Response to article in Skeptical Inquirer July/August 2016Geoffrey Dean’s SI (Jul/Aug 2016) article “Does Astrology Need to Be True?” got me thinking back to the early 1980s when I learned to set up horoscopes using an ephemeris. I learned to debunk the art of reading someone’s chart soon after, but Dean’s SI article by the same title thirty years ago was a great help.
I noticed when doing a reading or having one done that astrology’s complicated richness in variables allows for just about anything in interpretation. My conclusion was that a seasoned astrologer will never be wrong if that astrologer understands that the goal of a reading is to satisfy a client through agreement. Clients of astrologers reminded me of volunteers performing for a stage hypnotist. The latter entertainer requires people on stage willing to comply with suggestions whether they enter a trance or not, trance being relative to how much peripheral awareness remains in the volunteer. The horoscope with all its angles, symbols, and signs provides a distraction, a place to focus awareness in a cosmic playground that feeds into narcissistic traits—it is all about you that the starry sky universe cares about.
Any caring person wants the universe to care for them and talk to them whether through languages of religion or science. We coax nature to yield her remedies and she often does. This may be an artifact of reciprocity, one of the most basic moral principles in any religion or ethical social system. Astrologers tap this principle as bait using slogans like as above, so below and the stars incline, they do not compel. Astrologers use the bait of a caring cosmos of stellar relationships underscored by mythological themes to invite their client into a conversation with “the God” or “the Universe” that speaks through the astrologer. A curious client will likely find any number of useful or agreeable suggestions and insights—a few good ones are enough to justify the cost
So, what’s the harm? The harm becomes apparent when the mask of authority falls off the face of a charlatan posing as the voice of the universe. Then the client wonders what nonsense she may have absorbed after so many, often expensive sessions with an astrologer: Have I been acting like a Virgo with an Aquarius ascendant because my chart under one system said I was one? Did my parents in India agree to arrange my marriage to an abusive man based on an astrologer’s opinion? Turning to astrology is never neutral. It is an influence game with a host of labels and suggestions that can change behavior for better or for worse but under a constricted world view. It is like pretending to pour the cosmos into a bottle and serving it up during a reading—something I have called metaphysical snake oil. Unlike the licensed therapist, the astrologer’s art lays the entire responsibility on the client and her relationships with the stars. Thus, the astrologer can beg us to not blame the messenger if things do not work out based on the message.