(Investigator 73, 2000 July)
Astrology is almost as old as man's history itself; bone markings from the ice-age period over 30,000 years ago, indicate man's awareness of the phases of the moon, before long the effects of the Sun and Moon on the well being of man and nature alike, were attributed to the powers of the celestial bodies. In Sumerian times, gods to whom those influences were attributed included the planets Mercury, Mars, Jupiter Saturn and Venus.
Star charts from ancient Egypt, four thousand years before the birth of Christ are seen to have astrological imputations, and by the 8th century B.C., the twelve principal constellations were in use as the Zodiac by the Chaldeans. The great megalith of Stonehenge, the Ziggurat of Ur, the ancient Indian observatory at Jantar Mantar near Delhi, and the Mayan observatory of Caracol were all built to observe and record in one way or another, the movements of the heavenly bodies.
By the 12th century, astrology had attained academic respectability, the University of Bologna instituting a chair of Astrology in 1225 A.D. During the Renaissance, astrology enjoyed positive encouragement, not only from the Papacy, but from some of the leading courts of Europe. This period also encompassed the fields of alchemy, numerology and metroscopy and saw the invention of the telescope, the advent of which enabled some of the secrets of the universe to be revealed. These confirmed that the planets in the solar system moved in a predictable way and strengthened the belief of astrologers that the influences of the celestial bodies on the destiny of man could be predicted with equal accuracy. The fundamentals of modem astrology have been attributed to Ptolemy in the 2nd century A.D. and have survived little changed to the present day.
It has long been known to man that the Moon not only exerts its influence over the oceans of the world, but also on such diverse species as the potato, flatworm, oyster and crops, the essential and significant idea of astrology being that not just humans are affected. In recent times cosmic energy, in the form of invisible radiations, such as X.-rays, ultraviolet rays and many others throughout the electro-magnetic spectrum, serve to support the argument for influences on the astrological level. Astrology has survived the centuries as a science and an art and its proponents claim that in recent years its credibility has been enhanced by scientific discoveries in the areas of bio-rhythms, cycles and magnetic impulses, which have shown a correlation between the planets and events on Earth.
It is argued that being the nearest of the heavenly bodies to Earth, the influence of the satellite Moon is more powerful and observable than the major planets. Humans are constituted of 70 per cent water and the balance of our bodies is made up of mineral, chemical and electrical cells. Consequently we respond to such influences, but unlike plants and the more primitive life forms, man has free-will, or the ability and means to control his destiny.
Astrologers, believing in the influence and power exerted by the planets, erect charts for individuals taking into consideration the exact time and place of birth. From these, it is alleged, one's characteristics, potential, destiny and trends in life can be assessed with amazing accuracy.
Being aware of one's basic characteristics and potential enables an individual to avoid the pitfalls along the pathway of life and to exert control over his or her future prosperity.
Erecting charts is probably the single most important aspect of the astrologer's profession and they fall into two categories - Natal charts and Mundane charts. The former being calculated at the time of birth for living beings and the second for the inanimate, such as companies, countries and nations
The principles and calculations involved are the same for both - the location in terms of latitude and longitude and the exact time of birth, formation or institution, expressed in G.M.T. (Greenwich Mean Time).
When erecting a chart the astrologer assumes that the Earth is a fixed point and all the planets revolve around it once a day ascribing an imaginary circle. He then applies the 24 hour system to the Birth Chart, the inner perimeter of the circle being divided into 12 equal segments; each segment being known as a house (relating to everyday activities - finance, family, pleasure, etc.) and equal to 2 hours out of the 24. The outer perimeter being divided into 12 equal parts representing the signs of the zodiac.
On the chart are plotted the positions of the planets at the exact time of birth, using time conversion tables and an ephemeris giving the positions of the planets at that particular time. The angles formed with the Earth at the centre of the circle and the planets, and the angles formed between the planets themselves, are called aspects, and are the focal points on a chart. Their effect is to lay positive or negative stress according to the Sign and house positions of .the planets concerned. Thus two planets in opposition would accentuate the polarities in a Chart; two at 90 degrees to each other are known as Squares and can indicate tension or give drive and strength to a character and so on.
By "progressing" the Birth Chart, that is calculating the positions of the planets for a particular period in the future, astrologers can assess the trends in the life of a subject. Other essential details are the Ascendant, that is the sign rising on the Eastern horizon at the time of birth; the MC (Mid Coeli) or the overhead point in the sky; the Descendant or the point on the opposite end of the chart from the Ascendant and the IC (Imum Coeli) the opposite point on the chart to the MC. Interpreting a chart is simply a matter of consulting astrology manuals giving standard interpretations for the houses, the influences ascribed to the planetary aspects, and using a great deal of personal intuition and imagination.
The procedure for interpreting a chart is basic and along the following lines.
Begin the assessment by referring to the descriptions in the astrology manual being consulted, under the headings of "characteristics of the Ascending Sign" and "the Sign in which the Sun falls."
Then note the House position of the Sun and the sphere of life this indicates. Note the aspects the Sun makes to the other planets, the Ascendants and Midheaven and the characteristics these indicate. Repeat for the Moon and other planets. This, together with common sense and intuition, will give remarkably accurate results.
Astrology is one branch of the paranormal with which most readers will be familiar to some degree. Many surveys (Gallup 1984), (Happs 1987), testify to a belief in the claims attributed to astrology and it commands a proportionately high following compared with other methods of divination and character assessment. However, does it have any scientific basis and can its claims stand up to critical examination?
Astrology posits the following major propositions:
1. That the validity of astrology has been proven because it has endured for thousands of years.
2. That the position of the planets influence events on earth.
3. That a person's characteristics can be ascertained from the sun sign under which they were born.
4. That he position of the, planets at the time of birth determine or influence the trend and events in the life of an individual.
5. That a natal chart is a blueprint of the trends and events in one's future life, and a record of the past.
6. That "free-will" can he exercised to avoid the negative aspects forecast in a natal chart.
7. That astrology works.
Before I examine the above points individually, let's reiterate the techniques used by astrologers and take a look at the main sources of alleged influence commonly invoked in support of astrology - gravity, air ions and energies unknown to science.
A horoscope divides the ecliptic (the path the planets appear to follow in the sky) into 12 sections, each bearing the name of a constellation. The constellations are different in size and two of them, Ophiucus and Cetus, are totally ignored. Because the earth wobbles on its axis and describes a circle every 24,000 years, this precession of the equinoxes has moved the zodiacal signs completely out of their original constellations. Thus, 4000 years ago, the sun was in the constellation of Taurus on the day of the Spring equinox (March 21), 2000 years later the sun was in the constellation of Aries, and today it is in Pisces. This factor is also ignored by astrologers when erecting a chart. Furthermore, for centuries astrologers constructed "accurate" charts even before the discovery of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.
The belief that the gravitational fields of distant planets exert an influence upon us, given the moon's obvious effects upon ocean tides, is a misconception. The argument that "if the moon can do that to oceans, imagine what it can do to us" is quite specious. The moon causes tides only in large unbounded bodies of water like the world's oceans; even lakes, unless they are exceptionally large, are negligibly influenced. Expressed in words Newton's law states:
Objects in the universe attract each other with a force that varies directly as the product of their masses and inversely as the square of their respective distances from each other.
The attraction therefore, say between a midwife or obstetrician and a baby being delivered is tens of millions of times greater than that of the moon.
As an aside, it's worth mentioning that the belief that the moon influences oysters mentioned earlier in this chapter is based on a single inconclusive experiment done in 1954, by Frank A. Brown of Northwestern University. Dr. Paul Quincey (1993), a physicist at the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington, Middlesex, U.K. concluded that Brown's observations were reached purely by an inspection of incorrectly drawn graphs.
Because of moon modulates the earth's magnetic field, the entering ions follow a lunar cycle. The abundance of positive ions coming down to earth during the full-moon phase are suspected by some scientists to create depression and irritability by increasing levels of serotonin in the nervous system. However, the positive ion concentrations related to the lunar variations are negligible when compared to those related to air-conditioning units and air pollution generally, the ion levels related to the moon when full is not high enough to produce any effect.
ENERGIES UNKNOWN TO SCIENCE
It is often argued by astrologers and paranormalists, that forces or energies exist that are unknown to science. Such people point to electricity and magnetism as two examples which remained undiscovered until the last century. While this may be true, for a causal relationship to exist, some facts are necessary to support the hypothesis, yet after 4000 years astrologers are still seeking them. As I have previously stated, the fact that astrology has been around and has endured for over 4000 years is no criterion for judging its validity.
That the positions of the planets influence events on earth, in particular, catastrophic events such as earthquakes, tidal waves and volcanic eruptions, has been disproven time and time again. The most recent, for example, was the" Harmonic convergence", the alignment of all the major planets, which, astrologers forecast, would cause calamitous earthquakes. None eventuated. Conversely, there have been numerous catastrophic natural disasters which have not been forecast by astrologers.
The principal tenet of astrology is based on a belief in an immutable future, that is, the future is ordained and that it can be predicted by observing the movement of the heavenly bodies. However, this tenet is negated when an astrologer prepares a natal horoscope, as he will tell his client that a natal horoscope is a "blueprint" of that person's life, showing the trends and events that will occur...adding that any negative aspects can be ameliorated .by the exercise of free will.
A mundane horoscope forecasts the eventualities likely to occur in the life of a business, country or nation. Thus a contradiction arises. If the future is immutable and can be accurately forecast, how could the exercise of free will prevent a natural catastrophe such as an earthquake?
Whenever and wherever astrologers have been put to the test they have failed miserably, (Edwards 1989), (Randi 1989), as the following revealing studies will show. Some you can easily put to the test yourself.
NEWSPAPER ZODIAC COLUMNS.
Even a cursory examination of the predictions made on the same date and for the same sunsign in two or more different newspapers and magazines show their inaccuracy to be self-evident. For example, in the Sydney Daily Telegraph Mirror on December 3, 1990, the column, Stars with Arthur Bowman, predicts for Scorpio - "One of those days when Murphy takes control and just about everything that can go wrong, does." In the same newspaper on the same day, Athena Star Woman in her column, tells those born under the sign of Scorpio that "Everything should be running well for you." Bowman tells Cancerians that it's "A good day to stay as far as possible in the background." Athena on the other hand, tells them to "be prepared to man the action stations."
If these astrological predictions are supposedly arrived at by using universally accepted standard methods of calculation, the predictions should be substantially in agreement, the only deviation being the astrologers' way of expressing themselves. Ironically, astrologers themselves admit that these forecasts have no validity, they are simply for entertainment only.
According to astrology, most people born under same zodiac sign will have the same physical characteristics. Linda Goodman, (1972) in her one million copy best seller, Sunsigns, describes a male Scorpio (my sun-sign) in the following terms: piercing eyes of blue, green, brown or black; powerful physiques; pale complexioned; dark hair; sharp features; heavy knitted eyebrows; heavy reddish hair on the arms and legs. How does this compare with the facts? I have grey eyes and do not pierce people with my gaze, an average physique, a tanned complexion, almost non-existent eyebrows, medium dark brown hair and not particularly hairy arms and legs! Where do black skinned, curly-haired African pygmies, yellow skinned, short and slightly built Chinese, and tall, blond headed, fair skinned Scandinavians born under the sunsign fit into her description? She goes on to say that there are also frosty blond types and in so doing makes a mockery of trying to categorize people by their date of birth. The physical parameters are so great that they cover virtually anyone and everyone.
In America, on June 7, 1989, and repeated in July on ATN Channel 9, Sydney, Australia, a TV special, Exploring Psychic Powers Live, (featuring magician and psychic debunker James "the Amazing" Randi) set out to test the claims of astrologers and psychics by offering a prize of $100,000 if they could prove .the truth Of their claims. The astrologer briefly interviewed twelve people whom he knew represented all of the twelve signs of the Zodiac and whose charts he had cast. He directed each to an alcove in a colourful semi-circle of Zodiac signs. When the announcer asked each person to step forward if their actual birth sign did not match the alcove into which they had been placed, ALL TWELVE people stepped forward at once.
PERSONAL CHARACTER ASSESSMENTS.
Astrologers claim that they can use a natal chart to determine a person's characteristics. Controlled studies however, present an entirely different picture. One such study conducted by Michel Gauquelin, a French statistician, in 1979, made the point by placing an advertisement in the Ici-Paris offering a free personal horoscope. The applicants were requested to reply saying whether they recognized themselves in the horoscope and to have their friends confirm the accuracy. Of the first 150 replies, ninety-four per cent claimed that the horoscope accurately described their character and the accuracy was confirmed by ninety per cent of their families and friends. Everyone had been sent the same horoscope, that of Dr Petiot, a notorious mass murderer who was executed in 1946, for murdering twenty seven people and disposing of their bodies in a tub of quicklime!
WHY DOES ASTROLOGY APPEAR TO WORK?
The answer is that it doesn't, although in the eyes of those who have been to an astrologer for a consultation or have had a natal chart drawn up, it does. They will point to the accuracy of the predictions, the sound advice and the guidance they have been given, but how many will take the time to critically examine what they have been told? The truth is, that all they receive in return for their money is a variation of a standard all purpose generic character assessment similar to the example given in the chapter on clairvoyance, and a mixture of self-evident propositions, simple homilies, platitudes, vague and ambiguous statements, and above all, they are told what they would like to be told. A perusal of this standard spiel should give a clear picture of the method employed by most paranormal consultants. This basic character assessment with some slight variations, has been used time and time again in studies carried out to prove that most people will self-validate - they will see or read into the assessment what they perceive to be their own persona and will agree that the assessment describes them perfectly. Why? Because it is based on the same assumptions that guide psychologists - that we are all basically more alike than different; that our problems are generated by the same major transitions of birth, puberty, work, marriage, children, old age and death; and that people come to a character reader because they need someone to listen to their conflicts, troubles and indecisions involving love, money and health.
It works because the client is actively engaged in trying to make sense out of the bald and often contradictory statements, he is in effect encouraged to become a problem-solver, in other words, the reading succeeds because it calls upon the normal processes of comprehension that we ordinarily bring to bear in making sense out of any form of communication, this together with much that is inferred, is sufficient to convince the average person of validity of this type of reading.
ATN Channel 9, 1989. Exploring Psychics Live. July 1989.
Baron, R 1987. "Effects of Negative Ions on Cognitive Performance." Journal of Applied Psychology. 72, 131-137.
Bok, B. and Jerome, L.E. 1975. Objections to Astrology. Prometheus Books. Buffalo. Reprinted from the Humanist 35 September/October 1975.
Brown, F.A. 1954. "Persistent activity rhythms in the oyster." American Journal of Physiology, 178:510-514.
Buckalew, L. and Rizzuto, A. 1984. "Negative Air Ion Effects on Human Performance and PhysiologicalCondition." Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine. 53,731-734.
Culver, R.B. and Ianna, P.A. 1984. The Gemini Syndrome. Prometheus Books.
Edwards, Harry. 1989. "Quack Attack (part IV)" the Skeptic, 9(3): 3 1-33.
------------------- 1992. Astrology Today. the Skeptic. 12(4):23-25.
Evans, Ronald. 1989. What Star Sign are the Skeptics? the Skeptic. 9(4):29-31.
Gauquelin, Michel. 1980. The Truth Aboui Astrology. Bazil Blackwell. UK.
Gallup. George. 1984. "Gallup Poll finds High Belief in ESP and Astrology." Skeptical Inquirer. 9(2): 113-115.
Geddes, Sheila. 1985. Astrology. MacDonald Education.
Gettings, Fred. 1985. Dictionary of Astrology. Rouledge & Kegan Paul. London.
Gibson, Walter B. and Litzka, R. 1988. Psychic Sciences. Bell Publishing Co. NY.
Goodman, Linda. 1972. Sunsigns. Pan Books Ltd. London.
Grey, William. 1992. Belief in Astroloy. A National Survey. The Skeptic 12(1):27-28
Happs. John C. 1987. "Belief Systems." the Skeptic. 7(2):21-26.
Hines, Terrence. 1988. Pseudoscience and the Paranormal Prometheus
Jerome, Lawrence E. .1977. Astrology Disproved. Prometheus Books.
Koval, Barbara. 1981 The Lively Circle. Astro Computing Services, San Diego. California 92116.
MacNeice, Louis. 1964. Astrology. Aldus Books Ltd., London.
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Parker, D. and J. 1975. The Compleat Astrologer. Mitchell Beazley Publishers. London.
Pascale, Marc de. 1970. Book of Fate. Thomas Nelson (Australia Ltd) Sydney.
Quincey, Dr Paul. 1993. "The Strange Case of the New Haven Oysters." Skeptical Inquirer. 17(2): 188-193.
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Soyka, Fred. 1977. The ion Effect. Bantam Books.
Wallaby, Sir Jim R. 1987. What Star Sign are you really? the Skeptic. 7(3):8.
Williams, Barry. 1989. Star Sign Survey, the Skeptic. 9(4):32.
____________ 1991. Full Moon and Empty Heads, the Skeptic. 11(1)8-9.
____________ 1992. Planetary Influences, the Skeptic. 12(1): 12-16.
____________ 1992. More Planetary Influences, the Skeptic. 12(4):8.[From: A Skeptic's Guide to the New Age, Harry Edwards]
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