As I’ve said elsewhere, I’ve always been a bit fascinated by spooky things, to use my friend Sonja’s terminology. At the same time, I’m a study in contradictions, to be sure; I am an openly gay man, a mental health professional, and an advocate for science—and at the same time, I’m a devout member of one of the traditional Abrahamic faiths (my day job, in fact!) and I’m not convinced that empiricism is the only legitimate means of knowing.
So in view of all that, what’s one more weird thing to add to my CV?
My first exposure to astrology was when my sisters brought home scented pens with their sun signs on them; I recognized the symbols from the horoscope section of the newspaper, which, in the Potomac News, were printed immediately opposite the first page of the comics in the Sunday edition and right above the crossword. I would glance through them every now and then but I could never square the vague Virgo aphorisms with the vicissitudes of my chubby nine-year-old life experience. But I knew I was a Virgo.
When my sisters brought the pens home, they told me, “if Mom asks why we chose these, just say we liked how they smelled.” So I went along with it—and I knew that there was something exciting, something to explore underneath these glyphs and colors and scents.
My mom (a Capricorn sun and a preacher’s wife) was an Anti-Harry Potter Mom™ who started each day with two cups of strong black coffee and an hour of Joyce Meyer while walking on the treadmill in our family basement. She forbad me from reading Harry Potter until she relented as I entered the eighth grade; little did she know that I had snuck home and read a copy of Chamber of Secrets which I had bought at a used book sale at my middle school. But I already knew about astrology at this point, because I also happened to be—and remain—a colossal Final Fantasy nerd.
In 1998, Squaresoft (now Square Enix) released a game called Final Fantasy Tactics, a turn-based strategy RPG set in a reimagining of late-medieval Europe called Ivalice. The hero, Ramza Beoulve, is by all accounts “on the wrong side of history,” as his journey to save his sister brings him into the darkest secrets of the powers that be—viz, the aristocracy, who is in bed with the Church (of Ajora Glabados, not of Jesus Christ, though the whole Glabados-as-a-critique-of-Christianity thing is another iteration of an overdone trope).
One of the primary game mechanics in this masterpiece of a game was a system of sun signs. I thought at first they were just flavor; you could, in fact, pick Ramza’s sun sign during the first moments of a new game. But I discovered as I played the game that sun signs mattered: on my first play through I had a magic-using character named Rivaldi, who was a Capricorn. I found that he managed to pull off spells with greater accuracy and power when targeted against units who were either Tauruses or Virgos; yet, his attempts to hit Aries or Libra units met with difficulty, and it was downright impossible to hit a Cancer unit if it was male—but spells cast on Cancer female units would, for some reason, always connect.
I had discovered synastry! Admittedly, it was an extremely stripped down version: spells and abilities worked well against units whose sun sign was a trine from the user, and faltered against squares and oppositions. Sextiles and conjunctions didn’t do anything, alas. There were sub-mechanics involving a character’s level of bravery and piety as well; a pious Aquarius would have better chances not only of blasting a unit off a parapet with Meteor, they’d also have a better shot at using Rhetoric to talk that enemy off the ledge and bring them to your team. The possibilities were endless.
As you progress through the game you encounter the Big Bads pulling the strings behind the scenes, a collection of twelve eldritch horrors in the image of each of the signs (and a thirteenth, if you do enough side quests). It happens that the final boss of the game is a Virgo—not just a Virgo, but the Virgo, a twisted archetype of the original holy maiden whose constellation lent its name to the sign with which we’re familiar. Imagine what a relief for a Good Boy Like ME to find that Virgos could be bad guys, too. Needless to say I used my burgeoning astrological wisdom to sent Rivaldi into this fight in order to work some high-octane magicks, like a good Virgo.
Final Fantasy Tactics and its sister games, the remainder of the Tactics franchise and the main series title Final Fantasy XII, have continued to keep (to varying extents) their astrological symbolism as plot points of varying importance throughout the development of each game. All thirteen signs (gag me!) shaped environments, bosses, summons, and mythology for each of Ivalice’s incarnations and the stories that have woven together over these many years have given rise to one of the richest universes in Square Enix’s oeuvre.
At the same time, the discerning reader should note that the inclusion of Ophiuchus in the tropical zodiac of Ivalician mythos is a side effect of Ophiuchus’ popularity in Japanese pop-astrology. There’s an Ophiuchus emoji, for Glabados’ sake! But somehow I managed to avoid becoming a sidereal astrologer in the midst of all of this. Perhaps we should leave working with Ophiuchus as an optional side-quest.
I carried the Ivalician zodiac with me for some time, always checking my sun sign column every now and then, even during my deepest plunge into the caverns of evangelicalism. When I went through a major life transition in 2012, leaving most of the comforts of evangelical surety that I had used as a ruse for hiding my insecurities in the process, I came back to astrology for lack of any other reason than “I need some kind of direction right now,” and I started reading Susan Miller’s Astrology Zone monthlies. What ho—there are more objects in the sky to note than just the sun on my birthday? And they move!? And I shouldn’t be reading the Virgo article as my main source!!?
I was hooked. To discover that Jupiter hanging out in my eighth house would correspond with growing up, to find that the progressed new moon lined up with my coming out—it worked. And let’s not even begin talking about Mercury transits during Mercury profection years.
It all worked. A little too well.
I read bit by bit, article by article, about different Venus and Mars placements; I pried for possible partners’ birth data so I could at least find out where their own Venus and Mars were; I got really excited when it worked easily and when I ran into difficulties I had to dig in a little bit. But I kept at it. And now I’m here.
I’m not a perfect astrologer, and indeed I’m still learning the ins and outs of the art—but nevertheless, I’m trying to hone my skills as best as I can. (Maybe you can help me practice.)
Astrology has made my experience of creation deeper and richer in ways that I never would have imagined at the outset; it’s not just about figuring out your chances for fame and fortune and sex—it’s about seeing more clearly the will of the fundamental goodness that drives the universe.