Prime Astrology

The current tension between astronomers and astrologers over Ophiuchus sums up 2020 pretty hard. Something this mundane will be the final death of us, I’m sure.

The confirmation that astrologers pick and choose what they want from the stars, appealing to a exotic cosmology that has been restricted so that it better fits in with the dominant form of Gregorian calendar, is all sorts of levels of irony. That astrologers are upset about this is an extra layer thrown in as a treat.

NASA’s reassurances to those people who are upset is also pretty funny. “We didn’t change any zodiac signs, we just did the math”, they say, which to my ear has a ring of passive-aggressiveness.

According to NASA, the math tells us this: there should be thirteen months in the year. We can very easily divide up the thirteenth months of the year into fifty-two weeks with every month having twenty-eight days. They don’t say this, of course, but it is interesting to point out that they’re not the first to do this math, and you don’t have to go back to the Babylonians to find the last instance.

Interestingly, there used to be such a thing as a “positivist” calendar which does have thirteen months and would be a better fit with this. Auguste Comte created it and put forward his proposal in the hope that it would be accepted as a suitable reform for the Gregorian calendar. The problem with this is that it throws out all of the hard-baked theology that remains attached to our tracking of the seasons. For instance, he even swaps out the names of the months for historical or literary figures — Aristotle, Archimedes, Descartes, Shakespeare; Moses and Saint Paul still get a look in too, of course.

The main objection to this reform came from the main Abrahamic religions, who insisted that they had to retain their holy days. The seventh day of each week wouldn’t always be a Sunday, for instance; it would change every year. It would also lead to massive reform in terms of how we measure our own lives. Birthdays would have to be recalculated and the year could no longer be nicely divided up into quarters.

It could simply be the result of our deep superstitions around the number thirteen (a similarly Christian superstition; it’s lucky in plenty of other cultures) but this, in turn, could be related to the fact that it is a prime number. It is hard to imagine a life governed by a prime but the systems we have instead are far more god-fearing than rational. Astrology, even in its currently secular guise, is no different.

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