I have had a long standing view that astrology is in decline. From my perspective, it peaked in the the mid 1980s, and went downhill ever since. To illustrate this, in the 1980s you could go into a bookshop, and see shelves that were packed with astrology books, by mainstream publishers. And subject matter was often technical – harmonics, midpoints, rectification.
This growth in astrology was driven by early baby-boomers. When I was teaching astrology in the early 1990s, it was amazing how many of my students were born in 1946. Their guru was also born in this year, and she was Liz Greene, who stormed into prominience in the late 1970s with her book Saturn: A new look at an old devil. Being born in 1962, and a late baby-boomer, I wasn’t quite on the same wave length as my students, and I wasn’t a big fan of Liz Greene’s work. Still, I did have the honour of shaking her hand. It was in 1987, when she gave me my diploma at the Faculty of Astrological Studies’ Autumn conference.
The late 1980s was also interesting because it was peak psychology. Those born in 1946 loved their Jungian astrology, and they were often in therapy themselves. And of course Liz Greene, who herself is a Jungian analyst, ruled the roost. However there were problems. I went through the Faculty of Astrological Studies’ diploma course, and I remember seeing a client with an Indian background. I waxed lyrical about his personality, and at the end of our reading, he asked me whether I could recommend a good astrologer. The astrology of the 1980s had almost forgotten about prediction. Though I should say, in defence of Liz Greene, that she did predict the collapse of Communism, on the basis of the outer planet aspects current in the late 1980s.
As we moved into the early 1990s, things started to change. The consensus around psychological astrology was starting to break. The person largely responsible for this break-up was an old woman called Olivia Barclay. In terms of influence, she was probably one of the Twentieth Century’s most important astrologers. She was a traditionalist, who publicized William Lilly’s Christian Astrology, that first came out in the 1640s. Olivia, in spite of living in the UK, was probably more popular in the US, and she played a big role in the rediscovery of traditional astrology.
However, Olivia did have a negative influence. She helped end the collegial spirit in astrology, the idea we are all working on the same wonderful project. There was an increasing split between psychological and traditional astrology, and I believe that this fragmentation intensified over the following decades. In terms of my own role in, I did Olivia’s correspondence course in horary astrology. To begin with the course was one long argument. I remember one comment she put on my homework: “You are only interested in arguments. I am interested in the truth”. She was a Sagittarian, by the way, and I am a Gemini. But by the time I completed the course I was completely indoctrinated. The psychological approach I had learned at the Faculty of Astrological Studies had been flushed out, and I was better able to deal with clients who wanted concrete predictions. I also took any opportunity to attack psychological astrology, and for a year or two I took on the role of Olivia’s attack dog. Mars rising in Taurus, I suppose.
The early 1990s was also important because there was a recession, certainly in the UK. The First Gulf War was followed by a crash in property prices, and people had less money. At the time I had my own astrology school. I thought, after six months, that it was going well, with full classes. Then suddenly, it fell off a cliff. At the same time the astrological publishing industry collapsed. It became virtually impossible to get books on astrology published, unless you did it yourself. Actually, and amazingly, I did manage to get two books published by an imprint of Penguin in the mid-1990s. This was because my co-author, Barbara Dunn, was astrologer for Cosmopolitan.
However, there was one area of astrology that did very well in the 1990s. And that was premium rate horoscope phone lines. If you were a newspaper or magazine astrologer, you recorded premium rate lines, which made a huge amount of money. This meant that the only astrologers making a decent living were the ones who were doing columns. And getting a column was like winning the lottery. It didn’t help, in the UK, that a few famous names had the whole thing sewn up – for example Patric Walker and Jonathan Cainer.
Through the 1990s and 2000s there was a broad decline in astrology, though we did see Olivia Barclay’s vision starting to be realized. Although I don’t know the full details, it was probably important that veteran astrologer Robert Hand and ARHAT took a big leadership in the rediscovery of traditional techniques. I should also say that I am looking at things from a British perspective. The US is a much larger territory, and it is easier in America for niche interests to survive and prosper.
Fast forward to 2020, and there is a evidence of a massive revival in astrology. Recently the press has been full of articles about millennials getting into astrology, perhaps because it provides meaning in an uncertain world. Furthermore, there has been an explosion in knowledge about traditional Greek techniques, that is often spear-headed by younger astrologers, such as Chris Brennan. Olivia Barclay didn’t know about many of these techniques, but I do believe that modern traditional astrologers owe her a big debt, for starting the ball rolling.
You would have thought, as the world goes into crisis, that astrology is going to take off in a big way. However, we shouldn’t forget the recession of the early 1990s. It caused a huge amount of damage to astrology, as I have just described. What about the 1929 recession? That’s interesting. In 1930 a British astrologer, R.H. Naylor, had a column in The Sunday Express. In October 1930 he wrote “A British aircraft will be in danger”. In fact, the paper with his prediction hit the stands on Sunday October 5. That same day a British airship, the R101, exploded in flames in Beauvais, France. Short-term, his career was made, and he got himself a regular sun sign column. Maybe his star sign forecasts helped the British people make sense of the economic downturn, and how it affected their lives.
However, one could argue that sun sign astrology is not real astrology. At best it is a few wise words, which are appropriate to any situation, at worst it’s fluff. And when the real crisis came, in the form of the Second World War, Naylor lost his column. War is a serious business, and astrology is an irrelevance. However in Nazi Germany there were people who took astrology seriously, including top Nazi Rudolf Hess. In 1941, on a whim, he got in a plane and flew to Scotland. He thought he might be able to broker some kind of peace between Britain and Germany. The Nazi regime thought that astrology might have influenced his decision, and as a result astrology was banned.
The present crisis is still to play out. It will definitely cause a reset in the astrology world. The idea that astrology will become some millennial lifestyle accessory will bite the dust – because it is not a time for triviality. And in the short-term, it will probably become more difficult to make money out of astrology, unless you’re an established player. Also, with Saturn moving into Aquarius, and a Jupiter-Saturn conjunction in December 2020, styles and tastes are going to change. The kind of astrology that is popular now may not be popular in a few years time.
I appreciate this article is full of generalizations. Feel free to comment, correct and disagree.