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The misconceptions and realities of astrology

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The full moon rising over an oak tree in Paso Robles, Calif. Photo by Heather Sigler

Looking to the stars and the planets for answers during unprecedented times isn’t just part of today’s pop culture

People have sought answers from astrology for centuries, even though it is consistently labeled as a pseudoscience, or as superstition. The Babylonians, and other ancient civilizations believed messages from the stars held the answers to their everyday survival.

Today’s astrology fills a different human need: the need to feel secure. People want answers for why they are experiencing hardships, or a lack of happiness, and they want to know what to expect next. PEW Research Center conducted a survey in December 2017, and results indicated that 29% of all Americans believe in astrology. 

Why is astrology so alluring without scientific evidence? Astronomy developed from astrology, but after the two fields split in the 17th century, astrology began losing its popularity as science began to define the world. 

James Eickemeyer, a professor of astronomy at Cuesta College, explained how the science of astronomy differs from astrology and what, if any, correlations can be made about human behavior and the lunar cycle

“Eventually there was a divergence, between astrology and astronomy, and it seemed to come around the same time that there was a movement from many gods to one God,” Eickemeyer said. “There was a unification of the idea, if there was one God, maybe there was only one underlining principle that followed mathematical law, that could describe the universe.”

There are people who feel affected by the full moon, and the answer to why this is could be rooted in evolutionary adaptations. 

“There have been studies that have shown a very weak statistical correlation between hospitalization and crime,” Eickemeyer said. “It’s not a strong correlation, it is not something that really stands out, but I do think that our activity levels, throughout the evolution of species, have been such that we are more stimulated by the light that allows you to see at night time; this evolutionary aspect of human nature could have been stored away as environmental adaptations that we still feel today.” 

Where astrology lacks scientific data, it highlights human nature

“I think that there is always a tendency to want to find patterns—I think that the appeal of astrology is that, if you could actually really do it, it could give you information that would be like a superpower,” Eickemeyer said. 

The night sky dotted with stars. Photo by Heather Sigler

Having a superpower does sound appealing, but it does not sound realistic. It seems evident that what draws people to astrology is not scientific facts, but rather the belief in an interconnected world, and the need to better understand the self. 

Humanistic Astrologer and Certified Reiki Practitioner Curtis Williams A.P.D., MA, CRMT, reviewed this innate human need, as well as some of the criticism that astrology faces today.

“I’d say 99% [of my clients] come to me when they’re in crisis,” Williams said. “I can explain to them, and maybe help them understand what’s going on, maybe when it will alleviate, but they should have come to me before that, so we can anticipate. That’s another thing about Humanistic Astrology; it’s about anticipating a crisis in the future, or discussing the past.” 

For Williams, who has been practicing astrology for over 30 years, the real issue facing astrology today is not a debate with science, but the issue of non-certified, or untrained, astrologers who are capitalizing off people’s need to understand what is happening in their lives in moments of crisis. 

“It’s horribly detrimental to astrology,” Williams said. “There are so many people who say they are astrologers and they aren’t. It’s OK to play around with, but don’t say you’re a professional astrologer. You need a formal education for this.” 

Another challenging aspect of astrology is the misunderstanding that it’s only done by psychics who tell the future intuitively.  According to Williams, there is a difference between a psychic, and an astrologer. 

“Astrologers use mathematics to erect a natal chart, or any other chart; and mathematics is used to measure the distance between the planets,” Williams said. “One-hundred and twenty degrees is called a trine and that measurement is considered easy. Then a square is 90 degrees and that is considered a development of tension; astrologers use these measurements to determine what type of communication is going on between the planets.”

The measurements used in astrology, and the meanings apply to those measurements, are how an astrologer is able to conduct a client reading. Williams studied astrology under Noel Tyl and Glenn Perry at the Academy of Astro/Psychology. It is these educational distinctions that separate real astrology from those who are just capitalizing on astrology’s increased exposure in today’s social media platforms.

Inside the world of astrology there seems to be a new divide; when in the past astrology was up against science, now astrology is up against a wave of impostures or, even, con artists

Williams’ considered the idea that astrology could be tangled up in the stigma that their practitioners take advantage of people.

“Yes, it could be, it’s easy to take advantage of people when they are in crisis,” Williams said.