Horoscopes: smarter than you might think

The often practical wisdom of horoscopes is preferable to woe-is-me narcissism.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Politics

Apparently, at dinner parties these days, it’s acceptable to say that you like reading your horoscope. I am surprised by this. For me, dinner parties always bring to mind the BBC Question Time audience: mostly bien pensants exchanging polite lies and received ideas. I would have thought admitting to reading astrology would make you as popular as revealing you’re a young-Earth creationist or a mate of Nigel Farage.

But horoscopes have attained respectability, according to the Independent’s Alice Jones, thanks to the New Zealand author Eleanor Catton, whose novel The Luminaries has been awarded the Man Booker Prize. The book is divided into 12 sections, each one prefaced by an astrological chart and each one dedicated to a character whose personality is mapped out according to their star sign. Catton says she takes astrology ‘very seriously’.

As a consequence, north London has been thrown into turmoil, relates Jones: ‘How can someone so patently clever admire something commonly held to be so dumb?’ Indeed, this development challenges the liberal-left convention that unreason is the domain of Americans, conservatives and stupid poor people.

I can understand people’s objections to astrology, to letting mythology influence your day-to-day life – especially one that diminishes human agency. To be sure, all faith systems have the capacity to exploit people, emotionally and financially. But, you know, not everyone ends up an addict. For many, I’m sure, horoscopes are just something that helps them get through the day.

In moderation, a daily horoscope is not only harmless, but positively beneficial. Here’s mine from a recent Daily Express: ‘Libra: Some of today’s uncertainty involves money, some concerns the home and some revolves around a legal affair. If you’re unsure, step back and consider reviewing your options.’ In other words: ‘if you have some problems, deal with them’, advice that could apply to everyone, every day.

Horoscopes deliver common sense disguised as cosmic directives – and common sense is an under-valued commodity in a world full of fads and snake-oil salesmen who offer ‘easy’ solutions to eternal challenges. Daily horoscopes are basically a means of tapping into the well of wisdom accumulated by mankind over the centuries.

You don’t have to believe in it, just as you don’t have to be a theologically minded Christian to go to church every Sunday (Quakers aren’t). Again, in the Bible you find sage advice: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Like your horoscope you can pick and choose. Turn the other cheek or an eye for an eye: it’s up to you.

Wisdom: it’s all around you. The Koran and Shakespeare remind you that life’s a struggle, but that battles can be won. Confucius says that the important thing about being knocked down is getting up stronger. ‘The Serenity Prayer’ recited by Alcoholics Anonymous exhorts members to focus on things they can change in their life and accept the things they can’t. (For my tuppence worth, life has taught me three things: 1) Doing is better than thinking; 2) Don’t regret anything because you can’t change the past; and 3) Don’t feel good, do good.)

How wonderful to be able to be reminded of eternal truths, to draw on the wisdom of the ancients, and what a contrast to the current state of affairs, in which the new religion is increasingly that of self-worship. spiked has long been documenting the development of this new narcissism. But it really has come to the public’s attention this year, not least with the surge of the ‘selfie’ this summer, the custom of taking photos of yourself and putting them on the internet or exchanging them by phone.

This is just the latest symptom of contemporary narcissism. The preponderance of primitive body worship, in the form of tattoos and male jewellery, is another. The retreat from organised religion has been well documented, but according to a BBC poll at the weekend, one in four now believe in guardian angels – personalised Gods, if you like. International politics is now about things being done in my name, and a personal moral duty to intervene – irrespective of outcome.

Technology has facilitated this, especially Twitter, on which the aspiring Galloways or faux Greers deliver judgment to their followers, casting out the trolls (people that don‘t agree with Me). SCREAM! The Girl Guides no longer urges its members to be loyal to the Crown or to God, but ‘to be true to themselves’. So many people, from X Factor contestants and Olympic athletes to celebrities flogging Christmas autobiographies, are now on their ‘own personal journey’.

The tragic thing is that self-obsession always leads to unhappiness. The more concerned you are with yourself, the more you are going to see, perceive or imagine your imperfections. This is why people of a teenage mindset are usually miserable. Not getting those re-tweets or ‘likes’ on your selfie merely brings about feelings of rejection, which self-reflection has always done. Introspection leads to destruction. ‘I was heart-sick and almost stomach-sick of speaking, writing, and thinking about myself’, wrote the poet Samuel J Coleridge in 1801, reflecting on his descent into opium addiction in 1796. The postmodern solipsism of today resembles the dark, decadent spirit of post-Enlightenment Romantics.

Humans grow, civilisations grow, and with age comes wisdom. Horoscopes are vessels of accumulated common sense. Most astronomers are indeed irritated by the claims of astrology, but most similarly appreciate that the former arose from the latter, that the movement and appearance of the stars had significance for our ancestors. No astronomer protests when we say there is a Great Bear in the sky.

What of the notion that being born in a certain part of the year affects your personality? Or that fact that Mercury has gone retrograde this week? In the immortal words of Father Dougal Maguire: ‘You’re not meant to take it seriously, Ted.’

Patrick West is a columnist for spiked. He is the author of several books including Conspicuous Compassion (Civitas, 2004). Read his blog here.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


Want to join the conversation?

Only spiked supporters and patrons, who donate regularly to us, can comment on our articles.

Join today