Cross Words: Stars in their eyes

Head to head Credible or credulous? Astrology is a useful tool, says Nicholas Campion, president of the Astrological Association. It's just a game, says novelist Fay Weldon

The astrologist

"I see astrology as a poetic language of symbols - its primary purpose to give meaning to events which otherwise seem random or chaotic, or to endow significance to people's lives in ways which other approaches often miss. It also depends so heavily on the interpretive skills of the astrologer that, even though the basic data, in terms of planetary positions, remains the same, each astrologer will have a different view of what is the right thing to say in the right circumstances.

The sceptics need to understand that not everything in life can be appreciated through reductionist science. In fact, a great deal of what people admire, and enjoy most, can't be - like poetry or falling in love or appreciating music. Scientists try and analyse such things, but they never get close to understanding the experience when they do. Astrology is one of those disciplines or approaches to life which is not amenable to analysis by science. It can only be judged according to whether it's useful or not. And opinion from people who go to astrologers is that it is useful, and that's an exact comparison with people who go to therapists, analysts, counsellors. According to scientists, psychotherapy is completely useless, but if you talk to most people who have been through psychotherapy, they have gained a little or a lot from it. It's the same with astrology.

Astrology works as a mode of enquiry. It enables people to link different areas which are not normally connected and come up with some sort of conclusion. It suggests the existence of larger patterns. One useful idea which astrology has picked up from spirituality is the idea of the mythical journey - that we're all involved in a journey, on a quest, and that's something I personally find very useful, because then I can look at my life and at what I've done so far. It's made me think fairly broadly about the causes and consequences of my actions."

The anti-astrologist

"It is a kind of Millennium fever from which there's almost no escape, so you read your horoscope while knowing it's not true. I feel it is a millennial thing. People become more gullible and believe in portents and omens and soothsayers as these three noughts approach ... You think how odd it is that twins can have such totally different temperaments. And if ordinary fraternal twins are born within 20 minutes of each other, they're completely different. I know of two kittens born within two minutes of each other that have completely different temperaments.

I was casting horoscopes when I was 11. My mother, and my grandfather, would cast horoscopes in the Twenties, when all this was very fashionable. In my family, it was just considered something you could do. But you didn't believe in them. It was party trick time ... but if strangers do it for strangers, it can be dangerous in the wrong hands.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that there's nothing in it, simply that it's not something that is either going to solve your personal problems, solve the problems of the universe, or add to your income. Therefore, let it be an entertainment, occasionally instructive, but don't rely on it or take it as gospel. Also, the fact is that even if you get two different astrologers explaining the same chart, they're going to say totally different things because it is a matter of interpretation ... If you do a chart, there are 500 different influences all warring away and it depends on the character of the astrologer to make sense of it.

You can, if you are of a certain temperament, lose your grip on reality. Otherwise-rational people can go bananas under the effect of magic prognosis, searching for the eternal self. The end result, taken to extremes, is cults and cult people who all rush out and commit suicide.

Let us regard it as entertainment, not as truth, and not enlightenment."

Interviews by Veronica Groocock

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