The Uranian Observer: The Marketing of Astrology (1997)

by Bruce Scofield

I've been thinking a lot lately about the driving forces of our culture. Of course, I'm not the first to think about this; Karl Marx was onto this back when Neptune was being discovered in the 1840s. What concerns me is capitalist culture and its repercus_sions on social and intellectual life -- in particular, its effects on the world of astrology. Here's how my thoughts pro_gressed:

Today we live in a world that is driven by trade, but it hasn't always been that way. In ancient societies, the driving factor was strength -- the most powerful warriors were the rulers. Might gave them the right to rule, and these warrior rulers developed a master/servant relationship with their village or society. They guaranteed the stability that allowed the rest of the people to hunt, farm, and create a culture. Their particular strain of DNA established a lineage that continued to rule their village or society after the warrior rulers themselves had died. Powerful royalty made up the first ruling class of ancient society.

As these early societies grew, some people were born who were especially intelligent or talented. They learned to use their insights and knowledge of life effectively (and dramatically), and it became a source of power for them. Over time, they became the shamans, priests, healers, and astrologers. The people advised the king warrior and thus could exert a good deal of power, albeit indirectly. In many cases, these people also passed their power along via a DNA trail, creating their own priestly caste. This was the second ruling class to formulate in society. It is from this strata that the role of astrologer originated, and there are many modern astrologers who would like to revive this caste system.

As civilizations grew, trade became a profitable way for clever people to get by in the world. Some people who didn't care for the laborious work of farming or the danger of hunting learned that they could get something here and sell it there, and make a profit. They learned to seize opportunities and benefit from them, personally or collectively. This component of organized society formed a third social class -- the merchants.

Such a class was quite established by the early 16th century in the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, one of the biggest cities in the world at that time. This Aztec trader caste already had their own religion and they commanded a lot of respect, although they still had the royalty and the priests above them. Unfortunately, a few Spaniards with brass balls blew up their city. Meanwhile, howev_er, back in Europe, things were different. The merchant class was very much alive and moving up the pecking order.

Trade had been a big deal in the Mediterranean region for sever_al millennia. There was plenty of good business there (if you could avoid the pirates), all in the context of a world dominated by organized religion and rival rulers. In Italy, around the same time that Tenochtitlan was toppled, rulers of city-states were holding power through the control of trade. Further north, Protestants were breaking away from the Catholic Church and developing a way of life that embraced and fostered the ideas of trade. They had learned a lot from the Italians, but they were also far enough away from Rome to get away with what was basically a serious bid for social power by a rising middle class.

Historians and sociologists have long pointed to the Protestant Reformation as a major factor in the rise of capitalism. Protestantism encouraged science. Science solved the problems of trade by making transportation faster, more reliable, and more profitable. Astrology, which had held status in the old ruler-and-priest-dominated world, was considered nearly useless in the new world of trade. The one exception was in ports, where astrologers continued to do electional astrology for trading voyages. Even that didn't last for long, however; the newly-forming insurance companies were rapidly putting the astrologers out of business. (If you had insurance to cover your losses, who needed an astrologer to advise against failure?)

Astrology simply had no functional part in the unstoppable rise of the Protestant middle class traders who were total pragmatists. Even their religion drew connections between material success and favor in the eyes of God. Historically speaking, Protestants, scientists, and traders have not been friends to astrology.

Today, we can see that astrology is slowly crawling its way out of the slime bucket into which it fell a few hundred years ago. In order to survive without the patronage of the warrior caste (which has been castrated) or the institutions (which are ruled by scientific Protestants and their imitators), astrology is being forced to play by the rules of the new ruling caste (trade). The name of the game today is "marketing and sales." Now, there may be some wide-eyed New Agers (with a comfortable means of support other than astrology) who might not see it this way, but those of us in the trenches can't help but notice the obvious. There are no "jobs" for astrologers. We are still being attacked by skeptical inquirers and holy men of all sorts. And anyone can call himself an astrologer by printing up a card or hanging out a shingle. With this kind of situation, it's not surprising that the marketing of astrology has become the most remarkable trend in the field today. It's the only way to survive. To illustrate this, I'll relate some of the things I cam across in my research for this article.

Not that long ago, I was browsing through the trade show at the United Astrology Congress. What first caught my eye were the earrings. I don't wear earrings, but then there are many more women than men in astrology and they apparently like these ear ornaments. (Personally, I find earrings more appealing than the nose rings, lip rings, or eyebrow rings sported by Genexers, but maybe that's just because I'm a Boomer.) There were earrings available for each of the signs, though you'd think that only the double signs Gemini, Sagittarius and Pisces should be represented by this product. Then I found astrological amulets (in a choice of signs or planets). Both the earrings and the amulets seemed to be mass produced. I won't detail the related products I found, but suffice it to say that I also saw a hell of a lot of angels at these tables. I guess the idea is, if you identify with as_trology then you need some astrological jewelry.

Next, I checked out the bookstore, and I couldn't believe the number of astrology books in print. There were hardcover, softcover and spiral bound books, coffee table books, date books, calendars, and card decks. There were books on every conceivable (and some absolutely incredible) aspect of astrology. People who want to be astrologers know that you have to publish a book to get some credibility. You also have to have a special niche. That's how you can market yourself. You can't just "be" an astrologer. I saw my own books at the tables and was secretly hoping that people would buy a lot of them. I need the money and I need people to be interested in my subject so they will want to attend my lectures so that the people running the conference will want to ask me back to speak at the next conference so I can promote myself some more.... It goes something like that. It's a survival strategy in a world ruled by marketing, and not necessarily competence.

After doing the bookstore, I checked out the computer booths. There seemed to be enough astrology software available to inspire the formation of an astrology chapter of the Lead Pencil Club. I moved on to a booth that was selling personalized horoscopes on mugs. Next to this booth was one that was selling custom-made astrological artwork based on your chart. Next to this was Jerry Markoe's Astro-Music booth. He writes music based on your chart. He once told me his secret method of translating natal planetary positions to the musical scale while we were at adjacent urinals in a restroom at the Chicago Marriot. Check out his excellent New Age tapes that don't have anything to do with astrology. Next to Jerry's booth was a guy selling T-shirts with custom horoscopes painted on them. Next to him was a couple who were selling astrological tatoos. They each had the appropriate planetary tatoo on the appropriate part of their anatomy -- or so they said. Next to them was a woman with a scarf on her head who was doing Tarot readings. Her daughter was there, too, doing crystal ball readings. She reminded me of the woman on the ad for the 900 astrology phone line. Maybe she was the one. I was beginning to wonder what was going on here and I left the trade show, trying to recall whatever happened to Astro-Dice.

Back out in the hotel lobby, I ran into medieval astrology specialist Bob Zoller who was passing out some flyers. He was selling a number of his alchemical preparations under the trade name "Brother Billy Bob." His "Power Doctor Catalog of Hoodoo, Pow-wow and Hexerei Charms and Necessaries" was by far the most interesting collection of products I'd seen all day. I was intrigued by #14, the "Magical Bird Catching Charm," which was said to "enable you to fascinate birds so you can take them by hand." Also, the "Universal Paranormal Panacea Pills of Paracelsus" caught my eye. The description said the "Frater Robertus has labored long in the laboratory to perfect this very special product which is reputed to give long life, robust vitality, increased sexual force, and heal all diseases unless frustrate by black magical attack." The price was $15 for a bottle of 50 pills. You can get a copy of his catalog for $1.00 from P.O. Box 1414, New York NY 10009.

Still in the lobby, I noticed that a number of astrologers who were speakers at the conference, were holding conversation with attendees. More than a few were clearly engaged in something more than casual interaction, and I noticed that three male speakers were discretely leading attractive female attendees toward the elevators. Sales, no doubt.

At one end of the hotel lobby, I noticed a necessity-and-souvenir shop, the kind you find in most hotels. I walked in with the intent of buying a newspaper, but was quickly distracted by the displays of T-shirts, mugs, and other items that had the name of the city imprinted on them. I turned a corner and found that, apparently, someone in the hotel management had the foresight to arrange for this little shop to also stock a complete line of astrological souvenirs. There were the usual T-shirts, but there were also astrological ashtrays. I bought a Scorpio ashtray which was clearly overpriced, but I thought, "how appropriate." I also bought a Gemini key ring and a Cancer pot holder. Although it would have been more appropo to get the Aries baseball cap, I bought the Saturn cap because I have Saturn rising and, according to the philosophy of astrological marketing, I must identify with this planet or die. I almost bought a Virgo towel, but couldn't quite justify the expense. How practical of me.

By this time I was in need of fresh air, so I walked out of the building. About a block away was an immense department store which I entered with the anticipation of finding a present for my 9-year-old son. The kids' section of the store was huge. It had the largest selection of "action figures" (a euphemism for boy dolls) that I had ever seen. I was surprised to find a complete line of astrology action figures -- I didn't even know they existed. There were all the gods of the planets with weapons and accessories. Mars was clearly the most fierce of the group with his spikes and scales, holding a multi-pointed club and a spear. His helmet was also spiked and his face nasty-looking. The Sun was a young king-like figure with a magnifying glass for a weapon. Apparently you could stand this Sun figure next to another, move his hand with the magnifying glass to focus the Sun's rays and thus melt the other action figure. I checked out the other figures and discovered that only Saturn and Uranus were unmeltable. However, both of these were brittle and they could be ruined if you dropped them.

The Neptune action figure was designed for the bathtub. You take Neptune's head off and load his body with vinegar and baking soda. Then you put him in the bathtub so he can alternately float and sink. Each time he rises up, he lets go of gas. The Venus action figure was a Wonder-Woman-like sexy babe with pointed breasts that actually shot projectiles. She had a mirror which apparently doubled as a weapon, much like the Sun's magnifying glass. Jupiter was huge, bigger than any other figure, and carried a hammer or gavel of some sort. Mercury was made of a kind of plastic that was quite malleable. He had the most joints of all the figures and could be bent in every position imaginable. Pluto looked like an executioner. I picked Pluto for my son.

Incidentally, I later learned from Dr. Barry Orr that there was another line of astrology action figure based on famous astrologers. Barry told me he had bought the Tycho Brahe action figure for his son. He said it came with a removable nose and a hand astrolabe. He suggested that my son might like the new Rob Hand action figure that comes with a computer, an ancient book, and a pocket protector.

With my brain buzzing from marketing overload, I headed back to the hotel. I was about halfway through the lobby when I began to feel strong sexual vibes. Against the walls and on the chairs and couches were astrologers "networking." I suspected that some of this networking would eventually involve the exchange of bodily fluids. The temptation to step into the bar was strong but I turned on my Saturn rising (actually a kind of locking device) and headed back to my room, thinking I'd be safe from this mar_keting frenzy.

In my room was a pile of promotional flyers placed there by the hotel people. I picked up a few and looked over my options: room service, cable TV movies, wake-up calls, and 900-numbers. Now, all of us know about the usual 900 astrology lines. The add shows that sexy-gypsy-like woman with piercing eyes that I saw in the trade show, but the truth is you pay three or four bucks an hour to talk to an astrologer who is really a single mother working out of her living room. But there were some lines listed that I'd never head of -- the astro-sex lines.

Like the normal astrology and psychic phone lines, these 900-numbers cost a lot but they promised to be a lot more interactive. Checking my midpoint ephemeris, and seeing that the trans_iting Venus-Mars midpoint was right on my natal Mercury, I fig_red that since I couldn't catch anything, I'd do a little more marketing research for this article. First I called the Scorpio number -- it was busy. Then I called the Taurus number, only to find out that it (as well as the Scorpio number) cost twice as much as the others. Being a cheap Cancer, I hung up immediately. Aquarius was next, and I got on the line with a woman (at least I think she was) who started doing all the talking. She gave me her take on phone sex lines (which come in both male and female) and asked me where my Venus and Mars were located. When I told her, she suggested I call Gemini and hung up. So far I was out $9 for nothing. I called Gemini and got a girl who sounded like she was ten or eleven. Embarrassed, I politely got off the line and thought about what to do next. I tried Pisces but the phone kept ringing. Then I called Virgo.

Virgo, it turns out, was a student working on her Ph.D. in the sociology of religion, and we hit it off right away. She was quite perceptive and realized I wasn't calling for sex (which she claimed she doesn't really get into anyway), and confessed that she only took the job to make a little extra money. She said she was very uncomfortable with the whole thing, especially the self-promotion part. The was no point in continuing the conversation, so I hung up.

There I was, alone in my room with the marketing of astrology going on all around me. Astrology was being sold in stores, on the phone, and in the lobby. Everybody had a product ranging from awareness to action figures. Astrologers had become traders in order to survive, and it appeared to me that astrology was now being used as a sales gimmick by opportunistic Capricorns who monitor the relative values of commodities on a daily basis. If astrology is hot, they'll find a way to sell it! I'm as guilty of joining the bazaar as anybody. In my room I drifting off to sleep wondering whatever happened to the good-old days when you could just "be" an astrologer -- usually the only one in town.