I don’t read horoscopes. But, because the topic of astrology has been in the news lately thanks to a Minnesota astronomer, I decided last Wednesday to check out the entry that day under “my sign,” Leo.
Here’s what it said: “When you need help, ask for it. When there is no one around to ask, ask anyway. Maybe you are talking to yourself, or maybe you are pleading to the invisible powers that be. You will be heard and answered.”
Well, Wednesday was press day for The Visitor, the newspaper I edit for the Diocese of St. Cloud. I awoke at 3 a.m. to read a backlog of stories that still needed to be dropped onto pages. I will admit that, at the time, I really was talking to myself and The Invisible Power, asking for a little help to get through the day. And, when I arrived at the office, I did indeed ask for help from my co-workers to move pages along so we could make our deadline.
Was the horoscope writer able to predict what my day would be like by reading some mystical information in the heavens?
Of course not.
Horoscope writers and astrologers would like us to believe they can deduce special information from the alignment of stars and planets. Their predictions are vague enough and general enough to have the feel of “truthiness” most days. One would hope, however, that science and common sense provide convincing-enough evidence that horoscopes aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.
The church is clear about its stance on astrological-based prognostications:
“All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to ‘unveil’ the future,” says the Catechism of the Catholic Church. “Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.”
I read my horoscope in the first place because of the stir created by Parke Kunkle, an astronomy teacher at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. He pointed out that because the earth’s axis “wobbles” slightly (a phenomenon called “precession), the zodiac signs have shifted since they were established in ancient times.
Kunkle explains it this way on the Facebook page of the Minnesota Planetarium Society:
“The Earth spins and, like a toy top, the spin axis moves around, pointing in different directions. Today, Earth’s spin axis points toward the pole star, Polaris. Around 3000 BC Earth’s spin axis pointed toward Thuban. Wait 26,000 years and the north star will again be Thuban. Astronomers call this motion of the spin axis precession. About 130 BC, Hipparchus noticed that the Earth’s spin axis had changed directions, so astronomers and astrologers have known about the Earth’s precession for over 2,000 years.
“But this means that if the sun was ‘in’ a certain constellation on a particular date, it is in a different constellation on that date today. For example, the sun was in Pisces on March 1, 2000 BC but it is in Aquarius on March 1, 2011 AD.”
The news (although the information it conveyed really wasn’t new), originally reported in the Minneapolis StarTribune, went viral. Media organizations from CNN to Fox News picked up the story that sent astrology buffs reeling. “The Daily Show” even did a comedy bit about it.
So when the sun is supposed to be in Leo for my Aug. 2 birthday, today it’s really in Cancer. Oh, and we should add another sign to the current 12, Ophiuchus, which was discarded by the ancient Babylonians.
So much for that Wednesday horoscope, I guess.