But Then I Would Say That, Me With My Sun in Virgo and All

Jon Carroll writes in his column today about his overall experience of the 1960s, and it includes this paragraph:

I did try to get with the program, but there were obstacles. The biggest one was astrology. Why did that have to be part of it? I understood tipis and yurts; I got why getting loaded was fun; I loved the utopian ideals even though I was skeptical of their practical applications. But what did that have to do with your sun being in Jupiter?

This paragraph led to a few comments on the WELL, as any mention of astrology is fairly certain to do, mostly from people chiming in that they didn’t get it either.

When something sweeps the popular culture, even if it’s something that looks dumb, it’s generally an indication that there’s some human need or desire that isn’t being otherwise satisfied in the culture so that lots of people are seizing on this something instead, even though it may turn out not to be such a healthy or long-lasting way to satisfy the need.

The key to getting astrology for me was when I started noticing how people actually used it. Nine times out of ten, when I heard someone refer to astrological signs it wasn’t in regard to what their horoscope had said that day, it was in regard to the personality types that were supposed to be associated with the signs — “He is such a Capricorn” and “I’m an Aries and I just can’t get along with Geminis” and “Libra, right?”

Astrology gave laypeople a fairly simple language with which to talk about and explore personality traits, plus it had all the trappings of fortune-telling and antiquity and fun silly stuff like that. I was two years old at the end of the 1950s so I don’t know it firsthand, but I get the impression that in the 1950s there wasn’t a lot of interior exploration going on in the popular culture, not a lot of thinking about different personality traits, not a lot of attention paid to people’s emotional lives. I get the feeling that people were hungry to look at their own mental and emotional processes and hungry to talk about them and compare notes — psychology and psychoanalysis had broken into popular awareness in the 1940s, but it was specialized and expensive and you had to master a lot of difficult concepts that none of your friends would understand anyway, and until popularized accounts of the ideas of Jung started appearing (which didn’t happen until a little bit later than the time when astrology was catching fire, if my memory is right), mastering psychological ideas tended to be a dry and colorless and bookish and not-much-fun endeavor.

Astrology in its popular form may be a cheap and shallow way of fulfilling the desire to examine our inner workings and those of each other, but the desire itself seems to me to be universal and legitimate. And the healthy food that would nourish ourselves more lastingly never does seem to sell as well as cheeseburgers and fries.

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