Searching for secrets in the stars. A look at astrology's ancient roots and modern practice in America. Recent revelations about astrology in high places are nothing new. This ancient belief has had its ups and downs for some 4,000 years. Its hold on modern thought - in America and around the world - has deep roots in history and culture. Here is the first of a two-part series that looks at astrology's influence and where it comes from.
SWINGING his hand toward a nearby rack, a busy Boston newsstand operator says, ``Astrology magazines are selling like hotcakes. We carry six different kinds of them, and they go in no time.'' A Florida professor reports: ``The pendulum is swinging back! We're definitely seeing a resurgence of student interest in astrology and other aspects of the occult.''Skip to next paragraph
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In Buffalo, N.Y., a group of academics awaits replies to a letter sent to every major US newspaper, asking that disclaimers be run next to the growing number of horoscopes.
Religions condemn it. Scientists scoff at it. Comedians have a heydey with it. But astrology - the ancient belief linking events on earth to the movement of heavenly bodies - is on a roll.
Those recent reports of astrology's presence in the White House were simply the more visible signposts of its presence. In a scientific and presumably skeptical age, it has a place - large or small - in the lives of an alarmingly broad spectrum of Americans.
Nearly two-thirds of US adults read astrology material periodically, and of these, some 26 million read them regularly, according to a report by Jon D. Miller of Northern Illinois University's Public Opinion Laboratory.
An April Gallup survey found that 85 percent of Americans know what ``sign'' they were born under - up from 76 percent in 1975. Twenty-five percent of Americans were shown to read astrology columns regularly - up 2 percent since 1975 (although there was a marked drop in Americans who professed a belief in astrology.
Some 5,000 professional astrologers practice now in the United States, says the American Federation of Astrologers, an international group with local affiliates. AFA estimates there are at least 50,000 part-time practitioners.
An increasing number of US newspapers have been carrying astrology columns during the last 10 years, says Charles Lehman, survey research manager for the Newspaper Advertisers Bureau. In 1987 it was some 83 percent, or about 1,670 papers.
Dial-a-horoscope services are now available. New York Telephone, for instance, reportedly receives about 1 million calls a month.
Public libraries offer a variety of books on astrology, some of them friendly or even downright proselytizing.
Astrology, in fact, is enjoying its first bull market since the Vietnam war. William Heim, dean of the college of arts and letters at the University of South Florida, vividly recalls that turbulent time in 1970 when he taught a literature course about occult themes like astrology. ``We enrolled over 200 students in a single class!'' he notes.
During the next 10 years, enthusiasm for the course waned - and with it enrollment - as students became more pragmatic. ``But within the last few years,'' Professor Heim observes, ``it looks like we've been starting up again. In addition to student interest, you can look at bookstores and catalogs. More publications about the occult are gaining popularity. There's a new market.''
The American Federation of Astrologers alone, in fact, now has about 400 titles for sale, according to its executive secretary, Robert Cooper. ``We print an average of one new book on astrology a week,'' he says, ``offered through bookstores, teachers, and affiliated groups.''
He also points to other signs of public interest since 1985. ``Mail, phone calls, inquiries are constantly increasing each month. We find astrology is getting more acceptable in the minds of the general public. They're willing to listen.''