I really do not like astrology. I've mentioned it before as a pet peeve of mine, and I'm afraid that I can't help but rise to the bait with this week's prompt at Sunday Scribblings. In the first part of this post, I'm going to lay out why I dislike it so much. But if you love astrology, be sure to stick around for the second half, where I help you to find out what your sign is. No, those dates are wrong. Sorry.

"Astrology is an Aesthetic Affront"

Dione and Saturn
Over the past two thousand years, we have learned a staggering amount about the Universe around us. We've found it to be more beautiful, more mystifying and far grander than we ever imagined. My chief complaint with astrology is simply that it ignores all of that.

Thousands of years ago, with no telescopes, space probes or Mars rovers, the planets were just points of light in the sky. 'What are they?', people wondered. Could their arcane movements be a kind of writing on the celestial sphere? The stargazers of that era weren't wrong to wonder, but we now know that Mars is not a symbol. It's another world, just like the Earth (only somewhat chillier). Despite being named after the Roman god of war, it's actually the most hospitable planet we know of apart from the Earth (Venus vies with Io for least pleasant). You could go and stand on Mars, and to you the Earth would be a blue star in the sky. Clouds would pass overhead (as would two moons), a feeble wind would push against you, your feet would sink into a magnetic soil with the texture of wet sand.

Astrology presents itself as a means to achieving awareness of the Universe, but in fact it teaches nothing that is supported by evidence, and instead reduces glorious, complex, mysterious worlds to nothing more than symbols. I can't help but see it as something sinister, a spectre seeking out people who look at the night sky and wonder, and palming them off with a cheap, two-dimensional forgery.

My Sign is Ophiuchus, the Snake Handler

Well, no, it isn't. But it would have been if I'd been born a couple of weeks later. One of those things that we've learned about the Universe in the last two thousand years is that we are not at the centre of it. This certainly hints that the Heavens are not merely a blanket of symbols there for our edification – that in fact, most of the Universe has nothing to do with us. It also leads to understanding a few things which directly affect the way astrology is (or should be, rather) practised.

As the Earth moves around the sun, the axis on which it rotates is at an angle to the plane that the Earth moves through (known as the ecliptic). This angle is the cause of the Earth's seasons. Due to a number of factors (the rotation of the sun on its own axis, the pull of the moon) the Earth's rotational axis also moves in a circle. This is known as precession, and it was probably first figured out by an ancient Greek guy called Hipparchus. Ptolemy is another ancient Greek guy, perhaps best known for coming up with (at the time, quite compelling) reasons supporting the idea that the Earth did not move around the sun, and for coming up with the (much too small) estimate of the Earth's circumference used by Columbus when he planned to sail right round it. Despite that, he was actually a very proficient astronomer, being aware of all sorts of aspects of the Heavens that are ignored by modern astrologers – one obvious example being the precession of the Earth's axis (Ptolemy would have considered it to be a precession of the celestial sphere), as noted above.

Because of this precession, the signs that the sun passes through steadily change over thousands of years. And, of course, the dates for your sign as given in the newspaper horoscope are those for two thousand years ago. Presumably astrologers had a real blow-out party back then and insist on partying like it's 99AD – or 140AD, more precisely, as it is poor Ptolemy's table of dates that astrologers use.

So, if I had been born on the 21st of November 140, I would be a Scorpio. However, I was in fact born on the 21st November 1983, and so am a Libra. Here's the actual table of dates for the 21st Century. If you really, really feel that your (old) sign fits you perfectly, you may be a little disturbed to discover how well you have fooled yourself. Please don't shoot the messenger.

Pisces March 14 - April 19
Aries April 20 - May 15
Taurus May 16 - June 21
Gemini June 22 - July 21
Cancer July 22 - August 10
Leo August 11 - September 17
Virgo September 18 - October 31
Libra November 1 - November 24
Scorpius November 25 - November 30
Ophiuchus December 1 - December 18
Sagittarius December 19 - January 20
Capricornus January 21 - February 16
Aquarius February 17 - March 13

Also, if you're Ophiuchus, consider yourself so very, very lucky! Now every time someone asks you what your sign is, you can let them in on a little piece of the Universe's beauty. The Earth moves - and the way it moves, moves as well!

What is your sign, really.
Bad Astronomy: Astrology


Udge said...

OMG now it all makes sense, I'm really a Taurus! Thank you so much!!

juuuuuuuust kidding.

zhoen said...

Next you'll be telling us not to trust Phrenology.

lissa said...

Apparently this means I am not an Aquarius??? I don't think I ever was but then again who knows which source to trust about these things.

Geosomin said...

I suppose you'll be after numerology next too. :)

J has a theory that altho the whole astronomy thing is bunk, the time of year you're born can be linked to your personality. The idea is that whenever the period of time you begin to develop an identity, personality and all those things (say 9-15 months or so) the time of year you're born in can dictate your behavior and personality a bit...what with the shorter days and being cooped up and coldness of the winter versus sunny hotness, long sunny summer days. Now, I'm not sure if it's any more valid than astronomy but it makes more sense to me than astronomy.
How the positions of the planets was related to me was always a confusing thing to me...especially now that I'm apparently a Virgo and not a Scorpio.

I *do* have to say that I still find it amusing that my local horoscope on the day J proposed to me said that "I would be delighted when asked a surprising question" ...

e_journeys said...

According to my Old Farmer's Almanac, the moon is in Ophiuchus today! (June 29) So celebrate, quick! (It moves into Sagittarius on the 30th.)

Really, if we can have a Dwarf Planet category now, with Pluto, Eris, and whatever they're calling Xena nowadays, we should be able to pull Ophiuchus and Auriga into the Zodiac. It's only fair...

Pacian said...

@Udge: Why I oughta... :-P

@Zhoen: That's exactly the kind of comment I'd expect from someone with your cranium.

@Lissa: Trust the people who have actually looked at the sky this century.

@Geosomin: In fact there is a correlation between the season you are born in and your likelihood of developing different mental illnesses.

@e_journeys: Well, Ophiuchus *is* a member of the zodiac. Just not the one astrologers use (ie. not the one for 140AD).

Roadchick said...

All the theories are wrong. The entire universe actually revolves around Roadchick.

What? You didn't know that?

gautami tripathy said...

This makes perfect sense or did it? I don'y know!

Cz said...

really interesting with the days... which means I'm on the cusp of Aquarius not Aries.

But still... it's the Myers-Briggs that does it for me :)

Pacian said...

@RC: Everyone knows that. We're just in denial. ;-)

@GT: Well, better not to know than to accept something for the wrong reasons. There are probably much better descriptions of the precession of the Earth's axis out there than mine. For example, here.

@Cz: I think there are a few parts of MB that are a bit dubious, but on the whole, the idea of finding out what kind of person someone is by asking them questions seems eminently sensible to me. (I'm an INFP, btw, and proud of it too!)

GreenishLady said...

so I was born on the cusp of Opiachus? 1st December... Now I have more googling to do. Ok. Thanks for all the information.

Thunkful said...

I see astrology more as a personal affront than an aesthetic one. Human life, love, and hope are coerced into an antiquated game of trivia.

Kerstin said...

Wow, I never knew! I have never quite understood how the supposed constellation of the planets at the time of your birth can influence your personality, and even path in life. Yet I have found it to be true more often than not, that each sign has certain traits that weave through our personalities like a red thread. Your revelations certainly add an interesting twist to my beliefs so far.

Jemima said...

Aw. But I don't get on with Librans :-(

Hold on, I don't get on with myself! Everything's starting to fit.

Ego ego ego. That's the essence of astrology. Mind you astronomy, all that gazing out of the window: it's a bit too anti-ego, if you ask me ;-)

tinker said...

You know that's just the sort of well-written, logical argument against astrology that I'd expect from someone born under the sign of Ophiuchus!

Rob Kistner said...

..... ? ..... and who cares...

...all of the "belief systems", since the beginning of humankind, are all constructs of the insecure human, created to segregate, and attempt to control or destroy, that which cannot be understood -- and is therefore feared. How sad...

Pacian said...

@GL: I'm a firm believer that there's no such thing as TMI.

@Thunkful: Well, that too. But there are other pseudosciences which fit that bill, and astrology is the only one that really gets my goat - because of its depiction of the Universe (or lack thereof).

@Kerstin: One of the ways to show people about this is to draw up horoscopes, remove the signs, and distribute them at random. As long as people think that they are personal, they will feel that the horoscope is a good match to them. I suppose that showing how the model of the stars astrology uses is different from the actual Universe (this millennium) performs a similar feat.

@Jemima: "It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience."

@Tinker: I suppose I did make the only rational argument against astrology that matters: that there is no evidence for it. But mostly this post was intended to outline why I dislike it so much - an emotional, rather than rational argument. (And I'm a Libra. ^_~)

@RK: Well, I care, and the first part of this post explains why. It's like going to the Grand Canyon and finding people clustered around the gift shop, unaware that there's a rift in the Earth a short distance away.

And I imagine there are a few things that you care about deeply of which others might say 'and who cares?' You know Rob, there's nothing I dislike more than someone who tries to dismiss the feelings of others. (Except perhaps astrology.)

boliyou said...

I'm really a Virgo? Now I'm going to have to re-write my Sunday Scribblings post all over again!

kombizz said...

I am looking for an old friend, Ogy Ego. I was very sure you are him. Or perhaps you are not the right one.
I DO believe in UFO and beyond.

Pacian said...

Not me, I'm afraid.

Astrology and UFOs are quite a different kettle of fish, since UFOs are plausible and don't contradict anything we already know.

That's not, of course, to say that there's any good evidence. :-P