Notes on Stuff You Should Know: Horoscopes
Listening to Josh and Chuck discuss astrology on a recent episode of Stuff You Should Know called up some memories of when I wrote that particular article, so I thought I’d write up a few notes about it for SYSK fans.
Something SYSK listeners might not know is that if my name comes up on an episode, it’s almost certainly because of an article I wrote years and years ago (in some cases, a decade or more, as of 2016). I did a lot of freelancing for HowStuffWorks starting relatively early in the site’s life — Marshall Brain still owned it when I started! Because I was writing a lot of articles while the site was really growing, I wrote tons of articles about a broad range of topics. So there’s some luck involved, that I was with the site during a particular period, that my work ends up getting mentioned on the podcast fairly often. I haven’t actually written a regular HowStuffWorks article in at least two years at this point.
Anyway, my point is that I wrote “How Horoscopes Work” quite a while ago. But I do remember a few things about it. For one thing, like Chuck I went into the article with a pretty heavily preconceived notion that astrology is a big pile of nonsense. And it is, for sure. My original draft was quite a bit more pointed about criticizing astrology and the way astrologers take advantage of people. It was relatively rare for a HSW editor to send something back to me for a rewrite in those days, but I got this one back with some notes. I was a little too snarky. And regardless of your feelings on the subject, the editor was correct. It wasn’t my place to interject my opinion into the piece.
I also recall that the first draft had song lyrics related to astrology heading each subsection, including one from Tool (“Saturn comes back around”) and The Doors. The Arthur C. Clarke quote is the only remnant of that.
Finally, there’s the aspect of astrology that both Chuck and Josh talked about at some length — that even in the absence of any kind of true predictive power, astrology can be a useful tool for self-analysis. This was an interesting article to research and write specifically because it did broaden my own thinking about the topic. I’d never considered that aspect of it before. And in the years since, I’ve come to suspect that a great deal of magical and religious ritual and tradition stems from early attempts to know ourselves. Repetitive chanting, dancing, and complicated movements or incantations probably didn’t start out as attempts to cast real magic spells, but rather ways to induce trance states and deep meditation. Sadly, as those rituals become cloaked in rigid hierarchies and human power structures, they become separated from their original intent, and that deeper meaning and purpose to them is lost.
Fortunately we can achieve largely the same affect with a nice long solitary walk in the woods.