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.
(Page 2 of 2)
And you don't have to look far to see the results. Turn on the TV set and hear constant references: a harried airline pilot says, ``I'd like to see my horoscope today.'' Actor E.G. Marshall, as retired President Eisenhower telling his life story, gives much of the credit to ``my lucky star.''Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
A PBS series about Louis Mountbatten shows him changing the carefully planned date for a momentous historical event: the independence (and partition) of India - to make the astrologers happy. That was no small factor in Lord Mountbatten's negotiations. After all, astrology has been a potent force in India and elsewhere in the East for many centuries.
These scenes are only picking up on the way many people think and talk. Astrology is woven into speech habits and thought modes. ``As above, so below,'' is the way it's been described. Starspeak can be traced back through Western culture: to Shakespeare's ``Star-cross'd'' lovers, Romeo and Juliet; to Chaucer's Knight's Tale from his ``Canterbury Tales,'' with a plot that depends on astrology; to the great Irish poet Yeats, who based much of his important work on astrology and theosophy.
D.H. Lawrence talked of the influence of stars and planets, and wrote: ``We and the cosmos are one.... The sun is a great heart whose tremors run through our smallest veins.... Who knows the power that Saturn has over us or Venus.... It is a vital power rippling exquisitely through all time.''
Today most artists and writers have the same notion in some degree. If a murder takes place in a film, ``we expect it to be a dark and stormy night,'' Heim points out. ``A love scene is expected to be on a tranquil spring day.''
But what accounts for astrology's appeal as a means of help? Heim says it's partly a loss of faith in reason, as during Vietnam.
``If a student's name can be picked out of a basket to go over to Vietnam, possibly to die, that doesn't give them much of a sense of control,'' he says. ``So they start looking for some sign of an outside order, a design in the universe. And astrologers can look up there in the heavens and say, `Hey, if you know the secret to this, you have a little bit of control.'''
In seeking this, astrology has many forms and varying claims of accuracy. But basically it considers a person's zodiacal ``signs'' - sections of the heavens the sun passes through, as determined by place and time of birth. Many US astrologers also include counseling, using a person's own astrological chart as a reference point.
``Part of its appeal is the way it's individualized,'' says Paul Kurtz, a professor of philosophy at the Univerity of New York at Buffalo. ``Your own horoscope is a personal application of this ancient system to each person every day.''
A group of which Professor Kurtz is chairman - the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICP) - casts an especially skeptical eye on astrology. Recently the group sent letters to most major American newspapers, asking that disclaimers be run next to astrology columns.
It's too early to assess the results, says a spokesman, but so far they've been disappointing, although newspaper omnsbudsmen have replied positively.
The committee, whose long and impressive membership list runs through several disciplines and countries, cites many systematic efforts over the years to test astrology.
The results, says CSICP, demonstrate there is no credible evidence to support astrology's claims. Its charts and horoscopes are an unreliable guide to conduct, the group maintains.
Tomorrow: How astrology got here - and what its modern supporters say.