Astrology is as obsolete as sun worship, says this wise man — and still people fall for it!
J. V. McAREE
THE OTHER DAY, in one of our largest department stores, I came across a crowd of twenty or thirty people gathered around a small table in the book department. The crowd was made up entirely of women. The reason for the crowd turned out to be a display of books on astrology. The war, I thought, is striking close to home.
In the years immediately preceding the war, astrologers ran riot in England. Leading newspapers featured their pet prophets. What columnists are to New York newspapers, astrologers were to the London press. In the June preceding the eventful September, one of the leading practitioners issued a book in which he said that all signs indicated there would be no war. Most of the other brethren agreed. This was at a time when most thoughtful people who had studied the situation were certain that there would be a war. So it would seem that the astrologers, apart from being unable to get any useful guidance from the stars, were unimaginative or stupid men in their own right. Of course, I suppose that in a short time their miscalculations will be forgotten, because it is in time of great trouble that, such cults as astrology, numerology, palmistry, spiritism and a dozen others enjoy their greatest popularity.
Some time ago I wrote something unflattering about astrologers which produced a flood of letters from believers in this cult, and from practitioners who offered to convince me by casting my horoscope. The offers were not accepted. I have a couple of horoscopes, but I’m not sufficiently interested in them to compare them for possible discrepancies and even flat contradictions. The only interest science has in such concepts is not whether they are true, but how it happened that anybody ever took them seriously. A scientist is not interested in the revelations in his teacup, but in the strange mentality of those who profess to recognize them.
My own contact with astrology began four or five
years ago when I was visited by a charming Australian woman, who called to dispel my scepticism. She told me that her husband had held an excellent position in Australia, but that a study of his horoscope told her he would do better still in America. So she dragged him off to the United States, and sure enough he did do better. In fact he did well enough to satisfy him. But the stars were not so easily pleased. They plainly indicated that it wTas time for a shift to Canada, whither the feebly resisting man was dragged by his indomitable wife. Once more he got an excellent position. The last time I saw her she was about to take him back to Australia, again where plainly some astounding good fortune awaited him, unless the planets were plain liars.
The lady was good enough to make up my horoscope. When comparing what the stars indicated with my actual experience she found one
curious contradiction. I had never had any trouble with my feet, except perhaps that now and then they led me where I should not have gone.
‘‘Are you sure?” she persisted. ‘‘It is plainly indicated that you must have had foot trouble. Please try to remember.”
But I told her in so many words that if she persisted in believing that I was subject to foot trouble, she was living in a fool’s paradise. She was gracious enough to take my word for it, but plainly she was upset and dissatisfied. Three or four months later I did have some trouble with my feet which sent me to hospital, and from the effects of which I am not entirely free to this day.
When I mentioned the astrologer’s remarks to a doctor he laughed, and said, ‘‘Well, anybody of your build might very naturally expect to have some kind of foot trouble, sooner or later.”
Now I happen to be of a somewhat incredulous nature. Other people more accustomed to looking for supernatural signs and portents would find some evidence of the proof of astrology in this little experience. It is largely by such coincidences that the cult gains followers. Predictions are often made in such vague terms as to be capable of a dozen different interpretations, and of course the interpretation proclaimed is the one that subsequent facts happen to justify.
Many are simply fakes like the Mother Shipton prophecies which were made, as a matter of fact, long after the event. Others are like the soothsayings of Nostradamus, which lurid imaginations havefound to have accurately forecast many events. Of course, the lucky guesses are remembered. The failures are not recalled.
ONE young woman of my acquaintance was induced to break off a marriage with a man who loved her—and who seemed likely to have made her an admirable husband because an astrologer told her that the stars did not indicate the match, but did indicate that shortly a much more glamorous suitor would appear. That was several years ago, and she will soon be at a time of life when women cease to think about lovers. Another man had his happiness almost destroyed because an astrologer had planted suspicions in his wife’s mind. She had him followed to discover the mysterious dark woman who was supposed to be luring him to infidelity and hell. Nothing was revealed, but the foundations of that home received a jar from which they will not soon recover.
Another woman, anxious about her daughter whom she feared had fallen into the clutches of an unscrupulous married man, consulted her astrologer to know whether at the time she was with him in another city. The astrologer held her at the telephone while he consulted the daughter’s horoscope, and then reported that the erring one should be sympathized with because of the sinister conjunction of Saturn with Venus at the time. Apparently the stars and not the amoral girl were at fault.
Here we come to one of the evils of the system or racket, or superstition, whatever one chooses to call it. People are no longer held strictly accountable for their own acts. They are born under certain signs of the zodiac, and while they may by the utmost watchfulness escape the worst consequences, they have two strikes on them when they come to bat. If they sin, well, can one fight against the stars? Romeo and Juliet, you may remember, were described as a ‘‘pair of star-cross’d| lovers” who could not escape from their fate, though in other passages Shakespeare showed that he did not fall for the hocus-pocus that was prevalent in his day. We quote from Julius Caesar:
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
I suppose any person has the legal and even moral right to make astrology a religion and guide his life by its revelations, just as anyone has the right to make a hobby out of alcoholism. But in
Continued on page 31
My Stars !
Continued from page 10
the matter of the alcoholic the law intervenes when his hobby threatens the well-being of other people. Many are raising the question whether astrologers, who profess to read the future, should be permitted to influence other people’s lives. We have seen that this is just what they do.
The law against fortunetelling, at least in Ontario, appears not to touch them, for the gravamen of the charge against a fortuneteller is that he lays claim to certain powers which in fact he does not and cannot possess, and for a money consideration is ready to exert these powers in favor of a client. The astrologer probably escapes on the technicality that he does not pretend to these powers; they reside
in the stars. He merely acts as an interpreter. The distinction as a matter of law seems to me exceedingly fine. In practice, there is no difference. We know that many people, most of them women, do, as a matter of fact, pay astrologers for advice which they follow, often with results disastrous to other people.
I have before me the announcement of a Canadian astrologer, including testimonials. One, from a woman in Smiths Falls, says, “Certainly my own mental atmosphere has been much improved.” We can imagine this, and if people consulted astrologers only to have their mental atmosphere improved, we should offer no criticism. But this astrologer,
I among other tilings, presumes to give advice on legal affairs. Now I know j she has had no legal training whatI ever, and 1 am also aware that the laws which govern all legal affairs were made a good many millions of years after the stars began to operate. How their position at the moment of birth or conception should have any effect upon whether a man has cause for legal redress in a business deal I leave it for astrologers to explain and for their dupes to believe. This astrologer will also give advice on health, although she is not a doctor, a nurse or even a dietitian.
That is to say, astrologers will intrude themselves into the most private and important affairs in a man’s life, interfere with them, thwart natural desires and intentions, disrupt friendships and love i affairs and even destroy the home, i One might argue that people so simple-minded as to pay for such advice and guide themselves by it j are sure to bring their affairs to confusion and disaster no matter whom 1 they consult or fail to consult. But ¡ it is not always so, for as I have I already said, many of the victims are people otherwise normal in every respect and above the average in intelligence and social experience.
“You may consult me on any ! subject,” says the announcement. I I trust that military affairs are not : within the scope of the stargazers. Or ; rather, I hope that there are not in j our military establishment men in ! authority who look to the astrologers i for guidance. I recall what happened when they gave their advice to j James IV of Scotland at Flodden. He ! left a strong position in consequence ! of the urgings of astrologers, and met j disaster. Later, the Scottish people ! hanged all the astrologers they could lay their hands on.
For Kings Only
1 SUPPOSE the superstitions which later formed the basis of astrology i must have been among the earliest I that took possession of primitive man ■ and scared him out of his wits. He ! observed the sun and the moon and the stars and the various mysteries j of the heavens long before there was j any written history. He noted a ! correspondence between the sun and I heat, for instance, and he saw what j the heat and the rain did to growing ! things. A dozen old religions grew j out of these early observations, sun worship for instance. Thousands of j years later, in Babylon, where astrol; ogy seems to have been first de! veloped into what was considered a ! science in those days, astrology was accepted by the priests as a means of learning the will and intentions of ; the gods. There was another means favored hy other priests and called hepatoscop.y, which means an examination of the entrails, and livers, of dead animals. Men of science today accord them equal respect.
In those days the heavens were 5 supposed to be swarming with gods I and it was held that something of ! divinity and the power to influence j the lives of kings and nations resided in every star, particularly in the planets. But for hundreds of years it was supposed that the stars busied themselves only with nations and
with the kings who ruled them, and to whom, in those times, the people looked for guidance and protection. The notion that each individual was the concern of the gods was a much later extension of the idea. So the early horoscopes dealt with nations and kings. The whole thing was shot through with superstition, coincidence and the rash drawing of inferences from insufficient data. Thus, if it was recalled that at a certain phase of the moon some notable victory or other national gain had been achieved in the past, it was assumed that the same thing would happen in the future.
Astrology at this stage would seem to be indistinguishable from the basest sort of superstition. Y et it was from astrology that the actual science of astronomy was to be developed. It was the astrologers who got from the movements of the sun and the moon and the tides the first idea of a universe of order, as opposed to the universe of caprice and chance that earlier men had accepted as part of their lot. As time went on and the laws of astronomy became better understood, in other words as civilization advanced, there came a cleavage between the astrologers and the astronomers. The former insisted on giving a religious interpretation which the latter denied. The more science grew, the more astrology decayed until gradually its apostles reached the intellectual level of palmists and phrenologists. About 130 B.C., Hipparchus, a Greek, is supposed to have discovered the theory of the procession of the equinoxes, which one would think astrology could hardly survive. But it did so and was greatly expanded by Greek thinkers—or nonthinkers.
By this time the zodiac was regarded as the prototype of the human body, with corresponding parts. At one time the Egyptian astrologers divided the body into thirty-six parts each one of which was more or less governed by a god, and the god was to he perceived in the firmament. It is needless to say that all these divisions were as arbitrary as the names given the planets and the gods themselves. Remember, too, this was at a time before any astronomical instruments had been invented, when the human mind liad much the same conception of the laws of nature that Joshua had when he commanded the sun to stand still. It should be noted that for hundreds of years there was a bitter internecine quarrel between two schools of astrologers. One school insisted that the stars indi-
Pass Along Your Maclean's to the Boys in Uniform
Letters from troops, sailors and fliers tell how much they enjoy seeing Maclean’s. If when finished with your copy you take it to the Active Service Magazine Depot in your city, it will be sent to the boys in uniform here and overseas. If there is no depot near you write to the depot at:
122 King St. West, Toronto
cated a man’s future life when he was born; another insisted that it was at the moment of conception.
One might say that up to the time of Copernicus, astrology might have seemed a reasonable enough cult. It could hardly be disproved in the then existing state of man’s intelligence. It belongs to the age of gods and daemons and witches. And it is worth noting that a comparativeîy-modern historian said that not a fact in history seemed ever to have been more thoroughly established than the fact of witchcraft to our ancestors. It was the subject of many official enquiries by the most eminent men of the day, and again and again it was proved to their satisfaction to exist. We know today that there was no more witchcraft a hundred or a thousand years ago than there is today. But men accepted what they thought was the evidence of their own eyes. They probably had stronger reasons for their faith than the astrologers.
There’s Money In It
SO FAR as belief in astrology in England is concerned, it was supposed to have received its death blow from Dean Swift whose “Prediction For the Year 1708,” by Isaac Bickerstaff, Esq., held it up to savage ridicule, greatly to the delight of the more literate part of the population. But, as we have seen, in times of stress, people, especially women, turn for comfort to something outside themselves, something outside their own world. Most of them find what they require in religion; others find it in various cults. If, in addition, it happens that the practitioners of the various cults have a financial stake in their dissemination, another reason for the vogue appears. And there is no question that great profits have been reaped by the astrologers in recent years.
Evangeline Adams, now deceased, made a fortune out of it. Among her clients were said to have been many successful men of affairs. They would not make a business deal or go on a journey without her approval, and she charged about the same fees as a fashionable gynecologist. The fact that many of them made money by their association with the astrologer may mean no more than that Evangeline was an extremely shrewd and worldly-wise woman and that the businessmen who consulted her had the advantage of a keen intelligence added to their own. Or it might be that astrologers have not been above the tricks of the racetrack tout who always gave each of his clients a different horse. One of them was bound to win and he naturally remained a client and told others. So as long as there were enough clients the tout prospered.
The rational attitude toward astrology is that of the French sceptic who had listened to the story of a holy saint who after having had his head cut off, picked it up and ran a hundred yards.
“You doubt, perhaps?” demanded the narrator.
“No, not altogether. Just one little thing.”
“And that is—?”
“The first step.”