August 01st, 2014

The Internet: Astrology’s Tower of Babel

babel_astrology_bullshit

“Is not every civilization bound to decay as it begins to penetrate the masses?” –Michael Rostovtzeff

Did you ever stop to think about where fortune cookies are created?

Picture a fortune cookie factory. Naturally, there’s the cookie-making division and then, too, there’s a crew that writes the fortunes.

Now, imagine a fortune cookie factory calamity.

Let’s say that the fortune scribes become confused and all of the cookie scripture gets blended together, willy nilly, into streams of nonsense that form an infinitely long strip of paper that stretches from here to Pluto.

That endless ticker tape of gibberish is the equivalent of the massive amount of babble that passes for writing (or talking) on a majority of blogs and websites dedicated to astrology. Gigs of bandwidth are gobbled —  eyeballs scan and scrape — but very little of import or relevance is ever composed, ever consumed.

Consider Google Trends, a service of the search engine where you can choose a topic, enter it into their data mine and see for yourself how interest in astrology has declined over the past fifteen years. (And is projected to continue its glide towards the bottom in the years ahead.)

google_trends

This is not because astrology has become less interesting as a subject. No, as any professional astrologer will tell you, there has never been a better time to be an astrologer or become interested in the craft, especially as the research and published discoveries of the traditional school dovetail into the psychological and spiritual ethos of modern astrology.

No, the problem, as related to the internet, is threefold:

1) Ignorant, ill-trained astrologers and their ready ability to publish or broadcast their writing (or videos) into the chaotic free-for-all of the Internet.

2) The fact that most web-based astrology involves bolstering the low self-esteem of people who have no faith in their ability to sustain an ongoing romantic relationship.

3) The search logarithms that drive and dictate how eyeballs move about the internet. Google and other engines reward sites with high click volume by pushing those search results the top of their page. And those blogs/sites are usually commercial enterprises that operate within the shrill standards of carnival culture.

You Will Meet A Tall, Dark Con-Artist

Often, while discussing astrology with the once-curious, I’ll discover that he or she had become repelled after an encounter with a site that offered doom-tainted character analysis or wooly-minded New Age effluvia that conveyed, well — nothing.

Before the internet, the astrological publishing world offered quality control. A protective shield was maintained by educated writers, editors and publishers; wise women and men who stood guard against the Barbarians at the gate.

Sure hack crap existed, but always there were intelligent works that claimed a place in the mainstream. I remember, back in the 70s, my mom was a member of the Book of the Month club’s ‘occult’ division, and provocative books by Sydney Omarr, Jess Stearn and others were regularly touted. This offered the public a mixture of options — from educated to lowbrow — but always quality would rise above the kitsch.

goodman

Consider 1968’s publishing juggernaut Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs. Here was a book expertly written by a knowledgeable astrologer. And not only was it a perfect storm that caught wind with the just-fresh Uranus Pluto conjunction (which heralded a renaissance for astrology in the 70s), but the book conveyed insights into Sun sign astrology that had heretofore remained murky and hedged round with bullshit.

Scores of astrologers, myself included, were influenced by Goodman’s seamless mix of ancient touchstones with modern psychological insights.

And suddenly, presented intelligently — with wisdom and humor — astrology, for scores of individuals, became a viable and worthwhile pursuit to pursue. If not as a career or hobby  (for the budding astrologer), but as a new way to reconsider the world of relationships that we must learn to navigate.

So astrology touched the culture in a creative, proactive way and many of the curious took it upon themselves to study the subject in-depth — and a new generation of astrologers was born.

Astrology’s New Dark Age

Astrological guidance, be it garden variety Sun sign columns or lengthy transcripts that attempt to detail every quivering vibration of how the future might unfold, calls forth a potentially dangerous power dynamic between oracle and oracle seeker.

This dynamic has been abused throughout history, as the seeker’s vulnerability often falls prey to the mendacity and mercenary nature of some ‘oracles’. Of course this sort of grift is eons-old, but with the ‘all and everywhere-ness’ of the internet, its potential to do greater and more far-reaching damage is unlimited. Unprecedented.

The ridiculous promises made by astrologers is stultifying: Such as the ability to foretell someone’s life purpose or ‘life path’. Or the meeting of a soul mate. Or worse, what event you committed in a previous life that explains your mode of suffering today. All of this nonsense turns the birth chart into the equivalent of a spinning roulette wheel. And with each spin astrology’s credibility diminishes.

Of course quality works, ethical astrologers, exist and have presence online — but they are limited in their reach by the very nature of how the internet is structured and how search results are delivered.

Many sagacious astrologers, some not as tech savvy as their peers, have no desire to mingle within the gurgling stew of ‘social networking’. Nor do they wish to generate content that will increase their chances for heightened exposure. Consequently their business model suffers. Their reach is stunted. Their message goes unheard.

This tech-age darkening of astrology is nothing new. I’m aware of that. Study the history of astrology and you’ll discover that astrology has suffered (and survived) several Dark Ages. The difference here is the growing omnipresence of the internet and how information (and its distribution) is dictated by the whims of the carnival culture mindset. 

Mobs and Like-ability

When you consider that only five or six corporations control all of the media outlets in the world, we’d best become comfortable with the notion that a bizarre kind of enantiodromia (switching of opposites) has occurred, where now the lowbrow dictates a subject’s visibility by its like-ability to the mob.

Which is another way of saying everything that is mediocre in life becomes the touchstone or standard of what we’ll see, read and be exposed to. Or not.

The word “mob” is of Victorian coinage, but we might as well resurrect it into net nomenclature because, really, this is what we’re living amidst now. “Mob” was a slang version of mobile vulgus: the rabble on the move, and I can’t think of a better phrase to capsulize how the internet functions.

Consequently astrology, already vulnerable to the gypsy-like dazzle of con-artistry, will suffer and lose its chance to regain a foothold in the public’s imagination, as it did, last time around, in the late 60s. A revival that was fueled by an organic (remember the Uranus Pluto conjunction took place in an earth sign, Virgo), pagan-like veneration of nature, the body, the senses. All qualities missing from everything touted in the new Info Age.

I’d hopes that the ongoing Uranus Pluto square — which has galvanized much of what was promised during the conjunction in the mid-60s — would ignite a kind of astrological revival. And perhaps this is what astrologers have garnered with the ongoing blend of ancient and modern approaches within their field.

But the public…

Instead of acting as a catalyst to awaken curiosity, the internet converts everything into bits and bytes and bullet points that give a false impression that everything can be known now, everything is within one’s grasp now, and that everyone is an equal now.

But it can’t, it isn’t and they aren’t.

Astrologers have no business telling people what to do or how to run their lives. And yet this is exactly how most astrologers present their wares to the net-trawling public. Ludicrous claims like this are an abuse of astrology’s essential function, which is to act as a kind of poetry and dialogue that the astrologer arranges so the client can converse with the cosmos via their imagination, dreams, and intuition.

I like the way social critic and art historian Camille Paglia once defined astrology:

“People who dismiss astrology,” she pointed out in her book Sexual Personae, “do so out of either ignorance or rationalism. Rationalists have their place, but their limited assumptions and methods must be kept out of the arts. Interpretation of poem, dream or person requires intuition and divination, not science.”

What a waste that the online milieu has turned a sacred dialogue into the equivalent of a chat session. Oscar Wilde comes to mind: “Death and vulgarity are the only two facts in the nineteenth century that one cannot explain away,” says a despondent Lord Henry in Picture of Dorian Gray.

I feel his crestfallen ennui.

Opening illustration, The Confusion of Tongues by Gustave Doré (1865)


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