As I write this (on 24 December 2012, to be precise) I look north in the Australian skies. If it’s clear, I can see Taurus hunting down Jupiter. Taurus, visualised as a bull, is one of the twelve constellations of the Zodiac (the celestial zoo, because scales of justice are totally animals), being the stars that occupy the ecliptic plane—that is, the plane of the apparent path of the sun, as seen from Earth.
There are 88 modern constellations grouped into eight families: The Zodiac, The Ursa Major Family, The Perseus Family, The Hercules Family, The Orion Family, The Heavenly Waters, The Bayer Family and the La Caille Family. Over time we have made sense of the chaotic distribution of stars by finding patterns and creating relationships between them. For our intents and purposes, it hasn’t mattered that the points of light we link together come from wildly varying times and locations in the galaxy: from our perspective, the stars are distorted into a single, synchronous, flattened image. In reality, the individual stars in our constellations often have nothing to do with one another; with the time it takes their light to reach us, they may not even exist in the same moment, but we see them as a single event.
It seems the Zodiac is the most well known of these constellation families—not because we can easily recognise them (I’d bet my bottom dollar that most believers in astrology couldn’t find the constellations in the sky to save themselves) but because the planets also like to hang out near the ecliptic. Back in the day, the planets visible to the naked eye were believed to be wandering stars. The ancient Greeks and Babylonians equated their gods with these planets, and thus the idea that there was some mystical connection to the Zodiac was born.
Isaac Newton, the man who discovered gravity and invented calculus, believed in astrology. So did Johannes Kepler, who wrote the laws of planetary motion, and a number of other famous scientists and physicists who lived around the same time. Why? Because our knowledge of the universe was limited back then, and from what we did know, astrology made sense. Almost everyone believed in it, and many great discoveries of science stemmed from research into astrology. And when we started seeing the results of this research, it slowly dawned on us that a model where the planets had some kind of mystical influence over us just didn’t cut it anymore. All studies to date confirm this. We evolved as a species.
The universe is a big place. Huge. Think of the biggest thing you can, then multiply that by 10 billion to the power of 10 billion and you’ll be imagining just a fraction of the universe. The idea that a handful of balls made from rocks and gas that are falling through space in a pattern governed by gravity have anything to do with our personalities and/or fates is absurd.
In the end, people who believe in astrology do so because they want to. It’s far, far easier to put your faith in something else than it is to take responsibility for your own actions. What people don’t seem to realise is that when you take control and things go well, the payoff for believing in yourself is exponentially greater.
(Moral of the story: the best way to stop making your horoscopes appear in my Facebook feed is to stop posting them in your own. Just stop.)
LEONIE CONNELLAN, MELBOURNE
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