For fun, members of my roller derby team figured out their astrological atlas, I suppose as a way to see how compatible each of us are and to understand our personality types for the purpose of working and competing together. The atlas is essentially a breakdown of your zodiac sign, including your rising sign, moon sign and sun sign. I admit this was very foreign to me – my knowledge of astrology only goes as far as the fact that I’m a Gemini and that my mother will occasionally read me my horoscope (usually only if it’s positive).
Americans have exhibited a bizarre fascination with demystifying their destinies. Gaining recognition in the late 1800s, the reputation of horoscopes has morphed from an ancient pseudo-science into a respectable discipline – featured almost daily in U.S. newspapers by the early 1900s.
This article from the Dec. 30, 1894 issue of The Salt Lake Herald reads like a veritable who’s who of “fashionable devotees” in high society.
“Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt is devoted to astronomy, with a decided leaning toward astrology. Perhaps considering the recent unpleasantness in her domestic circle she may be depending upon a combination of the planets to restore harmony after their period of hostile influences had passed.” Vanderbilt went on to divorce her husband, millionaire William Kissam Vanderbilt, in March 1895.
Another article from The Sun (April 25, 1909) features an interview with an unnamed astrologer, who discusses clients, typical horoscopes and predictions for 1909. Apparently the astrologer takes issue with some female clients because they don’t want to tell their age, which is a requirement for accurate predictions.
Today, horoscopes and astrology are still as popular as ever. You don’t have to go too far to find a psychic offering palm reading or tarot cards. You can even get your horoscopes sent via text message.
Still, there has and will always be skeptics. I think this quote from The Evening Bulletin sums it up quite nicely:
“But it cannot be too often asserted that there is no truth in the art and never was. The sun and all the planets may be in conjunction and exert no more influence for good or evil over a baby than a passing milk wagon in the street.”
You can explore the topic further and trace the horoscope craze through the Library’s collection of historical newspapers.
Many of the beautiful images adorning the halls of the Library feature astrological symbols–take note of the giant zodiac on the floor of the Great Hall. In fact, a sunny space in the southeast corner of the Thomas Jefferson Building, known as the Hall of Elements, is adorned with pastel-colored paintings representing the four elements and crowned by a disc in the domed ceiling that represents the sun. Although astrologers aren’t charting their future on its walls, the room does see researchers and scholars coming and going.
Of course, interest in astrology pre-dates our 19th century ancestors, with ancient civilizations and early explorers living and being guided by the stars themselves. The Library’s online exhibition, “World Treasures of the Library of Congress,” highlights a variety of historical foreign texts that focus on how mankind explained and ordered the universe.