Invariably, whenever I get together with Jewish friends, the subject of astrology almost always comes up, and considering how well educated my friends are I am puzzled as to why this is the case. For some reason, it seems to be related to food. By that, I mean if you go to a serious event like shul on a Friday night, people are usually not in the mood to hang around afterward and chit-chat to get to know you. But if you’re at something like a potluck, or something that is fairly informal, it usually comes up.
Once, I was very startled by a Rabbi (who I really respected) who unexpectedly asked me at a dinner function, “What’s your astrological sign?”
Trying not to start a heated debate with someone who had been extremely kind and accepting towards me, I very meekly said, “I don’t like to acknowledge my birth sign.”
The good Rabbi replied, “Oh?!?! You mean it’s that bad? Where you don’t want people knowing what it is?”
Continuing in my “A Soft Answer Turns a Away Wrath mode” (based on one of my favorite proverbs from Tanakh), I replied, “Yep! It’s pretty bad!”
A lady standing by exclaimed, “You poor thing! You must struggle all the time to overcome it!”
I replied, shaking my head while glancing downward, “All the time… You just don’t know...”
So, in honor of the latest vernal (i.e., Spring) equinox observed this past week, I decided to “come out of the closet” to all my Jewish friends and acquaintances with the two main reasons I don’t believe in astrology. Before, I was “too chicken” to give any explanations because I was concerned things would devolve into an unfortunate argument where I'd offend my friends. In the past, some people have figured out a third reason based on my religious beliefs, and I’ve agreed with them when they asked (because it is true to some degree), but these really are my top two reasons.
If this were a perfect world and one could get a job doing whatever one loved to do the most, then as a teenager, I would have chosen to have become an astronomer. Not that I am lamenting the road I took becoming a geophysicist with heavy math and computer skills, because that was a blessing for me to have worked in this capacity. But for me, there is nothing that beats the excitement of looking into a telescope at far away groupings of light-bearing, light-refracting, or even light-obscuring subjects. Oh, I like gazing at the stars and know a lot of them by name, and I love viewing the planets of our solar system, but nothing else gets my blood pumping more than looking at the artistically-crafted assemblages of stars and gaseous anomalies forming nebulae, globular clusters, and the various-shaped galaxies. Photos of nebulae and galaxies also fascinate me because the time-lapse techniques and film used to capture the most light also tend to capture colors on the film which aren’t very visible to the human eye through an ocular piece. (Unless your eyes sort of scan over the image employing areas of the eye which are used primarily for peripheral vision, but that is another fascinating subject in itself!)
Because of my deep love of astronomy, I learned pretty early in life that the premises on which modern astrology are based are “off”. When astrology was invented back in Babylon in the 2nd to 3rd millenia B.C.E., the sky was aligned differently than it is today. The ancient Babylonians (as well as other ancient peoples) made a big deal about the position of the sun on events they wanted to annually acknowledge. So, at first, the signs of the zodiac became a “cosmic calendar”, marking solstices and equinoxes (just like Stonehenge). Only the Babylonian astronomers based their calendars commencing when the sun rose in the constellation of Aries (i.e.,thus marking the initiation of the Spring). Over time, as advantageous or (more likely) adverse events took place during periods of time where the moon or one of the five planets they followed were sighted in a constellation, then the combination took on a meaning as being either a “good omen” or an “ill omen”.
For a fictitious, silly, extreme example, let’s pretend that once in time, the planets Saturn and Jupiter were in conjunction with each other in the sign of Capricorn, and then the king of the land choked to death on a goat-cheese pizza. Then this was taken as a negative sign since Saturn (i.e., the planet associated with the god Ninib, or the historic and Biblical person, Nimrod) and Jupiter (symbolic of the god Marduk) represented two top male figures in their “pantheon”. Basically, when ill events occurred they were viewed by the ancients as displeasure and/or judgment from their gods. Since it was “written in the stars” for all to see, it must have been the true destiny of poor, fictitious King “Shower-Weasel” (I was trying to come up with a name “that had the same ring to it” as King Shalmanezer of Assyria) to choke to death. Because the two planets symbolic with these gods were in Capricorn, then the king would likely choke on some food product related to herding or keeping goats. But if the two planets were in conjunction in another constellation such as Virgo, then perhaps he was meant to choke on Extra-Virgin Olive Oil. Never mind that King Shower-Weasel ate voraciously, never chewing his food carefully as he rapidly stuffed it in his mouth so he could quickly move onto other toothsome, tasty tidbits!
Due to the Earth rotating on a wobbly axis which roughly returns to its initial axial orientation after 26,000 years, the sun became out of alignment with the original constellations during a “wandering” process now referred to as “Precession of the Equinoxes”. In the early astrology, if you are born on the Spring Equinox, March 21st (roughly), then you were born under the “sun sign” of Aries. However, over the millenia, the sun now rises in the constellation of Aquarius on the vernal equinox. But, whoever the astrology gurus were who continued their traditions, they kept referring to people born on these auspicious vernal equinoxes throughout the centuries as having been born under the sign of “Aries” with they ascribed to these people the original characteristics ascribed to “Aries” individuals.
Another thing which disillusioned me was the “hype” everybody made about the “Age of Aquarius” back in the seventies due to, in part, to the very catchy popular song from the stage musical, “Hair”. Only the song promised us the “love and harmony-filled Age of Aquarius” was dawning in the very soon to-be-coming future. Guess what! The “Age of Aquarius” when the sun first rose in the constellation of Aquarius on the Spring equinox actually happened in the year 1350 C.E. What a let-down (or “a bummer” in 1970’s parlance)!
The second reason why I don’t believe in horoscopes is because my older brother and I had the dubious task to write the horoscopes for our school newspaper. We were mainly chosen for this position because our parents were vocational educators who unexpectedly won a teachers’ convention door prize of a portable typewriter with Italic script. That may not sound like a feasible reason, but back in the day, manual and portable typewriters only produced one font whose markings were permanently emblazoned on the strike surfaces of its mechanical keys. But if you happened to have a “big name-brand” electric typewriter with a rotating ball, you could change the font by removing the ball and replacing it with another ball with the desired font (like my Mother had in all of her classrooms and the principal had in the school office). The editor of the paper favored having Italic script for the horoscopes because it “looked more mysterious and supernatural” than regular script. We got the job because we had the script typewriter which we could use at home and then we didn’t inconvenience the school office staff hogging the typewriter like the previous horoscope writers did.
The position of horoscope writer traditionally would rotate amongst several students on the newspaper staff within the school year. But our editors (especially the main editor who actually believed in astrology) had some sort of weird faith that my brother and I could do a better job. For starters, both my brother and I were fair writers, and he has the wildest, most-creative imagination I’ve ever been around In fact, he now writes Science Fiction novels and articles, and his ironic story endings always leave me speechless because only my brother ‘s unique brain could have come up with these plot twists and unforeseeable conclusions!
At this time, somehow I ended up in a special science class where the main instructor (Mr. Bieber) was teaching us how to develop Extra-Sensory Perception (ESP) skills. I got there because everybody had to take the same tests based on predicting things, reading minds, influencing movement of objects, etc. Even though I am not usually a “lucky test taker” (in reality, I either know the subject material or I don’t), I scored much “higher than by normal chance” on the tests. So, it was known I was placed in Bieber’s ESPer class, and our main school newspaper editor gave this much credence because the editor thought ESP would be such a breakthrough in the world of science. So, we ESPer students would sit around for an hour each day trying to predict what would result from a toss of the dice, which card came up in a deck next, what Mr. Bieber was thinking, or trying to move small objects with our thoughts. I don’t think I really learned anything from the effort, except how much the scientific community was hoping ESP was a real phenomenon that could be used for the good of humanity.
When I first came onto the newspaper assignment to write horoscopes with my brother, I flat out asked the editor, “How am I supposed to predict anybody’s future? I don’t anything about this subject of astrology.” The main editor assured me that I had “the abilities to do the job if [I] would just dig deep into [my] mind and go with what comes to mind first.” I thought, “Right! I know my brother just sits around and makes stuff up!” I tried “working” with Mr. Bieber in science class trying to hone my “psychic” abilities where I had some sense of the future about anything, but it was in vain. Then, one of my Mother’s way-out, weird, intellectual friends gave us a book on astrology so that we could learn the basic concepts and maybe get some sort of feeling for how astrologers do the job. She even sat with me at our dinner table one night to help write one column by giving me her sincere input on what she thought was going to happen to the people born under each astrological sign. Basically, whatever I wrote based on things I learned from this family friend was sheer, complete garbage!
In fact, the only horoscope “premonitions” which were close to predicting real life events were the insane things my brother would derive in his wildest day-dreams! And, the stuff he was writing was pretty funny as well! So, I finally said to myself that you couldn’t argue with success and I adopted my brother’s “method” for making up the horoscopes. We would sit together in our living room, or in his bedroom, with the Italic script portable typewriter laid out before one of us, typing down our notes. Honestly, together we’d come up with such ridiculous predictions that both of us were rolling with laughter until tears were flowing down both of our cheeks and our sides were splitting!
Then, the feedback we got was phenomenal! People were always coming up us saying things like, “I’m a Taurus and I never believed in horoscopes before, but this was absolutely right that [such and so] was going to happen to me!” The mail the school newspaper got in response to our successful predictions went substantially up. Our main editor was sure that she had “a hit and a genuine line to the cosmos!” All my brother and I could do was laugh because we knew that when I made “a serious effort” to write horoscopes like real astrologers or psychics, I couldn’t do it. But if we worked together bouncing ludicrous ideas off of each other, our accuracy was significantly higher.
As far as the ESPer class, nothing really came out of this “experimental class at school”, and I never consistently saw anything that would convince me that I had any ESP abilities. There were times I’d really guess what people were thinking (like what color their bicycle was, or who was on their minds). But it didn’t happen every time I tried. Then, the evangelical, fundamentalist, and conservative Christian kids at my school warned me that I shouldn’t be dabbling in such “esoterica”, and it could be a spiritual danger to me. They said the only way to get external information that was reliable was through the work of the Holy Spirit (Ruach Kodesh) Who was always 100% right. I promised myself that I would only work on ESP experiments around Mr. Bieber, and when this special class of his disbanded, I pretty much did not attempt any more psychic exercises. Even in college, friends were trying to get me to make predictions or read their minds after hearing about my experience in the ESPer class, but I would beg them not to ask me to attempt any psychic abilities.
On a fun note though, one old college boyfriend wouldn’t give up asking me to read his thoughts, so one day, he got the shock of his life when I told him exactly what he was thinking (as if any teenaged girl couldn’t guess what was on a teenaged boy’s mind). Then I shamed him for having such thoughts! I’ve never seen anybody turn so red in my life!