Is Astrology…Hogwash?

A little over two decades ago, when I was just an inexperienced, apprentice astrologer, I once asked my farming landlady on the Spanish island of Ibiza if she wanted her horoscope. (I’ve since learned there are good reasons never to ask someone if they want their horoscope. They must feel the need and ask for it.) Anyway, she replied, much to my dismay, “Prefiero dar a comer a los cerdos.”  I’d rather feed the pigs.

She isn’t the only person I’ve met who thinks astrology is hogwash.

Do you?

Then let me see if I can convince you in 1600 words it isn’t (although only having your own professional horoscope done can really convince you).

Let’s say you learn you have a great deal of healing, lucky Jupiter in your horoscope, meaning good job opportunities even in the recession, lucky chance encounters and, in general, good health…or so your astrologer assures you.

Either you say, “Yeah, tell me another fairy tale,” or you think, “Great news!”

And if you think it’s good news, it feels good, doesn’t it? For a while. Until you learn that astrology – and that wonderful Jupiter of yours – is one step removed from celestial mechanics. Meaning… the real planet Jupiter has absolutely nothing to do with the Jupiter in your chart – other than indicate where in the sky that planet was situated when you were born.

Dismayed and growing suspicious your astrologer is making up his or her good news, you are further startled to hear your astrologer say the planet Jupiter in the sky has no influence on you or your life at all. It could care less (if it could care at all).

So…is astrology – including that great Jupiter of yours – hogwash?

Definitely not! But don’t get me wrong. It’s not science, but it isn’t hogwash either.

To understand what astrology is – and your Jupiter – it’s necessary to understand how our minds work.

I’ll keep it really simple. Our minds work in three ways. We are all familiar with the first two ways. One way is using reasoning and logic and what the body perceives through its five senses as real. Another is making up things by indulging in subjective fantasy or make-believe.

However, there is a third way. This third way is how the mind makes good sense out of abstract things the body cannot perceive through its five senses yet needs to understand (such as love, personality, intimate relationships, optimism, beauty).

How does it do that?

Researchers are far from agreed on how the mind does that, although most do agree that the mind resorts to using the imagination in a controlled, logical way.

To date the most promising idea has been put forth by George Lakoff in 1993 in his article “The Contemporary Theory of Metaphor” in the book Metaphor and Thought published by Cambridge University Press.

Lakoff thinks the mind uses what he calls “conceptual metaphors.” A metaphor attributes tangible characteristics to something abstract to promote understanding. An example: This journal is a gem.

When metaphors are written, they are called literary metaphors or figures of speech. When the metaphor is only in the mind, it is called a conceptual metaphor.

The important point about a metaphor is that it promotes understanding. To quote Lakoff, “This journal is a gem. You may or may not agree with this characterization of the journal, but you probably had no difficulty understanding it. Furthermore, your understanding did not hinge on a literal reading of the sentence – [for example] at no point in your reading did you wonder about the journal’s carat weight or how it might look in an engagement ring.”

To sum up, all metaphors, whether literary or conceptual, make sense to the logic of the imagination and help it understand abstract things. In this case, you understand the journal was exceptionally good.

Literary metaphors are written or spoken. But how do conceptual metaphors get into the mind?

They may be in-built, or picked up from the culture – or created by teachers and thinkers in order to educate. The important point is they are models or guides that help the mind conceive of something abstract that it can’t think about in the ordinary rational way. The mind uses them to understand what logic and the body cannot grasp.

Let’s get to an example of a conceptual metaphor: Lakoff suggests the mind “thinks” of love AS A CONTAINER in order to understand what love is. LOVE IS A CONTAINER is the conceptual metaphor.

Strange…or a bit shocking, isn’t it? Until you realize we say, “he is in love,” or “she fell out of love,” or “those two are trapped in their love relationship.”

Lakoff suggests the mind also “thinks” of love AS A JOURNEY. LOVE IS A JOURNEY is the conceptual metaphor. And we say things like, “they are at a crossroads in their marriage,” “they must go their separate ways,” or “love is a two-way street.”

One more example. Lakoff suggests the mind, in its attempt to understand anger, thinks of it as A HEATED FLUID UNDER PRESSURE. That is the conceptual metaphor it works with. And we do say “he blew his stack,” “she flipped her lid,” “they were blowing off steam,” or “he is hot under the collar.” And, of course, we understand what these mean.

The mind can use more than one conceptual metaphor to understand something as abstract and complex as anger. For example, anger is also ANIMAL-LIKE BEHAVIOR. And we get “she was ferocious,” “he was ready to claw my eyes out,” “he looked as if he were going to bite my head off,” “she was almost foaming at the mouth,” or “he was ready to jump down someone’s throat.” Again, we understand what these mean.

Now the point about astrology is… Astrology’s Jupiter (and yours) is not the real planet. Over time astrologers have created a conceptual metaphor for it. They have defined and refined Jupiter as a symbol through many hundreds of years of experience, matching up the lives and circumstances of people with where Jupiter was found in the sky at their birth. The result: they have discovered a metaphor that explains the astrological Jupiter.

What is it? JUPITER IS EXPANSION.

Simply put, Jupiter in a chart shows what is enlarged or made bigger, more successful. In a negative sense, Jupiter in a chart shows where there is excess.

Referring to the body, Jupiter in a chart symbolizes fat, or putting on weight. With regard to finances, Jupiter symbolizes more (or a lot of) money. Adding the notion of expansion to friends, Jupiter can mean more (or a lot of) friends. With regard to family, it can symbolize many children.

When a person’s spirits or moods are Jupiterian or expanded, they are light, happy, optimistic and therefore, at peace. Expansion added to personality gives a sociable nature, spreading oneself out into society, being outgoing and active. With regard to work, Jupiter expands the attitudes, opportunities and the experience of work, causing it to be felt as easy, or lucky. With regard to studies, higher studies (graduate and post-graduate), are Jupiter. When vacations are expanded to another country, that’s Jupiter. Foreign lands a great distance away are also Jupiter.

The longer a would-be astrologer dwells on all the possibilities of the astrological Jupiter, the more accurately he or she can interpret a chart. I suggest spending one entire month with each planet in mind, observing how it manifests itself in the real world, for anyone interested in learning astrology.

Successful people. Jupiter. Top sporters. Jupiter. Playboys. Jupiter. Happily married couples. Jupiter. Twins. Jupiter (because they are more than one). Huge backyard. Jupiter. A large cache of jewels. Jupiter. A party. Jupiter. Joy. Jupiter. Laughter. Jupiter. An inner smile. Jupiter. Having 29 cats. Jupiter. Networking. Jupiter. A windfall. Jupiter. Writing several blogs. Jupiter. A large herd of cattle. Jupiter. Grains of sand on a beach. Jupiter. A too high rent. Jupiter (which can be negative as well as positive).

Jupiter as been further expanded to symbolize hot air (which does expand) in people, namely big mouths who talk endlessly with very little meaning or truth expressed. Blah-blah and yaddy yaddy are Jupiter.

Jupiter symbolizes the expansion of life itself. A long life. Jupiter. Healing a disease, creating more life. Jupiter. Growth. Jupiter. (And there are many thousands more…)

Can you see how the following are also Jupiter?  Generosity. Universities (schools of higher learning). Spendthrifts. Supermarkets. Superiority. Cities. Whales. Wholesalers. Tumors. Wigs. Sermons.

So how did your astrologer assure you your Jupiter meant good job opportunities even in the recession, lucky chance encounters and good health (and not 29 cats)?

Ah…that has to do with painstakingly studying other metaphors in your chart. Where that Jupiter is in your horoscope, and how it’s related to all the other planets as conceptual metaphors in your chart, meaning all the other parts of you. And then the signs of Zodiac where these are found. And then in which of 12 houses or parts of the chart, plus a host of other things, such as the spaces in a chart. And that’s a heap of work for the serious astrologer!

And further, most importantly, how all that is related to the context of your life (which lies outside the horoscope).

A good astrologer matches what he or she sees in your chart with your life circumstances. And this is important. Astrology as a symbol system falls under systems theory, which means the context of one’s life must also be considered. A horoscope cannot and does not stand alone, which is one reason why magazine or newspaper astrology is not true astrology and cannot truly describe you.

So astrology is not science or make-believe, but a hard-earned system of  metaphors linking personality traits and human events with the planets which through the ages have been found to symbolize them.

In other words, astrology is really a metaphorical creation of many men and women through research and consensus to help them understand the correspondence between planets in the sky as symbols and events on earth. It is a tool, and using it wisely takes study, experience and great care with each horoscope. In learning astrology, new astrologers learn of the results of these age-long studies and the conceptual metaphors attached to each of the planets created by astrologers. They seed their minds with them – so that interpreting a horoscope reliably eventually becomes possible and authentic.

And all this, I repeat, is a lot of work for the professional astrologer. Which just goes to show why a professional astrologer, who works long and hard at interpreting your chart, must charge accordingly. So a free or a $10 horoscope is most certainly not astrology at all…and quite possibly…shall we say… hogwash?

©2012 Francine Juhasz, Ph.D.

One Response to Is Astrology…Hogwash?