What’s Your Sign?
"This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius…" In 1969, the 5th Dimension were singing about a new astrological age — marking the end of the Age of Pisces (roughly 1 through 2000 C.E.), a time of sacrifice and struggle, and the beginning of the Age of Aquarius (roughly 2000 through 4000 C.E.), an era of scientific knowledge, invention, and the discovery of new truths.
Since humans could look up into the night sky, we have watched the stars. Early man grouped these points of light into familiar shapes, which became constellations, or signs of the zodiac. In addition to the many fixed stars, early stargazers also noticed "wandering" stars that moved through the constellations. Today we know these wanderers as planets, the sun, and the moon. As time progressed, certain people meticulously chronicled where the stars and planets were lined up during significant events in history, such as famines, wars, prosperity, and new technological development. These star charters were the astrologers.
For help with astrology, I spoke with Christopher Renstrom, the astrologer for the San Francisco Chronicle, where he took over Jean Dixon, Allure magazine, and author of the book Ruling Planets: Your Astrological Guide to Life’s Ups and Downs. Renstrom’s astrological reports are read by more than 2.5 million people.
"Astrology is our first calendar," Renstrom said. "It comes from Babylon, and basically, people looked to the stars to tell time. In astrology everything is geocentric — it’s viewed from the Earth, and just as you would follow the rising of the sun, hitting noon, and the setting of the sun, you would also follow the planets as they passed across the sky in that same way. It would be used to tell change of time and seasons, and it would be used to tell changes of time for a day. Once you get that idea of things being timed, it was then used to time wars, upcoming famines, business enterprises, love, et cetera. So it’s this idea that everything has a place in time."
To tell time on a cosmic scale, Renstrom likened the zodiac signs in the sky to the numbers on a clock. The 12 signs never move, but the "wandering stars" traverse the sky — they would be our second, minute, hour, month, year, century, and so on hands of the clock. As these wanderers change position, or go around the cosmic clock at different rates of speed, they set up different relationships to each other. All of us were born under a zodiac sign as well as a ruling planet — both of which influence our lives.
So how does astrology work? Renstrom said, "I basically see myself as a cosmic weatherman, and given how often weather predictions are right — weather predictions get more forgiveness than astrological predictions do! And what’s up with that?
"As astrologers we’re big historians — we’re always going back in time and looking at the last time there was this conjunction, or the last time there was this line-up of planets, or the last time, for instance, Neptune was in Aquarius. I can go back to 1848 and see Neptune in Aquarius and what it did. There was a series of evolutions, and it was when the Enlightenment was still turning into greater society, the birth of socialism, and the combat of two ideologies, which are the people in power and the disenfranchised. Well, is there an echo going on nowadays? Well, yeah, kind of. You explore that. We’re always going back to see what happened last time you had this setup."
Astrology is viewed by some people to be an occult practice, yet it is extremely popular and widespread. Almost every print publication offers its readers a horoscope. Some religious people may lump the practice in with witchcraft and sorcery, but the reality is that astrology was not always opposed by the Catholic Church or any religion for that matter. Renstrom said, "You go to any church or cathedral in Europe and what’s one of the things you see? Astrology symbols and zodiac signs. The relationship between astrology and Christianity goes in and out. There are definite periods of time when they’re on the same page, and there are definite periods of time where they’re against each other, and it’s never been fixed one way or the other. The current anti-astrology phase from the right-wing Christians is only as old as the 1960s. If you go to the ’50s, or the ’40s, or ’30s, you’ve got very heavy Christian astrological writing, especially in theosophical circles."
In the 15th century C.E., astrologers weren’t the only people watching the night skies. People like Nicolaus Copernicus also began to examine celestial bodies in the interest of science or astronomy. Copernicus wanted to figure out how our universe worked — he was the first to hypothesize a sun-centered universe. His heliocentric theory grew after his death as other astronomers such as Galileo Galile and Johannes Kepler looked through telescopes and began to see evidence to support the Copernicus theory. "A lot of people said ‘Astrology died when Galileo set the center of the universe at the sun,’" Renstrom said. "No, astrology didn’t die at all. It lost its political hold, and it became a convenient battering ram for both science and religion because both could attack astrology without having to attack each other."
Johannes Kepler was not only an early astronomer, he was also a practicing astrologer to a Prussian prince. According to Renstrom, many of Kepler’s colleagues questioned his practice of astrology. Renstrom said, "Kepler basically said this is the way you make a living. The astronomers were really bitter because nobody wanted to hire an astronomer to look at the stars; they wanted to hire an astronomer to tell them about the future."
In the early 1900s, astrology took off in the United States. "It came to America in the almanacs — it came over with the first colonists. The Farmers’ Almanac tells us about the phases of the moon and when to plant and not plant — that’s astrology," Renstrom said. Astrology made its first appearance in mainstream print in 1911 in Ladies’ Home Journal magazine. A few years later, the first astrology column appeared in a newspaper in Chicago, and from there it spread to almost every publication, on to radio, and eventually television.
Astrology is practiced globally. Some cultures certainly put more emphasis on the practice than others. Renstrom said, "No one is going to be able to compete in terms of prominence with India and China — everything is mapped over there. The contribution America made that no one else did was psychological astrology. America was the first country to really wed astrology to someone’s psychology and use it to understand your behavior and potential as a person and use it to better yourself. India and China had a much more socially ascribed astrology. This is your social place, this is your rank, this is your file. The Europeans, like the French and the English, were much more absorbed in political astrology. By the time it comes to America, it comes out of our self-help tradition. Astrology is going to help me become a better person, and if you look at the history of astrology, that’s a very different message than what was being talked about before."
I’m a Leo, and I occasionally check my horoscope online or in the newspaper. Sometimes I feel like those few sentences are talking directly to me and spot on, and sometimes it just looks like fluff. So how does an astrologer determine what the most important message is for such a broad audience? Renstrom said, "People are looking at the horoscope like they would a weather report or a stock report. What’s up today? Basically is it a good day or a bad day? If it’s a bad day, what do I need to know to get around it? I do the charts on a weekly basis. I draw what is called a sunrise chart. Basically, you draw up a chart using a specific sign as its own rising sign. So you draw a chart for each one of the signs for that week and make the predictions from there. It’s about going down those paths and retrieving information for the person, whether a client is one person, or whether it’s 2.5 million people reading your column. You have to adjust it for that."
Our night sky holds a lot of wonder to anyone who looks up at the many points of light. For thousands of years, travelers have used the stars to guide their way, to tell stories about heroes of centuries ago, and to wonder what lies beyond them. The stars influence our lives in so many different ways, it isn’t inconceivable that the way they line up and shift can affect our planet and our lives. In this Age of Aquarius, we’re watching the stars and planets more than ever — we have incredibly sophisticated equipment to view these celestial bodies. Science may be able to explain what elements make up these night lights, but they may never be able to explain the awe, wonder, and influence they apply to all of us.