Saturday, January 15, 2011


A couple of days ago a bunch of my coworkers were thrown into an absolute tizzy by some viral "news" story about changes in the zodiac. Have you heard about this? Apparently the earth has shifted somewhat on its axis in the couple of thousand years since the Babylonians came up with their astrological system and the stars are no longer in the same spots they once occupied in the sky; thus modern day folks' astrological signs have to shift, too, resulting in a lot of people being reassigned to a different sign. I am now a Pisces instead of an Aries. Even better, an ancient, neglected sign (the unpronounceable Ophiuchus) has been dusted off and thrown back into the mix. Here's a brief yet amusing article on both the changes and the resulting freak out.

Actually, this is old news, as far as I'm concerned. When I was a kid, I worked my way steadily through the occult section in the town public library, reading almost every book on every subject from witchcraft to biofeedback. I read a number of books on astrology and came across this very idea -- the earth tilting on its poles, the relative position of the stars changing, my sign now Pisces instead of Aries -- 35 years ago. Because it was the first and (until earlier this week) only time I'd come across this notion, the novelty of the story stayed with me; it was a fun factoid I'd occasionally haul out at parties. Nobody was bothered by it; nobody except my friend Curtis was even very intrigued by it. And as far as I know, nobody, including me, ever felt compelled to think of him- or herself as, say, a Pisces instead of an Aries.

So it's an understatement to say I was startled by the outcry among my coworkers, a fun-loving and easygoing bunch of people who are also smart and generally not too gullible, when these new "facts" started making the rounds. Really, people were practically wailing at learning their new signs. What's the big deal? I thought. On a practical level, all it means is that you read a different paragraph in the newspaper's daily astrological forecast (which, incidentally, is clearly marked "for entertainment purposes only"). On a deeper level -- well, if this "news" hits you on a deeper level, you've got bigger problems than I can address in this blog.

The only thing I can think of to explain people's dismay is the way most of us treat astrology. It's sort of like learning how to tie your shoelaces or learning the order of the planets: you pick it up at an early age and it's just sort of there, in the background, all the time. Knowing your sign and its basic attributes (Aries are stubborn, brave, natural leaders, selfish, and impulsive) is fundamental information about who we think we are. Maybe people are worried that they're either going to have to change their personalities in order to fit some new sign's definition (which is ridiculous), or they're reappraising what they know to be "true" about themselves (which is a somewhat more interesting notion but also kind of silly). The most telling line in the article I linked to above sums up my feelings about this whole frenzy: "The problem of whether the new zodiac is a load of hooey is certainly complicated by the associated problem of whether the old zodiac was a load of hooey."

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