(Investigator 83, 2002 March)
Astrology is based upon a simple, two-part premise.1. Correlations exist between celestial and terrestrial events.
2. Correspondences exist between the position of the planets at birth and the human personality.
Historically, the art of astrology is over 6000 years old and prevailed among the Egyptians, Etruscans and Babylonians. By the fourth century it had spread to Greece and a few centuries later to Rome. By the 12th century, astrology had attained academic respectability and in 1225 A.D. the University of Bologna instituted a chair of Astrology.
Following a decline in the middle ages there was a sudden resurgence of interest in the 20th century with the advent of popular media astrology. In 1976, 186 scientists endorsed a manifesto called 'Objections to Astrology'. The signers called for a concerted effort to stamp out the insidious, ancient superstition once and for all. Publishers were exhorted to stop publishing books by 'astrological charlatans'. Sceptical groups, intent on promulgating the war cry, sprung up all over the world. Their creed was expanded to encompass any and all they labelled 'believers in the paranormal' including 'alternative health modalities'. Large sums of money were offered to any who could substantiate their paranormal claims under controlled test conditions.
For some years now complementary health sciences have been finding their way into university curricula and research charters. Lismore's Southern Cross University has a degree-level course in naturopathy. The University of Western Australia a Bachelor of Applied Sciences (Osteopathy) and the University of Western Sydney, Macarthur, a Bachelor of Applied Sciences (Chinese Medicine). In July 1997, the University of Sydney opened Australia's first Herbal Medicines Research and Education Centre (HMREC) a branch of the Department of Pharmacy. It offers education on the safety, quality and efficacy of herbal and complementary medicines. Postgraduate degrees, certificates, diplomas and masters are now provided. More recently, the Swinbourne University Hospital opened in Melbourne where GPs and Natural Therapists work together.
It would seem therefore, that the medical establishment's antipathy towards many "alternative" health therapies is mellowing. Many respectable institutions are now prepared to give accreditation to what many medicos formally considered to be "dubious practices." This raises the question "Are sceptical groups a little too sceptical?"
Over the years sceptical tenets in general have degenerated into self-serving sermons to the converted – and powerless to impede or contain the popularity of astrology and alternative health. Not only have the plea and the challenges been ineffective, but over the past two decades belief in the paranormal has flourished. Nowhere is this more evident than in India where astrology in particular touches every facet of life including the police, the judiciary and government officials.
Notwithstanding the failure to undermine the belief in astrology, debunking the art has nevertheless produced some amusing asides.
Early last year, some 35 universities in India applied to the University Grants Commission (UGC) seeking permission to start Vedic astrology courses at both the under-graduate and post-graduate level. Among them, Osmania, Bombay, Pune, Baroda and Madhurai Kamaraj universities.
In spite of protests from the scientific community the CGU has decided to go ahead with the introduction of Vedic astrology courses in Indian universities. Prominent among the protesters were the Indian Rationalists which brings me to one of the amusing asides mentioned above.
The following is an edited version of a letter written by Professor Narendra Nayak of the Mangalore Rationalist Association (and reproduced with his permission) to the Vice Chancellor of the Mangalore University, Konaje. Translation of Sanskrit words in parenthesis.
Pranam. (Greetings). I do hope you will excuse my writing this letter in English. Rightfully it should have been in Sanskrit but since I have no working knowledge of the language, I am forced to communicate with you in English. However, I am overjoyed to learn that you have decided to grant certificates in astrology and Vedic sciences from your university to students of some maths.
I am writing this letter to you during Rahu Kalam on the choudi of ashad masa (a inauspicious time of 90 minutes each day). I also know that I should have enclosed a copy of my horoscope.
Unfortunately I do not have one but can tell you that due to circumstances entirely beyond my control I was born on 5th of February, 1951 at 4.30 a.m. You may have my horoscope cast by the experts of your university before replying…
It would be in keeping for you to introduce the following new courses from the next academic year.
1. B.Sc. degree in soothsaying: The syllabus could be inclusive of predicting the future using cards picked up by parrots, astrology, ouija board and spirit possession etc: We have a number of authorities in these fields who can be found in hotels, by the roadside and in maidans (recreation areas). You could effectively use them to set the syllabi and as master resource persons to train the teachers.
2. B.A. degree in superstition: You could include local as well as foreign superstitions in the syllabus. Things like firewalking and materialising objects from thin air etc. We have many experts in these areas here. For 'sciences' such as faith-healing, crystal gazing and signs of the zodiac you could invite outsiders.
3. Ph.D. in child marriage: Here researchers could go into the advantages of child marriages, their methodologies and diverse ways by which these could take place at the newborn or in the foetal stage itself.4. Ph.D. in widow management: Here new methods of Managing widows could be tried out e.g. more efficient methods of burning widows on the funeral pyres of their late husbands, better means of shaving their heads and keeping them inside the house. New methods for usurping their properties etc could also be studied in detail.
When these new courses are introduced, the means for admission and examinations could also be, changed as follows:
Entrances to be based on caste:
Vaishyas (3rd category in the Hindu caste hierarchy) only to be admitted for commerce courses and Brahmins for 'sciences' such as astrology. Shudras, (4th category) and Daliths (the 'untouchables') should not be admitted for any education at all as it would wean them away from their traditional designated roles in the caste system. Women in particular should be debarred from any education as their role is primarily child bearing and taking care of their families.
At the time of admission all candidates should be asked for a letter of recommendation from the priest of their temple or the local Swamiji. To determine suitability a copy of their horoscope should be examined by an admission panel of eminent astrologers. The palms of the candidates could also be read at the time of interview.
Examinations should be conducted on auspicious dates only. Things like Rahu kalam, Yamaganda kalam (inauspicious times) should be taken into consideration when determining examination dates. If a candidate fails, the horoscope should be examined by a panel of experts who will suggest suitable rituals to propitiate the planets, gods and spirits etc: However, these are purely temporary measures as once the panel develops expertise, the degree could be awarded at the time of admission itself after checking the horoscopes of the candidates since everything an individual does is predetermined at the time of birth.
Finally, we are very sad to know that your tenure as Vice Chancellor is coming to an end in a few months. However, since this has been preordained by planetary configurations at the time of your birth it cannot be helped. Our only request is that to continue the noble task which you have initiated you may kindly suggest to the appointing authorities that your successor may be taken from a panel of astrologers, palmists and swamijis whose horoscopes could be scanned and the most suitable one appointed.
With best wishes from an Aquarian,
Secretary, D.K.Rationalist Association, Mangalore.
Religion, the supernatural and the paranormal: