I have always loved astrology as “found art,” particularly the ultra short astrological predictions in the newspaper. When I was growing up, I read them routinely, and whenever someone else was on my mind a lot, I made sure to check theirs as well. I have never taken much interest in general claims for any zodiac, though, and I would not be able to list out the characteristics attributed to the different signs, except my own and a few that were particularly hilarious to me with respect to specific others. I laughed along with my atheist, humanist fellow travelers when Dawkins stopped people on the street and asked them to read “their” horoscope (provided on a card) and say how well it matched their self-identification. I laughed even harder when the only skeptic was a Capricorn – of course! But I am sure that if that were not my sign I’d have found it less funny.
I don’t read a physical newspaper anymore, so I’d fallen away from regular consultations of the stars. A few months ago, a friend reminded me of Free Will Astrology, where you can find the quirky horoscopes of Rob Brezsny. These passages from the horoscopes main page this week sum up what seems to be his general position:
At my think tank, the Beauty and Truth Laboratory, we believe that stories about the rot are not inherently more entertaining than stories about the splendor. On the contrary, given how predictable and ubiquitous they are, stories about the rot are sedatives.
Evil is boring. Rousing fear is a hackneyed shtick. Wallowing in despair is a bad habit. Indulging in cynicism is akin to committing a copycat crime.
Most modern storytellers go even further in their devotion to the decay, implying that breakdown is not only more interesting but far more common than breakthrough, that painful twists outnumber sweet transformations by a wide margin.
That’s just absurd disinformation.
Superficially, he’s wrong about the sedative quality of ugly stories. Ugly stories have been explicitly with us and discussed in detail as literature for thousands of years, and the catharsis they elicit is a potent psychological state. Brezsny, though, picks out the modern, introspection-free, and commercially driven fare provided by “journalists and novelists and filmmakers and producers of TV dramas,” and he is right to be critical. I think he’s wrong about breakdown and breakthrough, though, and about twists and transformations – unfortunately.
Brezsny calls for a 50/50 split between what he describes as pop nihilism and stories about splendor, harmony, integrity, joy, beauty, bliss, renewal, and love. It seems a bit silly out of context, but in Free Will Astrology he offers an appealing, entertaining, and surprisingly useful expression of those values. Each horoscope entry contains a little story or some note of context, and then he proceeds to challenge the reader to do something active and positive. Take Taurus for this week:
“An uninterpreted dream is like an unopened letter,” says the Talmud. But professional dream researcher Stephen LaBerge thinks that’s too broad a statement. In his book Lucid Dreaming, he says dreams are more like poems than letters. If you try to extract literal meanings from them in the service of your ego, they may reveal nothing. But if you’re willing to find lyrical, unexpected information that could aerate your imagination and dislodge you from your habits, dreams are more likely to be useful. Keeping in mind everything I’ve said, Taurus, treat the events of your waking life in the coming week as if they were poems coming from a dreamy part of your psyche that’s enticing you to change your life.
I try to read the horoscopes for every sign every week, partly just because I enjoy them but also because – being a member of the choir he is preaching to – I already do a lot of the things he suggests. I don’t know whether his stories and suggestions are consistent with the claims for the Zodiac; it wouldn’t matter. His general message is the essence of a “good” horoscope: something in there that anyone can find a way to relate to. I would go further and say better than a good horoscope, because there is something in there that anyone can find a use for. Even the questions I’ve already asked myself can be useful to ask again:
I would love to place an elegant gold crown on your head. I have the urge to declare you monarch of the expanding realm, maker of new laws, and reshaper of the collective vision. Are you up for wielding that much power? Can you handle an increased level of responsibilities? Or would you prefer to preside over a smaller domain, content merely to keep the daily grind from erupting into chaos now and then? It’s mostly up to you. What do you want?
You can see the horoscopes for all signs, on a single page, here.