Volume 92, Issue 84
Tuesday, March 9, 1999
Reading the cosmos
By Ciara Rickard
It's written in the stars, as the saying goes. Or rather, in the planets in the world of astrology. People indulge in many practices which claim to foretell their futures, or at least give vague predictions. Astrology is just one of these practices whose validity, for many people, remains to be seen.
Some consider astrology to be as accurate as a fortune cookie, yet many continue to read their horoscopes and pay attention to predictions for their particular signs. So before the practice of astrology is discounted as invalid, it is important to ask is it a science?
"Yes," emphasizes David Knight, an astrologer and consultant for Astrological Consulting Services in Toronto. "It is based on magnetic fields. The earth has an iron core and anything with an iron core has a magnetic field. We know that that field is affected by the sun and planets in relation to the sun and Earth. We also know that we can interrupt a magnetic field by putting an electric force around it. Human beings have an electrochemical system. The electric field is the connection between the planets... that's why there is a connection to humans," Knight explains.
"That's my theory. Can I prove that it works? Yes, I do it all the time."
Knight, who is also a former engineer, was trained by an astrologer in the 1970s and says astrology is based partly on empirical laws the descriptions we read about certain signs are based on having observed these characteristics in people born at certain times of the year.
It is also important to remember descriptions of sun signs are generalities, Knight warns. The positions of the planets can vary enough during one month to make a considerable difference; hence, two people born two or three weeks apart under the same sign can be very different.
"The Mesopotamians started it thousands of years ago," Knight says. "There are tablets in a British museum thousands of years old showing planets mapped out for astrological charts."
Though many people do read their horoscopes and may, in fact, turn to them first when they open a newspaper, Knight says these horoscopes are "pure entertainment" and it is impossible to make daily predictions. The purpose of astrology, when done properly, he says, is to make determinations about when stresses will arise or when good things are likely to happen and what these things might be.
"You have to calculate an astrological chart, map out all the planets it's a lot of astronomy," Knight explains. "You need the date and time of birth and the relationship between the planets at that time."
For many, it requires a leap of faith to buy into what is seemingly an inexact science. David Gray, a professor of astronomy in the physics and astronomy department at Western, is one of many who do not give any credit to the practice of astrology.
"Astrology has no scientific foundation," Gray says. "People are whimsical they want to believe it. No professional astronomer would put a grain of salt in astrology it's kind of a standing joke in the profession."
Gray points out that although astrology is based on a person's date of birth, it would seem more logical that the alignment of the planets would affect a person at conception; when people are born they have already been in existence and developing for nine months. Suddenly being affected at birth makes no sense, he says.
He also notes that although many astrologers say it has to do with magnetic fields and gravitational pull of other planets, the gravitational pull of Mars or Venus has virtually no effect on us and couldn't possibly help determine our personalities and lives.
"Think twice the next time you're thinking of parting with some coin [for an astrological reading] you're being swindled," Gray says. "By knowing a little about astronomy, they can mix truth with fallacy and lies," he says, adding thereby making it easier to sell.
Whether or not astrology should be considered a science remains a debate amongst those in the field, says Julie Simmons, a professional astrologer in Toronto who writes horoscopes for various publications, including Flare magazine.
"There are a bunch of astrologers who want to say that astrology is a science," she says. "They've tried to legitimize themselves by saying it's a science.... I don't think it's a pure science it's part science and part art. It depends on who is doing it; with a chart and my intuition, I can figure stuff out."
Simmons says she maps out an astrological chart for someone based on the date, time and place of their birth. She can learn about both their past and future based on this chart, though not in specifics. A common misconception about astrology is it can determine your fate; however, one's future is created by their past, Simmons says.
Astrology can determine when there will be periods of stress, restlessness, romance or other moods and by learning about these things ahead of time a person can create more options for their future.
"I can't say exactly what will happen, but I can say when's a good time to get out of a job or make changes in your life. Astrology is used to giving people more freedom, not limit it," Simmons says.
As most astrologers will affirm, one can put virtually no stock into daily horoscopes, Simmons says. Monthlies are better but are still very general since they are only about people's sun signs, which is only part of astrology. Astrologers use all the planets and the moon to do a person's chart, not just the sun. So sun signs speak only to one aspect of a person's astrology, as opposed to 10.
As to why astrology is based on when a person is born as opposed to when they were conceived, Simmons explains. "From conception to birth you don't feel a separate entity, you're part of your mother. When you breathe your first breath you become a separate entity," she says. "Though I have heard that they use conception-based charts in India."
Simmons is also quick to put skeptics in their place, since most of them, she says, have never bothered to research the subject. She also points out it has only been within the last few hundred years that the schools of astrology and astronomy have split and all the great astronomers were also astrologers.
"Why does everybody read their horoscope? There's a need for it and if there's a need for it, it's probably a healthy instinct," she says. "It has a place it gets people thinking about themselves and discussing themselves using astrology."
Copyright © The Gazette 1999