Business people harness star-based predictions
Back in 1912, banker and industrialist JP Morgan, on the advice of his astrologer, declined to board the Titanic ocean liner in Southampton on the eve of its maiden voyage.
The history of the supersuccessful bank that bears his name might have been quite different had he ignored the warning. From that day on, Morgan regularly consulted his oracle and quite possibly gave rise to the global industry of "astro-finance". The financial goliath summed up the debt owed to the zodiac in the motto he made famous: "Millionaires don’t use astrology, billionaires do."
Today, seeking answers from the sun and planets is a multibillion-dollar industry growing apace in the digital age. Stargazers target big and small financial punters, business owners, managers and many a chairman. Add a few billion ordinary citizens and you have the global universe of astrology adherents.
Astrology has a history of more than 3,000 years and in more recent times, horoscopes have boosted the circulation of newspapers, magazines, websites and radio and television shows, attracting followers with their prescience by interpreting what the stars are saying.
Quantifying astrology’s contribution to publications’ bottom line is no easy call but some publishers report that it is an essential element in publications of virtually every persuasion.
"Some believers buy three or four different newspapers and magazines a day and consult a range of websites in seeking a consensus of the views of the more respected soothsayers," says one reader profile analyst.
"The zodiac has a powerful attraction for a strong, dedicated layer of readers and market players," the analyst says.
One of SA’s best-known astrologers, Laurie Naughtin of Johannesburg, says her practice has a growing number of business clients. She knows her predictions are on target because, "my clients keep coming back". She has a client who contacts her when she’s hiring and needs to know whether an applicant is compatible with her business.
One speciality is event astrology, Naughtin says.
"A businessperson might come to me looking for the best date and time to send out a batch of e-mails....
"There are days when not to have a meeting or sign a contract. The astrologer can tell when these events would be preferable."
Tahran Read, a Cape Town star sign reader of the Vedic discipline — which originates in India — says business people should pay more attention to what’s in store in the next couple of years.
"We have seen recently that doing business and following a system created soon after World War Two is no longer working. So, having financial advice specific to today’s businesspeople is more sustainable."
Naughtin is the founder and operator of a school, the Sublunar Academy of Astrology, which offers courses in advanced astrology.
She advocates regulation of the South African astrological sector. "If we could regulate the profession here, we could have more structured schools that produce formally recognised astrologers," she says.
Globally, particularly in the East, astrofinance websites proliferate, and some formal financial institutions are worried. India’s stock market regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India, has responded to the tide of digital buy-sell advice flooding the markets.
It warns investors not to be guided "by astrological predictions on share prices and market movements".
Leading Indian zodiac guru Abhishek Dhawan offers website predictions on the financial sector and his view is that the choice to seek advice is up to investors. The securities and exchange board "doesn’t regulate financial astrology just as it doesn’t regulate gambling", he told CNBC writer Holly Ellyatt.
"Financial astrology is just like any other market — some people will make money and some people will lose.
"It depends on the individual horoscope of the person and we look at this for our clients. It also depends on the horoscope of the particular person whether an investment or share is good for them or not."
After all, the exponents of astrofinance say, other methods of financial market analysis are based on the assumption that markets are rational when, in fact, they often behave in irrational ways.
Astronomy and astrology were accepted as the same discipline until the 16th century when one branched off from the other, with astronomy developing the more scientific approach to cosmology.
The 12 zodiacal constellations have been recognised in one way or another around the world, though most countries, and the International Astronomical Union, have adopted a modified version of them known to the ancient Babylonians and Greeks.
"The thing is," says Phil Plait, a US astronomer, public speaker and author, "there are more than 12 constellations the sun can pass through — 21 in fact.
"Adding more complication is the fact that the Earth wobbles like a top, very slowly, and over centuries that changes the dates the sun is in any given constellation. So, if you were born in late March in ancient Greece, you would have been an Aries. Today, you’d be a Pisces."
Plait is pointing to a phenomenon that astrology both recognises and deals with. Western astrology uses the position of the sun at the northern hemisphere’s spring equinox, which occurs every year at about March 21, as the starting point to divide the sky into 12 sections, so the zodiac’s 12 signs remain fixed.
In SA, astrology is organised along various branches, most of which connect with the Astrological Society of SA.
Naughtin maintains that as a business, astrology needs rigid rules, especially on payment for reading services; fees need to be paid in advance. "We find it hard for people to see astrology as a business," she says. "Some clients say they’ll only pay the fees if the reading works. That’s risky, because some don’t pay, whether or not it works. So, I insist on cash up front."
Naughtin practises several forms of astrology — including horary readings, which "provide precise and focused answers to a wide variety of questions".
She recalls a project of some years ago when she was called in to help bring about some harmony to a discordant section of a corporation’s workforce.
"The workers quite willingly gave me their sun signs and this identified their individual basic nature," she says. "A programme of team building that partnered staff members according to their sun sign traits helped in a quite remarkable transformation."
Software developers have created products that seek to do the planetary number crunching for investors, bypassing the need for an astrologer, says Ellyatt.
"One financial software product, Market Analyst, has released an edition of its financial market analysis software – with an additional astrofinance tool. Without a hint of cynicism, the software says it allows investors to analyse natal charts, planetary and lunar movements and other astronomical features that could have an effect on markets."