Chapter 10.  What the Stars Foretell

Of all pseudo-sciences, astrology is overwhelmingly the most popular. It is very ancient, and up to the time of Newton it was regarded as co-equal with astronomy – indeed, Newton himself believed in it. Even now there are people who regulate their lives by it, and many more who admit that they turn first to their horoscopes when opening their daily papers. And today, with a credit card and internet access, you can get your personal horoscope done at any time of the day or night, just with the click of a mouse.

Of course, there are two sorts of astrologers. Serious practitioners of the ‘royal art’ look askance at the newspaper seers who are concerned largely with dark ladies coming across the water; they award themselves ‘degrees’ such as D.F.Astrol.S. and F.Astrol.Soc., and altogether they must be classed as astrological snobs. They are, moreover, perfectly sincere – just as are the Flat Earthers, the Hollow Globers, and the Flying Saucerers. They are convinced that astrology works, and that destinies and characters really are controlled by the positions of the Sun, Moon and planets at the time of the subject’s birth.

On the other hand, they are remarkably evasive when challenged as to just why the planets can affect our lives and careers. Generally they retreat into their shells, muttering darkly about ‘vibrations’. So what exactly is it all about?

First, let us be clear on one point: the constellations of the Zodiac (or any other part of the sky) are purely arbitrary. We use patterns such as the Lion, the Crab and the Scorpion; if we had followed the Egyptian pattern, say, we would have had the Cat and the Hippopotamus instead. Moreover, the stars are at very different distances from us, so that what we call a constellation is nothing more than a chance line-of-sight effect. How anyone can claim that, for instance, Pisces, the Fishes, is a “watery sign” is rather difficult to see. The stars in Pisces make up long lines of dim objects which have no resemblance to the pattern of anything at all. And the planets are far closer than any star, apart from the Sun. To say that a planet is ‘in’ a constellation is about as sensible as holding up a finger, aligning it with a cloud, and then claiming that your finger is ‘in’ the cloud.

However, this sort of argument does not bother a D.F.Astrol.S. in the least. He may argue that the constellation merely represents a particular direction in space and that planetary influences from that direction govern our lives in particular ways. Or he may not argue at all, and simply say that his successful results prove his point, regardless of the objections of the sceptics. But then anyone who makes a sufficiently large number of predictions is bound to be right in some cases; as Judge Stephen commented, “it is impossible always to be wrong”, though admittedly some modern politicians seem to prove the contrary. Coincidence-hunting is great fun, and astrologers are past-masters at it. But when it comes to important events, they are signally unsuccessful, and this was shown vividly by their predictions as to what was likely to happen in the late 1930s, when most people were convinced that the Germans were making ready for an onslaught upon the rest of the world.

Some time between June and August 1939, an astrologer called Leonardo Blake published a book entitled Hitler’s Last Year of Power. It was an unfortunate choice of title with some even more unfortunate contents:

Is there going to be war?

The European War which the Mars in Hitler’s horoscope tells us so much about will not break out.

Before localised and minor conflicts extend themselves to a world conflagration, something that is least expected will happen.

A change of temper will come about in Germany and there will be a new German revolution.

Mr Blake was quite sure that Hitler’s downfall would come about in the summer of 1940, and that it would come about from within his own ranks. With Saturn squared to the Sun on 11th June of that year, it was even possible, though not certain, that Hitler would suffer a violent end on that day.

Mind you, if the Germans didn’t kill him off, it was quite on the cards that either his throat or his heart would. The relative positions of Mars, Uranus and Saturn hinted at a strangulation by tuberculosis of the throat, and Saturn in Leo, aggravated by Mercury and Uranus doing their own thing, suggested that Hitler’s dicky heart might give way at any unduly critical moment.

Mr Blake was very reassuring. From a progressive Mars in trine to the Moon, he was able to deduce that the French need not fear war, and by an unspecified, but equally reliable, piece of astrological jiggery pokery, he was able to assure his readers that Japan would not enter into hostilities.

The year 1939–40, Mr Blake concluded, was undoubtedly Hitler’s last year of power.

In a supplement to the book, he went even further:

In the summer of 1940, the first rays of peace will shine over Europe after all the difficult times we have been having. In May 1940, the prenatal Sun in this war horoscope reaches the radical position of Venus. In June 1940, the progressive Moon is in trine to the radical Venus, in July in trine to the progressive Venus and to the Sun. At the beginning of August, the progressive Moon is in trine to the progressive Sun.

There is no doubt about it: PEACE.

Just as spectacular was a prediction by an astrologer called R.H. Naylor. In the Sunday Express for 22nd June 1941 Mr Naylor assured his readers that there was no chance of Germany and Russia falling out with each other. Unfortunately, the Germans had other ideas, and on 22nd June 1941, they invaded Russia.

In his book History of Astrology and Prediction (1972), Eric Russell wrote:

The biggest blow which has struck predictive astrology in modern times was the universal failure of all astrologers to predict the onset of the Second World War. Petulengro was later to claim that he had foreseen the fall of France but kept the news to himself so as not to dishearten his fellow countrymen and it may well be that the astrologers who did foresee the war kept quiet out of humanitarian terms. But lack of any evidence to the contrary forces the observer to the conclusions that the stargazers, to a man and a woman, somehow overlooked one of the most titanic events in human history. And the sceptical can be forgiven for wondering how the astrologers can spot the minutiae and yet miss an event of this nature.

Our account of astrology would not be complete without a mention of C. Everard Mitchell, who in 1936 privately published his own documentary proof of the validity of astrology, in the form of his autobiographical book Foretold by the Stars.

Mr Mitchell was born with Jupiter in the ninth house, a clear indication that he should have been a lawyer. Unfortunately his parents had no knowledge of astrology, and decided that he had better become an electrician instead. This didn’t work out, so he went into advertising. This didn’t work out either on account of the opposition of his progressed Moon to the Radical MC. We’re not sure what that is exactly, but Mr Mitchell says that it “never fails to bring disaster in one’s financial affairs.” A spell as an inventor likewise failed when Mars formed a conjunction with the Sun in his seventh house. Next a political career was indicated when Mr Mitchell came under the aspect of his Ascendant trine Sun at birth, so he contested for a seat on the Halifax Town Council. Unfortunately the planets didn’t get things quite right, and he lost the election by a two-to-one vote. Not that he blamed the planets for his lack of success, for as he was quick to point out, one must assist the influences of the planets with some degree of personal effort, and this he had failed to do. Had he assisted the planets, his friends assured him, he would have won the election easily.

If Mr Mitchell’s workaday life was dogged by failure, his career in astrological prediction was not. For example in 1924–5 he drew up the horoscope of Sir William Bulmer and saw financial chaos on account of an unwise investment in artificial silk. Unfortunately Sir William took no notice, and in 1927 suffered the severe financial setback predicted. According to Mr Mitchell “his Ruler the Moon formed the opposition to his Radical MC degree by direction, whilst his MC also squared his Mercury at birth, which brought about a financial crash.”

In 1928 there was a by-election at Halifax and the editor of the local newspaper asked Mr Mitchell to predict the outcome. A study of the horoscopes of the three candidates revealed that the Labour candidate had the best planetary influences, “with the Sun par Jupiter” no less. Sure enough, Alderman Longbottom, the Labour candidate, was duly elected.

In 1932 Mr Mitchell successfully predicted the winner of the Derby. It wasn’t difficult. The Hour Planet was badly aspected with the Moon, so the Favourite had no chance. He didn’t like using the noble science of astrology to do this, he assures his readers, and he only did it lest in turning down the challenge he might be considered “a quitter”.

Finally, following a rule given to him by an Indian astrologer friend, Mr Mitchell was able to predict the death of the King of Belgium in 1934, the death of the Queen of Belgium in 1935, and the death of the King of Egypt in 1936. Well, actually, he predicted that some royal disaster would happen somewhere on those dates, and the deaths of these three particular monarchs fitted his predictions to within a day or two.

Thus far, then, up to 1936, when Mr Mitchell published his book. He was looking back on his career, his success rate was good, verging on the excellent. But he didn’t stop there. He went on to give some predictions for the then future, so let us take a look at them.

Mr Mitchell took a look at Hitler’s horoscope and concluded that “he will fall from power quite as suddenly as he arose from obscurity.” His fall, Mr Mitchell predicted, would be on account of his friends, and would begin in his fiftieth year (i.e. 1939). “Hitler means well,” he wrote, “he is a Libra man with Uranus rising at birth in that sign, which signifies that he will become over zealous …” The fact that in Hitler’s horoscope Saturn was elevated in the tenth in the sign of Leo signified that Hitler had no love for France, and that as long as Hitler remained in power it boded ill for that country. Though that might be counted as a fulfilled prediction, there is still no sign of Mr Mitchell’s second French Revolution and its resulting civil war. And, of course, no mention of the Second World War as such, with the defeat of Germany and the suicide of Hitler as its outcome. Without wishing to be unkind, it does seem as if Mr Mitchell’s success rate declined somewhat after the publication of his book, compared to what it was before. But then we can suggest one reason for his failure in the case of Hitler who, having been born on 20th April 1889, was no Libra man!

But how successful is astrology?

As a spot astrological check we chose Old Moore’s Almanac, the original Foulsham edition, and decided to check out whether or not it had predicted six specific and notable events. For the record, the events chosen, and their dates of occurrence, were as follows. Note that these events were selected by us before any almanac was ever opened.

Death of Queen Victoria 22nd January 1901
Sinking of the Titanic 14th April 1912
Great Britain declares war on Germany 4th August 1914
Great Britain declares war on Germany 3rd September 1939
Assassination of President Kennedy 22nd November 1963
Aberfan disaster 21st October 1966

Our man in Cambridge, Michael Behrend, went along to the University Library there to check Old Moore’s success rate for us. Unfortunately, the University Library had not been overly keen to maintain a complete collection of Old Moore prior to 1936, so that Mr Behrend was unable to check for possible forebodings of either the Titanic or the 1914 declaration of war. Of the remaining four events, however, Old Moore failed totally to foresee either the Kennedy assassination or the Aberfan tragedy. Regarding the death of Queen Victoria, the nearest Old Moore got to this in his predictions for January 1901 was as follows:

The planetary influences for the month of January are of deep importance, and prefigure strange and unexpected events in our happy land.

If we allow Old Moore two months’ grace, he actually does get something like a hit, as his predictions for March 1901 say that “death will lay a heavy hand on a notable person, for whom the whole nation will weep.” However, a two-month error seems a bit too much to us – but then maybe we’re just being overly sceptical again. Or perhaps royalty just isn’t as astrologically tied down as the rest of us!

Regarding the Second World War, Mr Behrend found that Old Moore had gone embarrassingly wrong:

The New Moon of 13th September, which takes place at 11.22 a.m., is a remarkable one, for the Luminaries are in the tenth conjoined with Venus, and Mercury – paramount ruler of the theme – is exactly culminating. These positions are most helpful for the preservation of Peace both in industrial and international disagreements. Important work to that end will now be achieved both at home and abroad – work which may include the final settlement of at least one War abroad – perhaps to usher in a new, better, happier and more prosperous era for all mankind.

This prediction was accompanied by a picture of the northern hemisphere with the word “PEACE” shimmering above it.

Next, comets.…

Almost as catastrophic as the astronomers’ predictions concerning the brightness of the comet Kohoutek, were the astrologers’ interpretations of it. Kohoutek, it seems, was no respecter of persons, orthodox or otherwise.

For example, one English astrologer predicted that Kohoutek heralded the abdication of Queen Elizabeth II in favour of Prince Charles. This interpretation, along with others, can be found in Joseph F. Goodavage’s book The Comet Kohoutek (1973).

Comets, Mr Goodavage claims, coincide with earthly disasters of every description. Their appearances are frequently accompanied by earthquakes, widespread floods and volcanic disturbance. Riots, social unrest and even military invasion seem to accompany them, and rumour has it that years in which great comets are visible are good wine years!

Fires in New York; outbreaks of bubonic plague in Europe; riots in Germany, earthquakes in Greece and disastrous floods in Paris – all were heralded by comets, Mr Goodavage assures us. A comet was in the sky when Pontius Pilate committed suicide; Mark Twain was born under Halley’s Comet and correctly predicted his own death on its return; and what was the Star of Bethlehem if it wasn’t a comet heralding the coming of the Messiah?

“Today,” Mr Goodavage writes, “Some are predicting that Comet Kohoutek will be the actual agent of world devastation!”

There is a lot in Mr Goodavage’s book that is worth the attention of any student of Independent Thinking. He is, for example, a convert of Immanuel Velikovsky and is firmly convinced that the planet Venus is a reformed comet that was once violently expelled from the surface of Jupiter. The Great Red Spot today marks the point of its emergence, he claims.

So what has this to do with comet Kohoutek? Well, Mr Goodavage reckons that as Kohoutek was first spotted this side of Jupiter, on its sun-ward trajectory, it too could have been expelled from Jupiter.

But getting back to the astrological significance of Kohoutek, here is what Mr Goodavage has to say:

What then, can be expected of the Comet Kohoutek?

For one thing, vast changes in the structure and function of American government, as the repercussions from the death of a prominent South American leader will fan the fires of anti-Americanism from Tierra del Fuego to the Rio Grande.

One astrologer friend of Mr Goodavage went so far as to predict an assassination for President Nixon before March 1974, the assassin being an army officer with the rank of colonel or lieutenant.

Needless to say, the influence of a comet depends on the constellation in which it happens to lie at any given time. For example, a comet in Leo heralds a shortage of wheat and a death of a Prince of the Church. Or again:

The comet’s proximity near Jupiter in Capricorn will have adverse effects on Muslim countries and cause increased friction between India and Pakistan.

Working along similar lines, “unprecedented violence” in Central India was predicted for 17th October 1973, and “political turmoil” in North East India for 10th December. Arab–Israeli troubles were predicted before mid-March 1974, bringing the Middle East to “the very brink of all-out warfare”. By July 1974, it was thought Amin and Sadat would be fallen leaders.

With unintended irony, Mr Goodavage wrote:

Look at it this way: if intelligent people for thousands of years have been reporting that comets and troubles always go hand in hand – which they have – then the Comet Kohoutek is a superb opportunity for us to keep a track record and try to determine how much truth there is to it.

As it turned out, the Comet Kohoutek refused to co-operate. Nor was it the first comet to thwart the prophets of doom. Increase Mather, the son of Cotton Mather, issued the following predictions regarding the comet of 1680:

The floods of great water are coming. I am persuaded that God is about to open the windows of heaven and to pour down the cataracts of his wrath ere this generation is passed away. Let us then prepare for trouble, for the Lord has fired his beacon in the heavens.

Though neither of us believes in astrology, it would be wrong for us to line up a collection of hilariously wrong astrological predictions and to claim them as ‘disproof’ of astrology. Equally wrong, of course, would be the opposite process – that of lining up a collection of predictions that had actually materialised and heralding it as proof of the validity of astrology. The mere marshalling of suitably selected evidence is proof of nothing, however meticulously it is conducted.

The only way astrology can be proved or disproved is statistically, and the classic works in this field are those of Michel Gauquelin and his first wife, Françoise.

Actually, Gauquelin (who committed suicide in 1991, apparently as a result of the prolonged controversy over his work) denied that his work was supporting traditional astrology in any sense. His methods were very different, and in some respects they went against traditional astrological beliefs.

What he did claim, however, was that there exist curious connections between the type of career followed by prominent persons and the positions of the planets in the sky at the moments of their births.

This sounds very familiar to the traditional horoscope idea, but it isn’t. Let us explain the nature of Gauquelin’s method via a little lesson in elementary astronomy.

Illustration of standard astronomical terms

Fig. 10.1

Referring to Fig. 10.1, O represents an observer at the centre of the sky dome. Z is the zenith, the point directly overhead, and Z′ the nadir or point directly beneath the observer’s feet. N marks the north pole of the sky, currently marked (or nearly so) by the pole star, Polaris or Alpha Ursae Minoris, and N′ the southern pole of the sky.

The Celestial Equator, like the Earth’s equator, is a plane at right angles to the NN′ axis of the sky, dividing the sky dome into two equal hemispheres. The horizon is defined by a similar plane through O at right angles to the vertical ZZ′. East and west are defined by the points where the Celestial Equator crosses the horizon.

Now suppose P represents a planet in the sky. In the course of a day, the Earth rotates from west to east, in consequence of which P appears to the observer to perform a circuit of the sky along what astronomers call its diurnal circuit.

The planet rises above the horizon at R, achieving its maximum elevation (Upper Culmination) when due south of the observer, at U, moves down the sky again until it sets at S, after which it is carried, invisibly, to its lower culmination, L, due north of the observer. Thereafter it swings further round the sky until it rises again at R.

Traditional astrology considers the positions of the planets, at the moment of birth, with respect to the fixed stars of the zodiacal constellations. Gauquelin didn’t. He departed altogether from this concept and considered the positions of the planets on their diurnal circuits at the instant of birth.

It is for this reason that Gauquelin’s results cannot be considered as evidence for traditional astrology. Nevertheless, they are difficult to explain as far as orthodox science goes, and astrologers tend to view Gauquelin as more in their favour than in the scientists’. After all, if the planets can ‘influence’ our careers on a diurnal basis, can we afford to be so glib as to claim that their positions in the zodiac can have no effect on our lives? We make no attempt here to resolve the claims and counter-claims, though we will indicate one or two possible arguments later.

So how did Gauquelin make his measurements?

Sectors of the sky used by Michel Gauquelin

Fig. 10.2

Imagine you are sitting astride the pole star and looking down on the observer, O, along the polar axis NN′. The diurnal circuit of P looks like the circle of Fig 10.2, O being at the centre, with R, S, U and L representing, respectively, rise, set, upper and lower culmination.

The sector ORUS represents the portion of the diurnal circuit above the horizon, and the sector ORLS the portion below it.

For the purposes of measuring the position of a planet on its diurnal circuit at the instant of birth, Gauquelin divides the diurnal circuit into twelve sectors – six above the horizon and six below it.

That is, sector ORUS is divided into six equal sectors, and ORLS is likewise divided into six equal sectors. Note that the sectors above the horizon may not be quite the same size as those below the horizon, on account of P not being on the celestial equator, but usually, on average, they will not be very much different. The sectors are numbered 1 to 12 as in Fig. 10.2.

Very well, then, let us consider the planet Saturn. At a person’s birth Saturn will lie in one of the twelve sectors of its diurnal circuit on that day. Traditional science blandly assumes that people are born with a total lack of regard for the position of Saturn, so that, allowing for the fact that sectors 1 to 6 may be slightly different in size to sectors 7 to 12, then as followers of science we should not expect to find Saturn falling into any sector markedly more often than the others.

But then consider a sample of Gauquelin’s results. He analysed the sector occupied by Saturn at the moment of birth of 3647 prominent scientists, the results being summarised in the following table:


If orthodox science predicts what should happen, on a basis of Saturn having no preference for one sector rather than another, then it predicts that, on average, we ought to find 299 individuals in each of sectors 1 to 6 and 309 in each of 7 to 12.

The trouble is that Gauquelin’s figures stray a bit too far away from orthodoxy’s predictions. Statistically, too many observations fall in sectors 1 and 4 – 355 and 349 instead of 299 on average. To the casual eye, such discrepancies may not look drastically much, but to a statistician they are way too high. So high, in fact, that one is forced to reconsider those bland assumptions made by orthodox scientists regarding the roles of the planets in our lives.

The conclusion that Gauquelin’s results seem to suggest is that prominent scientists tend to be born just after the rise or just after the upper culmination of Saturn.

This is speaking statistically, of course. A glance at the table shows that large numbers of scientists come into this life – and probably depart for the next – with a total disregard for the comings and goings of Saturn.

Gauquelin, in his book Cosmic Influences on Human Behaviour, produced similar links between planetary sectors and other career-classified births.

Famous actors showed a statistical tendency to be born with Jupiter in sectors 1 and 4; with sports champions the same tendency was observed, but with Mars instead of Jupiter; with prominent writers, the Moon tended to be the operative body in these sectors.

Curiously, these statistical effects only appear to work on samples of prominent scientists, actors, sportsmen, writers or whatever. Tests on ordinary persons following the same professions yield distributions among the 12 sectors entirely consistent with the ‘no preference’ expectations of orthodox science.

No fully satisfactory explanation of these results has been forthcoming. There has been some argument about the way Gauquelin’s database was compiled, and how exactly he defined “prominent” in relation to scientists, actors, sportsmen and so forth – changes in the definition of “prominent”, it has been argued, can severely affect the significance of the statistics. So, might the significance of Gauquelin’s figures be somehow the result of how he chose his “prominent” persons? It is a possible line of argument, but not fully convincing, somehow. Gauquelin, meanwhile, had his own ideas of planetary heredity, and of biological clocks which are triggered by planetary influences, but these were little more than working hypotheses. The whole business remains something of a fascinating mystery.

Certainly no one is saying that Saturn, for example, induces a scientific frame of mind in infants born under its auspices. The matter is not that simple, and the connection between profession and sector number may not be as direct as is frequently assumed.

A fine (though not necessarily related) instance of an apparently mystical connection which is in fact nothing of the sort is afforded in the following.

If one plots a graph of the birth rate in Britain against the production of pig iron in the United States for the same year, plotting one such point for each of the years 1875 to 1920, then the points of this graph will lie very close to a straight line.

To most people this indicates some almost mystical connection between the two types of event in spite of an intuition which says that they ought not to be related at all. Yet no such connection exists and the explanation of this straight line graph (basically mathematical and rather too long to go into here) involves no overthrow of traditional scientific concepts of either birth rate or pig iron production.

The straight line graph is indeed no accident, but neither does it indicate the type of conclusion to which our intuitions impulsively leap.

To take another example of the same type of phenomenon, some years ago a paper was published linking radio reception conditions with the weather in the United States (which is not unreasonable) and the positions of the planets. One of the present writers (PM) followed this up by showing that the same link could be extended to the number of evening newspapers published in Australia, the number of runs which Boycott was making in the current Test series, and the frequency of evening performances at the Folies Bergère in Paris. All the graphs fitted excellently.

So, what Gauquelin’s figures indicate remains in dispute, but the figures themselves are there, for all to see.

Finally, where is astrology going, if anywhere? It is now admitted officially that the rift between astrologers and astronomers is unbridgeable, so that the link must henceforth be with the psychologists and psychiatrists. This leads on to a vision of the future. If your believer of, say, AD 2100 finds himself in a quandary for any reason, is he likely to race off to consult his astropsychiatrist? Well, it’s a thought! And here’s another: will the astropsychiatrist use the traditional zodiac of 12 signs, or will he use the revised zodiac proposed by Steven Schmidt in his book Astrology 14, published in 1970?

According to this book, astrology is way out of date. For a start, Mr Schmidt claims, there should be 14 signs of the zodiac, not 12, the extra two being Cetus, the Whale, and Ophiuchus, the Serpent Slayer.

Astrology 14 makes quite a mess of traditional astrology. With 12 signs, each occupies a nice, round, 30 degree sector of the zodiac, which can be conveniently sub-divided into 3 equal 10-degree sub-sectors called ‘decans’. Furthermore, with 12 signs, astrologers can associate 3 signs with each of the traditional 4 elements, earth, water, fire and air. But with 14 signs, each occupies 25.71 degrees and a bit, which is not so easily subdivided into decans – or anything else for that matter – and any attempt to equally distribute signs amongst the 4 elements results in 3.5 zodiac signs per element.

None of this deters Mr Schmidt from proposing a 14-sign zodiac, however. Fearlessly, he casts aside both decans and elements as outmoded. “Astrology must change,” he tells us, “if it expects intelligent people to go on believing in its precepts.”

By introducing Cetus between Aries and Taurus, and Ophiuchus between Scorpio and Sagittarius, Mr Schmidt claims to have developed a more subtle system of astrological interpretation than the more usual 12-sign system – and that is despite throwing decans and elements to the winds.

But there is worse to come. Two extra signs are only the beginning.

Traditionally, if you were born between 21st March and 20th April inclusive, then you are said to have been born under Aries the Ram. These are the dates associated with your familiar newspaper horoscope sign. A traditional astrologer would describe Aries as your Sun sign.

But Mr Schmidt has other ideas. Aries, he says, should be 16th April to May 11th inclusive, and, furthermore, all the other zodiacal signs should be similarly displaced date-wise. The following table compares Mr Schmidt’s Astrology 14 system with the dates of the traditional system:

Sun Sign Astrology 14 Traditional
Pisces Mar 21 – April 15 Feb 20 – Mar 20
Aries April 16 – May 11 Mar 21 – April 20
Cetus May 12 – June 6 ********
Taurus June 7 – July 2 April 21 – May 21
Gemini July 3 – July 28 May 22 – June 21
Cancer July 29 – Aug 23 June 22 – July 23
Leo Aug 24 – Sep 18 July 24 – Aug 23
Virgo Sep 19 – Oct 14 Aug 24 – Sep 23
Libra Oct 15 – Nov 9 Sep 24 – Oct 23
Scorpio Nov 10 – Dec 5 Oct 24 – Nov 22
Ophiuchus Dec 6 – Dec 31 ********
Sagittarius Jan 1 – Jan 26 Nov 23 – Dec 21
Capricorn Jan 27 – Feb 21 Dec 22 – Jan 20
Aquarius Feb 22 – Mar 20 Jan 21 – Feb 19

The implication of this, if Mr Schmidt is right, is rather startling: whenever you look up your horoscope in a newspaper, the chances are that you are not looking at your ‘birth sign’ at all!

The reasons why Mr Schmidt proposes such radical alterations are actually quite simple.

In the course of a year the sun traces out a 360-degree circuit of the sky called the ecliptic. There are twelve constellations through which the ecliptic passes and these gave rise to the twelve signs of the zodiac known to traditional astrologers today. (We ignore for the time being the two extra signs.)

Now, when astrology was first being formulated several thousand years ago, the Sun, on its path along the ecliptic, was in the constellation of Aries from 21st March to 20th April. Thus, in the early days of astrology, it was true to say that anyone born between these two dates had Aries as his/her ‘Sun Sign’.

But that is not true today. Because of the prolonged wobble in the earth’s axis known as precession, the Sun has got out of step with the astrologers.

From 21st March to 15th April, the Sun is now in Pisces not Aries. Surely, Mr Schmidt argues, to say that someone who was born on (say) 25th March has the Sun Sign Aries is utter nonsense if the Sun was actually in Pisces at the time of his/her birth. We have to admit that Mr Schmidt has a point here. Yet the traditional astrologers persist in giving us all sun signs which are out of step with the real Sun.

Mr Schmidt is quite convinced that this sign discrepancy, plus the extra signs of Cetus and Ophiuchus, are quite enough to warrant a radical revision in astrological thinking. He writes:

Unless you’re a collector of antique cars, you would not pay for an automobile designed by Leonardo da Vinci or even the youthful Henry Ford. No, you want the latest design, with the most advanced engineering developments, and you are quite right to demand it. Why, then, should you be expected to pay for a horoscope cast according to data that are not dozens or hundreds, but thousands of years out of date?

Ask your astrologer if he takes Cetus and Ophiuchus into consideration and whether he places the spring point in Pisces instead of Aries. If he does not (or if he evades the question), I would strongly advise you to go to another astrologer – one who is afraid neither of new ideas nor of the harder work involved in casting a horoscope according to up-to-date information.

Strong words indeed! So we asked a couple of orthodox astrologers what they thought of Mr Schmidt’s revolutionary talk.

Both of them agreed that it really makes no odds how many signs of the zodiac are adopted. “Twelve” was probably chosen originally because it afforded a simply constructed division of the zodiacal circle, and probably also because twelve has a traditionally mystical significance. As one of our astrologers put it, “twelve was the obvious choice because in it and by it could be expressed all the ideas represented by the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6.” Aside from these numerical reasons, there is really no need, our astrologers assured us, for anyone to make too much of a fuss over an extra sign or two – they will not overthrow traditional astrology, merely complement it. (Our readers will recall that James Vogh claimed this about his thirteenth zodiac sign, Arachne, the Spider. But then he wasn’t being entirely serious.…)

As to the argument that the signs and constellations are out of step because of precession, thus invalidating traditional astrology, again our two astrologers agreed that there was really no problem at all.

The apparent problem arises from a confusion of two quite distinct zodiacs – the one of signs and the other of constellations. That they share the same set of names (Aries, Taurus etc.) is due entirely to the fact that when the rules of astrology were first formulated, the signs were named after the constellations underlying them at that time. Thus, a couple of thousand years ago, someone born on (say) 25th March was defined to have the sign Aries because the sun was in the constellation named Aries at that time. Astrologically, therefore, someone born on the same date in the present era still has the same sign, Aries, even though precession has now shifted the stars so that today the Sun lies in the constellation of Pisces. Most astrologers deal in signs, and these haven’t changed at all over the ages. The fact that precession has shifted the constellations is, astrologically speaking, quite irrelevant and not at all the disaster claimed by Mr Schmidt.

Actually we have rather oversimplified matters here. An astrologer can work with either the sign zodiac or the constellation zodiac, though these are quite distinct approaches to astrology, and the latter is subject to precessional drift. No astrologer worth his salt, though, would confuse the two approaches, and start demanding precessional compensation for a zodiac of signs. This, however, is exactly what Mr Schmidt is trying to do, and both our astrologers were quite firmly agreed that Mr Schmidt was really all of a muddle. Consequently his arguments against traditional astrology are quite unfounded. In fact, one of our astrologers got rather cross about it all and called Mr Schmidt’s claims rather silly!

Whilst we were about it, we asked our astrologer friends why it was that the Second World War just hadn’t shown up in the stars. Here we got two rather different explanations.

One explanation concentrated on the fact that astrology is based on a large measure of intuitive interpretation of the horoscope, and that intuition is inevitably coloured by the wishes of the individual. Astrologers missed the Second World War because they unwittingly allowed their interpretations of the stars to be distracted by their deep-seated and entirely understandable wishes that such a terrible thing as a world war would not take place.

The second explanation was more contentious and was to the effect that astrology today has become virtually useless for all practical purposes, not because there is no truth to astrology, but because of the way it has been handed down through the ages. In its present form, it has been perverted from a true science into “an ossified jumble of ideas”. Missing the Second World War was the fault not of astrology itself but of its perversion.

By the time our enquiries had got this far, both our astrologers seemed reluctant to have anything further to do with us. In fact, the reason we don’t name them is because, in the end, they rather fell out with us and wanted nothing to do with our venture. One of them went so far as to suggest that both the present authors would be well advised to write about matters other than astrology. Being on the wrong wavelength, as it were, the prospect of us writing anything at all sensible on the subject was “quite frankly silly”. That, we felt, put us in much the same boat as Mr Schmidt.

Feeling that we might be more nearly on Mr Schmidt’s wavelength, we wrote to him to get his comments on this thoroughly emotive business. He replied as follows:

The English astrologers you consulted seem much more reasonable than their American counterparts. My book received such acute critical comments as “Insane!” and “The book was written as a hoax!” (This last from the American Astrological Society in reply to a reader who had written for the opinion of this august body.) As I have repeatedly pointed out, I did not really invent anything; I merely attempted to update astrology so that people would know what stars they were actually born under, and be able to chart their horoscopes accordingly. The backward motion of the spring point through zodiacal constellations has long been recognised by sidereal astrologers, and I simply added this practice to my fourteen sign system.

I have never been able to agree with the Ptolemaic astrologers’ contention that it is the sign and not the constellation that matters. If that be the case, why call it astrology at all? Following Jung, I thought that astrology was an art on its way to becoming a science, and hoped that my contribution would help it on its way. Astrologers chronically complain that their field is not recognised by the scientific community; yet they stoutly resist any attempt to transform their static art into a dynamic science that attempts to keep up with the ever-changing universe.

I did not know, then, that their complaints were not serious. Astrology is neither art nor science; it is a game. Astrologers no more wish to change the rules of their game than chess enthusiasts would welcome an updating of the rules of chess.

From Mr Schmidt’s Astrology 14, we turn to another curious astrological backwater – perhaps the most unusual we have come across: namely, the discovery of new planets by astrological means. First, though, we need to look at a little astrological – and astronomical – background.

From time immemorial it has been known that there are five planets in the Solar System, not counting the Earth: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Tack on the Sun and the Moon, and you have a grand total of seven. Since seven was the mystical number, this was extremely satisfactory, and nobody seriously thought that any more planets could await discovery. Even the astrologers were well satisfied.

Then, in 1781, an amateur astronomer named William Herschel caused a sensation of the first magnitude by discovering another planet – the one we now call Uranus. True, he did not immediately recognize it for what it was, and mistook it for a comet; but before long its real nature was proved beyond all doubt. Moving round the Sun at a mean distance of 1,783,000,000 miles, it takes 84 years to complete a full circuit; it is much larger than the Earth, with a diameter of around 30,000 miles; and it is just visible with the naked eye if you know where to look for it.

The mystical 7 was exceeded. Could there be any more planets?

Now, there is the curious relationship known as Bode’s Law, which we met back in Chapter 8. As we saw there, this is a numerical sequence linking the distances of the various planets from the Sun. Uranus was found to fit in well with the series, but at the end of the eighteenth century there was an unfilled gap between Mars (the outermost of the smaller planets) and Jupiter (the closest of the giants), and it was suggested that there could be a small, faint planet in that part of the Solar System. A group of astronomers calling themselves the Celestial Police banded together in 1800, and started searching telescopically. Ironically, they were forestalled, because on 1 January 1801 – the first day of the new century – Piazzi, Director of the Palermo Observatory in Sicily, happened upon a faint, starlike object which proved to be a planet at just the right “Bode distance”. Piazzi called it Ceres, in honour of the patron goddess of Sicily. However, it was a puny thing, only a few hundreds of miles in diameter, and within the next eight years the Police had discovered three more dwarf planets in the same region of the Solar System. By now we have located well over two thousand of them, and it seems that the total number may well be over 40,000. They may be parts of an old planet(s) which broke up; they may be the material left over, so to speak, when the principal planets were formed. Even if lumped together, all these minor planets or asteroids would not make one body as massive as our Moon.

(Needless to say, there have been some unorthodox ideas about the asteroids. It has been suggested that they were hurled away from the Earth at the time of the cataclysm which destroyed Atlantis; alternatively, that the original asteroid-planet was blown up by some careless extraterrestrial scientist who let off a nuclear bomb in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, most modern astronomers incline to the theory that the asteroids are mere Solar System debris.)

The next development was delayed until 1846. By then it had become only too clear that Uranus was not behaving itself. Mathematicians worked out the way in which it ought to move; Uranus refused to obey. Something was dragging it out of position, and it was inferred that this ‘something’ must be another planet, moving at a greater distance from the Sun. Two astronomers, Urbain Le Verrier in France and John Couch Adams in England, set out to discover its position by sheer calculation. They worked independently, and Adams finished first, but owing to a series of muddles and misunderstandings nobody made a telescopic search until Le Verrier had finished his calculations, leading to an almost identical result. The race was on. Le Verrier won it. Using his calculations, Johann Galle and Heinrich D’Arrest, at Berlin, tracked down the expected planet – now called Neptune. There followed a somewhat undignified squabble about priority, but by now Adams and Le Verrier are recognized as co-discoverers – except in France, where Adams’ claims are even now dismissed with sceptical grunts.

Neptune was much closer than it should have been according to Bode’s Law, and it is hard to resist the temptation to dismiss this Law as a sequence of the take-away-the-number-you-first-thought-of variety. Like Uranus, Neptune is a giant world, but it is too dim to see with the naked eye. Binoculars will show it, but no surface details were ever seen on its tiny, bluish disk prior to the images taken on the Voyager 2 flyby in 1989.

Astrologers were somewhat upset at first by the discoveries of Uranus and Neptune, but before long they were fitted quite neatly into the overall pattern, and were given their own astrological characteristics. Then, in 1930, came yet another discovery. Making calculations of much the same kind as Le Verrier and Adams had done so long before, Percival Lowell in America had given the position of an even more remote planet. For a long time it refused to show itself, and when Lowell died, in 1916, it remained undiscovered. It was finally found at Lowell’s observatory fourteen years later, by Clyde Tombaugh, close to the expected position. Fittingly, it was named Pluto in honour of the King of the Underworld.

Since its discovery, Pluto has given astronomers a great deal of trouble. It just didn’t seem to be an ordinary planet. It has the wrong type of orbit, for a start – at its nearest to the Sun it is closer-in than Neptune, a state of affairs which prevailed from February 1979 until February 1999. Also it is very small and lightweight. Modern measures indicate that it is much less massive than our Moon, in which case it could not possibly exert any measurable influence upon Uranus or Neptune – and yet it was by these very influences that Lowell had predicted its position accurately! In 1977, photographic investigations led to the discovery of a satellite of Pluto, subsequently named Charon, which seems to be around 750 miles in diameter – just over half that of Pluto itself. And both Pluto and Charon may be little more than large lumps of ice.

When Pluto turned out to be as dwarfish as this, astronomers started to think that it should not continue to rank as a bona-fide planet, and there were suggestions that it may once have been a satellite of Neptune which broke free in a sort of cosmical U.D.I. and moved off independently. Certainly it is smaller than Neptune’s remaining large satellite, Triton. Actually, it could well be simply one of the largest of a whole swarm of icy bodies in the far reaches of the Solar System known as the Kuiper Belt. All the same, the astrologers took Pluto into their considerations, just as they had done earlier with Uranus and then Neptune. Unfortunately, in 2006, the International Astronomical Union officially demoted Pluto from its full planetary status, classifying it instead as a “dwarf planet”. Quite where this leaves the astrologers, we are not sure, but we await developments with eagerness.

For a long time it was felt that if Pluto was too small to be responsible for the observed discrepancies in the orbits of Uranus and Neptune, then either Lowell’s successful prediction of the existence of Pluto was a complete fluke (highly unlikely), or else there was another planet out there awaiting discovery. Thus began the search for the so-called Tenth Planet. (Actually this proved to be unnecessary, for the Voyager 2 flyby of Neptune in 1989 revealed that astronomers had slightly overestimated the mass of that planet, and when this was taken into account, another planet was no longer needed to explain things.)

But let us look round, and see just what the prospects for extra planets really are. We must confine ourselves to planets with diameters of over, say, 1500 miles; anything smaller than that is on a par with an asteroid, and they are tacitly ignored by all astrologers.

The first theory is that of the Counter-Earth. This is a planet moving in the same orbit as our own Earth, but on the far side. The line Earth–Sun–Counter-Earth is always straight, so that Counter-Earth is always behind the Sun (or virtually so), and therefore unobservable.

This is an attractive theory, and a planet in that position would admittedly be impossible to see, but it doesn’t work – because of perturbations. Each planet pulls on each other planet. For instance, our orbit is measurably affected by Venus, Mars and all the other members of the solar family. These influences would very soon drag Counter-Earth out of alignment, and it would become visible. A very few years would be enough for this to happen. It hasn’t; and so we can say, with utter confidence, that Counter-Earth doesn’t exist.

Secondly, what about a planet very close to the Sun, moving within the orbit of Mercury? Mercury, at a mean distance of 36,000,000 miles from the Sun, is considerably larger than our Moon – its diameter is 3000 miles – but it always keeps fairly near the Sun in the sky, and is never brilliant, though it is an easy naked-eye object when best placed, either very low in the west after sunset or very low in the east before dawn. A smaller, closer-in planet would be extremely elusive. Flushed with his success with Uranus, Le Verrier turned his attention to Mercury; here too he found unexplained perturbations, and announced the theoretical discovery of an intra-Mercurial planet. It was even given a name: Vulcan.

The only real hope of seeing Vulcan would be to catch it passing in transit across the face of the Sun (as both Mercury and Venus do from time to time). In 1860, Le Verrier heard that an amateur astronomer, Dr Lescarbault, had actually observed such a transit. The two men duly met. It must have been a strange encounter, because Lescarbault was a real amateur – he had a tiny telescope, a timekeeper that lacked its second hand, and a plank of wood upon which he used to write his observations, planing them off when he had no further use for them. Le Verrier had the reputation of being the rudest man in France. Nevertheless, the meeting went off well, and Le Verrier was convinced that Vulcan really had been found. Alas, it has never been seen again; there is no doubt that what Lescarbault saw was an ordinary sunspot, and much later on Einstein’s theory of relativity cleared up the problem of Mercury’s movements without the need for an extra planet.

If there really had been an intra-Mercurial planet, it would unquestionably have been found by now. There is one asteroid (Icarus) which can go within 20,000,000 miles of the Sun, but Icarus is a mere mile or so across, and any other asteroids moving into the same regions can be no larger. Around the 1860s and 1870s, when Vulcan was regarded as real, astrologers fastened on to it and described its influences; when Vulcan faded out, the astrologers did their best to forget all about it.

Certainly there can be no large planet anywhere between the orbits of Mercury and Neptune. But there could well be another planet further away; there could even be several – there is no theoretical reason why not, and searches, both theoretical and practical, have been made from time to time. Unfortunately, the hypothetical planet is bound to be so remote and so faint, even if a giant, that it will be extremely hard to find – particularly since we have no idea of its position. To undertake a really thorough search would mean using a large telescope for a very long period, and no astronomer will want to do that – observing time is too valuable. So on astronomical grounds, the trans-Neptunian (or trans-Plutonian) planet will be extremely elusive, even if it exists, and as we saw earlier, astronomers are not now concerned with searching for the Tenth Planet.

Some astrologers are confident that another planet does exist – all the more so because they may well have to drop Pluto from their charts. But if astronomy fails in the search for it, can astrology come to the rescue? This brings us on to the researches carried out by Dr and Mrs Christopher Coulson.

Before looking at their methods, we must briefly take a look at a bit of astrological history:

Traditionally the planets are said to rule specific signs of the zodiac. Before the discoveries of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, it was generally believed that each planet (apart from the Earth) ruled two signs of the zodiac, and that the Sun and Moon ruled one apiece. For example, Mars used to rule both Aries and Scorpio. However, when Uranus, Neptune and Pluto turned up, this neat symmetrical arrangement was upset, and though Mars continued to rule Aries, for example, the rulership of Scorpio was taken over by Pluto.

Today, when the signs have been redistributed amongst eight planets (the Earth itself does not rule any signs at all, remember) and the Sun and Moon, we are still left with two planets ruling two signs each. Mercury rules Gemini and Virgo, and Venus rules Libra and Taurus.

Dr Coulson and his wife were not happy with this arrangement. They felt that Mercury was the true ruler of Gemini, but not of Virgo, and they suggested that the asteroid Vesta might make a more appropriate ruler for this sign. This rulership perhaps found one expression in the Vestal Virgins of Ancient Rome. As for Venus, the Coulsons felt that though it was an appropriate ruler for Taurus, it was not so well suited to Libra. Eventually they came to believe that Libra might well be governed by a hitherto unknown planet.

The sign of Libra is characterised by partnership and the qualities of justice, law, peace and harmony (particularly musical). It is equally characterised by the opposites of these concepts – injustice, anarchy, war and discord. Thus the ruling planet of this sign ought to be discoverable through a study of these factors in the lives of selected individuals.

Dr Coulson and his wife named this hypothetical planet “Isis and Osiris”, after the best known partnership in the Egyptian pantheon of gods and goddesses. Osiris, in Egyptian mythology, was the ruler of the dead, and when a soul passed into the underworld its heart was weighed against Truth in a pair of Scales. Hence the association with the Scales of Libra, the Libran concept of justice, and the need to achieve balance.

Given the sort of influences in life this planet might be expected to govern, there are two methods by which one can determine its possible locations. The first of these is rather complex, and is called the symbolic method of Solar Arc Directions. Dr Coulson explained it to us thus:

Here the natal Sun is moved on the birth-chart using the scale of one year of life to a day after birth. For example, at age 40, one would look up the Sun position for the fortieth day after birth in the ephemeris and subtract the natal position to get the Solar Arc. This measurement is added to the natal planets to get the symbolic movement. Any interactions the hypothetical planet then makes by angle with the natal planets are frequently observed to synchronise with events in the life of the person. By working retrospectively and from the nature of the events, and the age when they occur, we may calculate the position of the hypothetical planet at birth. We have deliberately chosen events like marriage, the award of the Nobel Peace Prize etc. since these events are completely objective, and thus more suitable for a scientific study. This method of locating the hypothetical planet has an accuracy in the region of ±30 minutes of arc.

To non-astrologers, a symbolic method – that is, one which does not depend wholly on actual configurations in the sky – seems a strange way to set about discovering a new planet. “All I can say is that it works,” Dr Coulson assured us, “and not only in my hands but as one of the major techniques in astrology. As to how and why it works we really do not know.”

The other method used by the Coulsons for finding the position in the sky at any given time of Isis and Osiris is much easier for non-astrologers to follow, though Dr Coulson told us that it is less accurate. It can only give the location to within about 3° either way.

It is called the Method of Transits, and it determines possible locations of the hypothetical planet by the angles one would astrologically expect it to make with the other planets of the solar system. For example, in a study of marital harmony and discord, one would expect to find Isis and Osiris forming angles of 0°, 90°, 120°, and 180° with the other planets in a horoscope cast for the time of marriage. The first, second and last of these angles (or aspects, as they are called) indicate strain and difficulty, whilst the third and occasionally first, indicate ease and harmony.

Using the two methods – Solar Arcs and Transits – Dr Coulson and his wife claimed to be able to describe “with reasonable certainty” the position of Isis and Osiris in the sky over a period stretching back to 1770. “The result of the calculations,” Dr Coulson told us, “show that the planet appears to have moved at a rate of approximately 1° a year up to 1959, Subsequently it has begun to move faster until it is now (1980) moving at about 3° 15′ a year.” This change in speed implies that Isis and Osiris has a very eccentric orbit, and the Coulsons felt that this was entirely in accord with the extremes of human behaviour that the planet governs.

To give some idea of the astrological effects of Isis and Osiris, as well as to throw some light on the processes of its discovery, Dr Coulson gave us the following data, gleaned from the horoscopes of Nobel Peace Prize winners:

  1. Miss Mairead Corrigan has natal Jupiter at 144° 7′. When she was awarded the prize in October 1977 for her work in initiating the Northern Ireland Peace Movement, Isis and Osiris was within 3° of this point.
  2. Various events link the planet with the peace initiative between Egypt and Israel. Sadat made the first move on 13th November 1977 when the planet was moving direct and very close to 143°. Menachem Begin’s Sun is also very near 143°. The first Camp David Summit started on 4th September 1978 when the planet was again in the region of 143° moving direct. The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to both Sadat and Begin on 28th October 1978 when the planet was at 146°. The second Camp David Meeting started on 21st February 1979, when the planet had turned to go retrograde, and was again moving towards 143°. The first stage of peace was finally consolidated by the signing of the Israel–Egypt peace treaty on 26th March 1979 with the planet at 142°.
  3. Mother Teresa of Calcutta has her Sun at 152½° approximately. She was awarded the Peace Prize in October 1979 when the planet was within 3° of this position.

According to the Coulsons’ calculations, Isis and Osiris moved from Cancer into Leo in 1972, and in April 1980 it was still in Leo at about 22° 12′ declination north, and at about 10h 6m right ascension.

Most astrologers know nothing at all about Isis and Osiris, and if any astronomers ever heard of it, we suspect that they dismissed it without even reaching for their telescopes. The Coulsons were fully aware that they were sticking their necks out both astrologically and astronomically. Nevertheless, they stood by their calculations, and felt that they had a case worthy of the serious consideration of both fields of study. As Dr Coulson pointed out to us back in the 1980s:

Uranus’ discovery in 1781 was spanned by the American and French revolutions, Neptune’s by the rise in spiritualism and sea-bathing, and Pluto’s by atomic energy and depth psychology. The radical change in the balance between the sexes and the recent peace initiatives in the Middle East, Rhodesia and Northern Ireland suggest that the discovery of the hypothetical planet may be imminent.