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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 tarot 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 her plans.

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 before."

The writer 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.

How 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.

Newspaper 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.

Before there 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.

Remember, 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.

Basic Tools

Most newspaper 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.

Once there 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 way.

How Do They Do It?

To compensate 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.

The second 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.

Once you 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.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eric Francis, the Seattle-based astrologer and essayist, writes Planet Waves. His twice-weekly horoscope and news service covers astrology, personal growth, environmental issues and political affairs. Eric blends astrology with investigative journalism and personal narrative to create a humorous, alive, and even responsible news source unique in the world.

Visit the author's website.

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For more information about Eric Francis, click here.

Other StarIQ articles by Eric Francis:

  • Venus and Mars Retrograde: Looking Back, Looking Within   1/25/2014
  • Beyond Death and Dowry: A New Sexuality   8/11/2012
  • Holistic Astrology: An Introduction to Chiron   3/17/2012
  • Beyond Death and Dowry: A New Sexuality   9/3/2004
  • When Lovers Become Parents and What to do About It   2/12/2001
  • Imbolc: In the Belly of the Stars   2/1/2001
  • Unbroken Chain: Samhain, Halloween and Scorpio   10/31/2000
  • The Kursk: Things Fall Apart   9/20/2000
  • Getting It Right: What to Do When Astrology Goes Wrong   7/30/2000
  • Spicing Up Mercury Retrograde   7/6/2000
  • The Nuclear Axis   6/30/2000

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