Superstition, it is said, is the religion of feeble minds. That may explain why most politicians are inveterate believers in occult practices. If one thought it was political leaders who ran this country, one thought wrong. Politicians rule the country and astrologers lead politicians by the nose! A few years ago, it was reported that a minister of a previous government had got into a gunny bag full of gingerly in the buff at the behest of an astrologer to neutralise the malefic effects of a bad planetary combination. Politicians won't mind even being inside sacks of chillies in birthday suit if that helps them regain or retain power! The Opposition in the early 1990s claimed that a former President had pig oil applied on their seats in Parliament to counter the effect of some charmed oil his opponents bent on impeaching him had sprinkled inside the House!
Time was when even military operations were postponed on the advice of prominent astrologers. But, when the military took on terrorists without waiting for auspicious times or consulting astrologers, according to the army chief, the war was won within less than three years! One is reminded of these words Cassius utters in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings." It took ages for us to get our act together and when we finally did, the scourge that had plagued this country for nearly three decades was removed effectively. That is why the wise old folk say the signs of the zodiac are karmic patterns; the planets are the looms and the will is the weaver.
We hear that an astrologer named Bandara finds himself in the soup having made some predictions unfavourable to the government recently at the UNP headquarters. Bandara is said to have been grilled by the CID severely and detained, as some ruling party worthies believe he was privy to a conspiracy to topple the government! UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake was quoted by this newspaper yesterday as having called Bandara's detention under emergency regulations unprecedented. What intrigues us is not so much the bovine reaction of a paranoid government tilting at windmills but why Bandara said to be a seasoned astrologer failed to foresee his ordeal on the Fourth Floor! Was it he who insisted until about a year ago that the UNP leader had a raja yoga?
However, Bandara's harrowing experience is not without parallels in the world history.
Following an accurate prediction of an attempt to assassinate Hitler in 1939, a Swiss astrologer named Karl Ernst Krafft was arrested by Nazis. He was reportedly put through hell by his investigators but later released after it was established beyond any doubt that he had nothing to do with the assassination bid.
Goebbels made the best use of Krafft thereafter by getting him to interpret Nostradamus' quatrains in such a way that they favoured Hitler’s grandiose project of conquering the world.
The Fuehrer, the gullible megalomaniac who believed in some divine providence, it is believed, went by Krafft's predictions in attacking Soviet Russia.
The Allied Forces recruited among several others, Louis de Whohl, a hagiographer cum less known astrologer but effective propagandist with an axe to grind with Hitler because of his Jewish ancestry. He was detailed by the British to counter Krafft's propaganda. Thus, the World War II also became a 'star war' with the Nazi and the Allied astrological spin docs fighting it out dragging as they did even Nostradamus into their astrological warfare. Both sides launched psychological offensives by dropping planeloads of leaflets containing astrological forecasts unfavourable to each other.
Finally, Krafft fell out of grace and was thrown into a dungeon––where he died of typhus–– for having made some dire prophecies that Nazis did not want to hear. He predicted that the Third Reich was doomed. Hardly a prediction! Everybody save Hitler and his inner circle knew his project was not viable.
Oscar Wilde also tells us in one of his fascinating stories about a chiromancer, who dies at the hands of a client who looks for a lesser person to kill after he is told he is destined to be a killer. The poor palmist gets thrown into a river! The problem with predictions is that some people take them too seriously!
However, there are some smart astrologers who don't leave everything to stars. In R. K. Narayan's famous story, An Astrologer's Day, we have a stargazer who relies on his brains to escape from an old enemy who comes looking for him.
The origin of marriage between superstition and statecraft is lost in the mists of time. Interestingly, even the English law in the 16th Century reeked of superstition and provided for the persecution of 'witches'. The Witchcraft Act of 1562 under Elizabeth I, prescribed death penalty without 'benefit of clergy' for those who were found guilty of practising or exercising 'any witchcraft, enchantment, charm or sorcery whereby any person shall happen to be killed or destroyed'. (Miliband et al seem to be still going by that Act, if their witch hunt against Sri Lanka is any indication!)
"Superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy," Voltaire has said. And our politicians of all hues are unfortunately wedded to the 'mad daughters' and not the 'wise mothers'!
So, the whole caboodle of stargazers had better beware of the consequences of their forecasts! They should peruse their own birth charts to ensure if planets are behaving before venturing to make predictions that government leaders may not take kindly to.
This, however, does not apply to the pro-government astrologers whose predictions are rather predictable and invariably music to the ears of the powers that be.