Astrology (from Greek ástron "star" and logos "speech", "fable"): a method of prognostication based on the assumption that there is a non-arbitrary connection between the positions of stellar constellations and planets, on the one hand, and events and, especially, human characters and destinies on earth, on the other. Astrology is unrelated to ►astronomy, but closely linked to ►esotericism.
Astrology traces back to early human cultures that made use of seemingly random phenomena such as the course of a group of flying birds, the appearance of sacrificial animal entrails, or the constellations in the sky for their decisions and predictions. In the course of time, people gave up on the more intricate methods -- after all, it would be not just cruel but also quite expensive to slaughter sheep each time you need to make a prediction. Thus it is that the simpler, less intricate methods of fortune-telling, such as astrology, are the ones that have been preserved to this day.
As Above, So Below
The basic principle of classic astrology is "As above, so below": there are non-trivial correlations between the positions of constellations and other heavenly bodies up above in the sky and events down here on Earth, correlations which may be attributable to causal influence by the stars (etc.) on the earthly or to some more mystical natural harmony between the two. Here "above" does not refer to the annual seasons, but to the positions of the planets in relation to one another and to the stellar constellations. As the paths of planets are more or less fixed, a person's character will depend only on the time and place of her birth. (As early as 400 A.D., Augustine pointed out that this is incompatible with the observed existence of persons who are born at the same moment and yet go on to have radically different characters and destinies -- an early and still-influential argument against astrology.) Even her future fate, just like the fates of companies, nations, plans, book projects, websites, and so on, depends on the positions of the planets and stars. Thus, character studies and predictions based on the basic principle of astrology can be established much more quickly and with much less effort than intricate psychological or market analyses.
While early astrologers took to directly observing the sky, nowadays the positions of sun, moon, and planets needed to compile a character sketch or make a prediction are read off of a table and applied to the zodiac constellations in a graphic diagram, the so-called horoscope. Astrologers connect the positions with colored lines and then read up the corresponding character traits in their astrology books.* These character traits are often linked to the phenomena "depicted" by the corresponding constellations; thus, Libra (the Scales) is associated with indecisiveness, Leo (the Lion) with consciousness of power, and Taurus (the Bull) with stubbornness.
Unfortunately, many astrologers run into strange difficulties even at this basic level of computation. For example, traditional Western astrology still uses a table with assignments of seasons to constellations that dates back to ancient times. However, due to precession in the axis of the Earth -- something that has been occurring for 25,870 years -- the stars are now located at firmament positions very different from those they occupied back then. For this reason, the constellations of classic astrology no longer match the birth dates. If you were born between 11/23 and 12/21, for example, you are designated a Sagittarius, but the sign that you were actually born "under" is Scorpio.
An Embarrassing Discovery
This embarrassing detail was made known to astrologers at the beginning of the 20th century. However, many still continued calculating by the old system. They justified this by claiming that the constellations used in astrology were "virtual" constellations that have nothing to do with the real ones up in the sky but instead are contingent upon the axis of the earth.
This, of course, contradicts the principle of "As above, so
below". Consequently, some astrologers switched instead to an updated correlation of time periods with constellations, which naturally yielded completely different results from the traditional system.
Still others dispensed with predictions altogether in favor of psychological counseling, using horoscopes and zodiacal signs only as stylistic or heuristic accessories.
Several attempts have been made in the second half of the 20th century to demonstrate the efficacy of astrology with the help of statistical research. In 1955, the French psychologist Michel Gauquelin published a dramatic study showing a strong tendency for the planet Mars to have been either rising or culminating in the sky at time of birth for a group of 500 athletes -- the so-called Mars effect. Critics, however, pointed to the biased selection of athletes considered by Gauquelin, which they claimed undermined his results. Further examinations of the effect by other scientists lead to inconclusive results; sometimes an effect was found, sometimes no effect at all, and sometimes even the opposite effect. In 1991, the French Commission for Paranormal Phenomena (CFEPP) launched a comprehensive investigation of all studies conducted hitherto in order to eliminate every possible source of error. The investigation came to the result that no evidence for the existence of a Mars effect could be found.
* Computer programs are also frequently used to generate horoscopes. Here are some upbeat predictions generated for this online encyclopedia: You trigger exciting and deep discussions. You are charismatic and very popular with other people.
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