I was driving
from Woodstock to New Paltz in upstate New York one night, returning from
the home of a colleague who was planning to take me to Italy to research
decks in the Vatican's library. It was a great offer—I love tarot and
grand libraries—and I was also quite determined to visit someplace exotic
for the first time. But this gal was flaky; she rarely came through with
I then stopped
in a gas station and picked up a copy of The New York Post
and opened to the horoscope. I must paraphrase, but I am sure it's accurate
enough. It said, "You are obsessed with international travel, but
do not put all your eggs in the basket of someone who has let you down
was Patric Walker, and this prediction was published several weeks after
his death in the fall of 1995. That it seemed to come from the world beyond
only added to the sense of mystery that surrounds newspaper astrology
when it really works. And with a variety of genuinely talented astrological
writers currently in print, including Sally Brompton (TV Guide),
Jonathan Cainer (online at www.Cainer.com
in the U.S.) and Rob Brezsny (Free Will Astrology), plus
a wide array of writers who have emerged by the graces of the Internet,
most of us have had the benefit of those strange little predictions really
affecting our lives.
Could It Possibly Work?
We have all
run this inner monologue. There are twelve signs, and thousands or millions
of people born under each sign read their prediction. How can the write-up,
therefore, have any relevance at all to an individual? And yet it does,
at least often enough to make the whole phenomenon rather noticeable.
Before venturing into astrological terms, this psychological concept is
something we need to keep in mind for this discussion, and indeed for
considering all of astrology: perception is highly individual. It is different
for everyone. The same statement made a million times to a million people
can have as many meanings. We might then ask: what makes meaning meaningful?
The answer: we say it is.
astrology, while poo-pooed by some serious, proper astrologers, actually
has its roots under the oldest tree of the profession, augury, or questioning
whether a certain time is good for a certain thing—sometimes called "horary
astrology." This is exactly what newspaper horoscope writers do:
contemplate the appropriateness of a moment for an action, or provide
a theme to ponder, based on the quality of time as told by the planets.
We are used to time being quantitative, for example, it is now 12:28 pm
PDT. With astrology, the assessment of time shifts to its quality. You
might say astrology works in the textures and nuances of how time feels,
studying a wide variety of cycles, and blending them.
were accurate natal charts (except for royalty, whose birth times were
recorded for precisely this purpose) there was often an astrologer nearby
who could cast a chart for now and see what the basic message was. Newspaper
horoscopes are an extension of this practice. The fact that techniques
used in newspaper astrology are able to provide so much information reveals
something else: that the same astrological symbolism is contained on a
variety of levels. Like with the quality of a computer image, the more
data we have, the more resolution we get. But even a low-res file is able
to give "the big picture," which is exactly what newspaper astrologers
are looking at.
though, that newspaper horoscopes and even customized reports only tell
a little part of the story, and are not a substitute for having a professional
astrologer do your natal chart. But horoscopes can provide occasional
details that have shocking accuracy, which is a function of the astrologer's
ability to combine symbols and see specific messages and, more important,
to trust his or her own interpretations. As with all astrology, this confidence
comes with practice, as does the ability to relate what one sees in words,
which is part of the critical role of astrologer as translator.
astrologers get their basic facts from a conventional ephemeris and ordinary
astrology charts. Then, following guidelines that are considered part
of elementary astrology (such as rulership of signs by planets, i.e.,
Venus rules Taurus), and using the most ordinary astrological symbols,
an interpretation is worked out for each of the signs.
is an idea emerging from the astrology, one's ability to write takes over.
Patric Walker was the master of straight-talk; he had a skeptical edge
and worked to give you an advantage in life. Rob Brezsny emerged to international
prominence from the alternative weekly newspaper scene with his allusions
to Capricorns feeling like they are eating soup with a fork, or sending
Geminis postcards from the USA Today gift shop in Washington.
These are just poetic images that Brezsny conjures while meditating on
the astrology, and which convey his message in a unique and memorable
Do They Do It?
for having relatively limited chart data, newspaper astrologers usually
take two shortcuts. One is to assume that the Sun sign is the rising sign,
for the purpose of having a First House cusp to start the chart. This
is a common technique used by professional astrologers when a person does
not have an accurate birth time—a "sunrise chart," made for
the date and place of birth, at sunrise. It usually works quite well.
is using whole-sign houses. This is an ancient technique; perhaps the
earliest house system, in which the houses are presumed to begin where
signs change. Let's say you're a Cancer Sun, which would translate to
Cancer rising for the purpose of the newspaper column. Your First House
is presumed to start at the first degree of Cancer. It would then be assumed
that all of Leo is your Second House, Virgo your Third, and so on.
In most cases,
the "significator," or astrological stand-in for you in the
astrologer's mind, would be the First House ruler. In Cancer's case, that
would be the Moon. The partner or significant other of a Cancerian would
thus be the ruler of the Seventh Solar House (relationships), in this
case, Capricorn and Saturn. So a newspaper astrologer would likely comment
on relationships in the Cancer write-up if there was a significant aspect between
the Moon and Saturn one particular day.
know these basic rules, it's easy to take out a newspaper column (preferably
a good one), use your ephemeris and figure out what's going on in the
astrologer's mind. Of course, this does not explain newspaper horoscopes
entirely. But part of the fun of astrology is that there is a mystery
involved, and using astrology means having fun with your relationship
to the unknown. That is, in my measure, what makes someone an astrologer.