By Mark Mayberry
“Do you understand yourself well enough to make the most of your potential? Are you lucky in love? . . . To all these questions and many more, the stars have the answers.” So affirms Joan Quigley in Astrology for Adults, a book which has sold over 500,000 copies and is due to be reprinted soon.
What is astrology? Why are people willing to pay between $50 and $500 to have a personal consultation with one of the more than 10,000 astrologers in this country? The popularity of astrology is evidenced by the fact that daily horoscopes are printed in over 1,200 newspapers nationwide. Is there any evidence that astrology really works? Is it based on voodoo, art, science, magic, fraud, or what? There is probably no other major delusion that is more easily examined and shown to be totally without any logical basis. Yet remarkably, its hold on the public is stronger today than ever!
The Definition of Astrology
First, we must distinguish between astronomy and astrology. Both fields of study are concerned with the heavenly bodies. Astronomy, a legitimate science, is the study of the movement and nature of the universe beyond the earth’s atmosphere. Astrology is a pseudo-science that “assumes and attempts to interpret the influence of the heavenly bodies on human affairs.”(1)Astrology affirms that the movement of the sun, moon, stars and planets affects mankind and shapes the course of life’s events. It is claimed that the position of the Earth relative to the celestial bodies at the moment of one’s birth influences one’s life and personality.
The Zodiac is “an imaginary belt in the heavens, extending about 8 degrees on each side of the ecliptic, within which are the apparent paths of the sun, moon, and the principal planets. It contains twelve constellations and hence twelve divisions called the signs of the zodiac.”(2) The twelve zodiac signs are as follows: Aries (Mar. 21-Apr. 19), Taurus (Apr. 20-May 20), Gemini (May 21-June 21), Cancer (June 22-July 23), Leo (July 24-August 23), Virgo (Aug. 24-Sept. 23), Libra (Sept. 23-Oct. 23), Scorpio (Oct. 24-Nov. 22), Sagittarius (Nov. 23-Dec. 21), Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20), Aquarius (Jan. 21-Feb. 1), and Pisces (Feb. 19-Mar. 20). Analysis of these signs is said to reveal specific personality traits and characteristics.
A horoscope is a diagram of the heavens, showing the relative position of the planets and the signs of the zodiac. Astrologers use these diagrams to predict future events and give personal advice to their clients. The horoscopes which appear in newspapers are based on a simplified and generalized form of astrology. They imply that all people born under the same sign anywhere in the world share common characteristics and that their daily activities should be so guided. Individual analysis is said to be possible when an astrologer draws up a horoscope by relating the signs of the Zodiac and the positions of the sun, moon and planets to the time and place of a person’s birth.(3)
The History of Astrology
The mystical superstition can be traced back to antiquity when man looked up to the heavens with reverence and awe. “Astrology originated in ancient Babylonia and spread from there to China, India, and the West, where different but related traditions grew up.”(4) The Babylonians and Assyrians developed a highly complex astrological system. Biblical references show its strong influence in later Old Testament history (Isa. 47:13; Dan. 1:20; 2: 10; etc.). Astrology came to ancient Greece as a mixture of star-gazing and magic. The Greeks changed its character from an oriental religion, adding their own philosophy and science. Thus astrology was legitimated with reason and logic. The earliest known horoscope using the principles of mature astrology dates from 409 B.C. The zodiac signs were codified by Ptolemy in the 2nd century A.D.
Astrology was once a more stately business than it is today. In antiquity, it was not concerned with housewives and hair-dressers; it was the exclusive domain of kings and emperors. Rulers would consult astrologers to find out if the time was ripe to move against their enemies. Astrology was the link between earthly kings and the gods of the heavens. It governed the course of nations.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, astrology declined in the West but flourished in the East. With the advance of Christianity, faith in astrology began to diminish. Pagan superstitions were renounced in favor of the gospel. In the twelfth century, however, astrology began to prosper once again in Western Europe. It flourished during the Dark Ages, a period in which knowledge, science and truth were suppressed by the Catholic Church.
The great reformers of the 1600s opposed astrology. It almost disappeared during the age of reason. “By the end of the 17th century . . . astrology was considered a pseudoscience by almost all learned people. . . Although astrology has persisted to the present day, enjoying greater popularity in some countries than in others, it has never attracted more than an occasional scientist to its ranks since the 17th century.”(5)
In 1898, the French encyclopedia Nouveau Larousse Illustre confidently stated, “Astrology has hardly any adherents other than swindlers who play on public credulity and even these are fast disappearing.”(6) However, those who produced this encyclopedia proved no better than latterday prophets at predicting the future, for the twentieth century has witnessed an enormous revival in the occult. Belief in the powers of fortune tellers, tarot cards, crystal balls, palm reading, numerology, astrology, ESP, mental telepathy, witchcraft, demonology, black magic, and other paranormal activity remains as prevalent today as ever, despite the lack of scientific support for such beliefs.
The Prevalence of Astrology
People from all walks of life consult the stars for guidance. An estimated 50 million Americans have starry notions about astrology. “A broadly based Temple University study in the late 1970s indicated that 42 percent of those surveyed said that horoscopes were ‘very scientific’ or ‘sort of scientific.'”(7) It is generally agreed that only a small percentage of those who read their horoscopes actually rely on astrology. However, scientists and religious leaders are concerned that even this is a dangerous trend.
More than half of all teenagers believe in astrology. A recent Gallup Poll found that 55 percent of Americans between the ages of 13 and 18 trust in astrology. This is particularly disturbing to many educators. Paul Kurtz, philosophy professor at the State University of New York, Buffalo, said that if the United States is to maintain it scientific leadership, young people must develop an understanding of the physical universe based upon reliable evidence instead of believing in “outdated mythologies.”(8)
Astrology even is used in making business decisions. According to a recent survey, 48 percent of Wall Street investors admitted that they consulted the stars on buy-sell decisions.(9)
Surveys have found that women are twice as likely as men to believe in astrology and other phenomena. In 1984, Psychology Today magazine said a poll of its readers found that 43 percent of the women acknowledged their belief that the positions of the planets and stars affected their lives, but only 24 percent of the men agreed.(10)
The Appeal of Astrology
What is the appeal of astrology? Why are people so quick to believe? In many ways, the world has grown too large for us, too complicated to understand. We feel overwhelmed by modern life. Astrology acts as an emotional crutch for many. It seems to make the events in life a little more predictable, giving order to a world filled with chaos. It relieves some of our anxiety over the future. It gives each individual a sense of belonging. Moreover, it is fun, mysterious and intriguing.
The human mind is intrigued by mystic connections, and longs to understand the “enfolding weave of synchronicities.”(11) Astrology “offers a seeing of the unseen, and hears pitches of significance that the ear cannot detect. An elaborate counterworld whispers its order into the human mess. “(12) “Periods of resurgence may correspond with times of uncertainty, especially when science and technology seem unable to provide acceptable solutions to pressing problems and when many people seem to seek a more mystical and spiritual mode of understanding the world.”(13)
In our next article, we will see how astrology fails the test of science.
1. Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd Ed. Unabridged, s.v., “Astrology.”
2. Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd Ed. Unabridged, s.v., “Zodiac.”
3. Academic American Encyclopedia (Arte Publishing Co., Inc., Feb. 1987), s.v. “Astrology.” Downloaded from Knowledge Index on July 18, 1988 from the Reference Section (REFRI) Database.
4. Academic American Encyclopedia, s.v., “Astrology.”
5. Academic American Encyclopedia,. s.v. “Astrology.”
6. Daniel Cohen, “Jeane Dixon: Psychic Star of the Year,” Nation, December 13, 1965, p. 472.
7. Curtis J. Silomer, “Astrology’s Allure Seen As Insidious,” The Christian Science Monitor, May 10, 1988, p. 2.
8. UPI News Release, Dateline: Stanford, CA, November 10, 1984 (United Press International, c1988). All UPI articles are downloaded from Knowledge Index on September 4, 1988 from the News Section (NEWS3) Database.
9. UPI News Release, Dateline: Washington, DC, May 11, 1988.
10. UPI News Release, Dateline: New York, NY, August 27, 1984.
11. Lance Morrow, ”The Five-and-Dime Charms of Astrology,” Time, May 16, 1988, p. 100.
13. Academic American Encyclopedia, s.v. “Astrology.”
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 17, pp. 518-519
September 6, 1990