The other day I attempted to write an essay about the human brain and its extraordinary knack for pattern recognition. Brains are capable of identifying complex and subtle relationships between external stimuli that would confuse even the world’s most powerful computer. Our brains are also capable of accessing ancient memories almost instantly, though not with anything like the precision of a computer and its digitally-stored data.

As I’m sure most of you are aware by now, I am a bit of an amateur this and that, sort of a modern renaissance dude of all trades, a dabbler in things worth knowing a very little bit about. I’ve been doing astrological charts for close friends and assorted enemies for many years. I actually got a woman to sleep with me once by doing her chart. Our daughter is now sixteen, so don’t tell me astrology is horseshit, pal. Anyway, my dear friend Christy, who has long benefited from my sage vision, finally managed to talk me into taking the gig global, maybe even viral. I hope you all find some meaning and wonder in what you’re about to read. And as always, my horoscopes come with a one-hundred percent satisfaction guarantee. If I miss the mark even a little, shout my way. And I’ll give you Christy’s number.

ARIES (Mar. 21–Apr. 19): Adventure is in store for you, Aries. Steal some time just for you: take a day-trip to a favorite out of the way spot, or visit a museum, or eat something you never knew people actually eat, like lamb penis or potted meat. Many will try to steer you, as they always do, but don’t heed their advice: plot your own course. Remember: you’re the driver. Please also remember that you are quite possibly the worst driver on the face of the planet, being easily distracted and almost blind in one eye, as you are. That’s probably where the adventure will come in. Make sure your insurance is current.

TAURUS (Apr. 20–May 20): Hey Taurus, guess what? You’re going to get laid next week. Like, a ton! Seriously, you’ll just be walking down the street, waiting in line at the ATM, making a sandwich, whatever, and before you know it, bam, you’re getting busy. There’s some other stuff about investment opportunities and reciprocating friends’ generosity and sticking close to home, but you don’t need to hear any of that crap. Spend a little extra time in the shower this week, scrub low and hard, and then get out there and get fucking. And hey, let us know how it goes, okay? I love hearing from my readers.

GEMINI (May 21–Jun. 20): I see you spending a lot of extra time on your homework this week. And swearing off boys until you’re out of high school. And never ever ever listening to that fucking “Pumped Up Kicks” song again – seriously, it’s like Soylent Green. You’ve been warned. (For those Geminis who are not my daughter, carry on. But avoid brown liquor. And taxis.)

CANCER (Jun. 21–Jul. 22): I never know what to say to you guys. I’m just not comfortable with your sign’s name. I’m not much more comfortable referring to you as “Crabs.” It’s not your fault, just shitty luck, I guess. So, um, I’m sorry, I’ve got nothing for you. But, you know, good luck with everything. Hope you don’t . . . get it. Get either. Sorry. Oh, wait: lose fifteen pounds, get some exercise, and don’t drink so much. There. You’re welcome.

LEO (Jul. 23–Aug. 22): Music will play an unexpected role in your life in the coming week. Professional musicians or dancers can expect to encounter a career-ending injury. Those who could never carry a tune will suddenly discover they have perfect pitch, which will annoy their friends but finally, finally please their mothers, and those who haven’t picked up an instrument since they were forced to learn the clarinet in the fifth grade will display idiot-savant grade talent on the first musical instrument their fingers touch (so be careful around, say, tubas, unless you’re into that sort of thing). As you can see, it all balances out, just as the universe intends.

VIRGO (Aug. 23–Sep. 22): We’ve had some times, haven’t we, Virgo? Yeah we have. You are, as we all know, the biggest collection of lousy assholes and cowards in the universe. You’re pretty and everyone is always giving you stuff and making excuses for you, and you shrug and say, “Hey, this is just who I am, man.” Too true, Virgo: that’s just who you are. Well, just to let you know, there is some retrograde thing happening and your moon is sorta tweaked right now, just a very minor ripple but it’s there, which means one of the many, many shitty things you’re going to do next week might possibly bite you on your oddly mannish Virgo ass. For once. I’d like to think even you would agree you have it coming, but we both know better, don’t we? Whatever. You already get away with so much, so what’s one brief inconvenience? Just bat your pretty eyes and remember: nothing’s your fault. Ever. Oh, and here’s some good news: you’re not pregnant. You know how I know that? No, the stars didn’t tell me. No, I know that because, as it turns out, you have to actually have sex to get pregnant. So, yay! Keep doing your thing, Virgo, and you’ll be just fine. Have a great week. Jerk.

LIBRA (Sep. 23–Oct. 22): Ah, Libra. Sweet, sweet Libra. You, my friend, are going to have an outstanding week. I don’t want to spoil it by giving away a lot of particulars, but I can tell you this: when you get home, I’m going to do that thing to you that you like, you know, that thing we do when we’re alone up in my office with the door locked, the one where you like to point out that everyone downstairs in the coffee shop probably just heard us. Well, they’re going to hear us, and I bet they spill their coffee. Like six or seven times.

SCORPIO (Oct. 23–Nov. 21): This is a favorable time for you to be making some changes. Start with your wardrobe. Seriously, buy just one pair of pants that fits you. Just one. And stop making references on Facebook to things nobody cares about. Julian Lennon lyrics? You’re quoting Julian Lennon lyrics? I’d want to hit you if they were John Lennon lyrics, but Julian? Come on, dude. And by the way, I swear to Christ if you LOL me one more time, I will remove the L and the O from your keyboard and shove them all the way up your ass. JK. (No I’m not.)

SAGITTARIUS (Nov. 22–Dec. 21): You’re coming into some money, Sag. You are almost certainly going to have to suck a dick to get it, but I think all things being equal, you’ll have no regrets. I mean, come on, when’s the last time you said no to sucking a dick anyway, even when there was no promise of a big payoff? The stars have spoken: get sucking, and get rich, beeyatch.

CAPRICORN (Dec. 22–Jan. 19): Oh, Capricorn, what can I say? You are, quite simply, the man. Nothing much to report, just another outstanding week of kicking every ass and taking every name. Your always deep well of charm will be overflowing, with foreseeable consequences. Head on a swivel, tiger. I wish everyone could be you, Capricorn, my friend. And let me just say, I absolutely love your writing. I don’t know how you do it. The word genius gets thrown around a lot these days, but when it’s thrown at you, it just plain sticks. Keep it up, rock star. You’re an inspiration to us all.

AQUARIUS (Jan. 20–Feb. 18): There are people in your life who will make some unreasonable demands on your time and resources next week, my groovy friend. Go with the flow, as you always do. Except also do this: change the inflection of your normal speech patterns. Let your voice rise at the end of a statement as though you’re asking a question, and emphasize the wrong syllables of common words. People will look at you funny but no one will say anything because, when they’re not sucking your life force, your friends are notoriously polite. It’ll take a little while, but eventually people will start to think there’s something wrong with you, and then they’ll start offering to do things for you for a change. It’s simple, it’s elegant, and nobody gets hurt. Shine on, you crazy diamond.

PISCES (Feb. 19–Mar. 20): You’re a fish, Pisces. A slimy, bottom-feeding, gill-breathing, pop-eyed fish. Remember when I promised to stuff you in the oven at your bakery if you didn’t stay away from my daughter? Well, I’m not going to do that, not next week. Still, be careful around hot surfaces. Because you never know. Just an astrological word to the wise, champ.

Tune in next week, kids, when I dole out free relationship advice, and tell you everything I think you need to know about dismantling bombs.

Today, an astronomy professor at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College, the wonderfully named Parke Kunkle, told a (nameless, far as I can tell) reporter at NBC News something that astrologers have known for hundreds of years.

Here’s the intro to that “news” story:

 

If you’ve ever read your horoscope, you may be interested in what at least one astronomer has to say about it. Turns out your sign may not really be your sign.

“This is not something that happened today. This has gone on for thousands of years,” said astronomer Parke Kunkle.

The star doctors say Earth is currently in a different spot in relation to the Sun, and its equatorial alignment has changed from 3,000 years ago when the study of astrology began — back when 12 zodiac signs were assigned to 12 different periods of the year.

Those signs you were born into are different now because the Earth’s wobble on its axis has created a one-month bump in the alignment of the stars, according to Kunkle.

“Because of this change of tilt, the Earth is really over here in effect and Sun is in a different constellation than it was 3,000 years ago.”

 

First of all, no fucking shit.  The entire concept of the Age of Aquarius is predicated on said wobble of the Earth (see below), so it’s safe to assume that any astrologer worth his or her horoscopical salt will know that the constellations are different now than they were thousands of years ago.

Second, astronomers are not astrologers. They are celestial trainspotters. They voted to demote Pluto from planet to “dwarf planet,” which no astrologer would do (we know what a whallop that outer planet can pack). Asking an astronomer about astrology is like asking a stage-light manufacturer about Method acting.

Third, most astrologers use the tropical, not the sidereal, method of calculating Sun signs. In this method, the sky is divided into twelve equal sections; the constellations are irrelevant. I’ll let Robert Hand, the world’s greatest astrologer, explain, in a terrific essay called “The Age and Constellation of Pisces,” published back in 1982:

 

Constellations have not played much of a role in modern astrology. Fixed stars taken individually have been investigated from time to time, but not usually as parts of constellations….

The ancients made a distinction between two kinds of zodiacal sign, the zodia neota, which roughly translates as the “knowable zodiac,” and the morphomata, “that which has form.” The zodia noeta consist of…twelve 30-degree sidereal signs. The morphomata…are the unequal constellations forming pictures of forms in the heavens….

But while the constellations (morphomata) have retained their form fairly consistently from somewhat before Ptolemy to the present, it is quite apparent they were different before that time.

 

Fourth, and most importantly, even if the morphomata were used, all of modern astrology—and thus, every last word you read about the secretive Scorpio, the stubborn Capricorn, the sensitive Pisces, and so on—begins with Ptolemy’s book Tetrabiblos. Since the sky looks more or less the same today than it did when he was writing, it doesn’t matter one iota, practically speaking, where Aries was in ancient Babylonia.  We are what we are; where the stars are located is beside the point.

(Hand, incidentally, and many other astrologers, talk about the “thirteenth sign,” Ophiuchus. Ophiuschus is like the zodiac’s Pete Best.)

As the learned astrolomer observes, this has gone on for thousands of years. The only mystery is why it is news.

 

So what is the Age of Aquarius, anyway?

 

The Earth moves in three different ways. Two of these motions you know already, because rotation and revolution are how our basic units of time—day and year—are derived. The seasons, another unit of time, are caused by the interplay between rotation and revolution.

But there is a third motion to the planet, one that takes far longer than the other two: the wobble. Ever spun a top and observed how its top wobbles as the body spins? The Earth does the same thing—slowly, very slowly, but ineluctably.

It takes one day for the Earth to rotate on its axis, one year to revolve around the Sun, and a whopping 25,868 years (give or take) to wobble around completely. One 360-degree wobble is called a Great Sidereal Year—or, more frequently, a Platonic Year (PY).

Now, imagine that you’re up in space, staring down at the North Pole. Also imagine that some celestial cinematographer recorded the Earth making a full wobble in time-lapse photography. What you would see is a point moving in a circle—like the tip of the second hand on a clock, except wicked slow.

Let’s give this circle of completed wobble a name. Let’s call it Dave.

There are 360 degrees to Dave. We mark these degrees in units of twelve—just like we do on a clock. But instead of numbers, we use the zodiac—a series of “fixed” stars near the equator, visible from both hemispheres, by which we track the motion of the Earth.

Continuing our clock analogy, if Dave lives on a second hand, then 1 is Aries, 2 is Taurus, 3 is Gemini, and so on, to 12, which is Pisces. Each of these twelve divisions of the Platonic Year—a Platonic Month, if you will—is called an Astrological Age.

With me so far?

One more thing: the Earth wobbles backwards through the zodiac. So Dave is moving in reverse. Instead of going from Aries to Taurus, Dave travels from Aries to Pisces, and from Pisces to—ta da—Aquarius.

Right now, we are in the Age of Pisces. It has been the Age of Pisces for a really long time. We’re waiting for Dave to break the plane of the 11—and for Earth to enter the Age of Aquarius.

(Sidenote: the term “New Age” is thus derived: the Age of Aquarius is the New Age).

A Platonic Year lasts, as discussed, 25,868 Earth years. A Platonic month—that is, an Astrological Age—lasts about 2160 Earth years. The Earth wobbles about one degree every 72 years. These are just estimates, of course, but they are close.

As if all this Dave business isn’t confusing enough, there’s one more curveball. There are two different zodiacs. The tropical zodiac divides the heavens into twelve equal pie-slices, just like a clock, based on the vernal and autumnal equinoxes.

The sidereal zodiac is based upon the stars themselves, rather than arbitrary points in the sky. Because some constellations are bigger than others, according to apologists of the sidereal zodiac, some Ages last longer than others. And Pisces is one of the big ones. If a regular Age is a two-hour movie, Pisces is Gone With the Wind. It’s a double videotape of a constellation.

Summing up, we know an Astrological Age is roughly 2160 years, give or take a decade or three. We’re pretty sure that we’re still in the Age of Pisces. But we’re not sure when the Piscean Age ends, because we’re not sure when it begins—or, for that matter, how long it’s supposed to last.

 

When is this dawning-of-the-Age-of-Aquarius business going to start?

 

Astrologers disagree about when the Age of Pisces began. Here are some hypotheses, in chronological order:

 

608 BCE Madame Blavatsky

317 BCE David Davison

255 BCE Gerald Massey

125 BCE Thierens

111 BCE Robert Hand

100 BCE Dane Rudhyar

1 CE Paul Council

25 CE Charles A. Jayne

213 CE Cyril Fagan

496 CE Gavin Arthur

 

Add 2160 years to the start dates, and here’s when the experts suggest the Age of Aquarius might begin. (Note: all but Robert Hand have been dead for at least a quarter century).

 

1552 CE Madame Blavatsky

1843 CE David Davison

1905 CE Gerald Massey

2035 CE Thierens

2049 CE Robert Hand

2060 CE Dane Rudhyar

2161 CE Paul Council

2185 CE Charles A. Jayne

2370 CE Cyril Fagan

2656 CE Gavin Arthur

 

Given that living astrologers concur that we are still in the Age of Pisces, we can safety discard Blavatsky, Davison, and Massey. The two astrologers I find the most illuminating are Hand and Rudhyar, so it is telling that they are in virtual agreement.

In short, the New Age is coming. But not until the middle of the century. Unless Parke Kunkle tells a reporter at NBC News otherwise, that is.

 

 


The only real point to life is for it not to turn out the way you expect. Think about it. If, at an early age, you mapped out a life for yourself, and it played out exactly the way you wanted, you would be fantastically bored. In fact, if nothing or no one placed obstacles along the preordained path of your life, you would probably introduce those obstacles just to experience a little variety. I think you can make an argument that those of us prone to self sabotage are not necessarily fighting some deep interior hatred of ourselves but simply bored.

We humans also feel a deep-seated need for order in the world that stands in contrast with our desire for conflict. This is probably why we create gods who are all powerful and ostensibly running the show, but presume those gods afford us free will. There is a plan, but we are permitted to fuck it up. Or we look to distant and irrelevant celestial bodies to help us understand who we are, but the interpretation of these stars and planets are left to infallible humans.

This is why I believe most good stories follow a certain template. A character’s life is pushed out of balance and he spends the rest of the story attempting to restore order. Each time he succeeds, new and greater complications arise, creating a back and forth effect, an increasing push and pull effort until no greater threat can be imagined, at which point the character either overcomes his obstacles or is overcome by them. Or some ironic blend of the two.

Of course a novel or a film or any medium may incorporate one of these stories or scores of them, depending on its scope. The threats might be real or imagined. They might be contained within a family or cover the entire planet (or galaxy). But this template functions because it appeals to our inner struggle between order and conflict. Play all you want with a certain medium, introduce new variations on form and structure and language, but do not argue with me about the underlying way a basic story functions. That template is what joins the story with our biology.

Our lives are stories. We are rarely in balance, and even when we are, we seek ways to temporarily push ourselves out of balance. Perhaps the wise among us, as they grow older, realize this and try to reverse field. But I would wager that even our most comfortable and intelligent seniors still look for daily reasons to complain about something.

If life is a story, perhaps its most impressive climax is romantic love. In my opinion, there is nothing in the world more miraculous. Billions of parents around the world might disagree, but intellectually I find romantic love more interesting because of the relative rarity compared to its familial counterpart. Perhaps the love a mother feels for her child is more powerful, but the truth is there is a functional purpose for that version of love, a very real biological source.

You might argue how lust and temporary romantic partnerships are also driven by our genes, that all life is a machine, but my definition of romantic love stands outside that model. Finding a suitable biological partner might amount to nothing more than hip-to-waist ratios in females, or height and breadth combinations among men, and the general health and beauty of both. But coupling those physical attributes with our complex, brilliant, chemical brains is something I’m not sure evolution has grasped yet. Or something we humans can really understand. In the first blush of a crush, it’s hard to separate the physical urges from the intellectual. You can’t really know if the attraction you feel is a biological imperative or the far more complex joining of two individual minds. Most often, the attraction is weighted on one side more than the other, and this is why the most fulfilling relationships are so scarce.

Complicating matters even further is how often it happens that one person experiences the complete picture of romantic love and the other does not. Due to social norms and biological pressures, relationships like this might last a lifetime, but this happens far less often than it once did, at least in Western culture. Today there are too many options available to us, and countless love stories have taught us to accept nothing less than a magical union. Functional relationships burdened with these fanciful expectations often experience structural failure, and millions of people wander aimlessly wondering why they can’t find someone perfect with whom to share their lives.

It’s no secret why love stories are usually written about the chase but rarely about what comes after. The excitement of courting or being courted is the engine that drives the story. The obstacles one experiences while driving toward the climax of admitted and recognized love is the story. The sense of balance one experiences by beginning the relationship is not a story. Or perhaps more accurately, it’s the end of the story other people might find interesting. You don’t write that part in a book or film because the chemistry between those two people is so unique that it likely wouldn’t be entertaining to a wide audience. Who wants to listen to their friend prattle on about how awesome their partner is? Wouldn’t you rather hear her admit how she believed she was important to him, only to find out he’d been using her as a toy all this time?

Maybe it’s depressing to recognize these things about ourselves, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, understanding humanity is a way to make sense of our lives and set expectations. Extended happiness and true romantic love does exist in the world. There are many examples of it. But recognizing the scarcity of these things may prevent you from being disappointed when you don’t find them, or at the very least help you accept something less in your life. After all, the earth will continue to rotate no matter how you feel about it, and your acceptance that every day won’t bring roses will help you make the most of those many sunrises and sunsets.

In any case, since it’s true life rarely turns out the way you expect, it’s also possible the most amazing event of your life will happen tomorrow.

That you can’t ever know for sure is what makes life so beautiful in the first place.

As you may know—but may not, because of my Scorpio predilection for Dick Cheney-level secrecy—I am a semi-professional astrologer.*For many months, I have been quietly collecting birth data from TNB contributors** whenever the topic came up on the comment boards, a sort of horoscopical scavenger hunt that netted quite a few charts for my burgeoning collection.