Paranormal and Mystery

Royals believe in it,presidents have relied on it: in the Nineties, forecasting by the stars has never been more popular. But surely science disproved it years ago ? Find out what' s in the stars

Most people(around 99 per cent of the population know their sun sign, and almost half read their horoscopes regularly.Astrology columns help sell millions of newspapers and magazines. Patric Walker's Astrological Predictions attracts around 190,000 extra readers to the Mail on Sunday. While only a small percentage of us actually admit to taking our horoscopes seriously , each year over a million callers ring up the "astroline" phone-ins to find out what the week holds in store for them. But ask any astronomer whether there is any truth in astrology and the answer will be succinct.

Medicine God

Astrology originated in Mesopotamia around 6000 years ago. The ancient Babylonians built great observatories where priests would study the skies,and the celestial bodies that they believed controlled life and events on Earth. This stone tablet from 1,300 BC depicts Kuduru of Nazimaruttash - the goddess of medicine, surrounded by her astrological symbols.

"I know of no scientific evidence favouring any astrological phenomena," says Professor Arnold Wolfendale, the Astronomer Royal. "Back in the year 702, the Venerable Bede wrote that there was no effect of the stars on human beings. It's extraordinary that a thousand years later some people still think some sort of influence exists."
Astrologers are unperturbed come to expect from the scientific fraternity. They believe that life and events here on Earth, are inextricably linked to the movement of heavenly bodies. They argue that anyone who dismisses astrology out of hand does so out of ignorance of their art. We all know the zodiac signs for Leo the lion and Taurus the bull, but traditional astrology is rather more complex. It deals with the positions of the planets and constellations at the precise moment of someone's birth, and relates these systematically to their character, personality traits, relationships with others, profession and auspicious times of their life.

The constellations are no longer where astrology says they are

Astrology also concerns itself with broader issues such as the fate of nations, wars and natural disasters, all of which are thought to be linked to certain planets. Astrologers believe the celestial bodies symbolise certain qualities and meanings. While some claim these are based on centuries of observation, others say they are largely symbolic. To early sky-watchers, the redness of Mars suggested blood, war and aggression while the brightness of Jupiter was associated with energy and gaiety. Similarly , traits like courage, leadership and pride were linked to the constellation of Leo. Yet, critics say, constellations are not symbols drawn in the sky. they are made up of stars usually many light years apart and not remotely connected astronomically. Critics also point out that the constellations have all shifted by one sign since the Greek scholars charted them 2000 years ago. For instance, those born at the beginning of June may assume they are Gemini, but today the Sun is actually passing through Taurus at this time of year. "This is because the Earth's axis has wobbled, a phenomenon called precession," explains Heather Couper, past president of the British Astronomy Association.The pull of the Moon and Sun on the Earth's bulging equator swings the pole of our planet round on a 26,000-year cycle. Seen from our viewpoint, the Sun and stars get out of register.
In spite of all this, an extraordinary number of people do feel that their personalities are reflected in their sun signs. In one of the largest-scale studies in this area, Hans Eysenck, former professor of Psychology at London University , tested the ancient astrological belief that those born under positive/ masculine signs like Aries and Sagittarius are likely to possess extrovert qualities, and those born under the negative/feminine signs such as Cancer and Pisces have a tendency to be introverts. The researchers handed out a questionnaire designed to estimate these two dimensions to 2,324 people. The results were striking. For extroversion/introversion they exactly corresponded with astrological predictions, and a similar pattern emerged for emotionalism /stability.
Scientists think a prior knowledge of astrological characteristics colours our perception of ourselves. To prove this point the researchers turned to children, who are less likely to know about astrology than most adults. They compared the personality profiles of 1,160 children with their birth dates and, as expected, found no correlation.

Do we like astrology simply because it flatters our vanity?

But why are we so intrigued by astrology? Sceptics say one of the main reasons it appeals is because we don't like the unpredictable. It's a bit like the weather forecast. By promising an insight into what the coming weeks and months hold in store, astrology gives us the feeling of control over our lives, however spurious that impression may be.
Another reason is flattery: personality profiles tend to be peppered with characteristics such as sensitive, emotional, active, practical, pleasant and so forth - traits everyone likes to associate with themselves.
We are also given the impression that astrologers are talking about us - which is both flattering and interesting. That's why popular astrologers need a good grasp of psychology. This is where the so-called "Barnum effect" comes into play. some statements seem to apply specifically to yourself, when in fact they have a universal validity.
Typical Barnum statements are: "You have a great need for other people to like and admire you", or , "At times you have serious doubts whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing." Astrologers' columns are often full of this kind of statement.
Certainly, people tend to rate birth charts containing very succinct information, such as "you have a good imagination" , as far less accurate than those full of waffling Barnum statements, according to the findings of Geoffrey Dean, an Australian research scientist who specialises in the paranormal.

Building a birth chart from the planets and the stars

The Ascendant
If you ever meet an astrologer and profess an interest in having your natal chart calculated and interpreted,make sure you have a good idea about what time of day you were born. The most vital component of the horoscope is the ascendant,determined by the date, place and time of your birth. The ascendant is the degree of the zodiac (an imaginary circular belt around the Earth's surface representing the 12 signs) which is rising over the eastern horizon - zero degrees is on the border between Pisces and Aries. Once the ascendant is established,it is possible to "map out" the planets into their "houses" of the horoscope. There are 12 houses (as there are 12 signs) and the ascendant degree marks the starting point for these.

A locomotive birth chart, tracking ascendant, planets, Sun, Moon, and the resultant aspects

The 12 houses
Without an accurate time of birth it is possible to place planets in signs but not in houses. These sign placings tell the astrologer a certain amount about the individual and their life experience. Venus (how the person finds pleasure) in Taurus (material stability and beauty) points to an artistic talent, and the person should appreciate the value of money and material things. When the house position is known,the arena for the talent is shown more specifically.
 Venus in Taurus in the Fifth House (to do with personal creativity) means the individual would be keen to show off their artistic nature,and may perform some way in public.


The birth chart itself appears to the astrologer as a 360-degree circle,divided into 12 signs of 30 degrees,in which the planets are placed. The astrologer sees if the planets make significant angles (aspects) to each other in the circle. The most used (or major) aspects are the conjunction (0 degrees), sextile (60), square (90), trine (120) and opposition (180). The sextile and trine are traditionally regarded as harmonious,while squares and oppositions are considered stressful relationships between two planets.
So if someone's chart features an opposition between the Sun (ego and identity) and Saturn (responsibility,authority and long term goals),they may face unwanted responsibilities early.
 But a trine between the same two planets should give the individual a natural sense of patience, authority and structure, aiding in the attainment of ambitions.

The most fascinating and perhaps difficult part of astrology is assessing the influences on a persons life at any given time. This is done by studying the relationship between the planetary positions in the natal chart and the zodiac at the that particular time. Someone with their Sun at eight degrees of Leo might expect a confidence boost and a widening of their horizons when Jupiter (the planet of growth and expansion) crosses that degree of the zodiac. This would often be a reasonable expectation,but such transits have to be weighed carefully in the light of the whole horoscope and all the other transits.
Anthony Wilson

The stars and your career

According to astrology , your sun sign should also influence the sort of career you choose. The sun sign is simply the constellation which the Sun was passing through when you were born. To test the idea, E Van Deusen, author of Astrogenetics , systematically collected the sun signs of thousands of people listed in biographical directories such as Who 's Who in America. He found, in keeping with astrological lore, that journalists were most often born in Scorpio, a sign associated with inquisitiveness and a propensity to dig for facts. Lawyers, who must be prepared to argue a case one way or another, were most frequently Geminis, whereas bankers were often Virgos, who are said to be fastidious and orderly.

People recognise themselves in every chart they are shown

Other researchers have failed to find any such correlation. The late French psychologist and expert on astrology , Michel Gauquelin, looked at the birthdays of nearly 2000 generals expecting to find most born in Aries or the other fire signs. In fact they were dispersed almost uniformly through the 12 signs. The most comprehensive analysis to date also reveals that any connection between sun sign and occupation is equally tenuous. A test looked at one in ten of all people working at the time of the 1971 Census. Before the findings were released, Charles Harvey, president of the Astrological Association, predicted that nurses would tend to be born under feminine signs while union leaders would belong to the masculine ones. The results were scrutinised by Professor Alan Smithers of Manchester University, who reported that, while Harvey's two predictions were indeed borne out, other evidence contradicted them. Coal miners, for instance, also showed a tendency to be Scorpio and Capricorn - both feminine signs.

The Mars effect: statistics that support astrology

One piece of evidence supporting astrology that scientists have yet to disparage comes from Michel Gauquelin,who devoted twenty years to putting astrology to the test.
 Analysing birth dates fro 576 members of the French Academy of Medicine in 1950,he noted that a large proportion were born when Mars or Saturn had just risen over the horizon or "culminated" in the sky.He then included famous writers, actors, politicians, athletes and military men and found a similar pattern: Mars at the horizon or passing the highest point was linked to doctors, athletes and military leaders, Jupiter in the same positions with actors and politicians, while the Moon presided over eminent writers.
A team of scientists in Belgium set out to test this so-called "Mars effect",using famous sportsmen. To their surprise the results confirmed Gauquelin's findings,even when repeated. Gauquelin also noted that if one or both parents were born when a planet was just over the horizon or in Midheaven, their children tended to be born under the planet too (if the birth was natural).The effect was most marked for the Moon, Venus and Mars, followed by Jupiter and Saturn. The planets,he suggests,may influence the natural timing of birth,making it more likely that certain types will be born at one time rather than another. He called this "planetary heredity".
Others suggest the Moon and planets may exert a gravitational influence at the time of birth. The American astronomers Culver and Ianna calculated the tug of the Sun, Moon, planets,hospital, mother and doctor on the child at birth. Mars was completely overshadowed,while the Moon's tidal effect was a million times smaller than that of the doctor and the mother.Celestial effects are dwarfed by localised ones.
Astrophysicist Percy Seymour explains Gauquelin's findings in relation to the Earth's magnetic field. Because the Earth is like a giant magnet,it is possible to imagine steady "lines of force" stretching from north to south, vibrating with the activity of the Sun. The magnetic field may also be influenced by the position and  movement of the planets. As the Moon rises (in the east) this field deviates to the east. At the Moon's highest point it deflects to the west. Seymour suggests certain neural circuits in the brain of human embryos may resonate in sympathy with these frequencies.
But fellow astronomer Nigel Henbest is not convinced. he says the deviation of the Earth's magnetic field is far too small to matter. "A pregnant woman will experience far stronger magnetic fluctuations from any washing machine."

Birth Charts

Astrologers say such tests are unfair because the sun sign is only one facet of a person's horoscope. To get a more complete picture of personality and destiny, you have to look at the positions of all the key planets at the time of birth - on a birth or natal chart. Although such charts are scientifically constructed, the descriptions of personality and destiny that they yield frequently fails the scientific tests.
Michel Gauquelin placed an ad in Ici Paris offering a personal horoscope absolutely free. Everyone who responded was sent the same one obtained from a computer based on birth data for Dr Petriot, one of France's notorious mass murderers. Gauquelin asked the applicants to reply saying whether they recognised themselves. Of the 150 responses, 94 per cent claimed the fake horoscope summed up their character accurately. When friends and family were asked to comment, 90 per cent agreed with the description. Other studies show babies born at the same time in the same hospital grow up no more alike than those with very different natal charts.
Geoffrey Dean has repeatedly found that people cannot distinguish between right and wrong charts. In his most recent study he asked 22 subjects to rate an interpretation of their astrological charts. Half of these were authentic, while in the others the information was exactly the opposite of what was true. The reversed charts should have stood out a mile, but the subjects rated them just as highly as the correct ones.

Astrology through the ages

The Geometry of the heavens

Most of today's astrology was conceived by the Greeks after assimilating Babylonian ideas. But even in those days,astrology had its adherents and sceptics. Pythagoras for example, the famous mathematician, pictured above in a 16th century French engraving, was one of the leading proponents of astrology. In his Harmony of the Spheres,he proposed that each planet resonates at a different specific pitch.

Celestial synchrony

Associations between the planets, the signs for the planets and zodiac (glyph) and the areas of the body they rule have been made for thousands of years.Taurus, for example is associated with the cerebellum or lower brain, Cancer rules the breasts and stomach, Virgo the intestines, and Scorpio the sexual organs, while Pisces is linked to the feet, Gemini the lungs, and Leo to the heart.

Measuring the stars

This woodcut from 1505 depicts an astrologer taking observations for the horoscope of a newborn baby. The invention of the telescope in 1610 nearly drowned astrology in the new wave of scientific reason.

Latest technology enters the zodiac game

Astrology was revived about two hundred years ago, and slightly modified, largely by the theosophist preacher Alan Leo. Today, astrology has gone high-tech and seriously commercial. Precise details of planetary movements are available at the touch of a computers keyboard.

It could be argued that we are poor judges of our own characters. Others often see us differently from the way we see ourselves, which may be why personal relationships so often fail. Some people do in fact turn to astrology because it claims to reveal compatibility, or lack of it, between men and women.
Psychoanalyst Carl Jung examined the horoscopes of 48: married couples. He found that their Sun and Moon aspect tended to form conjunction (where two planets are superimposed) - agreeing with astrological theory, which asserts that the aspects between Sun, Moon and ascendant are vital for domestic harmony. Balancing strengths and weaknesses is extremely important when comparing two horoscopes for compatibility says Carol Golder, author of Moon Signs for Lovers. "As the Moon affects your emotions, it is particularly helpful to know its position in relation to your partner's When one party's Moon is in the same sign as the other's Sun it is a beneficial conjunction, as are having both parties Moons in the same sign."
Scientists remain sceptical. Bernard Silverman, a psychologist at Michigan State University, obtained the records of 2,978 Michigan couples who married (and 478 couples who divorced) in 1967 and 1968. He then looked at their sun signs to discover any significant link between astrological compatibility among the married couples and incompatibility among the divorced. He found none.
If there is any science in astrology it may be in the cycles that exist in nature. There are genuine biological rhythms linked to Sun and Moon, such as menstruation or bird migration, and there may be others that modern science has yet to find.

Influence, not causation

Popular astrologer and historian Nicholas Campion specialises in looking at the ways in which major global events relate to astrological phenomena. Known as Mundane Astrology the study of these cycles and patterns is essentially predictive. He will cast a horoscope for a significant time, such as the assassination of President Kennedy , then project forwards to a time when the planets are once again aligned in a similar fashion, in order to predict that a similar event will occur. Campion claims to have forecast in 1980 the dissolution of the Soviet Union after casting a horoscope for the minute in 1917 when the Bolsheviks arrested the Russian government. [What a load of Bolsheviks - LB] Pluto was moving across the Sun at this moment, a transit associated with intense power struggles, he says. "When astrologers use the word "influence" , it is not in a causal way " says Campion. "The planets do not "cause" events on Earth to take place. Instead I see the positions of the planets at any moment as a sort of labelling system. It enables you to see certain cycles emerging, be they economic, political or financial."
So how reliable are the astrologers' predictions? Of 3,011 specific astrological predictions made in American astrological magazines that two researchers recorded over a number of years, only 338 came true. As the scientists are always happy to point out, if you make enough forecasts, some of them are bound to come to fruition.
But will evidence against astrology make us give up reading our horoscopes? Probably not. For, as Nicholas Campion,who writes for New Woman and Bella, points out: "Astrology is human. It makes mistakes, but it also makes sense - and that's why people like it."
Amanda Cochrane .

Characters of the zodiac

Aries the Ram
(21 Mar - 20 Apr)

Ruling Planet: Mars; a masculine fire sign.
Typical Characteristics: ambitious, adventurous, impulsive, enthusiastic, optimistic,self-centered, direct, headstrong, argumentative, aggressive and quick-tempered.

Libra the Scales
(23 Sep - 23 Oct)

Ruling Planet: Venus; a masculine air sign.
Typical Characteristics: charming, naturally kind, gentle, artistic, impartial, diplomatic, fair, sentimental, frivolous, timid.

Taurus the Bull
(21 Apr - 21 May)

Ruling Planet: Venus; a feminine earth sign.
Typical Characteristics: good-looking, solid, practical, strong-willed, dependable, well-balanced, good-natured, loyal, possessive, obstinate and conservative.

Scorpio the Scorpion
(24 Oct - 22 Nov)

Ruling Planet: Pluto; a feminine water sign.
Typical Characteristics: intense, profound, forceful, self-disciplined, tenacious, demanding, rebellious, sensitive and quick to take offence.

Gemini the Twins
(22 May - 21 Jun23)

Ruling Planet: Mercury; a masculine air sign.
Typical Characteristics: lively, charming, imaginative, restless, changeable, affectionate, courteous, inquisitive, quick to learn.

Sagittarius the Centaur
(23 Nov - 21 Dec)

Ruling Planet: Jupiter; a masculine fire sign.
Typical Characteristics: enterprising, versatile, eager, optimistic, honest, trustworthy, truthful, sincere, modest, frank, impatient, restless, prone to angry outbursts.

Cancer the Crab
(22 Jun - 22 Jul)

Ruling Planet: the Moon; a feminine water sign.
Typical Characteristics: home-loving, conservative, strongly maternal, sensitive, shrewd, intuitive, romantic, moody, outwardly unemotional and uncompromising.

Capricorn the Goat
(22 Dec - 20 Jan)

Ruling Planet: Saturn; a feminine earth sign.
Typical Characteristics: aspiring, serious, stable, strong-willed, unemotional, practical, persevering, resourceful, authoritative, pessimistic, surly, gloomy.

Leo the Lion
(23 Jul - 23 Aug)

Ruling Planet: the Sun; a masculine fire sign.
Typical Characteristics: magnanimous, idealistic, courageous, dominating, extrovert, strong-willed, independent, generous, kind-hearted, arrogant, and boastful.

Aquarius the Water Carrier
(21 Jan - 18 Feb)

Ruling Planet: Uranus; a masculine air sign.
Typical Characteristics: strong-willed, independent, truth-seeking, unprejudiced, tolerant, humane, genial, intelligent, eccentric.

Virgo the Virgin
(24 Aug - 22 Sep)

Ruling Planet: Mercury; a feminine earth sign.
Typical Characteristics: dignified, precise, orderly, observant, critically inclined, judicious, patient, sensible, perfectionist, practical, finicky, and prone to nagging.

Pisces the Two Fishes
(23 Sept - 23 Oct)

Ruling Planet: Neptune; a feminine water sign
Typical Characteristics: gentle, patient, compassionate, over-emotional, affectionate, submissive, spiritual, kind, impractical, evasive, lacking self-confidence, fickle, fretful.

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