Astrology: Art, Science, or Poppycock?

Originally published at on May 6th, 2005.
Republished on on November 1st, 2017, with the caveat that I don’t necessarily think everything I thought 12 years ago. Also, the origin of the word “poppycock” isn’t really worth looking up. It’s pretty much what you think it is, but in Dutch.

Well, it isn’t the first. Too many people want to call it an esoteric art because, once it’s an art, it can fall under the realm of psychics, and while I have nothing against real psychics, I offer the following: 1) Not everyone who claims to be psychic really is. 2) One doesn’t need to be psychic to be an accurate astrologer. 3) Psychicness is no guarantee of understanding astrology. That leaves either science or poppycock. (This might be a good time to look up the origins of the word “poppycock”. Go ahead. I’ll wait…)

I can’t guarantee that astrology isn’t poppycock, at least on some level. What I do know is that astrology is a system, and it’s a system that even I, with limited knowledge and limited resources, have been able to make accurate predictions from. Of course, the predictions were mundane, but that’s what lives tend to be, too. In the end, predictive astrology is a matter of learning the rules, then applying them to formulate outcomes. The problem in applying the term “science” is that–even though there are rules, formulas, and outcomes–there is nothing to show that the system is based on empirical data. “Ah, but there’s that study on athletes and power zones,” you say. Yes, but where’s the data on Taurus being fixed? As far as I know, no one’s done that study, and if we can’t rely on Taurus being fixed, then the entire system gets up, walks across the room, and jumps, of its own accord, out the window. Maybe someone did do a study, way back in the day. Maybe some guy went around ancient Chaldea saying “Hey, Joe? You were born in late April, right? Mind changing your routine for me?” Maybe its evidence was destroyed by the same bunch that destroyed Sappho’s poems. But here come the psychologists, screaming of pseudoscience and “magical thinking”! I submit to them, that when medicine, arguably our most important field of science, eliminates both of those elements, then astrology can be held to the same standard. And for now, I’ll deem astrology “science light”, because it’s all about the luminaries, baby, and, damnit, physics is heavy stuff.

In any case, to understand (or even to properly evaluate) astrology there are a few rules that one must understand, and that’s what I plan to eventually cover here. At the very base of the entire system, there is the zodiac: twelve signs, most with animal symbols, set up in a band of stars. That’s a thing of beauty, poppycock or not. This is where the system is simple and fun. It begins with Aries, the ram. Aries is followed, in order, by Taurus (the bull), Gemini (the twins), Cancer (the crab), Leo (the lion), Virgo (the virgin), Libra (the scales), Scorpio (the scorpion), Sagittarius (the archer), Capricorn (the goat), Aquarius (the water-bearer), and Pisces (the fish). This simple dozen, and their symbols, is also where the first discrepancies begin. Never mind that poor Libra, who has the only symbol that is a man-made object, has been short-changed. And understand that each sign really does represent more than one critter/type of human. But to some degree, the original intent of these symbols have been changed. Capricorn has moved from the wondrous and mythical sea-goat to a barnyard giver of milk. Sagittarius isn’t just any old archer; its a centaur! And Pisces isn’t just a fish; it’s two fish, tied together, swimming in opposite directions. Lose those symbols, simplify and modernize them for the sake of simplicity, and you’ve lost a good deal of knowledge of the sign.

Yeah, that’s art. But it functions like science (or, at least, science light), with a bit of poppycock thrown in for good measure. This debate won’t be settled because it is incomplete. Art, science, and poppycock are not our only options. There’s also religion. Astrology, as commonly practiced in contemporary western culture, has roots in Greco-Roman mythology. An important thing to consider is that, back in the day, when temples were being built for these gods and goddesses, it wasn’t considered mythology. Ares and Zeus and Hera and Hermes were part of the religion of the way-back Greeks. Astrology is an extension of that, and should be given the same respect by non-believers as they give to any religion other than their own. For some of you, that means you should stop learning about it right now. But most of us get to keep reading, whether we believe or not. And that’s good for me, because I have a lot to write.

Next time up: A Bit About Archetypes