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Don't believe in astrology? What's your sign?

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Did you check your horoscope today? If so, you had lots of company. Horoscopes are so universally popular that all newspapers carry them daily. Many magazines offer readers a monthly horoscope, and some are devoted exclusively to astrology. Internet sites offer a huge array of horoscope-related fun from stockscopes to petscopes.

Most people don't take horoscopes seriously, though.

You probably don't plan your day around it. You don't postpone asking the boss for a raise or set your wedding day according to the stars. Or maybe you do.

Nancy Reagan did. She relied on astrologer Jeane Dixon to set her husband's schedule when he was president. Dixon had told Reagan in 1962 that he would be president some day. Already popular in Washington for her readings, she became nationally famous after Kennedy's assassination. She had predicted in 1956 that a Democratic president elected in 1960 would die in office. She claimed that she actually said he would be assassinated, but Parade magazine, in which the prediction appeared, refused to publish it.

Dixon, called "astrologer to the stars," died in 1997 at the age of 79.

I remember her demise well. I was an editor at a newspaper in California that carried Dixon's horoscope column daily. When she stopped writing it due to illness, we struggled for days over the selection of a replacement column. During the time the feature section ran minus a horoscope column, we were inundated with calls from outraged readers even more than we'd had when we ran the story on a local woman who believed she was a vampire. Apparently, people's lives were on hold without their daily horoscope. Pretty strange.

J. V. Stewart, in his book "Astrology: What's Really in the Stars," writes: "Even though evidence is abundant showing flaws and fallacies of the art, astrology nevertheless appears to be marching along unscathed. Why? I discuss this with friends, and they nod, acknowledge my criticisms, then ask, 'By the way, what's your sign?' It is as if people are slightly brain-dead."

The roots of astrology go back 5,000 years to the earliest civilization on record, the Sumerians, who had a remarkable understanding of astronomy. They divided the heavens into 12 parts and gave them names. The ancient Babylonians, Assyrians and Egyptians made horoscopes, but the astrology we know developed in Greece about 400 B.C. and was refined further by Ptolemy and Vettius Valens in the second century.

For centuries thereafter, astrology was considered a legitimate science. Nostradamus, Sir Isaac Newton, Copernicus, Dante, Chaucer, Plato, Bacon and Shakespeare were among the believers. Great generals planned their battles, and kings were crowned in accordance with the stars.

The story goes that Adolph Hitler fought World War II with the help of astrologers. It's said that Churchill and Roosevelt used astrologists to discover what Hitler's seers were telling him to do so they could anticipate his moves.

There are still practicing astrologers who are convinced it works. But for most of us, it's harmless entertainment. It's a fun way to break the ice at a party. I find it's a safe way to push unsolicited advice on my son, as in "Look at your horoscope today, and pay attention!"

Just for fun, I checked mine today on the Internet.

"Gemini: You may be extremely excited about an idea today, but unfortunately, no one else may think so. You may be springing up with enthusiasm, but then smacking straight into a brick wall. One side of you may be very communicative and witty, while the other side is emotionally confused, so perhaps you should just lie low. Hold on to your ideas and save them for a later day."

I swear that's what it said. Lie low? Today's my deadline and it's too late to come up with another idea. Take it or leave it. Also, I am not emotionally confused! Besides, I don't believe in all that astrology stuff anyway.

Contact Vivian Taylor at 474-1386 or online at viv@cybertrails.com.

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