Curious views on astrology

Usually what we see in the news are stories about how local communities are riddled with superstitions and oppose efforts to combat popular form of it. Hence I was intrigued by this story about the opposition to a woman who wanted to teach a course on astrology in the town of Canyonville, Oregon. It turns out that there is a local ordinance dating back to 1982 that “prohibits fortunetelling, astrology, phrenology, palmistry, clairvoyance, mesmerism and spiritualism”.

Wow, I thought, there is actually a town that disallows superstitious practices? It is probably unconstitutional for legislatures to ban the propagation of ideas that they disagree with but this was novel since fortunetelling, astrology, and palm reading especially are deeply rooted in American culture and one finds horoscopes in pretty much every newspaper, however small the circulation, because readers seem to want them.

The issue touched a religious chord in the community of about 1,800 people. Members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church voiced their thoughts.

“I think if we open the door to occult arts, we’re bringing in something that could jeopardize our children,” church member Kelley Kolson said.

There is something weird about religious people opposing things that they consider ‘occult’ which after all means “relating to mysterious or supernatural powers and activities” and pretty much defines religion.

The opposition to the astrology course was itself based on irrational fears and superstition. Clearly the people were fearful that astrology was the gateway to all manner of evil practices.

Like Kolson, some said that allowing the occult arts could lead to more sinister things beyond teaching astrology. Jim Garrett, of Canyonville, compared the occult arts to opening a “house of prostitution.”

“It probably would make a lot of money, but is it uplifting to the community?” he asked the council. “Does it any way represent what the community has stood for all these years? No, and neither does the occult.”

Dale Hitt, of Canyonville, added that the occult arts could lead to satanic rituals.

“If (repealing the ordinance) brings in occult practices, it will develop into satanism, which practices the skinning of cats or whatever,” Hitt said.

Hitt added that if citizens were to practice the occult arts under religious pretense, then it would be unconstitutional to disallow them to continue.

“What about if they want to sacrifice babies, too, Dale?” Garrett asked. “That’s a religion, too.”

The Satanists have taken offence at how their beliefs are being characterized. Lucien Greaves, a spokesperson for the Satanic Temple, said:

“Satanism is actually a cure for astrology, not something caused by it,” Greaves said. “It’s troubling that the myth of Satanic cults skinning cats and engaging in ritual sacrifice still holds currency in our culture. Satanism seems to be the only religion in the world for which indignant mobs proclaim that its only true practice is violent and cruel, while the evidence is that its adherents truly respect personal sovereignty and individual dignity.”


  1. blf says

    There’s actually quite a history of laws against fortune-telling, astrology, and on so, and more usefully(as in does not present First Amendment problems), against fraud committed by such acts. I do not, however, know off-hand of any concise reference(s).

    Some of the laws are thinly-disguised anti-Roma bigotry.

  2. says

    Wow, I thought, there is actually a town that disallows superstitious practices?

    Not as long as there’s a single church still standing…

    Also, I wonder if the Adventist realized the irony considering how many Christian sects consider his church to be a cult.

  3. Mano Singham says


    But this law was passed in 1982, which seems a little too recent for this kind of sentiment because astrology had become mainstreamed by then.

  4. blf says

    New York state law 165.35 was passed in 1967, and is still in use (Telling Fortunes, and, From Time to Time, Also Taking Them), albeit with rather few cases each year, mostly due to a star-sized loophole: “[the law] allows the practice for ‘entertainment or amusement’.” Pennsylvania also has such a law (I don’t know when it was passed), and apparently, “in 1999, a Louisiana judge struck down a 1982 ban on palm readers and fortunetellers” (no idea about astrology).

    Why these various laws are enacted, I have no idea. I presume the precise details differ in each case, albeit I also presume there is a common-ish and evolving set of rationales.

  5. flex says

    As I understand it, most of the more recent laws against fortune-tellers and the like (since, say WWI), were not enacted for religious reasons.

    The major justification appears to have been fraud, i.e., there is no evidence that there is any value in the information sold, and it was sold under false pretenses. Then there is the problem of that these businesses are almost always cash-based, it is hard to audit and collect taxes when all the money is under the table and that also makes that type of business a prime candidate for money laundering. And of course, the people claiming to sell knowledge of the future were usually transients, and even if they weren’t, they certainly were not WASPs (so there is a social and racial aspect as well).

    There were also, at the time, a number of novels and movies which showed astrologers and fortune-tellers (as well as gurus and mystics) as really being extortionists. The basic plot being the wealthy heiress, actress, etc., is apparently in thrall to an astrologer, but in reality, he has her deep, dark, secret (she is… a divorcee! Dun dun DAH!) and is using astrology as a cover to extort money from her. At least one of the Charlie Chan novels had that as a plot, and I think it was used in The Shadow novels a few times. So there may have been a society-wide zeitgeist which supported the idea of banning such occupations.

    I do not doubt that many communities which enacted these laws did so at least partially because of religious reasons. But fraud, complaints, and (apparent) crime reduction were some of the major considerations.

    Which is why most of these laws hollow out exceptions for “entertainment and amusement”. The laws were just written to ensure that these activities could not be the source of someone’s livelihood.

  6. Lassi Hippeläinen says

    flex: “The laws were just written to ensure that these activities could not be the source of someone’s livelihood.”

    Except in the Wall Street. But they have to add a disclaimer in small print (“past performance yadda-yadda”).

  7. WhiteHatLurker says

    Some of these laws are there to protect the weak minded against con schemes. If it is entertaining then it’s not a con -- it’s fun.

    On the other paw (pew?), I guess church goers are entertained by the sermon and their tithe is like a movie admission.

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