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Astrology and Psychology

Why Do People Believe?

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Why do people believe in astrology? The answer to the question lies very much in the same realm as why people believe in just about any superstition. Astrology offers a number of things which many people find very desirable: information and assurance about the future, a way to be absolved of their current situation and future decisions, and a way to feel connected to the entire cosmos.

Astrology shares this with many other beliefs which tend to be categorized as "New Age," for example the idea that nothing in life is truly coincidental. On this view of life, everything which happens to us, even the smallest or seemingly most insignificant event, happens for some particular reason. Astrology then claims to provide at least some of the answers as to why they happen, and perhaps even a way to predict them in advance. In this way, astrology purports to help people understand their lives and the world around them - and who doesn't want that?

In a sense, astrology does work. As practiced today, it can work quite well. After all, most of those who visit an astrologer end up feeling satisfied and feeling that they have benefited. What this really means is not that astrology has accurately predicted the person's future, but rather it means that visiting an astrologer or having a horoscope cast can be a fulfilling and personally satisfying experience.

Think about what happens during a visit with an astrologer: someone holds your hand (even if only figuratively), looks you in the eye, and explains how you, as an individual, are actually connected to our entire cosmos. You are told how mysterious forces in the universe around us, far greater than ourselves, work to shape our intimate destinies. You are told relatively flattering things about your character and life, and in the end you are naturally pleased that someone cares about you. In the hectic and generally disconnected modern society, you feel connected - both to another human being and to the world around you.

Most likely, you even get some vaguely useful advice about your future. Daniel Cohen wrote in the Chicago Tribune in 1968 that:

The core of an astrologer's popularity stems from the fact that he can offer something that no astronomer or any other scientists can give - reassurance. In an uncertain time, when religion, morals and ethics are shattered so regularly that one hardly notices that they are gone, the astrologer holds out a vision of a world ruled by forces that operate with clockwork regularity.

In addition, astrology is glorifying. Instead of feeling himself a mere slave in the hands of different hostile forces, the believer is uplifted by his connection with the cosmos. ... The sort of misty character analysis that astrologers engage in cannot be considered proof at all. Who can object to a flattering description of themselves? One astrologer told me that under my hard exterior I was a sensitive person. How was I to reply to a statement like that? Could I say, "No, I am really a hardheaded clod"?

What we have, then, is personal advice and personal attention from a kindly authority figure. Planets? They don't really have anything to do with the matter - the planets are simply the excuse for the meeting. All the talk about ascensions and quadrants serve to make the astrologer appear to be an expert and authority figure, thus setting the stage for the quality of the encounter. In reality, the charts and horoscope are just smoke screens to deflect your attention from what is really going on, which is a cold reading. This is simply an old carnival trick, employed today with great success not just by astrologers, but psychics and mediums and hucksters of all brands.

None of this is to say that astrologers' advice is never any good. Like a telephone psychic, even though the advice is usually very vague and general, it can often be better than no advice at all. Some people just need another person to listen to them and show some concern for their problems. On the other hand, astrologers who recommend against particular marriages or projects because of the "stars" might be providing disastrous advice. There is, sadly, no way to differentiate between the two.

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