Astrology in the Year Zero
Astrology in the Year Zero

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Chapter 1 – Two Kinds of Amazement

Astrology amazes everyone who thinks about it. Some see a universe in which the stars signal the quality and course of their lives, and find this amazing. Others see a superstitious minority, mired in beliefs from a medieval world, and find it amazing how gullible people can be.

These two kinds of amazement both suggest reasons why astrology is worth thinking about in the first place. If it really works as astrologers claim, there would (obviously enough) be good reason to study it. But if all the astrological work ever done has been pure fantasy, there would still be compelling reasons to learn more about it.

If astrology grew entirely from imagination, then it is a dream which humanity has dreamed, a collective myth which has been formed, sustained and developed by our race in an attempt to make sense of the world; an intellectual fossil whose form shows what we do when we try to understand the world and our place in it. This, together with the fact that a belief in the power of the stars has influenced humanity and its institutions through much of recorded history, means that the study of astrology – even if astrology itself is not considered objectively valid – can disclose new perspectives on this world and the way we relate to it. If we can decide what we are looking at, it will be worth looking – but, given the range of misconceptions about the subject, this seems to be easier said than done.

Astrology tends to polarise opinion. Sceptics frequently argue that astrologers are at best delusional, at worst frauds; many astrologers insist that their craft works so clearly, so reliably, that only prejudice keeps critics from embracing it. Such simplistic views commonly lead to intellectual deadlock between the two camps, with neither willing to concede an inch. This is in the interests of no-one: those who seriously investigate the subject and believe they have substantial evidence – either that astrology works or does not work - are denied a fair hearing, because of a common assumption that the case is already closed. And those who have no axe to grind, but might simply be interested to know the facts, find it difficult to penetrate through a fusillade of propaganda from both sides.

This Book’s Method and Structure

In an attempt to get away from misconception, to the core of astrology, this book presents what astrologers do, and why they do it, in their own words. The text has largely been assembled from thirty-three interviews recorded between 1996-2000 with some of the most eminent, and/or interesting, figures in the field. Amongst the contributors there are people who believe completely in astrology’s validity and accuracy, some of whom present compelling evidence of their subject’s scope and power. There are also scientific researchers who present evidence to show that nothing has been proved, that all conclusions are either partial or just plain wrong.

I have tried to present the issues, and the range of opinion, faithfully - so that readers may draw their own conclusions. It would be artless to pretend that I do not have opinions of my own; but I have tried to set these to one side, to present the strengths of each of the views I encountered. In fact I found that the more I probed astrology’s status – true or false, science or myth - the more complex and refractory the issues became. So if this book appears fragmented and contradictory, I claim that as a virtue – if it were otherwise, it would not be a faithful account.

To present each interview in its entirety would have made the book both huge and tedious to read, so the approach taken is to assemble excerpts theme by theme. The chapters develop in what is hopefully a natural progression, beginning with a look at the ways in which people get interested in astrology in the first place. This introduces the question of what, exactly, astrology is. Several chapters are therefore devoted to different applications of the subject, beginning with the most high-profile variant – the star-sign column in newspapers and magazines – and moving on through astrology in business, therapy, football, and many other areas of life.

Having defined the subject in this way, the focus shifts to broader issues, taking in different ideas about what astrology actually is; how it works; and if it works.

The whole book has been written so that it can be understood by someone with no prior knowledge of astrology. Inevitably, some astrological terms appear, but these can be translated by recourse to the glossary in Appendix 4 – where a very brief introduction to the basics of the astrological chart will also be found. Anyone interested in pursuing one or another of the avenues of thought referred to in the book will find references to people, organisations, books, and so on in Appendices 1, 2 and 4.

Better Questions

When Percival Lowell heard that there were canals on Mars, he decided to devote his life to finding out more about them. It eventually turned out that there were no canals on Mars, but the process of looking for them led Lowell to discover that there was a planet beyond Neptune. The existence of this planet, Pluto, was finally confirmed eighteen years after Lowell’s death. Perhaps, in looking at astrology, we will find ourselves in a similar position to Lowell – the questions we started out with no longer relevant, but supplanted by new and better questions.

For there are questions lurking behind the very idea of astrology; perhaps they may turn out to be more significant than astrology in itself. Is life driven by blind impulse, or drawn toward vision by intelligent design? Is it possible to know? How can thought approach such a question? Should we trust scientific methodology to determine what is real, or is there latent in humanity a way of understanding that surpasses reason?

If the different ideas and perspectives contained in this book lead to such questions being asked then it will have found, and served, its purpose.