The idea itself isn’t crazy–that the time and place of our birth is a determining factor in our character, and thereby our destiny. The belief goes back at least to Heraclitus, his “character is destiny” aphorism is at least as well known as his “you can’t step into the same river twice.” Moreover, the notion that our genesis shapes our future is so widespread that it’s found its way into every superhero origin story ever written. And really, when you get right down to it, astronomers have long conceded the deep interconnection of cosmic events: you know, the number 2 pencils inside stars, and all that cosmological jazz. So what’s the problem with horoscopes and prenatal charts then? Why not emotionally bloated crabs and prudent goats? Good and bad days to sow? Star-crossed lovers?
Truth be told, given my sympathies for the irrational, astrology isn’t something I have a problem with on principle. It is no more bizarre to believe that constellations rudder my days than an atom can be a particle and a wave, or that the whole wide whorl sprung from an acorn the size of nothing. Of course, being a devotee of the empirical, I want proof for the things that demand them, and the proof for astrology just isn’t there. But look, I’m not rambling about the proof for or against astrology. That’s fruitless. If you believe in astrology’s efficacy, you need no proof and would not accept testimony against it besides, and if you’re skeptical of its usefulness–as I am–then you need no sermon. Still, there’s something interesting about the idea.
Leaving aside the sophistication of astronomical instruments and the complex mathematics that allow astronomers to make ever more insightful observations of the cosmos, and the fact that astrology fell out of favor in the 18th and 19th centuries because it consistently failed to accurately account for its purported domain, the difference between these two perspectives is instructive of a more difficult issue. Indeed, the differences between them go beyond scientific falsifiability and superstitious divination.
The practice of astronomy relies on cold calculation and methodical observation–so too astrology. Astronomy also requires a deep understanding of the heavenly relations, paralax and arc seconds, the red-and-blueshift of stars. So too, minus the depth of field, astrology observes the sky with slavish devotion, counting backwards from now to the arrangement of stars above Giza at the birth of the Sphinx, or rummaging through the centuries to discover which of the menagerie smiled upon Qin Shi Huang. Where the two part company, in fact, is not in the beloved, but in the belover.
The astronomer sees a sky stunning but dumb, majestic but mute, incomprehensibly large and incomprehensibly large and so, so, so incomprehensibly large, that the colossal indifference of the intergalactic scale seems merciful, since no god who cast his children out into the darkness with only this little blue boat as an ark could be accused of mercy. The astrologer, however, looks at the sky and sees himself. The universe is speaking to him. It is arranging his days, just so. His destiny is the stuff of stars–the firmament his playground. Human destinies are so special that the cosmos takes notice. Astrologers are like most men, convinced that the beautiful starlit is looking at them when she’s usually just twinkling for herself. They mistake indifference for hard to get. Read into her smile whatever you like, she still doesn’t think about you when you’re gone–or even when you’re there. Astronomers study that same beauty, intimately, but they know she doesn’t care about them; she is there to be loved, like Venus on a half shell. Her allowing you to be there to watch her is the only thing she offers in return. Squeezing all that hydrogen into the necessary densities for life was enough; she doesn’t have to like you too.
Honestly, given the two options, I’d prefer the astrological. Who wouldn’t: there’s nothing like having a party thrown in your honor. And just as it’s human to fashion patterns from that great connect-the-dot in the sky, it’s also human to make of the inhuman world a slide rule for mortal fates–creativity coupled with arrogance is a powerful aphrodisiac. It’s a wonderful idea, actually, to see in the oceanic emptiness some vast logarithm for love, but I’m afraid that if we include all the variables, love’s proof is a terrible one. The pattern is there, but it’s of an order so large that we would do just as well to mark the birth of the pismire or the termite. That pattern makes an errand boy of the sun, and yet we crow and preen about our destinies. The poor are born under what star? By which house can I find the cancer ward? What planet was in declination when the Final Solution was ratified?
No doubt, there are astrological answers to all of these questions, and I suppose that fiction is a solace to some. For my part, I’m with the astronomers. The world soars on improbabilities. If you stumble upon love you better work it over like a bruiser works over a delinquent borrower. Don’t let that shit go. Plow those fields every day. Seed them every night. And if you’re with the wrong one get out now; I know Regulus has moved into Virgo, but that’s still no reason to hesitate.
Haven’t you heard? The universe is flying apart and not even science can slow it down.