Magical thinking and the Star of Bethlehem

The trouble with the Star of Bethlehem story is that stars are not what they appear to be to children and the uneducated. Yes, they look like fireflies or distant candles, and therefore can be imagined to float through the air like glowing fairies to hover over a house and point it out as special. Maybe they can think. Talk. Smile.

A star. (Note: not entirely credible, scientifically...)

However, being a minimum of 25,000 times the mass of our planet, this isn’t something that they can actually do. They only look like fireflies because they’re trillions of miles away. They’re pretty big, really.

Humans are designed for pattern recognition, and to seek out cause and effect, and to think visually, and to construct explanatory narratives and stories. “Sing me a song! Tell me a story! Read me a book!” A simple story is the most effective way to communicate an abstract concept – that’s why Jesus told parables. But this excellent intellectual tool of ours also has a downside: when our perception is limited or our understanding is incomplete, we use imagination to fill the gap. And our imagination springs from the dream world, not the physical world.

So we have no difficulty with the idea of Santa visiting all the world’s children in a single night. Or with the idea that, if we just get into the right frame of mind, we will be able to hear speech (in our own language!) from animals and trees. Or that we could walk around on the clouds if we could jump up there. Or that when people and animals die and get buried they are still around, you can still see them and talk with them under the right conditions. Or that we can influence the future with a rhyme or a ritual, control dice with a thought or a wish, produce rain by prayer…

We are born with that magical view of the world. It is very effective in keeping us optimistic, healthy, social and creative. Internally, it works. But externally? Sadly deficient.

Enjoy the stories that resonate with you, think about the images that feel powerful, give thanks (to the power of evolution) for the songs and landscapes that you love… but don’t conflate internal emotional power with external physical reality. Carlos Castaneda never turned into a crow, no matter how much peyote he consumed. There is no Easter Bunny. Nor angels, nor talking snakes, nor people ascending up in the air to live in “heaven”.

And regardless of how vivid your imagination is, nothing that has 25,000 times the mass of the Earth is going to hover over a house. Not in the real world. Sorry.

4 comments on “Magical thinking and the Star of Bethlehem

  1. sonsothunder says:

    Well written… I disagree on a few points, but certainly agree there’s no Easter bunny, tooth fairy, or Santa Claus…Angels on the other hand are real…Maybe you’ll meet one one day. Bless you


  2. Idk, I figure Santa is real. I just call him Odin, and try to stay out of the way when he’s out winter riding, lol.

    There is another possible way to explain the “Star leading” the magi. Remember, these would have been the most educated men of their day. It is possible that in “following” the star what they actually did is plot where in the sky the star was, and where it pointed mathematically in relation to earth. Another possibility for them is that certain areas in the sky might have indicated where the person in question was located, Remember, our records of their astrology and astronomy are far from complete, as much has been destroyed and lost over the centuries.


    • Odin lives internally for me, I’ve always liked the old bastard. But I differentiate between the realities of the mind and the realities of the physical world.

      (And yes, I believe that the mind too is part of the physical world. But you get my drift.)


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