By Upatissa Pethiyagoda –
If not for its huge impact on our people, Astrology could be dismissed as a harmless indulgence.
It is popularly understood as being based on the precise Science of Astronomy. The main manifestation that impacts on us is the Horoscope on which many things depend. Three key factors are considered in their casting and use. These are (i) Time of birth (ii) Positions of the planets at that moment and (iii) The interpretation of the resulting Chart. There are inexactitudes regarding all three.
Time of Birth
How does one define Birth? Is it the time of emergence of the head, the whole body or the severance of the placenta? Or, could it be the moment of conception? How precise need the timepiece be, and was it calibrated for accuracy and is it GMT or time at location?
Planetary positions at that moment
One assumes that the cosmic space is divided into twelve to represent the twelve “Houses”. The Sun and Moon although strictly not planets, are also positioned on the chart. Is there a justification for considering only our Solar system from among the 30,000,000 or so Galaxies thought to exist? Since even a small error in recording time, may allow the drift from one House to another, there must be very clear boundaries and light must travel in a straight line through cosmic distances. Does light “bend” and what has Relativity Theory to say?
In determining Zodiac signs, there appear to be different systems. For example in “Western” style, the intervals between relate to dates of each month. For example the governing sign for all born between the 21 of January and 20 February would be same. Those from 21 February to 20 March belong to another and so on. “Eastern” systems are more complex with a single day possibly covering several signs. How to select which system or reconciling one with the other would be complex and puzzling.
One is given to understand that some countries (including ours) possess their individual horoscopes. How are they determined? Obviously they cannot be according to their believed or uncertain times of creation. Are our earth centered times and dates of relevance to other planets as well?
Whatever the system, there are embarrassing features. With a World population of seven billion, if one considers a likely degree of symmetry, one twelfth or approximately 585 million, come under the same sign and therefore should have similar futures. It is quite amusing to see the foretelling of the day’s predictions in newspapers with their repetitive or ambiguous words, and wonderment that newspapers see fit to use valuable column space and newsprint for the purpose! I have tested this for a week under my Zodiacal sign and the predictions were striking in their repetition day to day and their ambiguity and inanity! Amuse yourself for a week for predictions under your sign before writing to the Editor to use this column space for something less useless !
The Chart and its interpretation
In casting a horoscope based on the foregoing, a two- dimensional chart is drawn, assigning position to each of nine “grahas”. It is in the interpretation that the most problems arise. The readings rely on existing treatises (Panchanga Litha) and on the skill of the reader – there supposedly being “good” readers and “not so good” ones. Coincidence of some predictions and events, is insufficient as proof.
What particular positions or associations of planets mean are most complicated. Does planetary influence depend on mass or distance (as they would, if they relate to Gravity)? How do planetary positions offset or augment each other’s influences? Only those skilled in the art of Astrology could venture answers to these and many other questions. Astrology relies greatly on its antiquity and on local traditions.
On balance, a reasonable conclusion is that Astrology cannot justly claim legitimacy from a link to Astronomy, mathematics or other Sciences. It must seek inspiration from elsewhere. If not for its impact on many – especially the poor, disadvantaged and gullible, it could be dismissed as a harmless diversion.
The previous President, (among others) was so reliant on the occult, that we were possibly in imminent danger of installing an “Astrologer Royal”. Fortunately, a dramatically “misread” electoral outcome has helped to save us from such a predicament. Nonetheless, Talismans, bracelets, miniature maces, conch shells, gem-studded rings and similar amulets are very much in fashion. Many people may even be intimidated into purchasing such embellishments rather than court predicted disaster.
When a Nation begins to rely on Auspicious Times, Lucky Directions and other “Feng Shui” type ones (which I am told, declare among other things, that if you leave you toilet lid open, wealth will be flushed away from you!), we begin to look rather silly. Each occasion, mainly the New Year ordains the times for each (lighting of the hearth, and the colour of clothes to be worn, the time for the first meal etc.) The Nonagathe is claimed to be the time of orbit of the transit of the Sun from one “House” to the next. Anointing the head with oil in the New Year is almost a State Duty. All of these solemn observances do not match with the claim that even the Nations’ Cabinet is selected “scientifically”. It also challenges the relevance of so much effort being expended on Education in the Sciences.
One of the most harmful uses of the Horoscope is in matters matrimonial. Glance at the Sunday Matrimonial columns, and you will be amazed by statements like “Copy of the Horoscope essential with the first response”, or “Those with malefics or Kethu in the seventh house need not apply”. “Both parents are professionals” indicates that education or social class does not matter. Sinhala and Tamil papers may be worse. Lots of people in other countries who have no belief (or even a copy of a horoscope) may still enjoy a happy marriage. One shudders to think how many of our youth have been denied of a chance to select a temperamentally suited partner or enjoy a happy marriage, because a suitable “horoscopic match” could not be found. Data relating to the success or otherwise of marriages with and without Zodiacal assistance, would be revealing.
When poor people in distress seek some remedy, they are ready clients for soothsayers who recommend various practices including expensive “Poojas” and other costly rituals. This amounts to at least intimidation or exploitation, possibly even fraud.
If anyone takes refuge in the Supernatural, it is certainly a matter of individual choice. But when important persons do so repeatedly, at State expense and poor people are intimidated to engage in expensive rituals, under threat of deadly outcomes, it is quite another matter, bordering on the criminal. Are for instance, our home-grown deities inferior to those exotics, as to warrant political panjandrums repeatedly visiting overseas shrines with “good” anecdotal reputations?
When otherwise sane people believe that the Gods could be appeased by dashing coconuts (to curse their opponents) or a basket of fruits, it is time for a “reality check” by their Psychologist.
It is not my intention to stir discord but to stimulate discussion (or even demolition) by a reasoned debate, in addition to falsification or ignorance displayed by this plunge into an unfamiliar area.
In any event, I stand to be corrected (hopefully) in civil language.