A Study of MovementsConsidering Astrology
Taken with a grain of salt, astrology helps me recognise specific characteristics in people and to accept them with an open mind.
On 21 August 1930, at exactly 9.22 pm, Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret Rose entered our earthly plain and with her, the birth of the modern horoscope. Marked by customary gifts, gun salutes, and landmark illumination, royal births were a special celebration. Endeavouring to capitalise on the announcement, the then Sunday Express editor, John Gordon, commissioned astrologer R.H. Naylor to predict what awaited the newborn Countess of Snowden in her royal life ahead.
Titled, What the Stars Foretell For the New Princess, Naylor’s sun sign horoscope enticed readers with lines such as: ‘Everybody is interested in the future. Can it be told by the stars?’ and ‘An observation of the heavens at the hour of a person’s birth.’ So popular were Naylor’s predictions that Gordon eventually gave him a weekly column in the Sunday Express.
Today, Your Stars has more contemporaries than one could count and astrology in all its forms has become a cultural phenomenon. Whether you are convinced that your fate lies in the heavens or exasperated by the abundance of astrology memes and horoscope apps, the study of the movements of celestial bodies and their effects on our own corporeal existence has touched the indoctrinated and the sceptical alike.
Nearly every civilisation on earth has had its own interpretation of astrology. In ancient Egypt, around the 5th millennium bce, signs were attributed to gods such as Anubis and Amon-Ra. Hindu astrology examines three spheres: astronomy, or Siddhanta; forecasts of major events, or Samhita; and more personalised divination, or Hora. Some studies intersect two systems, such as the Chinese Zodiac, which assigns an animal to your birth year in a 12-year cycle, and incorporates your sun sign to further elucidate your attributes.
Over 3,000 years ago in ancient Babylon, when forbearers looked up at the night sky, they observed 12 new moons throughout the year. During the day, they discerned that the passage of the Sun during these 12 segments of time, appeared to enter and exit different constellations. These constellations — Scorpius or Gemini, for instance — give our Zodiac signs their name. Just as HRH Princess Margaret received her royal portrait as a newborn, astrology offers a portrait of your personality, according to the position of the sun the moment you first drew breath.
Ten pages of diagrams illustrating the phases of lunar and solar eclipses decorate the earliest known manuscript of mathematician and astronomer Johannes Müller von Königsberg (1436–1476). These illustrations show one middle ring with a list of planetary bodies and designations for latitude and longitude around it. Viewed side by side with an astrologer’s natal chart, the pair could be a convincing diptych. In fact, so entwined was the study of astronomy and astrology, that the two were understood to be one and the same until the 17th century and the advent of the scientific method, when the latter lost credibility with scholars.
Astrology has suffered no loss of popularity, however. Sun Signs by Linda Goodman entered the New York Times bestsellers list in 1968, teaching readers ‘how to recognise people’s hidden dreams, secret hopes, and true characters.’ The book sold over 30 million copies, in 15 translations. While astrologers are still struggling to convince the scientific community of the validity of their specialism, it has become common practice among my friends and acquaintances to identify individuals by their signs. “People are drawn to her because she’s a Leo,” or, “His work ethic is amazing because his Saturn is in Capricorn,” have become ubiquitous turns of phrase. They may seem like little more than light conjecture, but in effect, such observations may serve a valuable social function. This optional layer of interpretation can, I suggest, offer a non-judgmental context in which to hold complex people and situations. My eyes often scan Susan Miller’s exhaustive monthly horoscope but I don’t regard the anticipated events with much gravity. For me, astrology’s captivation lies not in its cosmic predictions but in its human subjects. Taken with a grain of salt, astrology helps me recognise specific characteristics in people and to accept them with an open mind — especially when certain attributes don’t necessarily make sense to me.
Astrology is a methodology with the goal of understanding others and ourselves at its heart. Its inferences by no means reflect the full spectrum of a person’s character, but they can suggest ways to form closer relationships with others. They provide an entryway for self-reflection and suggest how we may need or want to be nurtured. And, if we are willing, they can cast a light on how we can grow as human beings.
At a time when many people seem to be searching for a more profound connection to our natural environment, the rise in astrology’s popularity is aligned with wider trends. There’s nothing to say this kind of stargazing will be on an upward swing forever. But for as long as there are things in our tellurian existence than cannot be explained, and the human fascination with the unknown persists, there will be a shepherd’s light in the sky to guide us if we choose.