Another year has passed, another year older – yes, I recently celebrated my birthday and, like many people, looked to the stars to see how the winds of life will be blowing in the next 12 months: I read my horoscope.
Now, I have no wish here to make a case for or against astrology; my interest is in what the mind does with information presented to it. And how we can use that information skilfully to write the story of our lives – because each of us is a character (and co-author) in the human chapter of a cosmic story that has been unfolding since the beginning of time.
Last week, I wrote about how we naturally seek patterns in life, and I have long admired the way we – as individuals, societies and humanity as a whole – try to explain what we don’t understand, often using stories, mythologies or parables, until science catches up.
For example, I love basking in the starlight, watching the constellations wheel around us, weaving stories in the night sky of gods and goddesses, heroes and heroines. There is a whole mythology up there, each tale bearing witness to our efforts to understand ourselves, the universe and our place in it.
But astrology is not science; it is art. That does not, however, make it any less relevant to our lives. We need art, religion, stories to help us give meaning to life. Beliefs only become a cage when we cling to them blindly and without question, or a weapon when we impose them on others.
Astrology is a tool to understand ourselves. Nothing more, nothing less.
Here’s how: when I read my horoscope, I find it either speaks to me or not; it feels right or not. Just as Rorschach’s inkblot test (or gazing at clouds or at leafy faces in the hedgerow – see last week’s column) can draw our attention to aspects of our lives that we have been denying or ignoring, so reading our horoscope can do the same.
Of course, there’s no way a 12th of the population will experience the same thing on the same day. But sometimes a horoscope fits our experience – if only by the laws of probability. Many times I have read a horoscope and an inner light bulb has flashed on, illuminating a truth which was hidden in the shadow of my denial. I can then see a pattern and am more able to observe my experience objectively – taking life less personally. Knowing the direction the wind is blowing, it becomes easier to chart our own course on life’s sometimes choppy waters.
Astrology is, in fact, far more complex than our sun sign – we also have a moon sign, Mercury, Venus, Mars, etc, signs; and “houses” for aspects of life such as relationships, career, etc. We are complex creatures. Our personalities are multi-faceted, playing different roles in different circumstances (such as, father, daughter, friend or worker). Indeed, “personality” comes from “persona” – a character played by an actor, a mask we wear. Problems arise when we think we are the mask when, in fact, we are so much more.
Years ago, an astrologer told me that, as belief systems go, he found that astrology had helped him to become more tolerant; and to appreciate the multi-faceted nature of the human condition – how varied we all are, and how similar.
Essentially, beliefs are only of value if they help us to value life, if they water the seeds of kindness, compassion and understanding within us here and now.
As philosopher Jeremy Bentham says: “Stretching his hand up to reach the stars, too often man forgets the flowers at his feet.”