“Today, astrology is enjoying a surge in popularity.” So says Carole Taylor in her 2020 book The Secrets of Astrology: A complete guide to Sun signs, planets, houses, and more. This is a book for younger readers that is illustrated by Keith Hagan and published by Dorling Kindersley/Penguin Random House. It certainly seems that astrology is surging in popularity, especially among young people. What is certain is that astrology is enjoying a surge in popularity with whoever assembles the younger readers’ collection of the Louisville Free Public Library’s many branches (Louisville, Kentucky, USA being my home town).
I came across astrology books while searching the library catalog for new scientific biographies that might make good additions to the Vatican Observatory’s Faith and Science Resource Center material for younger readers (click here for that). Searching on “astronomy” and setting the parameters so the catalog would only return books for younger readers had yielded books on Galileo, Kepler, etc…. and a book on astrology.
Searching next on “astrology” with the same parameters yielded quite a few books. Most of these referenced astrology in a cultural sense (especially in regards to Chinese culture) and most were in biographies or fiction. But a number of books, including Secrets, which I borrowed, had non-fiction call numbers (Secrets was J 133.5 TAY 2020—“J” for “Juvenile”). All these books were published in 2019 or later. The library’s collection of astrology-related non-fiction, non-biography books for younger readers is a very recent thing.
I also borrowed The Junior Astrologer’s Handbook: A Kid’s Guide to Astrological Signs, the Zodiac, and More, by Nikki Van De Car, illustrated by Uta Krogmann, published in 2021 by Running Kids Press/Hatchette Book Group (J 133.5 VAN 2021). There was also a collection of twelve books, one for each of the signs of the zodiac, subtitled It’s Written in the Stars, clearly aimed at young women. These had no listed author, but were illustrated by Sara Thielker and published in 2019 by Sterling Children’s Books. I borrowed the Leo and Virgo books (T 133.5 LEO 2019 and T 133.5 VIR 2019—“T” being “Teen”); fitting enough, since this was in August.
Note that these books are all from major publishers. Every book lists its publisher’s address as being either on Broadway or on the Avenue of the Americas in New York City.
I borrowed another book, Fortune-Telling (The Mystery Library) by Stuart A. Kallen, published by Lucent Books/Thomson-Gale in 2004. While the catalog listed it as fitting my parameters, it did not carry a younger reader call number (133.3 KAL). It did include a chapter on astrology, and it was clearly suitable for middle-school or high school readers, but it contained sections on objections to astrology (citing the astronomer Bart Bok) and on astrology’s failures. It had various statements regarding why people are skeptical regarding astrology, and noted “the typically confusing language of the astrologer”. It was not written to promote astrology to young people.
Unsurprisingly, all of the astrology books promote astrology as being a thing that is, in some sense, based in science—that is, based in astronomy, and in the real world. All of them pretend that somehow astrology reflects what is going on in the sky. The It’s Written books all open with the following statement:
Astrology is a powerful tool for self-awareness. The idea that we are all connected—that the shifting energies of the Sun, Moon, and planets above affect us here on Earth—is an ancient and philosophical belief. Astrology isn’t fortune-telling—it can’t predict your future and it doesn’t deal in absolutes. It simply says that you are part of the universe around you, and by studying the stars, it’s possible to learn more about yourself.
Let’s consider this. The full title of the “Leo” volume is Leo, July 23-August 23: It’s Written in the Stars. The dates refer to the Leo “Sun sign”, as the book explains. The It’s Written books also give tables for determining your “Rising sign” and “Moon sign”. The contents of the book, plus a little knowledge of astronomy, show that its astrology is not written in the stars at all.
For example, the “Leo” book says that your Sun sign (Leo, in this case), “tells you which of the 12 constellations of the zodiac the Sun was moving through on the day you were born”. This is “the essence of who you are and symbolizes the potential of what you can achieve” (italics added). But in fact the Sun is not in Leo for those born between July 23 and August 23.
It’s Written covers those born 1995-2006 (inclusive). Let’s consider the center of that range—the year 2000. Here is where the Sun was for those born July 23, 2000:
(The grid in these diagrams, which were all made with the Stellarium planetarium app, shows an ecliptic grid—positions along the path of the Sun, that is, the ecliptic, which defines the Zodiac.) Here is where the Sun was for those born August 23, 2000:
Obviously, during most of the “Leo” period, the Sun was not moving through the constellation of Leo! As Kallen notes, modern astrologers today practice astrology “based on the ancient perception of the stars”, ignoring the long-term effect of the wobble of Earth’s axis that has caused the Zodiac constellations to move significantly along the ecliptic versus the equinoxes since ancient times (that effect eventually prompted the Church to reform the calendar and create the Gregorian Calendar we all use today). If we look at these dates in the year 200 (in the heyday of the Roman Empire) instead of 2000, we see that July 23-August 23 once did reasonably mark out the period when the Sun was moving through Leo:
Now let’s consider a young woman, “Jane Doe”, born at noon on August 1, 2006.
It’s Written says that Jane is a Leo—that the sun was moving through that constellation on the day she was born. In fact, the sun was squarely in the middle of Cancer (below left). Had Jane been born on August 1, 206 in the Roman Empire, then the sun would have been squarely in the middle of Leo (below right).
It’s Written provides tables for determining one’s “Moon sign”. The tables are needed because the Moon takes “just about a month to pass through all of the [Zodiac] constellations”. According to the tables, Jane’s Moon sign is Scorpio. “The Moon rules your emotions and inner moods,” the book tells young women, “telling you what you need to feel safe, comfortable, and loved.” In fact, the Moon was in Virgo at noon on August 1, 2006 (you can see it at lower left in the image below, highlighted by little red bars):
It’s Written provides a table for determining one’s “Rising sign” or “Ascendant”. This is “the sign that was rising over the Eastern horizon (the place where the Sun rises each day) when you were born”. This sign “describes how you see the world and the people around you and how they see you”. According to the tables, Jane’s Rising sign is Sagittarius. In fact, Virgo is rising at Jane’s birth (arrowed, below).
We see, therefore, that there is no connection between astrology and the universe. Astrology says Jane Doe is a Leo, with a Moon sign of Scorpio and a Rising sign of Sagittarius. The universe says she is a Cancer, with Moon and Rising signs both Virgo. Even if somehow the heavens did connect with and affect us, astrology is actually disconnected from the heavens.
And the fact is, the heavens don’t affect us. Historically, this has been known through the simple observation that plenty of people born very close together in time and place are very different from each other—an observation used by many against astrology, including in both the Catholic and Muslim worlds where astrology has been considered bogus not only scientifically, but also theologically. Today, we can calculate through basic physics what effects the heavenly bodies might have on us and see that those effects are utterly negligible. This is especially true in the case of the stars that define the Zodiac constellations themselves. According to It’s Written, the stars of Virgo “Ascendant” on the eastern horizon at Jane Doe’s birth will affect her in one way (so as to “temper Leo’s love of drama”, and causing Jane to perhaps “come across as less fun-loving than you really are” and be prone to getting “caught up in making things perfect”) whereas the stars of Sagittarius on that horizon will affect her in a dramatically different way (giving her a “sunny character” to match her “bright and breezy personality”, so she “makes friends with ease”, is a “natural leader”, full of “optimism and love of learning” with a “Sagittarius free spirit” that is “complemented by Leo’s staying power”). But in fact, the effect those so-distant stars could have had on Jane at her birth is dwarfed by the effect of every object in the room where she was born. The gravitational pull at Earth of a star like the sun located 10 light-years away is less than that of a mass of just ¼ gram at a distance of 1 meter. In other words, each bead of sweat on the head of Jane’s father as he encouraged her mother through the delivery would have had as much effect on Jane as the stars of her Rising sign.
It would be one thing if these books just said something like this:
Hey young people! Astrology is a religion. It is a system of belief based on the ancient idea that the Earth is the center of the universe, surrounded by a realm of ethereal lights that communicate to us what the gods, like Zeus and Aphrodite, have decided about us. This book is to help you learn about and believe in this religion. That will help you know yourself in accordance with what the gods have chosen, and that is good for you.
After all, all these books mention the Aristotelian elements of Earth, Water, Air and Fire—the “Fifth Element” or “ether” of Aristotle’s heavens would fit right in. They could just ignore modern science.
But who would believe that stuff today? No one. So of course the books all tap into science. Thus, we are “connected” by “energies”. The planets circle the Sun, not the Earth. Saturn is shown with rings. The Junior Astrologer’s Handbook talks about “Mercury retrograde”: “three or four times a year, for around three weeks each time, Mercury starts moving in the opposite direction from us in our journey around the sun.” It then provides a mangled explanation for retrograde motion and says that Mercury in retrograde “pretty much makes everything go haywire” such that, for example, “something you’ve emailed may not arrive”. Secrets claims that astrology is “a practical tool that…. also speaks to our need for a spiritual connection, a counter to the rationalism of modern science” and that astrology “does not fit into a scientific worldview” and requires that we “embrace ancient ideas of the universe”. Nevertheless, Secrets includes the effects of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, all of which are not visible to the eye and are known only thanks to modern science. It even includes Chiron! (This, even though Ceres, which is not included, is much larger and actually a dwarf planet and much, much closer, than Chiron.) Secrets even includes modern scientific details about the stars in the Zodiac constellations: Regulus is “a blue-white giant, 80 light-years away”, while next to a star in Aquarius is “the Saturn Nebula; it looks like a greenish disk”. Of course, none of these books suggest that their readers embrace the ancient idea of actually going out to look at the sky.
That these books now appear in the public library’s collections raises questions. If these books, which tell young people that the essence of who they are is tied up in what constellation the sun is passing through (or not passing through, as the case may be) and that the motion of Mercury can disrupt e-mail, are in the non-fiction-for-young-readers collection, what books can be excluded, so long as they are from a major publisher on a topic that is surging in popularity? Keep your eyes out for The Junior Guide to the Health Benefits of Smoking and Snake Oil, coming soon to the shelves of a library near you!