Beauty salons were abuzz with the dismaying news. Tattoo artists laid in new stocks of ink, ready for the deluge of flesh inscribed with astral signs needing to be re-signed. Astrologists tried to assure their clients that they were still who they thought they were even if they weren’t.
For two days, the revelation that astrological signs and the actual position of the stars don’t really match up – a shocker, I know – commanded the attention of many of those who had no idea where to find Tunisia on a map, let alone the political dimensions of what was happening there. I mean, this was cosmic. Our planet, it turns out, has a slight celestial wobble known as a precession, and the resulting realignment vis-à-vis other planets and stars, while old news to astronomers, was devastating to devotees of the zodiac. It meant that the dates of astrological signs would have to be recalculated so that “a Gemini” might in fact be “a Taurus,” and so on. Talk about an existential crisis…
Three millennia ago, astrology was a grand explanatory system of the universe; now it’s good for little more than a New Yorker cartoon or a lame pickup line. The Pew Forum reports that only 25% of Americans believe in astrology, though that’s an oddly lowball figure given that some 75% believe in angels and demons, heaven and hell. Perhaps Dan Brown has made angels and demons kosher, while astrology still reeks of Nancy Reagan.
My one close encounter with an astrologist came years ago as a birthday gift. She was “the best in New York,” I was told. In the spirit of inquiry, I turned up at the appointed hour to be confronted with a perfect cliché: heavy eye makeup, mother-earth dimensions swathed in a purple velvet muumuu, long black hair that looked like it hadn’t been washed in weeks, and the overwhelming odor of too many cats in too small a space.
“Virgo, cusp of Libra” she intoned, nodding sagely. “You must be in the helping professions…?” When I tired of her amateurish probing and told her what I did for a living, she closed her eyes in ecstasy. “Ah yes, a writer — I can just see the words flowing out of you onto the page…”
“Powerful image,” I said, gritting my teeth against the Hollywood stereotype.
“Oh but this is all incredibly powerful,” she said, “which is why so many very powerful people practice it.” And then added, in a tone of hushed reverence: “You know, Hitler was really into astrology…”
At which I did what I should have done at the outset, and walked out.
Yet this past couple of days, I read the reports about the possible reassignment of the zodiac with a kind of bemused interest. I would still be “a Virgo,” it seemed (rats – the most boring of all the signs), but no longer on the cusp of Libra. I’d go the other direction and now be on the cusp of Leo, leaving me to imagine the wow-factor significance the purple muumuu would find if she saw the book by my bedside right now: John Vaillant’s wonderful The Tiger.
Then ABC News and others focused the full weight of their investigatory reporting on the issue, and decided that astrology already had the wobble covered (or was already wobbly enough – it wasn’t clear, as is clear from this report on abc.com, filed under Entertainment). Cosmic crisis averted.
But I liked that realignment idea. Isn’t that exactly what we’d all like to see? If the whole planet can realign itself in relation to other stars and planets, maybe there’s still hope for those of us spinning on its surface to realign ourselves in relation to each other. I just hope it happens a bit more quickly. It seems that our particular celestial wobble takes about 26,000 years, which means that in 23,000 years the night sky will be back to where it was when the Babylonians first invented the zodiac. It’d somehow be reassuring to think that there’d still be humans around to see it.