Fortune Telling, Prediction and the Horoscope

by Philip Levine, M.A.

"[Individuals] ... are fundamentally indeterminate in some aspect...It now seems virtually certain that determinism [and predictability] arises only as a limiting case where [an individual’s] capacity for self-transcendence [creativity] approaches zero..."

Ken Wilber, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. Shambhala, 1995, p. 47

Deep within each of us resides a drive instilled by evolutionary nature itself, rediscovered and renamed by Jung in our times as the necessity to individuate. What better reason for living than to find out who we really are? What could be of more importance to our well-being and that of our planet than to realize our true nature? The teaching of all ages has been to seek to discover or remember who each of us truly is.

Remember who you are. Right now. Drop all thoughts. Just breathe. Remember when you were born. Life dispensing another seed into the field of humanity. A time of grace, a miracle. In that moment, somehow, with no concepts, no words, no discrete segments of awareness, we know most fully who we really are. But our knowing has no objectivity, it is purely subjective because there is as yet no real separation between who we are and Life. With each increasingly objective layer of experience, we are likely to become more disconnected from this awareness of who we are.

So anything that directs our attention to the remembering of who we are serves the process of reconnecting us to the Life that brought us forth for its own purposes. Just as DNA research and microbiology are seeking the ultimate physical particle of Life, we must also seek our mental-spiritual core connection with our source.

And nothing that humanity has devised to this end is devoted so completely to just that seeking than the horoscope, the mathematically calculated chart of the positions of the heavenly bodies at the moment of birth. How long the horoscope has been with us! Whether in or out of favor, it has been humanity’s constant companion as far back as we remember. In quite a few civilizations (that’s civilizations, not states, cities, eras), the horoscope has received the ultimate trust from the people as the supreme guide to ensure the collective survival. Civilizations have differed in their approach to the horoscope both technically and interpretatively, but there has been agreement on its importance.

The word "horoscope" has come to have a different meaning. With the popularization of newspaper and magazine horoscope columns, horoscope now means the prediction of one’s future. What is interesting is that such a shallow and trivial use of astrology flourishes in our "scientific" times. Why do so many people (estimates as high as 90% of readers) read this daily fortune-telling? They will tell you it’s for fun, but I suspect there is a deeper, usually unconscious motive. Could it have anything to do with the need to recover one’s true identity?

Then there are the astrologers–a strange collection of people we are indeed. The more educated and "professional" ones take great umbrage at the suggestion that they are "fortune-tellers." Yet there is hardly an astrologer practicing today who does not use a form of prediction. And what is prediction if it is not fortune-telling? Fortune tellers seek to reveal in the present the events and outcomes "out there" in the future. Why do they do this? And why do people ask them to? And if astrologers don’t want to be seen as fortune-tellers why is so much of their work directed toward prediction? What do they imagine is the difference between what they do and fortune-telling? And why do astrologers ignore the large failure rate of their predictions?

I say astrologers "take umbrage." Umbrage refers to a shadow, as when an opaque object blocks the light. To take umbrage means to feel offended or insulted, apparently by having had someone cast a shadow on our light. I would like to suggest that in astrology’s attempt to read the future, and especially as this endeavor has come under scrutiny in the name of "proving" astrology through statistics, the shadow of astrological prediction has largely been overlooked. This opaque shadow is found in the motives that rarely reach consciousness, the motives of the client in seeking prediction and of the astrologer in offering it.

If the horoscope is truly capable of helping us to find the secret of who we are, then using it for prediction is like using the "pearl of great price" for a marble. What good is prediction? What does it serve? What does it hurt? Is it perhaps often a distraction from the truly valuable possibilities contained in the horoscope?

It is only natural that human beings would like to know the future. Putting aside the most obvious (and most superficial) reason for doing this (it’s fun!), what might be deeper motives? Ultimately it would seem to be for control and security. If we know our future we can prepare for disaster, protect ourselves, and maximize our opportunities. What’s wrong with that? Isn’t that exactly what science has been seeking to do for us: trying to discover and articulate the laws that cause things to happen so that we can control the forces involved and use them to our advantage?

Today science and philosophy are recognizing the necessity of acknowledging and recovering a felt sense of participation in the universe that surrounds us. We can now see that the scientific approach of using technology to control physical and biological forces has only served to improve life materially regarding comfort and well-being for those who control the technology. At the same time we cannot avoid having to face the ecological disaster we have created through the same technology.

Physics, systems and ecological sciences emphasize the relatedness, the embeddedness, or the connectedness of all the pieces of existence. We are told that everything impacts and is also contained in everything else. We are beginning to see that subject-object duality is an illusion, one that gave us great technology but is also suicidal.

Prediction does not always have to be for the purpose of control. It could be used to foster cooperation, to open the mind to fantasy and speculation, which opens us to inner guidance. When someone reads their horoscope in the paper, what they are really looking for is for a "fit." If the horoscope column is accurate, then there is a sense of "yes," that some kind of pattern is at work here. This knowledge may be interpreted as offering some kind of control, if the person feels they are pitted against an insensitive and adversarial universe. But it may also foster a recognition of being contained, that the universe is somehow an intelligent kind of "mother" and that our place is neither random nor without meaning.

The hidden motivations of the astrologer that have to do with ego gratification (e.g., being "right," impressing clients and the public, having power, being sought after as an authority) are potent and deserve constant and penetrating attention. And the desire of the astrological community to find some predictive star or a statistical study that validates its single most typical activity is certainly understandable. But again, who or what does this serve? It serves the astrologer and the astrological community. It is self-serving. And that is self with a small "s", not the participating Self that can be gradually revealed through the horoscope.

Can prediction serve the whole? Can it serve planetary survival, the course of evolution, the individual’s need to realize their true identity and therefore their true function in life? Perhaps if astrological prediction is put in terms that always point to these ends, it may indeed serve a higher purpose than control. Life cannot be controlled. We are life and it expresses itself as much through us as around us and at us. Most astrological prediction fosters the illusion of control, couched in the choice of words and in the mindset of astrologer and client. It doesn’t have to.

Prediction feeds the soul where it encourages open-ended fantasy about our life and who we are and especially who we may yet turn out to be. Prediction can emphasize an orderly pattern of unfoldment, a purposeful crisis or trial, or the approach of a particular quality of experience (a "birth", a "death", a "depressing", an "expanding") without pretending to know its specific and concrete circumstance. We are expecting a visit from Pluto or Neptune in our personal world. We do not know if it will manifest internally as fantasy, feelings, or a state of mind, or externally in events, or both. We cannot know.

Can prediction serve to help people discover the necessity of accepting our rich internal world as real? What fantasies are engendered by a prediction? Do these serve our growth and understanding? What fantasies are cut off by a prediction? If a prediction is made with the power of the heavens behind it, does it foster a sense of futility, of powerlessness or fatalism? Perhaps I am told ahead of time that I must undergo a relationship crisis that will help me know myself better and this proves to be true. If I am encouraged to seek within myself for the "gold" such a trial can bring, I may have a sense of cooperative participation in a developmental process, all the more intelligent and purposeful because it can be seen in advance.

But if I am told I will be divorced (or meet someone new), what does this serve? If it turns out accurate, what has been gained? The reputation of the astrologer? Confirmation of my belief that "this stuff works"? Is that the best that can be done with the horoscope? Specific predictions are like a prison. They do not allow for alternative outcomes. They do not acknowledge the freedom of creative resolution for the individual. They do not even allow for the mystery of life.


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1995 Philip Levine