. They used it as information about self, about others, about society and the world at large.

And then as I got older, my acupuncturist, he was brilliant and wise in all of these ancient cultures and traditions. And he talked a lot about astrology.

Even something as simple as I'd go and be like, yeah, you know, I haven't been sleeping well lately. He's like, well, no one has, it's a full moon in two days. And I kind of looked at him like, I didn't take you for a kook. but I started to listen, right? I'm like, okay, well this is information. Like just be open to it.

Maren: Renee also realized that linking celestial movements to patterns of human behavior isn't anything new. In fact, it's something people all over the world have been doing for a very long time.

Renee: So astrology is an ancient science. It goes back millennia, and what we practice in the west is slightly different than what was originally practiced in India, which was vedic astrology. There's a lot of similarities. And some differences, but I wanna note that cultures around the world each came up with their own sort of astrology. There is Mayan astrology, which is completely different from Western or vedic. And yet there are these profound areas of overlap. To me, it's not unlike how different cultures around the world come up with religion or a sense of divinity or mythology to understand our place in the world.

In my years on the planet, I've come to understand that what I was so skeptical of and would actually denounce quite a lot in my early twenties, after a couple more decades on the planet, you know, maybe I don't have all the answers. And if all of these different cultures around the world in ancient times over centuries, people who had a lot more connection to their intuition and who had more time in their day to observe the behavior of others, maybe if all of these different people came up with this same basic concept, maybe there's something to that.

Maren: Across all the different versions of astrology, there is one celestial body that stands out as a major focal point: the moon.

Renee: Full moon circles have been around for thousands and thousands of years, and they are practiced because the moon, when it's full illuminates, right? Not just the land around us, but it is believed in astrology to be a time when we have a little more illumination on those darker aspects of our self that we might not look at, that we might even run from.

And full moon circles are kind of a celebration of that. It was typically people who would come out and celebrate and be in that space together rather than isolated on their own.

Maren: For about the last seven years, Renee has taken part in her own full moon ritual each month. And it started when she was feeling a need to connect with something bigger.

Renee: I was in a relationship and it was not a good relationship and I would find ways to distract myself at night and I would practice yoga, but we lived in a small house. So one night I was just like, you know what, I'm just gonna go practice yoga in the backyard.

Renee: And it just happened to be a night where the moon was shining.

And I'm like, you know, this is pretty cool. I think I even grabbed a beer. 

Um, which you have to be careful with the balancing poses. 

But it was just so serene. And so, still, you know. And yoga of course is always about turning inward, um, but also being aware of your surroundings. Just like hiking, just like a lot of outdoor activities.

But at night when there's less noise, you know, less visual distractions, it was just something special. And then I just started making a habit out of it. I found it particularly calming. 

Um, I have yet to do a full moon circle. I know they exist. They've existed for thousands of years and they've been seeing a resurgence lately. I guess I have my own moon circle of one.

Maren: Renee says that contemplating the night sky lends her much-needed perspective.

Renee: I step outside most nights to look up at the sky. Not because I'm worshiping the moon per se, but because I look up at something that millions and millions of other people have looked up at in the night sky before me for millennia.

It reminds me that maybe that work deadline isn't quite so critical, right? And maybe I should take a little extra time to make some memories rather than sit in front of the computer that night.

Maren: So maybe it's not all that surprising to you that a devout yoga practitioner would come around to embracing astrology after conversations with her acupuncturist. But the truth is that all kinds of people fall under the moon's spell.

Michael Roberts: If these things can influence big issues on the planet like weather, why can't they have an influence on us?

Maren: This is my boss, and outside's audio director, Michael Roberts.

Michael: And that doesn't mean I read astrological, horoscopes, uh, on a regular basis. But if you're asking me: do I believe that where the moon is in relationship to the earth to where I am, that that would have an impact on what's going on in my life? A little, maybe my mood. I mean, I don't know why not? Like, you know, if my food impacts that, then why not? Like what's happening with the cells in my body because of the influence of celestial forces at work.

Maren: These days, Mike lives the relatively mainstream existence of a husband, father, and media professional. But as he's discussed on previous episodes of this show, back in the day he used to be more the free-floating long-haired sandal-wearing type. So when he told me he had a moon story, I wasn't surprised.

Michael: I'm most definitely a Pisces, like through and through.

Maren: Oh my God, you're such a Pisces.

Mike: I really am. I'm a deep feeler. Let's just say that.

Maren: Okay, great. Well then tell me your story of, um, becoming attuned with the moon.

Mike: So after college, like literally the summer after we graduated, I took this long sea kayaking expedition in Alaska with a friend of mine, this guy named Eric. And we had planned for this really big trip. To Southeast Alaska. Some people call it the panhandle. It's that little part that you know, sort of attached to the coast of Canada there.

So, um, Eric had gotten us a research grant from his university to go study bald eagles and it was a pretty simple project.

What we were trying to do was a census of bald eagles.

And this is part of looking at the recovery of bald eagles in the wake of DDT, you know, decades after DDT was made illegal. And, and, you know, just trying to get a sense of what that population was looking like. And mostly we were looking for nests.

And by the way, If you're not a scientist finding a and spotting a bald eagle nest is really, really easy. Cuz they're like the size of a bathtub, or like a small hot tub. They're like enormous. So that part of this was easy.

And we took this trip in 1996. So we had, uh, laminated nautical charts and compasses and that was it.

I think we were out in our kayaks for 28 days. So that's a really long time in the wilderness, right?

We started this route that begins in Misty Fjords National Monument. And then would wrap around and eventually we'd end up in the town of, uh, Petersburg, where we were gonna finish our trip.

We saw a lot of bald eagles, like lots and lots of bald eagles. We saw orca whale, we saw humpback whale, uh, lots of black bear. Amazingly, we somehow managed not to see a single, uh, grizzly bear while we were there.

But really, what I remember most from that trip, and I think what was the most powerful experience is the tides in southeast Alaska really, really extreme. So Where I live now in Northern California, you know, on an average day the tides can rise maybe three feet to five feet. But where we were in southeast Alaska, the tidal changes on the coast we were looking at like 12 feet, 15 feet, sometimes even more than that. And so where that really came into play is when you're picking your campsite and your little kayak and you're paddling it along, you're like, oh, that's a nice looking beach.

That place would be great. And then you consult your tide chart and you're like, wait a minute, at like 3:00 AM that is gonna be completely underwater.

And so we, you know, we went through some pretty interesting experience learning this where you're, you know, you're constantly looking at the chart and you're, you're studying the terrain, you're trying to predict where you can camp and when the best time to try to paddle through certain passes and channels are because the currents are gonna be nuts.

And, you know, for the first couple weeks you're looking at that chart constantly. You're just, you're studying, you're studying it. But what slowly starts to happen, is you start to get in touch with the, the way the water feels and, and the way those tidal drops. Are just affecting the things around you. So I would say in the first couple weeks, if you had asked me what the tide was doing, I would've pulled out a chart. But after the second week, I would've told you exactly what it was doing because I would've just looked around and I would've seen the shore and I would've just had the sense of where the tide was at this time yesterday and what was doing.

But even as we went farther, it got kind of deeper than that.

When you're in the water all day, cuz you know you're in a small kayak, you're sitting in the water, it's raining on you, you kind of feel like you're partly submerged all the time. You know, the, the water sloshing over the deck of your kayak.

And we would get to the end of the day and we would be able to spot beaches no longer looking at the chart, knowing exactly where the tide was gonna be.

And I can just remember feeling this sense of like, you could feel the way the moon was pulling on the water. And I would just have this sense like, oh yeah, the water's all sloshing this way.

Like I can feel the water pulling around that corner there. And then when it got even sort of stranger. Is in those last days when it was during the day and I just had this sense of being in the water and you could feel it moving and you could, you know, and if the tie was going out, you had this sense of it flushing out

And I would just be like, I know where the moon is, it's right there. And I'd be pointing down, you know, like on the other side of the planet, I have this sense that the moon's over there and I can feel it pulling on the water.

And again, I know like that doesn't sound like reasonable maybe to modern humans, but especially when you go and you study sort of seafaring people. Like you look at the Polynesians and the way they moved in kayaks and open water for thousands of miles.Those Polynesian navigators, the way they were in tune with what was going on was startling.

And I don't wanna in any way compare myself to the remarkable Polynesian navigators, but what I can say is that you spend enough time in a wilderness environment, there is something that happens inside of you where these sort of scientific ideas of magnetism and gravity and tidal patterns become less of something you look on a chart and more of something you feel inside of you. And I think the truth is even talking about it, what I feel most is just I miss that.   feeling like I know where the moon is, even if I can't see it.

You know, people talk about feeling grounded. I mean, a lot of this sounds sort of woo-woo and spacey, but as that's probably the most grounded I've ever been in my life.

Being really in touch with what was happening with the cycle of the moon and tides. it is a, I don't know if I wanna call it bliss. It's more that just, you feel just really balanced and centered when you're like that. And when you are in the environment I'm in now where I spend so much of my time indoors and I'm not in touch with those cycles in a way that feels intrinsic to who I am. We, we all work so hard to find that centeredness. We go to yoga classes. We go meditate. You know, we take CBD or something and we hope that we can find that centeredness. When the real answer is to go spend a long period of time in the wilderness and happen to you naturally.

Maren: It took Mike 28 days in Alaska to feel like he was in touch with the energy of the moon. But for some, that connection only takes one night. That, and more waxing poetic about our satellite in the sky, after this.


Maren: The moon's gravitational pull rules the tides and, according to some, rules us too. But its beauty might hold an equally powerful sway on humanity. In the dark of the wilderness, the moon provides light bright enough to navigate by, and a focal point so compelling it's not hard to imagine why it's been worshiped by cultures the world over.

Abbie Barronian: The reality is that, I don't know that I need somebody to tell me a full moon does X, Y, Z, or this constellation means X, Y, Z. But if somebody can tell me like, here's this constellation, and I get to look at it and see it and then have my own relationship with it, It sort of gives us the tools that we need to build our own sort of quiet systems of belief with regard to the natural world.

Maren: This is my colleague, Abigail Barronian.

Abbie: I am a senior editor at Outside Mag. Been here for five years, and I have a cancer sun, a Gemini moon, and a Scorpio rising.

I'm a almost 30 year old woman, and my introduction to astrology was largely through teen magazines. And so I always was like, I don't know, astrology is kind of fine. Whatever. It doesn't seem like it works for me.

And then I moved to Santa Fe. And I think in Santa Fe astrology is sort of, it underpins so many conversations. It's very common to ask people what their sign is or, yeah, note about what's happening in the sky is not uncommon. I, I'm having a really stressful day, or it's been a weird week, but you know, it's the full moon so. So it just sort of feels like people are more, um, more plugged into that for better or worse in Santa Fe. 

Abigail learned more about astrology, maybe initially just to keep up with her friends when they were discussing which planets were in retrograde and how they were wreaking havoc on their lives.

Abbie: And I learned a little more about my whole chart and what I think astrology actually is, which is less of a like system of describing a person and more of a system of thought that sort of splayed out across the night sky. I warmed up a little more to it as a, as like an interesting tool and fun thing to think about.

Maren: And the star of the show?

Abbie: The moon is the most prominent way that astrology has influenced my day-to-day life.

And, my general relationship to the moon and its cycles, uh, is that the new moon is a time of fresh energy and peace and bringing things in.

And the full moon is a time of, like a little more chaotic and cagey, potent energy. It also happens to be in sync with my period. And so it's just become like a very much a part of my own personal cycle if I'm paying attention to the moon, which I know is like true of so many women.

Maren: For Abigail, tracking the cycles of the moon has become personal and functional, but it also helps her stay connected to the natural world. Until a couple years ago, she didn't know that the full moon always rises around sunset. Then she had an experience on a wilderness adventure that spurred her to develop a new relationship with the moon.

Abbie: It really started, I was on a hut trip in Canada and we were like a little drunk and standing outside and it was so beautiful as sunset and all the peaks were lit up with alpenglow and we were watching the line of pink alpenglow drift up this peak to our left until there was just a tiny triangle of pink.

And we had made it a little game like we were gonna watch until like the very last little bit of pink left this peak. And the pink leaves the mountain and the five of us or whoever is sitting out there are all cheering. And then we look over and we, um, see over this like really jagged, almost Teton-esque peak Just the very top blip of the moon to the point that none of us actually knew what it was. We were like, what is, is that a cloud? What's going on? And none of us knew that it was supposed to be the full moon.

And we watched the moon rise. Behind this peak. And it was truly one of the most beautiful things I think I've ever seen in my whole life. You know, this dusky pinky blue sky and this huge yellow moon. And we watched it rise over this peak, like directly behind it and then come unstuck, like the, the moon lifts off the, the point of the peak. And I cried, again maybe because we had been drinking a little bit. But ever since then, watching the full moon rise has become one of my favorite rituals. You know, purely from sort of like an aesthetic and paying attention standpoint.

I think that attention has brought to my life, uh, closer or better or bigger awareness of the cyclical nature of things. So it's like this happens and it's so beautiful and I don't wanna miss it. And if I miss it, it's gonna happen again in 28 days. And it's sort of just a, like a nice way to mark the passage of time.

Maren: Even astrology's detractors can concede that there's something to what Abigail is saying here. After all, numerous cultures continue to follow a lunar calendar.

As it happens, I've actually joined Abigail for one of her full moon rituals myself. I used to live in astrologically inclined Santa Fe, and in April of 2021, Abigail sent me a message in the middle of the work day, inviting me to come along with her and several other women to witness the moonrise.

I remember it was the Pink Moon. It was the full moon and it was also lesbian visibility day.

Abbie: Shut up. I didn't know that.

Maren: I remember that because it was like my first really out lesbian visibility day. And I was also newly out of a relationship, out of my first big gay relationship. And I was heartbroken and distraught. And I think you, you were very sweetly trying to help because you knew how heartbroken and distraught I was. And you invited me like spur of the moment. I think it was at like three o'clock on Monday to go do an after work hike up Deception.

Deception Peak is a 12,320-foot peak that stands just above the upper boundary of Ski Santa Fe, our local hill. It can be accessed by a 6 mile trail. Or, on alpine touring skis, by a much shorter but very steep grind straight up the slopes, which is what we did.

Abbie: It's not the highest peak above town, but it's the highest peak at our ski area and, and lets you, get a look down to the valleys on the other side of the peak.

And I remember, uh, I was newly in love and you were newly out of love. And I think there was other love life drama happening in the lives of the other women. And I remember, yeah, just talking about our feelings on the way up.

And by the time we got up to the ridge, the moon had just risen and it was like so big and pink and yellow and so beautiful.

And we stood on top of the peak, and drank like spiked seltzers and talked about our, our intentions and our wishes and our dreams.

Maren: And howled.

Abbie: Oh yeah, we howled.

Maren: And howled.

Maren: And I just, we had this like really delightful, wonderful exchange of like just chatting and gossiping and venting and talking and like being in our bodies together. And then going up to the peak and like seeing beauty together and like drinking seltzer and howling and did we do the thing? 

The "thing" here is what Abigail calls a Trinity. I'll let her explain.

Abbie: The idea of a Trinity is you name three things. You name something you're grateful for, something that you're proud of, and something that you want. And the point is to do it in a group of friends. And when you name the thing that you're proud of, everyone says, well bragged. And when you name the thing that you're grateful for, everyone says thank you. And when you name the thing that you want, everyone says, and so it shall be and even better.

And it's a really wonderful tool. I encourage anyone who's listening to, uh, try it. Because it just creates a really, like safe, hopeful, helpful listening space with friends. and has become a, a much loved tool of a group of outdoor women that I've been a part of now for seven, eight, nine years.

But yeah, we did Trinity's on top of the mountain, and in the full moon.

Maren: And then had the most terrifying ski I have ever had on the way down.

Abbie: Literally, I think the worst conditions I've ever skied, like full manky chopped up, really warm spring slush that had completely frozen over.

Maren: I remember describing it as rollerblading on rocks. Because I remember getting down and my entire body just felt like it had been like put in one of those, like paint stirring, shaking drums.

Abbie: Oh my gosh. Yeah.

Maren: We all got something different out of our chaotic, informal full moon ceremony, but in that moment, it was also exactly what all of us needed.

Abbie: I think there's something really cute about that story too, which is that I have, I have much more experienced woo woo friends in Santa Fe, who hold ceremony regularly. And I've been to full moon ceremonies before with people that I would call like more professional and cohesive.

But I think it's actually like precisely me and you and us, that that's what our four moon ceremony looked like. Like a little mayhem, like maybe too big of an objective, like not enough time, a little bit of a rush, which I think is kinda the whole point of it, right? Which is that, um, you just get to engage with all this stuff exactly how you want to.

Maren: The idea that there's no wrong way to connect with the moon or the stars–that's kind of the whole point. You can practice yoga solo under the stars or go on a moon-cycle-long wilderness expedition or partake in a chaotic, howling ritual with friends. You can get really into astrology if you want to. But, as Yoga Journal editor Renee points out, astrology is just one of many ways to look inward and connect outward.

Renee: Astrology isn't unlike an intention someone sets at the beginning of yoga class. Or maybe they read an Oracle deck, or maybe they just read a passage in a book that they love. To me, I don't think there's that much difference. If it helps you focus and show up to your life in a way that you want, what does it matter?

Maren: Thank you to Renee Shettler, Michael Roberts, and Abigail Barronian for talking to me for this episode. To read astrological insights from Renee and her team, visit yogajournal.com/astrology.

This episode was written and produced by me, Maren Larsen, and edited by Michael Roberts. Music and mixing by Robbie Carver.

Listener, how does astrology affect your life as an outdoors person? Record your story as a voice memo and email it to us at podcast@outsideinc.com. And if you enjoyed this episode, leave us a review wherever you listen, or howl at the moon about it.

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