The Precarious Age of Aquarius

by Bjarne Christensen

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    There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or magician with the same delight.
    C. S. Lewis

    “What sign are you, Brother Christensen?” was a question hurled at me as I entered the Sunday School classroom one bright Sabbath morning not long ago. The same question was directed to the ancient prophet Isaiah in Biblical times. We do not know under which sign he was born, but we know what his reaction was to the question. It was not the same as mine. “I’m an Aries,” I said. A lively discussion of astrology followed during which the thought-provoking question was asked: “Is astrology or any other occult practice part of the Savior’s plan for mankind?”

    It is a question we might all ask ourselves these days when seemingly harmless activities such as astrology, palmistry, fortune-telling, and other mystical routines enjoy hit-parade popularity.

    A thirty-five-year-old retired football player specializes in stock-market astrology. By using the horoscopes of certain companies, with the date of the incorporation as the birth time, he delivers a recommendation for a single stock for a $25 fee, a complete portfolio for $1,000. An astrologer in Chicago makes his living by using animal horoscopes to predict winners of horse races. Sitters in Berkeley, California, ask to see the zodiac sign of a child before they agree to sit.

    Former United Nations Secretary-General U Thant received an urgent message from Marlene Dietrich warning about bad astrological dates for special sessions of the General Assembly.

    “The Age of Aquarius,” the hit song from the Broadway musical Hair, whose cast included an astrologer, says that “peace will guide the planets and love will rule the stars.” As the theory goes, this new age is supposed to be a spiritual beginning marked by universal brotherhood and the shedding of hurtful inhibitions. To its followers the Aquarian Age is hardly whimsical or eccentric. There is no question that the architects of our pop culture, for example, take with extreme seriousness the zodiac signs.

    And many young people go into the occult sincerely determined to make a success of it by learning all the proper techniques of magic. Time magazine, September 27, 1968, said of them:

    “Hippies, with their drug-sensitized yen for magic, are perhaps the prime movers behind this phenomenon. Not only do they sport beads and amulets that have supposed magical powers, they also believe firmly and frighteningly in witchcraft.”

    In major cities, shops devoted to selling amulets, potions, candles, herbs, magical tools, incense, and ceremonial garments have opened up.

    Such concern for the arcane on the part of some people is an attempt to find enrichment for perplexed and arid lives. Disillusioned with life as they now find it, they hope to find answers by using the power of magic to create a meaningful existence. This suggests that the occult may be a form of religion. Psychologists compare the fascination for the occult to the fast-rising pseudo interest in Oriental religions such as Zen Buddhism. A belief in reincarnation, for example, is considered part and parcel of astrology. “Never before in history has a single society taken up such a wide range of religious and near-religious systems at once,” states an article in Life magazine.

    Of course, many people just go into the supernatural wanting something new and sensational to play with, something to dip into from time to time. Indeed, many Church members, both young and old, have, as millions of others, searched for artificial guidance in one of the 1200 daily newspapers in the United States that now carry horoscope columns. But whatever the motivation for this new interest in astrology, it is evident that the movement is already the victim of exploiters who have moved in for the financial kill.

    Time magazine estimates that there are now more than 10,000 full-time astrologers in the United States and 175,000 practicing the art part-time. Rock music groups grind out albums dealing with astrology and the mystical. Bookstores are crowded with publications on mysticism, the occult, and metaphysics. This year it is estimated that people in this country will spend in excess of $150,000,000 on the occult. A personal reading of your chart by a professional astrologer costs an average of $35. Astrology magazines sell 10 million copies a year. Department stores offer clothes and jewelry (including $89, 18-carat-gold charms) styled to each of the twelve zodiac signs. Computers in public places cough out horoscopes or interpretations of your handwriting at $5 apiece.

    This belief in the mystical is certainly not a new ideology. The first astrologers are believed to have been pagan priests in the ancient kingdom of Babylonia. In Biblical times, Isaiah, Daniel, and other prophets condemned those who told fortunes and practiced witchcraft as evil for calling on supernatural powers other than God.

    From the history of the dark ages we have learned how both Catholics and Protestants led a virtual war against the psychic and the occult. Witch hunts spread to America during the colonial years. Our language still reflects several words, for instance, that evidence an astrological influence. We say that a man is jovial, a word that stems from the planet Jove. The word mercurial comes from Mercury, and saturnine from Saturn. When someone met with disaster, it was due to his aster or star.

    To list the superficial and some times dreadful examples of a movement like this is surely elementary. A more formidable task for most of us is to probe unbelievable claims.

    Let’s take a hard look!

    Astrology is based on scientific evidence and provides a key to the future, says a noted astrologer. More than 20 million Americans seem to agree.

    The movement and positions of the planets in the universe affect individual people and events here on earth, they say. The horoscope is a study and interpretation of the heavenly bodies that apply to an individual, according to his sign or date and hour of birth. The interpretation by the astrologer can be affected by four separate forces, all dealing with extrasensory perception (ESP):

    1. Precognition, the awareness of an event that has not yet happened.

    2. Clairvoyance, seeing an event with your own mind without being near the event.

    3. Telepathy, unspoken communication from one person to another.

    4. Psychokinesis (PK), influencing or actually moving physical objects with your thoughts.

    One of the best known astrologers working with these principles is probably Jeanne Dixon. She even claims to be a prophetess. Sometimes she has made predictions that apparently turned out to be true. She and other astrologers claim that everybody has ESP or PK. “Although we don’t know exactly what they are and how they work, we have learned to bring them out in ourselves,” they say.

    Scientists who have studied astrology and all its claims charge that results of ESP and the like have not been proven scientifically. Indeed, attempts to nail down scientific proof are often as unsatisfactory as the supernatural claims of the occultist. Celestial bodies, of course, can affect life on our planet. The moon influences ocean tides as well as the habits of many marine animals. But does the location of specific planets and stars at the time of a person’s birth make a difference in that person’s life?

    “lt is impossible for science ever to prove a universal negative (that something is always untrue in every case),” writes Hudson Hoagland, a member of the board of directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “There will be cases that remain unexplained because of lack of data, lack of repeatability, false reporting, wishful thinking, deluded observers, rumors, lies, and fraud.” Declares professor Gibson Reaves of the University of Southern California Astronomy Department: “Nobody has ever proved finally that astrology doesn’t work. But the important thing is that there is little, if any, evidence that it does.”

    Some teenagers say that astrology helps them to discover more about themselves. “A good horoscope,” says one teen, “makes you realize that what you do matters.”

    “I’d sooner feel that my future was being shaped by the stars or by the turn of the cards. These could represent powers more concerned about me than either my draft board or the Pentagon,” said another.

    The theories of man’s relationship to the universe as developed by astrologers are impersonal in the sense that they take no special account of man’s own aspirations and status. Astrology gives us only a false image of what we really are. As members of the Church we should be especially cognizant of the idea that only by truly knowing ourselves and our relationship with God can we grow and progress. Josh Billings said, “It is not only the most difficult thing to know oneself, it is the most inconvenient one, too.” Using astrology as a means of gaining self knowledge then is really a cop-out.

    A professional astrologer admits that horoscopes are used by many people seeking to escape from themselves, people who otherwise might have gone overboard on drugs or alcohol. This is confirmed by Diane, a young student, who said, “It is just like being addicted to a drug, because you just have to know what’s going to happen to you from one day to the next.”

    Astrologers claim that horoscopes are really maps to guide an individual to a better life. “This map allows the user his free will to operate after you get what is indicated,” says a noted astrologer.

    Note that the emphasis here is on “what you get” (power, love, money, influence). Since man by his very nature is a seeker of meanings, it is understandable that many people acquire an immediate emotional satisfaction from the interpretation of their horoscopes. But by accepting and applying that sort of information to our lives, are we not really relinquishing our freedom and submitting to a crude and transparent guidance system that is not correct? Some people, of course, find it economically profitable to mislead us with inaccurate information.

    Furthermore, we do not need any fake Liahonas. But we do need to apply our faith for genuine guidance in a modern world filled with substitutes. As A. E. Housman says: “The house of delusions is cheap to build but drafty to live in.”

    The Reverend Andres M. Greeley, a Roman Catholic priest and lecturer in sociology at the University of Chicago, writes: “What is going on is authentically, if perhaps transiently and bizarrely, religious.” He calls it “the new pursuit of the sacred.”

    More likely, the increased interest has something to do with the frail role religion has played in the recent decades throughout the western world. During the last chaotic period of the Roman Empire, people also took to horoscopes and the supernatural, like drugs, in the name of religion. Then, as now, the occult movement had many seeming similarities with spiritual experiences. One must nevertheless be aware not only of the similarities but also the differences. We must look behind the words. We are sometimes blind to what is behind the label. We often assume that two things labeled by the same name are identical. “We see things not as they are,” said a wise man, “but as we are.”

    Genuine spirituality warms and grows in our hearts. The fake spirituality is often scary and leaves scars. Permanently. There is usually no mention of God in the occult, only signs. Yet we have learned not to seek for signs. The effect of bizarre cultism is immediate but temporary. The sacred grows slowly, must be nurtured, and leaves lasting effects.

    “We were playing with a Ouija board in school one day,” said JoAnn, a Laurel in Southern California. “We kept asking questions and the board kept answering correctly. I became increasingly frightened and eventually so scared that I fled from the room. I couldn’t sleep for days. I kept waking up with nightmares. It was a horrible experience. We are told to seek for the positive in life,” she continued, “but the negative is just as powerful. By forcing all your attention and your thoughts on an object, using ritual to make the image emotional, you can easily surrender your consciousness to evil powers.”

    So look for the differences that make a difference.

    Jeanne Dixon has predicted many things that have come to pass. Doesn’t that make her a prophetess as she claims? Others, like Edgar Cayce, have also had supernatural experiences that frankly are sensational.

    The predictions that have not come true are also spectacular. One of the leading clairvoyants of our day predicted, for example, that in 1970 California would slide into the sea, a cure for cancer would be found, and Ronald Reagan would be defeated in the California election for governor. All predictions that come to pass are front-page news. Few are published when they do not ring true. Certainly, some predictions seem truly remarkable and have had national attention, but in applying Hugh B. Brown’s “Profile of a Prophet” to the claims made, these so-called prophets are seen in an entirely different light.

    Anyone who claims to be a prophet, says Elder Brown—

    1. Will boldly claim that God has spoken to him.

    2. Will be a dignified individual with a dignified message; no table jumping, no whisperings from the dead, no clairvoyance, but an intelligent statement of truth.

    3. Will declare, “Thus saith the Lord.”

    4. Will give his life for his declaration, if necessary.

    The modern-day soothsayers obviously do not qualify, but how many people know that?

    Because Satan operates in a largely unknown realm, few of us realize his subtle and puzzling power to spread near-truths and to fill our minds with cobwebs of confusion.

    He operates through those who unknowingly invite him into their presence, not so much to further their own aims in life, but to use them to lure as many people away from truth and life as he can.

    Strong evidence for the existence of the devil is often given by individuals who know they have come in contact with him. Beth, a young California housewife, has been involved in astrology and fortune-telling since high school. She had attended many séances (meetings in which spirits are invited to come to a group to possess the body of an individual and to speak through that person). At one séance, after she dared to invite the spirits to take control of her body and as she felt them actually doing so, she panicked and changed her mind, fighting them off.

    Following this close call, there were aftereffects. “I felt like I was in a pit,” she says, “and all these spirits were standing over me. I heard them laughing at me and saying, ‘We’ve got you now.’” Also, Beth found herself developing a split personality.

    Both psychiatry and psychology recognize the crippling effects of spiritistic activity upon the mind. In his book, The Haunting of Bishop Pike, Merrill Unger states, “Sustained practice of occultism produces symptoms of split personalities. Psychiatry characterizes the resulting disorder as ‘mediumistic psychosis.’”

    In Answers to Gospel Questions, President Joseph Fielding Smith gave some very sound advice concerning the problem of receiving guidance from mediums, magicians, or astrologers. He said:

    “The Lord has pointed out very clearly the course that we should take in obtaining inspiration for our guidance. When a person is baptized and receives the Holy Ghost, he is promised that he will receive the necessary guidance for his spiritual and temporal good, provided he is true to his covenants. The Lord will not dwell in unclean tabernacles. Therefore, in order that we may keep ourselves in harmony with the Spirit of the Lord, we must be mentally, spiritually, and bodily clean from every contaminating influence.”

    Remember, nothing Satan does is good, although he does a lot of things that look good.

    Coming back to Isaiah’s reaction to the astrologers and soothsayers, we see a genuine prophet about his Father’s business. His answer, unsophisticated and deceptively simple, is nevertheless an illuminating ray of spiritual insight for today.

    He merely asked: “Will it save you?”

    Illustrated by Peggy H. Proctor