An article published last week in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (available online here) caused a hubbub that quite probably tops the list of hubbubs caused by any story coming out of that revered Minnesotan publication in the past decade. Due to a “wobble” that has shifted the earth’s alignment over the past several thousand years, the piece revealed, the whole system of zodiac signs and charts initially created by ancient Babylonians is—prepare yourself—wrong!! You thought you were a Pisces? Surprise! You’re an Aquarius! Most Virgos are now Leos, most Libras are now Virgos, and most of the poor shmucks walking down the street thinking their sign was Sagittarius are stuck with a brand-new sign, the nearly-unpronounceable Ophiuchus. (For the record, I think it’s pronounced oh-FEE-yew-kus.)
Well. As you may imagine, such shocking news caused no little distress among the people who care about such things—including, apparently, at least one out of every five people with tattoos. Responses ranged from the excited (rock on! My new sign is, like, waaay cooler!) to the rebellious (heck NO I’m not a freaking Gemini!) to the understandably indignant inked ones (what am I supposed to do with my Cancer tat?!?!?!?!?!?!). As far as I can tell, even articles from such highly respected bastions of journalistic integrity as CNN assuring readers that the zodiac news is not really news! and that their signs haven’t changed at all!—something to do with the difference between the tropical zodiac and the sidereal zodiac, apparently—have failed to completely appease the troubled masses.
The thing that amazes me the most in all of the hullabaloo is the fact that, when confronted with what they may or may not still believe to be a shift in their cosmic identity, the thing that people seem most willing to doubt is not, in fact, the actual legitimacy of a system that could potentially have been mis-describing them to themselves for the entire tenure of their astronomical self-awareness, but…themselves. Witness this actual response from a zodiac-believing American as quoted in the Star-Tribune article:
“Darn it, the whole time I thought I was an introvert, now to find out that I’m an extrovert. I’m going to need awhile to unravel my life.”
Uhhhh…what? I’d like to comment on that, but I fear I couldn’t do it without falling into uncharitable speech, and since I’m writing piece this on a Sunday, I really ought not. Happily for me, this whole unfortunate zodiacal situation reminds me—as almost all things in life do—of something Walker Percy once said. And Percy, being one of the last gentlemen, has expressed my thoughts on the topic with less snark and far more eloquence than I could muster. These are the opening paragraphs of Lost in the Cosmos:
Imagine that you are reading a book about the Cosmos. You find it so interesting that you go out and buy a telescope. One fine clear moonless night you set up your telescope and focus on the brightest star in the sky. It is a planet, not a star, with a reddish spot and several moons. Excited, you look up the planets in your book about the Cosmos. You read a description of the planets. You read a sentence about a large yellowish planet with a red spot and several moons. You recognize both the description and the picture. Clearly, you have been looking at Jupiter.
You have no difficulty at all in saying that it is Jupiter, not Mars or Saturn, even though the object you are looking at is something you have never seen before and is hundreds of millions of miles distant.
Now imagine that you are reading the newspaper. You come to the astrology column. You may or may not believe in astrology, but to judge from the popularity of astrology these days, you will probably read your horoscope. According to a recent poll, more Americans set store in astrology than in science or God.
You are an Aries. You open your newspaper to the astrology column and read an analysis of the Aries personality. It says, among other things:
You have the knack of creating an atmosphere of thought and movement, unhampered by petty jealousies. But you have the tendency to scatter your talents to the four winds.
Hm, you say, quite true. I’m like that.
Suddenly you realize you’ve made a mistake. You’ve read the Gemini column. So you go back to Aries:
Nothing hurts you more than to be unjustly mistreated or suspected. But you have a way about you, a gift for seeing things through despite all obstacles and distractions. You also have a desperate need to be liked. So you have been wounded more often than you will admit.
Hm, you say, quite true. I’m like that.
The first question is: why is it that both descriptions seem to fit you—or, for that matter, why do you seem to recognize yourself in the self-analysis of all twelve astrological signs? Or, to put it another way, why is it that you can recognize and identify the planets Jupiter and Venus so readily after reading a bit and taking one look, yet have so much trouble identifying yourself from twelve descriptions when, presumably, you know yourself much better than you know Jupiter and Venus?
Good question, Mr. Percy. Good. Question.
Miriel Thomas Reneau is a member of the Humane Pursuits editorial board. She has served as an ISI Honors Fellow, a John Jay Fellow, and an American Enterprise Institute policy analyst in constitutional studies. She endures many a sleepless night, though reports differ on whether this is due to her concern over federal courts’ equity jurisdiction or her addiction to caramel lattes. In her daytime hours, she can be found defending St. Augustine against Calvinist co-optation and T. S. Eliot against everyone.