The Mysterious
Art of Correspondences

Frank Thayer, Head of Journalism and Mass Communications at New Mexico State University, is no stranger to the pages of Writer's Cramp. His fiction and essays have been a favorite of our readership for the past three years. In this, his first essay for our pages since Mythos of the Swastika, from the Autumn of 2000, Thayer offers a scholarly "Five-minute Course in Astrology." See if you can spot your traits.


A wise man said recently that the difference between astrology and astronomy is "lots and lots of math," yet the art of astrology probably has gained more devotees than the "perfect science" may ever amass.

Astrology was so predominant in the ancient world that even Artistotle warned against the artifices of astrologers, yet politicians and financiers of the modern age still consult astrologers for advice about foreign policy and investment. It is certainly possible to discount astrology as a science yet still see value in it as an analytical tool in the interest of understanding people and events in everyday life.

The symbols of astrology are among the oldest graphic signs created by human beings, and the practice of astrology was certainly developed through seeing patterns of human appearance and behavior as corresponding to the visible heavenly bodies as they were seen to change position in the sky.

Astrology bases its premises on the observed position of the planets in relationship to the ecliptic, the horizon, and how human qualities may correlate with those changes. Astrology is not a science, nor can it be an experimental discipline, yet there are continuing correspondences that suggest something significant in astrology's attempts to relate the individual to the cosmos.

Modern people are not the first to categorize and make predictions based on observations that relate to physiognomy, personality, and circumstance. Today, psychologists speak of birth order, sibling rivalry, relationship with parents, and inherited traits, while biologists ascribe all human variation to genetics and reaction to stimuli. The astrologers have as good a track record of personality analysis as any of the modern psychology priesthood, and astrologers have been at it a good deal longer.

The Five-minute Course in Astrology

The occult elements of fire, water, air, and earth are not material elements as found in the periodic table, but they represent the basic philosophical qualities inherent in all things. Add to that the aspects of those four elements: cardinal, fixed and mutable, and there would then be twelve combinations of these esoteric qualities, peculiarly enough corresponding to the 12 astrological signs.

Fire Will, energy, expansiveness
Water Imagination, dreams, sympathy
Air Quickness, intelligence, dispersion
Earth Material, accumulating, solidity
Cardinal self-directing, leading, principled
Fixed unchanging, strong
Mutable shifting, adaptable


That still does not explain why a preponderance of people committed to mental institutions are supposedly born in the sun sign of Gemini, nor why people born under particular signs of the zodiac will see a lifelong pattern of relating strongly to some signs while never connecting to other signs. Here is how the astrological signs combine the elements with how the elements are altered by the astrological signs:

Cardinal fire
Taurus Fixed earth
Gemini Mutable air
Cancer Cardinal water
Leo Fixed fire
Virgo Mutable earth
Libra Cardinal air
Scorpio Fixed water
Sagittarius Mutable fire
Capricorn Cardinal earth
Aquarius Fixed air
Pisces Mutable water

Why then will people born on the same day (sun sign) manifest different personalities or have differing physical shapes? Astrologers say that a combination of sun sign (personality) is tempered by a physical type that is dictated by the rising sign or ascendant, that sign on the horizon at the moment of birth-a sign that changes every couple of hours. A person born at sunrise in Leo, for example, will have Leo rising, but someone born two hours later would probably have Virgo rising. The same would be true for the other sun signs.

By combining a sun sign (birth sign) with an ascendant (time of day at which birth occurs), an array of 144 general combinations emerge. The sun sign predicts personality, while the ascendant influences physical body type. Thus, the variety of human figures playing on the stage is already highly varied, yet identifiable by a pattern of correspondences that can be identified if the correct time and place of birth is identified.

While we have 144 general types of personality, there are also many other complicating factors that can be used by astrologers to explain individual behavior. Signal among these are the major planets as seen wandering in the sky by the naked eye.

Mentality, manifestation of intelligence
Moon Personal habits, daily routine
Venus Affection and friendships
Mars Passion, anger, and impulse
Jupiter Fortune and overall disposition
Saturn Limitation, difficulties
Uranus Expression of freedom and philosophies
Neptune Upheavals

Obviously, the effects of some planets in the personality will be exalted by some signs, but limited or a detriment in others. Astrologers would hold that Mars in Aries corresponds with a powerful and domineering will, given to rage, and the reader can do simple analysis how other planets may act through the prism of each sign and its qualities. Each of these positions adds its own emphasis to the primary personality traits.

The first thing obvious is that a book such as Linda Goodman's Sun Signs is inadequate to explain all individual variability, and why a study by the United States Marine Corps in the 1950s concluded that no particular sun sign was more given to heroism or cowardice. Asking someone of the opposite sex at a party "What's your sign?" is probably less predictive of compatibility than computer dating.

In this article, there is insufficient space to consider the 12 "houses" of the zodiac that correspond with the different arenas of human concern, but astrology sees the houses, like pieces of pie dividing the circle of the natal chart, as relating to the inner life such as self, family in one half, and the outer life such as partnerships and careers in the other six houses. This article is not meant to be a primer on astrology, but an essay on the art of correspondences.

Fascinating Anecdotal Data

Now it is time to inquire as to why, for example, women born under the sun sign of Libra are statistically more likely to marry a male born in Scorpio than they are to choose other males for marriage. Relating such an observation to astrology is just as defensible as discussing handedness, or birth order in explaining such peculiarities.

Another sun sign observation generalizes that people born in Cancer will have pleasant, positive dispositions, with tendencies to be modest, while people born in the succeeding sign of Leo tend to be far more egotistical and thirsty for public attention. Sagittarius natives from late November through most of December are philosophical, restless and given to religious exploration, whereas Capricorn sun signs that follow Sagittarius at the end of December tend to be stolidly practical, intensely materialistic and ambitious. Fascinating profiles, comparisons and contrasts abound in natal charts.

It is quite common for children in a family to be born into the same sun sign as one of the parents, while friends and lovers among the signs seem to follow patterns. One man recalled two tempestuous relationships with women of similar height and appearance, whose volatile personalities turned out to be too much alike for comfort. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that both women had not only the same sun sign, but possessed the same ascendant, though they were born in different years.

Experience can certainly show that individual personality has freedom of choice and will, but astrological positions can always be identified to explain the tendencies. This leads the scientist to say that astrologers are much better at post-observation analysis than they are at predicting potential behavior or events.

Another example of correspondence was noted not by an astrologer, but by Andy Warhol who produced the crude 1960s art film "Scorpio Rising," about homosexual behavior. Indeed, astrologers say that those people who exhibit Scorpio in the ascendant will possess deviant sexuality or have anatomical peculiarities in the sex organs. The author knew a woman, normal in every sense, who was born without a uterus and with undescended male gonads, yet without any other male characteristics or attributes. Her chart revealed Scorpio rising. Although not proved, if there is an equal distribution of births throughout a given day, 1/12 of those births will correspond to Scorpio in the ascendant, or 8.5 percent. The most generous estimate of people who say they are homosexual or lesbian in North America is approximately 7-8 percent. Perhaps these data can be ascribed to coincidence, or perhaps there is something to astrological correspondence after all. Invoking Andy Warhol in a seance might answer these questions.

The Art of Correspondences

One of the reasons that astrology cannot be a science is because the human mind can make of daily observations what one will. If an astrologer predicts that someone with Mercury in Gemini will do well in an intellectual career, that direction could well be self-fulfilling prophecy or a good guess. If an astrologer says the Virgo sun sign is excellent with detail work, the client can make the reading fit. It is easy for the imagination to construct personality traits to accommodate astrological patterns, and so no scientific value is to be had in the usual chart comparisons.

Even with the absence of scientific data, there is overwhelming anecdotal evidence that will, given a reasonable sample of people and decently constructed astrological charts, convince the open-minded that there is something profoundly interesting about astrology that justifies its fascination for people, great and obscure, throughout recorded history. It is the wise astrologer, however, who states that "the stars impel-they do not compel."

Observing that the variability in the physical and psychological traits of human beings can correspond with a high degree of reliability to the pattern of astrological signs at the person's birth is a philosophical puzzle that defies ordinary solution.

Some may say that genetics holds the key to understanding human uniqueness, but there is much observed evidence that can suggest that genetics may actually move in harmony with cosmic changes, just as the tides are affected by the orbiting of the moon around the earth.

There is no attempt here to say that planets moving through a particular sign actually cause certain traits in human beings, but then one cannot say that the placement of the sun directly overhead every day causes large numbers of people to eat lunch. In both cases, there may be a correspondence between the two observed events. A competent astrologer can talk with a person and make startling observations about natal positions of the planets for that person that can be borne out when date, time, and place of birth are offered.

Using astrology as a basis for personality analysis certainly seems to be at least as useful as psychology, but not nearly so lucrative for the practitioner in most cases. Seldom can astrology (or psychology) change a person's future or even predict exact events in the person's life. Nonetheless, astrology can be very useful in helping individuals explain and understand aspects of their personalities and give them some insight as to why they differ profoundly from other individuals in their families or communities.

The remarkable thing about astrology is not whether it has practical use, if any, but the possibility that people are intimately connected to the cosmos in ways that science cannot yet explain. This has been the foundation of astrology since the beginning of human history, and something the psychologists may never figure out.

The materialists will dismiss correct astrological observations as coincidence or accident, but one reading by a good astrologer will convince even most skeptics that there is a pattern to life and people worth studying and pondering. While astrology may not be a science, it is reliable enough to heighten anyone's curiosity about how all life may be connected with the cosmos at large. Once people gain a sense of connection to the universe, then they can begin to think about a purpose with which the universe may be imbued.


The End