A reader writes:
A long-time Dish fan and subscriber here. I wanted to offer a reality check on the Mother Jones article. Newspaper horoscopes are the one topic that both professional astrologers and diehard skeptics actually agree on – they are ridiculous and an insult to common sense. Everyone born during a specific month is going to have the exact same experience? It’s laughable and rightly so.
However, the National Science Foundation study shows something is clearly shifting within the culture in regards to astrology, particularly for those under 45. What has shifted? It’s that astrology is slowly winning hearts and minds, not through silly horoscopes, but through consistent, effective counseling that clients find useful, practical and relevant to their lives. Professional astrologers cater to working-class individuals all the way up to lawyers, doctors, politicians, businessmen, and professionals of all stripes, every day in this country. Since the field is not routinely covered in the media, many would be surprised to learn that the average professional astrologer is highly educated, socially and politically liberal, and extremely intellectual. I encourage you to google the names of the top three astrologers in the U.S. right now – Richard Tarnas (author of The Passion of the Western Mind), Robert Hand and Steven Forrest – to get an idea of the high-level of professionalism in the field.
Think of the profile of your average psychologist and you get the picture of the average astrologer.
Unfortunately, taking astrology seriously is still an extremely taboo topic in this culture. Similar to the shame and derision people received when they visited psychologists in the 1940s and 1950s, people who visit astrologers are secretive about doing so. They do not want to be shamed, ridiculed, and discriminated against by people who do not understand them. So the majority of clients stay in the closet. (A professional astrologer friend of mine is seeing two clients at the same law firm, but neither of them know the other is going because it’s not a topic they would think of discussing to each other. They are afraid they would be mocked by the other.)
Another is on the same page:
As a professional scientist, I wanted to throw out a perhaps unpopular opinion about astrology and see whether it’s enough to get your readers’ interest. ”Astrology” taken broadly includes horoscopes (which are clearly bunk) but also a typology of personalities on the Zodiac. I’m a father of a young child, so I’ve been thinking a lot about what goes into making a good person, or more generally how early childhood influences adult behavior. I want to advance the idea that there may be insight to be had about a person based solely on when during the year they were born: weather.
There are innumerable “firsts” in a child’s life – from the first breath of air to the first steps to the first conceptualization of the self as a social being. Particularly in ancient times, a very young child’s experience of these things was strongly mediated by the natural environment. Is it really so odd to think that people born in July, when it’s 80 degrees in the afternoon and the sun is out for 15 hours a day, might have something in common that is distinct from people born in December, when it’s 40 out and the sun sits low in the sky? Especially 2500 years ago, when the only way to be warm was to be indoors by a fire?
Even now we have no real idea (because no scientific way to properly study) how much of cognition is formed in the first three months or first year of life. I don’t think it’s implausible to suggest that (a) natural seasonal variations could have a significant effect in this early period and (b) those variations could result in phenomenological differences that could be generalized into zodiac “types.” Of course, the rest of it – with Jupiter in the house of Leo and mercury retrograde – is complete baloney. There’s no causal mechanism, but at least for predicting personality types (especially in an ancient and largely homogeneous culture) it doesn’t seem that far off the mark to blame the seasons.
I’m not saying “Astrology is very scientific,” but depending on the day, and the way the question is framed, I might well say “sort of” for the above reason. In this spirit, another good question to ask is: how many people identify with their Zodiac sign (“very much”, “sort of”, “a little”, or “not at all”)? I suspect it would be a high proportion. Even if the answers to that question are culturally mediated, does that make them less valid?
Another shifts to tarot:
As someone who teaches critical thinking and literature, and who has a reasonably literate level of knowledge and experience with both tarot cards and astrology, I have a unique take on this question. One unique quality of community college English professors is that we teach both literature and college-level writing, whereas in many larger four-year schools the professors teach literature and the GTF’s teach writing. So I have a mind that switches back and forth every day between the metaphor/symbolism/irony/tone part of my brain to the argument/critical-thinking/research part of my brain. This dual-mind ability has been very helpful for me as I explored tarot and astrology.
When I began to study tarot from a local teacher, I was immediately struck by the story-telling/metaphor/dream imagery of the cards and the narrative arc that a layout of cards would provide in response to someone’s question. I also felt like I was experiencing Jung’s concept of synchronicity in a powerful way – almost always the cards that come up in readings I do have very powerful metaphorical information about the question or situation being asked about.
I immediately began to see that the layout of cards almost always created the equivalent of a “short story” or a “dream-on-demand” about the person’s situation, both in terms of his or her psyche, and the outside situation. As I walk a person through my understanding of the images and metaphors of each card and how they might apply to the person’s situation or question, they often interrupt me to tell me that they’re seeing their situation much more clearly. They also tell me they see what’s holding them back, and what options and resources they have for moving forward. In other words, they’re getting useful “scientia” that resonates strongly with their situation and mind. I often use the term “a dream on demand” for a tarot card reading because they seem so helpful and appropriate to the question someone asks.
While I’m not as skilled in astrology, I see the same kind of synchronicity, insight, and practical information come through when a good astrologist does a reading for me. They don’t give silly predictions for the future, but help me see what kinds of “seasons” or “weather” are at play for me, and how I can work with my own particular set of impulses, ways of thinking and feeling, etc.
So, are these “scientific” or literal ways to knowing reality or the future? No. But neither are they cartoonish fortune-telling that yield nothing but arbitrary nonsense, unless the reader has been very poorly educated and the querent is only looking for cartoonish fortune-telling, in which case they get what they deserve.
(Image of Fausto Coppi’s Birth Chart via Wikimedia Commons)