In my previous post, I jokingly referred to weather forecasts as “meteorological horoscopes”. My readers no doubt took my meaning to be that weather forecasts lack credibility and that this in turn implies the same of horoscopes. If so, dear reader, you took my meaning correctly.
When we speak of horoscopes, we usually think of astrology though there are, of course, other bases for foretelling one’s individual future such as I Ching, casting the runes or examining the leaves at the bottom of your tea cup. Some of these have a very long history, testifying to man’s eternal desire to get one over on the forces of chance.
The heyday of astrology, at least in Europe, is long past. Gone are the days when Kepler, foremost astronomer of his age and a believer in a mystical version of Christianity, could enhance his reputation, and his budget, by casting horoscopes. Today’s astronomical community is almost unanimous in its condemnation of astrologers and their arts. But old habits die hard and you cannot look through a daily newspaper or peruse the shelves of a bookshop without coming across horoscopes and other material relating to astrology, the twelve signs of the zodiac rubbing shoulders amicably with the twelve Chinese year signs.*
In an age characterized by massive advances in science in which our daily lives have been transformed, and continue to be transformed, by science’s child, technology, the survival of irrational systems like astrology and religion seems incomprehensible. Ask the average bus or tube passenger why he or she turns to the horoscopes before discarding the newspaper (or even before beginning to read it) and you will receive the answer that it’s “just a bit of fun” and “I don’t really believe in that stuff”. But column inches are valuable and have to earn their keep. If the papers contain horoscopes it is because their readers demand them.
Why then do astrology and religion survive? It must be that there is a deeply felt need in the human psyche to which they respond. Not that this in any way justifies their continuance, of course. If you look around the world it seems that there are other deeply felt needs such as a penchant for murder and mayhem that are not necessarily thought to be worth promoting. Part of the job of civilization and its handmaiden education is to replace primitive and destructive needs by more creative and socially acceptable ones. It’s time education tackled superstition in a more determined manner.
Nonetheless, astrology continues to fascinate and there are plenty of people who firmly believe that the carefully crafted one-size-fits-all texts in the newspaper horoscopes speak directly to their condition. The horoscopist knows full well that he need not fit the prediction to the person since the person is more than willing to fit himself to the prediction. As all confidence tricksters know, the best deceiver of the victim is the victim himself.
Not all horoscopists are deliberate deceivers, however. There are actually a few who believe in what they do. I find that even more remarkable than the fact of ordinary people being taken in by astrology. I suppose this is another parallel with religion, namely that some evangelists actually believe in the faith they peddle and are not in it just for the money, the power and the adoration. Yes, hard to credit, isn’t it?
*For what it’s worth, I am a Virgo and a Tiger in Western and Chinese astrology respectively. To be more accurate, I am a tiger passing through mountains, according to one source. I rather like the image that conjures up.