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Sunday, July 7, 2002
Stargazing: How we wonder what we are
By YOKO HANI
Stargazing is like traveling through time and space; imagining as best we can such unimaginable distances, such wondrous, unknown possibilities out there in the vast, star-spangled sky.
For modern city-dwellers, though, stargazing long ago ceased to be a nocturnal option, since air and light pollution now block out all but a handful of the brightest stars.
And yet many people, on a daily basis, still let their minds drift off among the stars that represent the Signs of the Zodiac, those stellar configurations that, according to astrology, influence our lives and fortunes.
You probably know what your star sign is, but do you think it holds sway over your fate? While not everyone is a believer, reading horoscopes -- in print or on the Net -- is still a very popular diversion. Publishers obviously know that most people are curious about their sign's character and its compatibility with others. In a bid for more readers, women's magazines often feature articles that blend love guidance and astrology.
The earliest record of astrology was in Mesopotamia more than 4,000 years ago, long predating its first flowering in Greece in the fourth century B.C. Why does it continue to fascinate us after so many millennia? Despite the knowledge gained from modern science, why do people still try to gauge themselves and others or to divine the meaning of events or even plan their whole future based on the movements of distant stars?
Astrology expert Ryuji Kagami, 34, who has written and translated more than 60 books on the subject, many dipping into the field of psychology, points to the universality of this system, organized to reveal each person's potential in a metaphoric manner.
In Japan, people mark the annual Tanabata festival on July 7 by writing their wishes and romantic aspirations on strips of colorful paper and displaying them on bamboo branches in commemoration of the tragic love story of the Weaver Star and the Cowherd Star. To commemorate this event, we asked Kagami to elaborate on our celestial attraction.
Why do you think it is that from ancient times, people have linked their lives to the movements of the stars?
Among natural phenomena, planetary movements were the first to be understood in a systematic way. From the predictable movements of the heavenly bodies that people observed, they began to also see there was an order to the nature around them. This awareness, coupled with the overwhelming awe they felt looking at the starlit sky, must have led to the development of astrology.
Has astrology been popular because of its reliability based on its long tradition and history?
I can only say that I don't know about the accuracy of astrology because it is impossible to prove by giving evidence. Some statistics have shown that, for example, there are certain star patterns when outstanding sports players are born. But other people born under that same layout of stars do not necessarily become sports players.
These discussions are about science rather than about astrology. I don't think statistical analyses suit the nature of astrology.
So, why does it attract people?
Astrology's popularity is attributable to its well-developed system for talking about a person or his/her life in a metaphoric way. When reading horoscope messages, people may not believe them in their rational, reasoning mind. But the fascinating aspect of a horoscope is that, in the suggestions presented on the basis of celestial movements, people find some aspects that they can connect to specific events in their life. The messages appeal to their imagination.
Horoscopes [literally, "observers of the hour of birth"] are cast on the basis of precise data and astronomical calculations, and this is far removed from the romantic image people have of astrology.
Right. But recently I have tried not to put too much emphasis on the analysis of data when I talk about astrology, because it may give people the impression that a horoscope is a scientific measurement. In astrology, the data is merely a tool.
Some people are skeptical about horoscopes, arguing that users are simply tailoring aspects of their lives to fit the astrological message.
This reaction can happen in a reader's mind. But the system is not a superstition. It is a product of the human mind, which has a complex mechanism that can project itself onto the movements of the stars.
Will astrology survive as science develops further?
Yes. Because, the role of astrology in society is different from that of science. Astrology offers an explanation for things, such as the meaning of events that happened to you, that science does not.
I suppose that is why the topic of love is one of the most popular in astrology?
I think so. A relationship is something that you cannot control only by yourself. And it is only natural that people read their horoscopes with certain expectations. So astrology offers hints of answers to personal questions, allowing readers to determine the answers for themselves.