Blinded by Starlight: The Pineal Gland and Western Astronomia
by Frank McGillion
ISBN: 1-4010-7119-8 paperback / 1-4010-7120-1 hardback
Published by Xlibris Corporation, Philadelphia, 2002
Reviewed by Garry Phillipson
Available for purchase from
Price: £14 paperback / £22 hardback
Frank McGillion covers a vast amount of ground in this book. I would say that this is both its greatest strength and its biggest weakness, but more of that later. A better beginning will be to try and define what the book is about - no easy task in itself. The book's central thesis is as follows:
The pineal gland is an important factor in the way we perceive the world and act in it; the pineal produces its effects by secreting melatonin; it has been demonstrated in laboratory conditions that magnetic fields and exposure to light affect the production of melatonin; therefore anything which affects light levels or changes magnetic fields on Earth (which of course includes some celestial phenomena) may be linked to human character and behaviour; if scientists were less blinkered they would pursue research into correlations between celestial and terrestrial influences; the pineal gland is a promising place to start such research, because by examining responses in the pineal to celestial phenomena we could, so to speak, cut out the middleman - avoiding the need to isolate significant behaviour patterns in large groups by going directly to (some of the) causes of that behaviour - light and magnetic fields, and their effects on the pineal.
In building his case, McGillion also gives a brief historical introduction to astrology, to studies of the pineal gland, and to what might be considered a secret history of the development of psychology since the 18th century, including material on Freud, Jung, Fleiss, Kammerer, Mesmer and Reich.
As I said, he covers a lot of ground, and the breadth and depth of the book are staggering. Studies are cited which point to magnetic fields having influence on human experience and behaviour in fields as diverse as: perception of space-time; experience of 'past lives' and out-of-body experiences; suggestibility; EEG readings; occurrence of wars; epileptic seizures; Sudden Infant Death Syndrome… and if I mention that this list is just the material covered in pages 88-93, and that I have omitted quite a lot even from those pages, you will begin to get the idea of how densely packed this book is. There are 286 notes and references, the majority being references to specialist scientific (predominantly medical) journals.
And here, as I said, we have both the book's primary strength and its main weakness. It is an astonishing tour de force to have assembled so much disparate information; and there are flashes of brilliance at many points in the analysis. But in reading it, there is a sense that the parts are greater than the whole. I believe that McGillion has simply shoe-horned too much information into too small a space. So my complaint is that this is one book, when it should be three. To begin with, there is the author's secret history of psychology, occupying chapters 1-4 of the current volume. I am sure there is enough material here for a whole book, and would love to see McGillion stretch out and cover this whole topic at length.
Again, the final three chapters could easily be unpacked into another full book. They consider certain aspects of modern astrology, and of science, and their respective failures to talk to one another. McGillion suggests that astrologers often fail to employ any kind of critical faculty in approaching their subject, whilst scientists fail to acknowledge the substantial evidence which suggests that, though astrology is anything but proven, there are phenomena lurking within this ancient study which would amply repay proper scientific study - and which, indeed, would have already received such study were it not for the stigma attending proximity to things astrological. It is on this basis that the author judges both parties to be "blinded by starlight", failing to see what is under their noses.
McGillion's perspective is individual and deserving of much attention. For instance, when did you last encounter someone with a scientific background, sympathetic to at least some aspects of astrology, yet believing that the findings of the Gauquelins are "probably artefacts"? This statement surely deserves to be developed and explained over a chapter or two, rather than being an aside at the end of a footnote (n.10, p.123). Or take his suggestion that, due to fluctuations in geomagnetic field activity, astrology may simply work more accurately at certain periods in history. This idea is just mentioned in a paragraph (p.202) before the author's momentum carries him away from it again, when the idea screams out for analysis and reflection. Again, for a book dealing with the possible role of magnetic fields as agents of 'astrological' influence, one paragraph referring to the work of Percy Seymour (p.195) seems a little skimpy. No doubt the reason for much of this brevity is McGillion's avowed intent to write a "popular work" for a "general readership" (p.13-14). Entirely understandable, of course, but it is difficult not to think longingly of the book(s) he would write if freed from the constraints of brevity and simplicity.
More important than any reservations, the fact that I was left wanting more reflects the fact that this is a book of real intelligence and substance. McGillion claims to have "made an irrefutable link between the positions of at least the traditional planets at the time of our birth and our later development and behaviour." (p.201). Whilst some might want to contest the use of 'irrefutable', he certainly succeeds in suggesting that - within a scientific frame of reference - there is something going on in the relationship between celestial and human affairs. He also provides abundant evidence to sketch the means by which this something may be operating. I think he would acknowledge that it can't yet be clear where an investigation of this work might lead, but the case for pursuing it is clearly established here. We can look forward to the books which Frank may yet write, but in the meantime, I suggest you get hold of this one.