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Books, part 2: the Power of Personality

Although most of the books I read these days are audiobooks, certain types of information are just better consumed visually; obviously graphic novels and art books, but also astrology. My collection of astrology books dates back to the first one I ever bought at the age of 12, which was Linda Goodman's Love Signs. The cover boasts that it was "publishing's first astrological blockbuster," and sure enough, it was the gateway drug for many astrologers of my generation! Since then I've studied the writings of the best minds in astrology, including Robert Hand, Stephen Forrest, Stephen Arroyo, Nick Campion, Noel Tyl, Liz Greene, Richard Tarnas, etc.

What I love about astrology is the same thing countless generations have loved about it. It's a metaphorical language that allows us to speak about ourselves using archetypes to describe psychological complexes. As a super-basic example, my moon is in Virgo, which "means" that I learned from my mother to always wash my face before bedtime and that it's not polite to argue with your partner in public, to always clean up before guests come over and always have a tidbit of helpful advice to offer, take care of your mind and body and they'll take care of you, eat healthy and read books, among many other things.

If I'm caught tidying up the kitchen at a party, I can tell anyone who understands astrology that I'm a double Virgo and they will nod in sympathetic agreement. It's a kind of shorthand that helps people bond with each other over commonly understood symbols. It's also like a fandom. A super ancient version of "are you a Chandler or a Monica?" And it can be appreciated at as shallow or as deep a level as you care to take it...

The applications are almost endless, from personality analysis in every imaginable facet, to financial and stock market trading to comparing the charts of earthquakes and major disasters, to planning the best time to get married, buy a house or have certain kinds of surgery, to charting the interpersonal relationships of different personalities on a team, family or group of any kind, to studying the histories of empires, and the rise and fall of nations throughout history.

Astrology predated astronomy by thousands of years and without it, astronomy wouldn't exist. Copernicus was as much an astrologer as an astronomer, and the farther back you go, the tighter the relationship between the two fields of study. We would never have looked to the stars when the proverbial wolves were at the door if not for the fact that we felt they had something to teach us about ourselves.

I recently had a fellow astrology aficionado tell me he had been studying the charts of several friends and colleagues and noticed a pattern that seemed to repeat and correspond with certain characteristics. But, he said ruefully, I don't know if it's real or if I'm just seeing it because I'm looking for it. Well, that's the big question, isn't it? Is it confirmation bias or is there something to it?

I know the standard model answer, the physicists' answer, the world-weary astronomer sick of being mistaken for an astrologer's answer, the reductionist answer. But humans have been seeking meaning and finding shared humanity in inhuman symbols for as long as we've been able to etch those symbols into hard surfaces, in every civilized society across the world, across all the eons since we evolved the ability to use tools and make cognitive leaps to compare one phenomenon to another. We watched the tides because they dictated when and where to plant crops, and then we looked to the moon because we understood its effects on the tides.

Eventually, we looked to stars to guide us across the oceans and, eventually, in the 20th century, we slipped the surly bonds of earth and reached for those stars... But there was always that all too human, navel-gazing ulterior motive, "what does it say about me?" And the thing is, it works. If it didn't work, despite the lack of a direct causal, repeatable, empirical relationship, we wouldn't have been using astrology all these millennia.

My Books: the Tan Shelf

  • The Millennium Book of Prophecy by John Hogue

  • Essential Dignities by J. Lee Lehman, PhD

  • The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks

  • Dancing Naked in the Mind Field by Kary Mullis

  • Astrology and Personality by Noel Tyl

  • Heaven Knows What by Grant Lewi

  • All Around the Zodiac by Bil Tierney

  • Planets in Play by Lawrence Hillman

  • Soul-Sick Nation by Jessica Murray

  • A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace

  • A Social History of Madness by Roy Porter

  • Mundane Astrology by Michael Baigent, Nicholas Campion and Charles Harvey

  • Lost Discoveries by Dick Teresi

  • You and Your Rights by CAA

  • Who Are You? by Malcolm Godwin

Jessica Murray is an interesting case because she's an astrologer who writes almost exclusively about politics, including historical cycles, the astrology of nations and world events, otherwise known as mundane astrology, and also current events. She has an excellent blog and newsletter in addition to her published books. When I first discovered her in the mid-2000s, this made her a bit of an anomaly, maybe even a revolutionary, a brilliant political mind in a sea of contemporaries who were still very much focused on the kind of astrology that brought the baby boomers to the art in droves in the '70s and '80s, which was psychological astrology.

Most of the best astrologers of her generation were almost exclusively focused on psychology, specifically Freudian and Jungian. I don't want to get too deeply into the history of modern astrology here, but suffice to say I found Jessica Murray to be a breath of fresh air for someone like myself, who was at the time experiencing a Renaissance in her political thinking. (You can scan the archives of my old blog at around the mid-2000s to see just how obsessed I was with politics!)

I think the election of 2016 purged a lot of that for me, as I realized there was no use in trying to predict the wisdom of the crowd. Also, politics has gotten so weird these days, with journalists who used to be considered progressive activists like Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi now being accused of supporting Trump (being radically pro-free speech was almost strictly a left-wing trait, and libertarian was always an odd affiliation, connecting left and right via secret tunnels the mainstream media used to avoid like the plague, and making strange bedfellows of drug decriminalization lefties and pro-gun right wing survivalists).

With few exceptions, I avoid politics now. But Jessica Murray is one of the few voices out there that I trust, agree with and seek out, despite my general feeling of exhaustion and annoyance at the state of the world and wishing mostly that it would just leave me alone. Luckily, the algorithm is only too happy to comply by feeding me headlines about Bioware video games, science fiction shows and astronomical discoveries. But I digress.

In addition to astrology, over the centuries, we've invented hundreds if not thousands of systems for cataloging personality traits, palmistry, tarot reading, numerology, face reading, Myers-Briggs and Big 5 personality tests and countless others. Google "personality tests" these days and most likely among the first results will be some debunker mocking the very idea that personalities can be reduced to a prediction model, but it's not about prediction, it's about description...

Even I would argue that you can't predict someone's success or failure on the job or in a relationship just by looking at their chart, or the results of a multiple choice questionnaire. But that's not the beauty of these taxonomies. Some of it is tribalism, I'll admit. There's a subtle joy in revealing yourself to someone and having them come back with, "you're a Virgo too?" And then go on to commiserate over shared personality traits. If you can't relate, replace Virgo with INFP or ADHD or neurodivergent or bipolar or Millennial or Trekkie or any other classification that people form tribes around. You can use any taxonomy as a shield to keep others out or a blanket fort under which to bond with each other.

Another astrologer I love, Mystic Medusa, once said of Virgos, the only gift they really want is books (and I don't care if you agree because it's true enough for me!). Maybe that's the moral of the story here. In politics and so many other areas of thought these days, "truth" is what you want it to be. I don't think any of us would say that's a good thing, but it's where we are at the moment.

As exhausting as it is to be told we're living in a post-truth era, or feeling like we have to censor ourselves because we're not sure what's offensive anymore, maybe we can at least learn new ways of looking at things and the value of mental flexibility. (I mean, if Neil deGrasse Tyson can appear in J-Lo's movie as Taurus on her Zodiacal Council, who's to say we can't all learn to get along?) If it takes the very nature of facts and objective reality being called into question just so we can learn something about tolerance and open mindedness and life being an endless cycle of internal and external evolutions and revolutions, maybe there is a silver lining.

Tune in next week for my next "book tour" instalment, the Grey Shelf!

Related posts:

Book tour, part 1: Nostalgia, a deep dive into Douglas Coupland and my early adulthood.

Order my Badass Goddesses book in paperback, hardback and Kindle/tablet formats.

Check out my RedBubble shop for Badass Goddess art prints, apparel and more.

Listen to the Starzology Podcast featuring me, Alison Price and other special guests.

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