Of Thee I Ching

Let’s be serious. What can we do about astrology? The damn thing’s all over the place again and spreading like crabgrass. Once more, just as in the Roaring Twenties, when “Evangeline Adams" was a name to conjure with, you can buy a book which “establishes a direct line of communication between the Science of the Stars and the Mystery of the Stock Market.” This one is called The Astrology Way to Stock Market Profits and is published by the Library of Wall Street, whose address— perhaps it has been teleported by the Wizard of Oz—is Springfield, Massachusetts. Readers of Harper’s Bazaar are now receiving advice front the stars via a lady named Xavora Pové as to what days of the month to get their hair cut. It’s all very well to say, O wonderful absurdity! O marvelous persistence of sheer idiocy! O dear crazy lovable human race! We, after all, are conditioned to believing six impossible things before breakfast; it keeps our minds flexible. But may not (as people are saying about other areas of life) , may not permissiveness go too far? Should mankind, delightfully ridiculous as it is, be allowed to corrupt the computer?

At least two outfits are doing it.

Zodiactronics, Box 230, Radio City Station, New York, and the Time Pattern Research Institute, Incorporated, of Valley Stream, New York, have infiltrated the logical world of IBM and are programming these docile, patient creatures to set up and analyze astrological charts. Members of the Zodiactronics Horoscope System can even talk to their computer. All you have to do is call up and (assuming the New York Telephone Company staggers to its feet and gets its circuits unjammed) the computer will answer and give you your personal zodiac analysis, newly calculated and covering the next twenty-four hours, every time you call. Charter members get one hundred calls free. Nor do you have to worry about the Internal Revenue Service or your draft board or your ex-wife’s lawyer getting to hear your personal analysis; nobody else—and I quote— “Nobody else can get your horoscope because nobody else has your registered identification number.”

Zodiactronics is still tooling up as I write, and hasn’t gone into actual production, so I cannot give you a report on an actual conversation with their computer. They plan, however, to tell you, concisely and precisely, “how the stars are projecting their influence on health, love, sex, family, finance and partners— the vital aspects of your daily life,” (italics by Zodiactronics). I have been able, meanwhile, to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the Time Pattern Research Institute to make contact with their computer, an IBM 360. If Zodiactronics has dreamed up an astrological Telanserphone, the people out in Valley Stream have put together another interesting conceptual combination. You merely fill out a card giving date and place of birth, the time if you happen to recall it, and your Diners Club number (Carte Blanche, Unicard, or a charge account at Best & Company will work too), and send it off. In a week or so your Time Pattern arrives, with the same sort of little yellow receipt enclosed that you get when you take an editor to lunch. It’s the neatest application of the principle of economy of means to the mystic arts since some forgotten Tibetan genius invented the prayer wheel.

I imagine you will want to know what you get. Well, visualize thirty feet of meaty Dow-Jones news-ticker reports cut and stapled into a folder, with your very own name and address neatly showing through a hole in the cover. Open the cover, and you will find that your Time Pattern—oh. The name. This horoscope calls itself a horoscope only on the order card. Ever after, Time Pattern is the phrase, and rather a good one, too; at least it’s better than mortician for undertaker. All right, open the cover, anti you will find that your Time Pattern has been prepared under the supervision of Katina Theodossiou, director of research lor Time Pattern Research Institute, and that this organization has taken the trouble to insert a copyright notice, All Rights Reserved, right there on the first page.

That raises an interesting ecocomic question. It costs six dollars to register a copyright, which is rather a large bite out of the twenty-dollarsplus-sales-tax that your Time Pattern puts on your Diners Club account; then there’s the standard 7 percent charge that the credit card companies collect from their accounts; and then there’s advertising. Of course, you don’t have to feed a computer, or pay it wages, but still, “How do they do it?” I wondered, and called up a copyright lawyer of my acquaintance. “Well,” he confided after a while, “It’s perfectly legal to delay applying for registration of copyright as long as you intend to do it some time. And then,” he added dreamily, “I suppose the only time you have to prove you’ve registered is if you’re going to sue somebody for infringement. You’re not planning to get sued, are you?” “Certainly not,” I replied; and indeed, it would be embarrassing lor the chairman of the Copyright Committee of the Authors League to be charged with copyright infringement. My remarks on what the Time Pattern Research Institute (which will henceforth be known as Tipareri) foresees for me will therefore be kept within the limits known in the trade as “fair use of copyright material.”

We begin with mathematics, just as if we were reading the American Journal of Sociology, with all the relations between Sun, Moon, Merc, Ven, and so on worked out by trines and sextiles. Then comes a brief resume of Theory and Technique, which includes the reassuring explanation that “your Time Pattern is not the astrology that rests upon foolish superstitions and ignorance. It is the product of that ancient knowledge which has withstood the test of time, plus precise mathematical formulae and computation.” Moreover, the inestimable value of my Time Pattern does not derive from any attempt to fatalistically predict anything about me or my future (infinitive cleft by Tipareri), but from the fact that it enables me to exercise my free will to its full dimensions.

Follows a character analysis, which tells me that I am predominantly communicative and have a highly developed artistic sense, surely a pleasant thing for a writer to hear. Indeed, it’s not an unpleasant thing for anyone to hear. Instinct plays an active part in my mental processes. How about you? I am apt to change my mind. Some of my ideas are idealistic, but can also be impractical. I have a delicately poised emotional nature. It is nice to know that the type of woman whom I especially appreciate is born between August 22 and September 21, which means my senior daughter-in-law, and I do, I do! (though I would not have hit on precisely the adjectives “unassuming, industrious, and methodical” to describe her) . Two things come through, however, with great clarity: I am Libra, and I have married the wrong man.

I rather think that the latter situation must have come about via a full-dimensional exercise of free will. (“You seem to be providentially protected against any kind of cataclysmic misfortune, financially or otherwise,”Page 8.) At any rate, Tipareri’s 360 declares that I most admire and respect the type of man who is very domesticated, very attached to his family, very fond of children and animals. The kind of man who has a sensitive, shy streak, and would never be heard shouting, “Those goddamn cats have been at the furniture again!” On the other hand, as Mr. Dooley used to say, not so fast. It may be a good tiling that I did not meet this gentleman at an auspicious time, because 360 also says very firmly, “Your marriage will be a stormy one.” Not only do I see clearly how this could have happened. Thirty years of storm with a sensitive, shy family man would certainly have involved me from time to time, as 360 has been clever enough to suggest, in “triangular situations.”

Part of the value of reading one’s Time Pattern is evidently finding out what could have happened and, thank God, didn’t.

Tipareri hasn’t neglected my character flaws (jealousy, vacillation, superficiality) , or my health, or usefid advice on professions to follow and locations to settle in. “Embassy posts available to women” leads off the list of career ideas, and that may explain why the countries favorable to me are such a far-flung bunch —Uruguay, Crete, Afghanistan, and Ethiopia turn up, along with Thailand, South Africa, and Argentina, but neither the United States nor anything “developed” in Western Europe except Sweden (very cold, Sweden) . I seem to have missed the boat again; but since I’m somewhat accident-prone, that may be a good thing too. This brings the general structure of me to its conclusion, and the rest of my Time Pattern is occupied by a rundown on the year ahead.

How exciting it promises to be, if only I can remember what to look for! I’ve already lived through one week of it without noticing much change, so I must try harder. There are good days coming pretty soon for cherishing secret ambitions on a big scale, and several for carrying out activities which require a lot of vitality but have to be undertaken privately, and at least one for secret assignations, especially sentimental ones. There are also discordant atmospheres, lack of zest, and bad days, both emotionally and for travel. Next January will bring a good day for writing family letters and a bad day for writing love letters— “You might regret them later,” 360 adds, a view supported by much evidence. One is January 6 and one is January 16. and I shall have to be careful to keep them straight. Indeed, it may be wise to swear off writing love letters at all, as a New Year’s resolution; my resolutions usually last through January. March has a solar eclipse and will generally be terrible, with April not much better; but things pick up after that, so I shall get out of bed in May, some time around the tenth, have my hair cut if Xavora Pove approves, and phone Zodiactronics for a new flight plan. Or else, of course, I shall not. Neither Tipareri nor Zodiactronics is apt to miss me. They will be far too busy.

Is it simply the ecological cycle of nature, working on astrologers as well as locusts, that brings them swarming out once a generation? It’s a possible explanation. The people who relied on Evangeline Adams lor market tips forty years ago must now be either dead or retired, with trust officers and other conservative types firmly in charge ot their hinds. Immunized to the plague they may be, but they are off in Sunny Senile Senior Citizenland, and their children and grandchildren who are left behind have not been exposed betore.

Just as the I Citing has risen where the Ouija board sank from sight, so the readers of the stars appear again, and every day another newspaper carries their wisdom. “Invest your money carefully and spend it wisely,” thev advise. “Show appreciation to well-informed persons who have helped you in the past.”"Patience is now essential.”“With a bit of luck, added income is possible from some special skill. “Show others that you have practical sense and you will gain their respect.” One begins to wonder, after a while, whether Poor Richard’s Almanack was not, in fact, a crypto-astrological work.

Ecological cycles, however, don t explain everything. To say that a new generation ol potential believers has been born merely indicates that an opportunity exists. Why are they so easily infected with astrological hoopla, and why does it spread so fast? Within the week, my friendly neighborhood bank has filled two windows with a display ot signs of the zodiac, and the Manchester Guardian has begun advertising for intelligent readers on the grounds that it does not run daily horoscopes, thus setting itsell off from the common run of British journals. The explanation for the phenomenon, if one there be, must lie somewhere in the rather marshy field of social psychology. Perhaps we can approach it best by recalling a pertinent quotation from that well-known social psychologist, W. Shakespeare: “The fault, clear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

You will remember the context: Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene II. Brutus and Cassius are on stage chatting about political trends, while Caesar, off, is refusing the crown before the shouting populace. Neither is happy with the prospect of tyranny revived under King Caesar, and Cassius is urging Brutus toward action, on the grounds that men should be masters of their fate. Very well. The theme— or, rather, the question, Are they and should thev be?—is central to Shakespeare’s thought. So does Lady Macbeth prod her husband to action, so does Hamlet debate whether to take up arms against a sea of troubles. The Renaissance, the Reformation. the physical fact of the New World—all these unthinkable realities have confronted the times with the challenge of individual action counter to traditional patterns ot behavior and thought. Meanwhile, the creaking machinery of custom has begun to exhibit severe malfunctioning, and it appears that something will have to be done. But by whom? By you and me, says Cassius to Brutus, in historical analogy. It happens that Cassius is selling Brutus on assassination, but his sales talk is formidably pertinent to Elizabethan thinking.

Its reverse is formidably pertinent todav. Assassination is still prevalent, but Shakespeare’s conclusion—that in the end it doesn’t make much difference; scratch Caesar Irom the race, and Octavian makes it first to the winning post—has got mixed up with the antecedents. Not only does assassination produce irrational results today; it occurs for irrational causes. Shakespeare’s question about the working of fate has been answered over and over again by the theater of Beckett and Ionesco and Pinter, Hochhuth and Weiss, individual action will land you in Charenton or a dustbin, strip you of eyeglasses, hope, clothes, wife, and sanity, until it gives way to total passivity before the final nonsensical possibility that Godot may turn up before the curtain comes down.

And so, the astrologers. For here we sit, underlings all, buffeted and bounced about by manic demons with a genius for practical jokes. It’s all very well for those superior persons, Brutus and Cassius, to declare that they arc masters of their late, but what about the rest of us? How can we agree that we have arrived at the madhouse in Charenton by our own design? That eve are not only underlings (which we know) but underlings intentionally, through our own fault? It’s too much. No, no: the fault, dear Brutus, is not in ourselves, But in the stars, that we are underlings. We all know what Voltaire said about God, and the same thing appears to be true at rather lower levels of counseling. When things get this mixed-up, we invent somebody to tell us what to do, in order not to have to blame ourselves for the mess. E. R. Dodds, in The Cheeks and the Irrational. is at pains to show how the postHomeric Hellenes did exactly this during the bad times of the Archaic Age, setting up an oracle at Delphi to give them “the assurance that behind the seeming chaos there was knowledge and purpose.”

So perhaps, to be serious, we can’t do anything to stamp out horoscopes, and should simply take the current wave as a Sign from Somewhere that times are bad. Hardly news, that. And yet it is always news, in a way, that the human mind can stretch to include so much; that sense and nonsense are so intimately bonded; and that on the day when Armstrong and Aldrin stepped out onto the moon a newspaper column on astrology advised “Moon Children that there could be “no better day than this to do those thoughtful things that will please your family and keep them happy.”

On the other hand, if you want to regard the two space-travelers as being under the influence of Gemini, the Twins, and if you look in another newspaper, you will find that this should be a rather successful Sunday, with your managing to touch everything planned.” O dear nutty human race! By the time the computers take over, we shall certainly have programmed enough illogic-plus-will-to-believe into them so that the change will hardly be noticeable.