The Pink Triangle Trust

Introducing the Humanist Tradition

Leaflet number 5: Do Your Stars Foretell?

Astrologists tell us our personality is governed by our birth sign, which is influenced by the gravitational effect of all the planets in the solar system, lined directly above the Earth at the moment we are born.

Astrology is big business and has never been more popular. Just ask someone if they know under which star-sign they were born. The chances are that they will know – even if they do not know their own blood-group. Some ‘respected’ newspapers devote regular columns and features to it – without any ‘health warning’ stating that it is printed only for fun. Astrologers are consulted by important people, who presumably base decisions on their predictions; so we should take the claims of astrology seriously.

Some companies in the United States use birth-signs to short-list job candidates. The employer automatically has the necessary information from the applicant’s date of birth.

The star ‘constellations’ referred to by astrologers are miscellaneous sets of stars, all at different distances from Earth. They have no connection with each other, except that they constitute a pattern when seen from the Earth. A constellation is not an entity at all, and not the kind of thing that can be said to ‘move into’, or ‘enter into’, anything. Professor Richard Dawkins described constellations as “of no more significance than a patch of curiously shaped damp on the bathroom ceiling”.

Astrology may not be such an innocent pursuit, because it is given credibility by those who should know better, and important decisions may be based on it.

Predictions For 1998

There are many books, magazines and telephone call-lines which provide horoscopes and predictions. Whichever is the most prestigious, one of the longest established and respected must be Foulsham’s Original Old Moore’s Almanack. This claims to be published under the original copyright dating back to 1697 and to have been published every year since.

For 1998 it predicts “a fall in Stock Markets at the end of February”, and that “Losses to British shipping are likely to grab headlines” around the middle of July.

For September it says “There is a distinct possibility of earthquakes early in the month, especially in the Pacific rim. France is still experiencing civil unrest that may bring the armed forces onto the streets. In addition Paris may be disrupted by terrorist attacks. There is a danger later in the month of accidents in power stations, with India the most likely focus.”

It also says, “The German obsession with the launch of the new Euro currency will hit major internal problems and German Chancellor Kohl will be badly exposed by revelations which adversely affect the currency launch”.

It is not all gloom however. In November “The Royal family should be in the news again, though this time with a very positive announcement.”

The strangest event of recent times must be the failure of all the astrologers and clairvoyants to have predicted the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. This must have been written in the stars, if astrology is true, yet no prediction was published. The astrologists should explain why they failed to read it.

The Basics of Astrology

Astrologers divide the sky containing the apparent paths of the sun, moon, and the five planets that were known to the ancient Greeks, into twelve zones, each about 16° wide, called the zodiac. The stars contained in each zone are grouped into constellations, denoted by a symbol, which is called a sign.

From this framework they claim they can foretell the destiny of an individual or group by calculating which star is in the ascendant at the time of birth or foundation. The ascendant is the sign of the zodiac which is nearest the eastern horizon at the time of the birth and the star that is most important is that which rises at that time (that is, in the ascendant).

This framework was drawn up some 2,000 years ago; but things have changed since then. Not the constellation patterns themselves: although they do alter as the stars move in space the process takes millions of years. Much more rapid is the wobble of our observation platform, the Earth. Like a spinning top, the Earth’s axis is swinging around in space, completing one great loop every 26,000 years.

At the period when the framework was drawn up, just before the spring equinox, the sun was in the zodiac sign of Pisces, and ‘moved into’ Aries on 21 March – as the press still tells us today. But at the spring equinox now, the sun ‘leaves’ Capricorn to ‘enter’ Pisces. In the past 2,000 years, the sun’s apparent position in the sky has slipped backwards by one whole sign of the zodiac.

If astrologers were doing something that had any connection with reality, this ought to make a difference. This is especially so when it is understood that the supposed attributes of the twelve signs of the zodiac are actually derived from the patterns of the constellations: the hidden passion of Scorpio relates to the behaviour of scorpions; the balance of Libra to the scales of the sign for Libra; the perfection of Virgo comes from its name which means ‘virgin’.

The underlying philosophy of astrology is that our lives and everything else are largely determined from the start. Otherwise all predictions, as distinct from forecasts, would be nonsense.

Not just individual people have their star-signs and personal horoscopes. Nations and institutions are ‘born’ and, as with people, this affects their futures, or so astrologers say. Old Moore’s Almanack states that the United Kingdom has a number of horoscopes, the earliest dating back over 1,000 years, but the most important is set for the formal creation of the United Kingdom on 1 January 1801.

Most pronouncements by astrologers are vague, being modified by words like “may”, and they allow for wide interpretations about places and events.

If astrologers cannot be sued by people misadvised, say, into taking disastrous business decisions, they could perhaps be prosecuted for false representation under the Trade Description Act or jailed for fraud.

Humanists assume, from the evidence of our senses, that chance and free will exist in our lives, and in the universe. Epicurus (341-270 BCE) taught about the random swerve by atoms, and wrote: “No means of predicting the future really exists, and if it did, we must regard what happens according to it as nothing to us”.

If our futures are largely determined, it is no use our knowing about it or trying to change it!

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Created : Sunday, 1998-03-01 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
Brett Humphreys :