The soothsayers who found out from time what it had in store certainly did not experience time as either homogeneous or empty. (Walter Benjamin, On the Concept of History, 1940)
I often ask myself why prediction in astrology works and keeps working. Many times it works regardless of our will or desires (although, in a curious way, never against our actions). My personal bond with astrology has always shown me that the future happens, and that planetary energies unravel their strengths with their range of multiple (but delineated) possibilities. Our role in the play of life can be that of a mere extra or we can be the étoile, but what really happens is that in different moments we play different roles, framed in the specific socio-economic context in which we are born and in which we develop.
But even when things actually happen, even when I am shocked every time I see transits, returns, and progressions in motion, and becoming real through real people, this does not explain why astrological prediction continues to work, after 5000 years of Western civilization history.
During the 1980s, many astrologers became led by psychology, and produced interpretations aligned with psychoanalysis. In this line of work, having Saturn placed on your fourth house was a good way to explain why your childhood felt cold, often involving an authoritarian father; having Jupiter in Sagittarius allowed understanding of why a person sought higher education in order to express their hunger for adventure (that same hunger that was restrained by their Saturn-like Super Ego). Most of the solid psychoanalytical branches of astrology refrain from delivering a predictive reading, for they assume that astrology works primarily as a self-knowledge tool, and that the psyche unravels inwards, and not through external events, upon which prediction focuses. Nowadays there are other ways of understanding astrology that are much more popularly employed, but I believe that the psychological approach to astrology remains very powerful and illuminating when reading a person's natal chart for the first time, since through it clients find an emotional support that makes them think that the problem or pain they suffer has a rational elucidation, written in a strange language engraved in the natal map the astrologer is showing them. It is soothing to believe that the thing that breaks our heart has an external explanation, and we also love to think that eventual success is also written in the stars, and that it can't be taken from us because it is imprinted upon us at the moment of our birth.
OK. So I use Freud to explain, for example, why it is so difficult for me to make up my mind (too many planets on fixed signs) but at the same time people see me as someone spontaneous and determined (Aries ascending). But why should I believe in someone who tells me that next year, on month "x", I will finally sell my house and move? Why trust that the lawsuit I have been dealing with for eight long years will be solved within the next three months? Why do I, a rational being, born and raised in Judeo-Christian Western civilization values, soaked in liberal and capitalist speeches, nurtured by good will and faith in meritocracy, decide to surrender (and I even pay for it!) to the technical-"supernatural" words of an astrologer that wants to tell me about my future?
I believe that the answer lies in the great mythological solidity that human life has proven to have, and that an astrological reading also has. Joseph Campbell showed, in his seminal The Hero with a Thousand Face (first published in 1949) how very different cultures, such as the hopi Indians, the Greeks, different African tribes and hundreds of other groups, compiled in their legends, myths and folk stories, a history that is the common ground for both mankind and the individual; each and every one of us seem to live our own private version of the renowned "hero's journey":
The hero's journey tale works because it is optimistic, because it is the tale that countless generations before us have told us; it is the story of how the weak or the poor get the most valuable treasures: David defeating Goliath, Frodo destroying Sauron's ring, Ulysses getting back to Ithaca, the poor peasant girl obtaining the love of the rich heir in the soap operas, or Ra surviving the snake's poison and becoming Egypt's king of Day.
- departure - abandoning what I think is safe, my house, the things I know but which eventually become boring
- initiation - the starting point of our mission, the seek for change and the beginning of the difficult task of generating that change
- apotheosis - the final battle and the obtaining of the prize
- return - reaching back home or to a calm state, but now successful, more self assured, more mature.
It also works because the adventure can start because of the wish of the hero, or by sheer chance - like Frodo receiving the ring from Bilbo as a legacy, not knowing what will happen later; or like Little Red Riding Hood, innocently walking through the woods to take food to her grandmother and bumping into the wolf. These stories suggest that the future has challenges for us, no matter whether we look for them or not, and that is why the astrologer is the one that can identify the possible axis through which our call for adventure will activate. And this is key, for as Campbell states, when the hero does not answer the call "because it is always possible to look the other way," the adventure becomes something negative and potentially catastrophic. Following Campbell,
… locked up in his own annoyance, in hard work or in 'culture', the individual loses the power of the significance of his affirmative action and becomes a victim that needs to be saved. His blossoming world turns into a desert of dry stones, and his life loses all meaning.
This is why astrological prediction works, because it helps us play the leading role in our own life, indicating the possible meanings that our destiny can shape. And the true adventure that life is, then appears to be something safer, for prediction intertwines us with the millennial tradition of our cultural horizon, in which many others before us have faced dangers, changes, and challenges, and have found a way to beat them. Aby Warburg, the hugely influential art historian (or art psychologist, as he preferred) stated that the true memory of mankind is not of a traditional historical type. Instead, he claimed that that memory was actually emotional through the concept of Pathosformeln, "pathetic formula" that are effective because they approach us not from the intellectual-rational scope, but from what is emotional in us, from our unconscious memory that is rhizomatic (and, to add up some astrology, also lunar and Cancerian). This creates a bond of union among all individuals that is unattainable through other means. Pathosformeln, being emotional, are transmitted in an unconscious level and they represent the opportunity of identifying ourselves with the Other and with others; in this sense, to comply with our mythical destinies is to walk the path of the history of mankind, and not feel lost in it.
This is why, I believe, astrological prediction does work: because it gives us hints to be the leading character of our own life in a safe haven; for others before and at the same time are walking or have walked the same road. Even when we may not share common interests, traditions, class, nationality, language, we can all identify emotionally with the myth that another person is embodying, and so looking into the future not only does work, not only is important, but it is also good, for it makes us feel together, in spite of the extreme bourgeois individualism. All of us on the same boat, each one of us trying to make our own shore, battling alone and together against waves that sometimes drown us, and others push us peacefully and gently towards our destinies.
July 23, 2010
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About the author:
lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She has a degree in History from the Universidad de Buenos Aires and a Masters degree in Sociology of Culture. She got in touch with astrology during the 1990s, and started through self taught experimentation that was later complemented with formal courses with different teachers. She has found Alejandra Eusebi´s teachings especially influential, for she was one of the first to introduce Melina to the classics and to show her the possible integration between academic accuracy and astrological art.
Melina has taught History at the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras and the Facultad de Ciencias Económicas of the Universidad de Buenos Aires and has also worked as a high school teacher, in parallel with her astrological studies and first professional readings and writings. She now focuses on horary astrology and works as an astrology teacher and consultant. Part of her work can be found at www.starryherald.com.ar
(English version coming soon!) and she can be reached via email at email@example.com
The article made available on this page is copyrighted to Melina Leon and is offered here for private, non-commercial use. Permission must be sought for reproduction. Published online July, 2010.