VIRGINIA BEACH — Wouldn’t you know it? Mars was figuring very prominently in Saddam Hussein’s horoscope last Saturday.
That was the word from Nancy Levoie as she peered at the computer screen. Colored circles and bisecting lines were charting what the stars and planets had to say about this most martial dictator of Iraq.
“Ascendant in Uranus,” she murmured. “That means a sudden event of a Martian nature.”
Yes, horoscopes by computer, the skies on software, technology’s fast-acting relief from hours of computation by hand. It seems that astrology – the ancient belief that cosmic influences affect the fortunes of humankind and that these influences can be read in the changing positions of the stars and planets overhead – is entering the 21st century.
That was just one of the revelations last weekend as about 130 astrologers gathered at the Virginia Beach Radisson Hotel for a three-day national conference. Under the auspices of the National Society for Geocosmic Research, they attended seminars on various astrological techniques and caught up on the latest developments in the future-predicting trade.
In case you’re wondering, a convention of astrologers looks pretty much like any other group of conventioneers – casual or business-type clothing were the rule Saturday, not a flowing robe nor pointed Merlin-the-magician cap in sight. They are also mostly women – roughly a 2-to-1 ratio, organizer Jan Tunney of Washington, D.C. estimated, although she noted that “men are very active in research.”
That night’s banquet would include humorous skits and insider jokes, just like at any convention.
Astrologers are aware that many people regard their pursuits as superstition and pseudo-science, and council officers took some time Saturday to offer an explanation and defense of their beliefs.
“It is a way of looking at the universe that has just gone out of fashion,” said Rob Hand, the council’s chairman. “The reason that astrology is implausible to most people is because their idea of how the universe works is not compatible with it. Scientific method is not capable of dealing with the questions that astrology raises.”
In effect, Hand and his colleagues offer an empirical defense of astrology – we may not understand the nature of the forces at work, they contend, but we can see the evidence of their existence if we just look.
What’s not a good place to look, they say, is the syndicated horoscope columns that run in newspapers. By the standards of these serious astrologers, who demand specifics of time, date and location to cast individual horoscopes, these mass-media prognostications are too generalized to be worth much. “It’s as if you took all of modern medicine and reduced it to taking aspirin,” was Hand’s judgment.
To Maria Simms of San Diego one of the seminar speakers, such columns may help interest the public in astrology but ultimately trivialize it. “If all you’re going by are these `Sun Signs’ columns,” she said, “it really is a joke.”
So let’s look at the serious stuff, which was the business of this conference. The Geocosmic council is primarily an educational organization, Hand said, offering instruction and examinations that certify astrologers at four different degrees of accomplishment – much as a college department of astrology would, if any college would include such a thing. The title of this conference was “Three Paths to Prediction,” with speakers holding forth on three different ways to find out out what the stars are saying.
There is traditional predictive astrology – that’s the one that starts with your birth chart, noting what heavenly bodies were where at the time of your birth, and combining that with the current state of the heavens. There is a more modern variant, which goes under the name of Uranian-cosmobiological astrology.
Then there is horary astrology, in which is a key element in the prediction is the time at which the question is asked. This, according to council secretary Madalyn Hillis, derives from ancient days when people kept no records of their birth date. “They just asked the question and looked up at the skies for the answer.”
Whatever your astrological preference is, there’s a software program for you. At the conference’s trade show, Lavoie was seeking Saddam’s future on her Astrolabe program that gives birth charts in a twinkling. For ready reference, the charts of several world leaders were stored beforehand in the program. The astrologer, though, still needs to interpret what the planetary positions mean.
For those demanding a fast answer – for example, “Will my brother-in-law get a job soon?” – Alphie Lavoie (no relation) was demonstrating his Nostradamus horary program from A.I.R. Software, which snaps back a response in seconds. (By the way, Nostradamus said this reporter should be very successful in his career next year.)
Warren Kingman of Matrix Software, meanwhile, showed off its astrocartography program. On a world map, it shows the geographic locations where the stars would look down most favorably on an individual – handy information, presumably, if you’re planning to move.
So, you ask: Does this stuff work?
The proof of that pudding may be hard for some people to get their teeth into – astrological predictions do not deal in guarantees, but rather in tendencies, predispositions, what’s favorable at a certain time and what’s unfavorable. To its critics, the correct predictions that astology may come up with are nothing more than the law of averages at work.
Hand cites the stock market program he devised: You feed in the past history of specific stocks or commodities, he said, and the program “issues fairly mechanical buy and sell signals,” which he says have made money for his clients.
Well, suppose you had a really important question – like, will the Redskins win next Sunday?
Astrologers do get asked sporting questions like that, said Stephen Poplin of Virginia Beach. Poplin, who leads a local astrological society, said a predicter could use an approach, based on the moment you asked the question or on the starting time of the game, or the traditional approach – figuring “birth charts” from the dates when the two opposing teams came into existence and casting their horoscopes. Just remember: no guarantees.
Poplin said he knows of seven practicing astrologers in Tidewater, and attendance at his society meetings has ranged from a half-dozen to 40. “It got very busy about two years ago, right after the news about the Reagans’ astrologer and a local appearance by Shirley MacLaine. It’s eased off some since then.”
Speaking of those reports that Nancy Reagan was advising her husband on the basis of what astrologer Joan Quigley told her: Several society members said they’d suspected for years that astrology was playing a part in Ronald Reagan’s activities, back to his days as governor of California. Over and over again, they said, Reagan would make appointments and hold important ceremonies at astrologically favorable times. “Astrologers all knew he was using an astrologer,” said Simms. “We just didn’t know who it was.”
Poplin acknowledged that astrologers just don’t get any respect. And when scoffers learn he’s an astrologer, how do they react?
He grimaced wryly. “They always say, `Do you believe in that?'”I wouldn’t doing it if I didn’t believe in it.”
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