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The Astrological Journal

Sun Sign Astrology - The Elephant in the Room

by Jessica Adams

Jessica AdamsMy name is Jessica Adams. I am a Sun Sign horoscope columnist and I work in a branch of astrology which is the elephant in the room.

Everyone in our profession knows it's there. Everyone knows it's noisy and enormous. Yet after nearly 90 years of its popular existence, nobody in our profession seems to know what to do with it. Sun Sign work continues to be treated like Babar banging around in the bathroom. And nobody wants to look.

Post-internet, Sun Sign astrology now draws verified audiences in the multi-millions. It is the most trusted kind of horoscope in the world. As Newsweek reported in 2013, Susan Miller's website astrologyzone.com draws six million visitors annually.

I can give you even more specific numbers for my own website, to give you an idea of just how big the Sun Sign elephant in the room actually is.

statisticsWordPress and Google Analytics statistics reveal jessicaadams.com drew 1,008,875 people in the last 12 months, and those people visited my daily, weekly and monthly horoscopes 6,526,583 times. They came mostly from America, followed by Australia and Britain.

Despite these kinds of numbers, at the 2012 United Astrology Conference (UAC) Sun Signs were given just one day in the programme, for "astrological beginners" on "entry-level topics."

Entry level? I currently work with 34 symbols in the horoscope when I make predictions in my columns for Harper's Bazaar, Cosmopolitan and others.

These horoscope symbols include Psyche, Cupid, Juno, Diana, Fortuna, Minerva and many more Roman archetypes who complete the family tree of astrology that began with Mercury, Venus and Mars.

They are, of course, asteroids. I began researching these gods and goddesses when I completed my university degree, majoring in Philosophy, Ancient Civilisations and Religious Studies.

Whatever the UAC organisers might think, Sun Sign astrology is not entry level, and it's not for beginners. When I approached them to speak at their 2008 conference, though, I was turned down. There goes the elephant.

When astrologers reject Sun Sign astrology

After being rejected to speak at UAC (despite just having published two astrology books in America with HarperCollins and Penguin) I was also turned down to speak at the Astrological Association conference in 2014. This time I sent an annoyed e-mail to the organisers.

Wow, what does it take to be invited to speak at an AA conference these days? 50,000 daily website visitors? 2000 Twitter followers? I guess I'm just irrelevant to people who like astrology. Will organise my own talks.

Part of my frustration came from not being able to reach astrologers, and astrology students, at conferences - exactly the kind of people who I could talk to about training as Sun Sign columnists.

Fortunately, in the end, the AA changed their mind, and Sun Signs went on the lecture schedule.

Thanks to developing publishing and internet technology, there is a massive new Sun Sign astrology industry out there for all of us to work in, just waiting to happen. The potential is there for some astrologers to write websites which cater purely for one sign; purely for one birthdate, even. The web pulls in such vast numbers that you could make a decent income, merely catering for everyone born under the sign of Aries. Or even one decanate of Aries.

Enhanced e-horoscopes, with embedded video and audio, may be the future. Or how about interactive predictions? The potential is exciting. And lucrative.

Needless to say, while Sun Sign work is the undiscussed elephant in the room, we are never going to see that potential fulfilled.

How to Make a (Good) Living from Astrology

So how do the numbers in Sun Sign astrology work and why should mainstream and academic astrology care? It begins with "freeconomics": the internet principle that you give 90% of your work away, and charge for the rest. And most of what people want, free, online is Sun Sign-based - because it is what they know. Uncomplicated. Familiar. Their grandparents and great-grandparents were raised on it too.

People always want to know how much money I make from my work. Well, here's your chance to find out.

My website is mostly free, with premium content for subscribers, and enough of those one million people sign up for a small sum to view ring-fenced content every year, to ensure £10,000 in annual income. When my personal 2014 client horoscopes are completed at Christmas, I will have added £7,000 to that total. My work for Harper's Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, the Australian Women's Weekly and Get The Gloss adds well over £70,000 to that total.

So there it is. It is possible to earn over £70,000 a year from astrology if you write Sun Sign columns. And that figure does not include the royalties I receive from my books, Essential Astrology for Women (HarperCollins) and Astrolove (Corgi). Personal appearance fees add to the total, too. It all adds up.

Will the "real astrology" please stand up?

Inspired by a conversation with Kim Farnell, the author of Flirting with the Zodiac, I began by looking at two phrases which often turn up in criticism of Sun Sign astrology. Even by Sun Sign astrologers.

One is "real astrology" and the other is "serious astrology" - and the usual implication is that Sun Sign horoscope columns are neither.

Thanks to their columns and books, the astrologers most associated with the phrase "real astrology" are Rob Brezsny and John Frawley.

Brezsny no longer uses the term; Frawley made his name with it. I don't believe any such things exists. All astrology is real.

Neil Spencer, formerly the astrologer for The Observer, comments:

I detest astrological snobbery, especially talk of 'Real' astrology. Planetary cycles apart, there is nothing real about astrology; western astrologers use a zodiac that doesn't even accord with 'real' planetary positions. Astrology is symbolic, interpretative, allusive and elusive. There are many techniques and I don't think one is better than another. I admire horary, which I can't do, I admire sect, antiscion, dashas and nakshatras, though I am no expert on them.

In fact, in the age of Neptune in Pisces, it may be time to accept that there is nothing real about reality. Unless you are Richard Dawkins, however (see his 2007 documentary, The Enemies of Reason). He firmly believes that his reality is more real, than your reality.

This is from his website, richarddawkins.net, written by Mark Crislip:

There are numerous activities that one human will offer another in exchange for money that are completely divorced from reality. Astrology. Total bunkum.

Ah, there's that reality word, again. And as with Dawkins, Crislip's reality is apparently much more real than yours.

We will, however, always come to the R word, every time we look at Sun Sign horoscopes, because the first column was published during a planetary pile-up dominated by Neptune, that potent symbol of alternative realities.

Nick Campion, himself an experienced Sun Sign astrologer, details the story of the first modern UK newspaper astrology column in his book, Astrology and Popular Religion in the Modern West. The first version of a Sun Sign feature was published in the Sunday Express on 24 August 1930 and was written by R. H. Naylor, when Cheiro was unavailable.

Naylor was asked to analyse the horoscope of the infant Princess Margaret, give general political predictions and about fifty words per day of birthday predictions for each day of the coming week. The column was not based on the 12-paragraph scheme (that came later) but it did contain reader birthday predictions. Readers loved it. Popular, mass-audience astrology for the media was up and running.

Sun Sign astrology - born under Neptune

Aspects of columnThe aspects for Naylor's first column at 6.00am in London on 24th August 1930 say it all. The Sun stands at 0 Virgo 18. The Moon is at 1 Virgo 07. Neptune is at 3 Virgo 12.

Sun Sign astrology, as we know it from 1930 onwards, in its popular newspaper form, is Virgo, with all its fixation on minutiae and daily routine, plus the distortion of Neptune.

A large part of this distortion comes from confusion over Sun Sign cusps. Some years ago I addressed this in my Cosmopolitan magazine column by making sure my agents at William Morris secured a contract which stipulated readers would see a link to astro.com on the page, in order to check their correct Sun Sign.

Not every magazine, newspaper or website will be sympathetic, though, and so a large chunk of the many millions of people reading their daily horoscope online and in the global media, will regularly be reading the wrong sign as horoscope columnists average the ingress dates for their readers.

The problem, of course, stems from the mass-market nature of the beast. There just isn't enough space to explain why time, place and date of birth matters. And so, Taureans go on thinking they are Geminis, and Geminis go on thinking they are Cancerians.

Sun Sign Astrology as Divination

The cusp problem - so utterly Neptunian in every way - is similar to the problem of "wrong data, accurate horoscope" which client-based astrologers hit all the time (it is a common issue with American clients and British astrologers who both read days and months in reversed order. It also happens when ageing mothers simply cannot remember their adult children's birth times correctly).

This way of thinking about astrology (wrong map, but correct divination) comes from Geoffrey Cornelius and his book The Moment of Astrology, and specifically an article called Is Astrology Divination and Does It Matter? (published in the Mountain Astrologer in 1998).

NaylorCornelius wrote, "The efficacy of astrology may not be dependent on the right or wrong map, but on a process of the psyche by which an astrologer mysteriously brings himself or herself into line with the person and the material. Certainly there is enough evidence to at least make us question whether the basis of correct understanding in astrology is actually properly given by an objective moment of physical time."

Neptune, again. But anything born on a triple conjunction of the Sun, Moon and Neptune will always be a peculiar Poseidon Adventure.

Ghostwriters and Sun Sign columns

Here's another thing about the elephant in the room. It is often not the elephant you imagine it to be. In other words, the column may have been penned by a ghostwriter (a perfect definition of a triple conjunction involving Neptune in Virgo). After all - what else is an astrologer to do, except hire an invisible helping hand, when faced with 365 days of work a year, with no time for holidays or sick days?

The actor Robert Mitchum and his wife Dorothy Mitchum both worked as ghostwriters for the astrologer Carroll Righter before Robert found fame in Hollywood. There are many more examples. The astrologer Jonathan Cainer escapes the problem by inviting (credited) guest horoscope columnists to take over in his absence.

More often than the millions of astrology fans suspect, though, they maybe reading a column which was never written by the astrologer they trust, for a sign which is not even theirs.

For the record, I write every word that appears in my columns. One of the reasons I want to teach Sun Sign astrology, is to train people to join me, to share the workload from time to time. However - I will be the first to admit that the elephant in the room is a very slippery Neptunian creature indeed. And it's time we stared it down.

Sun Sign astrology education

Shelley von Strunckel is one of the most successful and respected astrologers in the world. Her horoscope columns appear in The Sunday Times and London Evening Standard, among other titles. She wrote to me, in a recent e-mail: "I'd love to see – and would be happy to teach – a section on writing Sun Sign astrology for the press in astrology courses. That way those who have the talent, inclination – and discipline! – can learn early on."

All of which raises the question of technique. Which house system? Planets or asteroids? Orbs? And then there is the issue of writing style; particular media or literary techniques.

Neil Spencer: "There are many techniques and I don't think one is better than another. My favourite Sun Sign writer is Michael Lutin, (the former Vanity Fair astrologer at michaellutin.com) I love his wit. I also enjoy Victor Olliver, who writes for The Lady. "

Patric Walker and Horoscope Craft

The Sun Sign system I learned, purely by reading magazine columns in Harpers and Queen written by the eminent 20th century astrologer Patric Walker, is based on solar sign houses, or solar houses.

Charles and Diana

The Sun goes onto the ascendant position and whole-sign houses are used. In this respect, the house system is rather similar to the one popularised by Robert Hand. All things being equal.

The Walker system, as much as I could learn from his magazine work in the 1980s and 1990s, was to use exact transiting aspects (for example, Sun 1 Leo 00 conjunct Jupiter 1 Leo 00) and nothing wider than that.

Walker's technique worked superbly. If Prince Charles (Scorpio) had heeded the advice in his Patric Walker column in Harpers & Queen in June 1981, one month before his wedding and marriage to Diana Spencer, he could have saved him from an expensive divorce over a decade later. This is the original prediction, made for that month.

SCORPIO (24 October to 22 November)
Both personal finances and joint undertakings will demand the utmost care this month, since the great Sun will be opposed by Neptune in those angles of your solar horoscope. Try to cut down on your expenses and above all take no chances, regardless of the opinions of others. You now appear to be experiencing many dramatic changes in your personal life…"

The clincher sentence? "Now you may have to take your problems to someone more capable of handling matters of a legal nature."

Oh for a pre-nup, Prince Charles. But then again, it was Diana who was the astrology fan. For the record, she also hired gifted Sun Sign astrologers like my friend and colleague Debbie Frank to create her natal chart.

Shelley von Strunckel sheds more light on Walker's approach to his solar columns. She reveals:

He used solar houses and specific aspects during the month or, in daily stars, on the day. If there were no specific aspects on a day, he'd refer to the influence of the slow-moving planets in the solar houses of that sign's chart. In the daily stars, with the exception of the Full and New Moon and eclipses, he ignored lunar aspects - as he said they didn't last long enough to be recognisable in the readers' experience.

Astrology and democracy

I will leave the closing comments on Sun Sign astrology to Victor Olliver, who is a bestselling Amazon author, as well as the aforementioned columnist for The Lady, and has since become editor of The Astrological Journal.

Victor Olliver: "Let's be democratic in our approach to astrology and recognise its many expressions. Newspapers, magazines and websites are our popular portals. Without them, we're sad hermits growing hump-backed and bitter over horoscope charts, ignored and mocked. Get out there. Spread the word."

There are many good reasons to get out there, of course. And they begin with the fact that Sun Signs are the gateway to natal charts. As serious and real as any other form of astrology, they are invaluable in modern life, no matter how or why they work - with all their Neptunian strangeness.

Kim Farnell compares Sun Sign columns to first aid and natal chart work to heart surgery. I think they are very necessary elephants. Isn't it time we began including them more comprehensively in our conferences, at our universities and in the structure of our profession itself?

Image sources:
Jessica Adams: Jessica Adams
Naylor: public domain
Charles and Diana: By Elke Wetzig (Elya) (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

First published in: The Astrological Journal, Jan/Feb 2015


Jessica Adams Jessica Adams is the astrologer for Harper's Bazaar online, for Get The Gloss and for Cosmopolitan magazine in Britain. She began her career at Elle and Vogue and her website is jessicaadams.com.

© Jessica Adams- published by The Astrological Association of Great Britain 2015

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AA LogoThe Astrological Association is a registered charity dedicated to the support and promotion of astrology in all its branches. For over fifty years, it has been serving the astrological community through informing and bringing together astrologers from all over the world, via its stable of publications, its annual Conference, Kepler Research Day and other occasional events, and its support of local astrological groups. It also represents the interests of astrologers generally, responding when appropriate to issues raised within the media. 

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Current Planets
23-Apr-2018, 22:28 UT/GMT
TrueNode1114' 8"r17n24
Chiron021' 1"3n17
Explanations of the symbols
Chart of the moment
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