Unless you're a Virgo, in which case you've already mapped out the rest of your life. Sally Ballard gazes to the heavens in search of the secrets of astrology
Horoscopes have a compelling fascination. Leave a magazine or newspaper lying around the staffroom and sooner or later, someone will leaf through the pages to glance at their stars.
Although common sense may dictate that anything which purports to forecast an individual's week of work and passion is nonsense, the 12 star signs have an uncanny knack of illustrating some common characteristics.
Do you know a Cancerean who is home-loving, nurturing and dedicated to the family? Or a Taurean, who happens to be stubborn and materialistic, but a great lover of beautiful things? What about an artistic and mood-swinging Gemini or a happy, honest and loyal Leo?
Astrology has been part of human existence for more than 4,000 years. The Babylonians saw the stars as the writing of the gods in the heavens. It has often been regarded as a science of cause and effects, though many of today's astrologers believe it is more a symbolic language to encourage self-understanding. Whatever the interpretation, dissenters regard it as nonsense.
Which makes Bridge Ennis's career change all the more surprising. She gave up a successful teaching career to make astrology her profession. Why?
"It was a big decision," she says. But the former English and drama teacher and deputy head does not regret it for an instant.
"I had always been interested in astrology and read a book or two. I started out of curiosity. As I got more and more into it I knew it was what I really wanted to do."
She trained with the Faculty of Astrological Studies in London and began by drawing up charts for friends. She soon opened her own consulting rooms, drawing all her preliminary charts on a blackboard with chalk - her one throw-back to teaching.
The great and the good have always sought the advice of diviners and astrologers.
Nancy Reagan apparently relied on them to help her husband Ronald make daily decisions on how to run America. Winston Churchill too employed an astrologer during the war years to tell him what Hitler's astrologer was mulling over.
The 16th-century astronomer and German scientist Johann Kepler was an enthusiastic astrologer, as was Swiss psychologist Carl Jung. The poet Louis MacNeice wrote a textbook on astrology and even Ted Hughes considered it at length in Birthday Letters.
But of the millions who may read a newspaper horoscope, who these days actually turns up for an astrological consultation? "Men and women of all ages and from all walks of life," says Bridge Ennis.
"Some come out of curiosity; others to have their chart read so they can learn about themselves. But they all want to resolve some issue that is taking place in their lives.
She insists that astrology does not make decisions for usbut can merely suggest a possible solution to a specific problem. "There is no right or wrong," she says. "It is a symbolic language."
An astrologer will read a client's chart using the hour of birth, place and date. From this, the positive and negative influences of certain planetary positions at that moment can be established.
The conjunction of the planets at the moment of birth is supposed to indicate personality and character.
"There is no such thing as a bad chart or a good chart. What astrology does is to show you your hidden strengths, hidden talents and hidden weaknesses and your uniqueness," Ms Ennis believes.
In her work she draws on skills gained in the classroom. "As in teaching, listening is important and so too is learning from what is brought to you. In teaching your purpose is to show children what they can do for themselves. Showing a client his or her birth chart isn't so very different."
The Faculty of Astrological Studies, founded in 1948, is one of the oldest organisations teaching astrology and is regarded as one of the major educating bodies in the astrological world.
It runs seminars and talks which are open to the public, and holds classes and correspondence courses for students.
The faculty, with the Astrological Association of Great Britain, is currently researching whether astrology could make a viable degree subject within the next five years.
It could run either as an upgrade of existing diplomas, or as an adjunct to a broader course such as Renaissance philosophy or esoteric religions, explains Nick Campion, president of the Astrological Association.
He believes that the western world is still unsure about astrology, although it is familiar to Hindus and Buddhists.
Mr Campion says it has a place alongside counselling and therapeutic work, although it has a long way to go before being accepted, if at all, by the scientific world.
"In terms of current definition you have to say astrology is not scientific because it is much more akin to other practical applications, such as counselling, rather than to science, which can stand up to controlled conditions," he says.
Psychologist Sue Blackmore, reader at the University of the West of England, has studied the paranormal for the past 25 years and has become more and more sceptical of astrologers' claims.
"It is a serious problem in our society. People are bending their personality to fit their star sign," she says. "The implications are scary."
Ms Blackmore is concerned that among other things, star sign books for babies could encourage parental conditioning, with parents treating children with a certain personality in mind.
Or even worse, that people are persuaded to make important decisions, such as leaving a partner, based on astrological predictions. "It is horrific, says Sue Blackmore."
Robin Scagell, vice-president of the Society for Popular Astronomy, says that people are being duped by astrologers. The planets, he says, are so remote that their effects on Earth must be imperceptible.
"People are subject to so many earthly conditions that affect their behaviour that to ascribe particular traits to a remote planet is, let's face it, sheer guesswork," he says.
People alone are responsible for their actions, he maintains, and they should not go through life imagining their destinies are predetermined by the positions of the planets.
"Yet I have heard of professional astrologers making quite devastating 'predictions' such as that person will die at a certain age. Such pronouncements are not just 'counselling', they are downright dangerous."
The Astrological Association of Great Britain, Lee Valley Technopark, Tottenham Hale, London N17 9LN. Tel: 0181 880 4848.www.astrologer.comaanetindexhtmlThe association is holding its annual conference from August 6 to August 12 at Plymouth University, under the path of the total solar eclipse. This last great celestial event of the millennium takes place on August 11.Bridge Ennis is at The Astrology Place, Back Granville Road, Harrogate, North Yorks HG1 1BY.Tel: 01423 500727.The Faculty of AstrologicalStudies, BM 7470, London WC1N 3XX. Tel: 07000 790143.www.astrology.org.ukFor more information on the Society of Popular Astronomy, contact the secretary at 36 Fairway, Keyworth, Nottingham, NG12 5DU. http:www.u-net.comphspa
* MOVING HEAVEN AND EARTH
Astrology is the study of apparent coincidences between certain events on earth and the positions of the sun, moon and eight planets.
Western astrology is based on the tropical zodiac. The positions of the signs of the zodiac are determined by the timing of the four seasons, each of which is subdivided into three equal sections, making the 12 signs of the zodiac. Alternative systems are the constellation zodiac, which is based on star time and aligns the zodiac signs with the constellations of the stars from which they get their names. In this system there is a 13th sign called Ophiuchus. The lunar zodiac is timed by the phases of the moon and is aligned to 13 lunar months. The 13th sign, Arachne the spider, comes between Taurus and Gemini. The Chinese system is a 12-year cycle with each year named after an animal whose characteristics are reflected in people born in that year.
Each zodiac sign is said to be influenced by one or more of the planets - this is called the ruling planet. For example, Gemini is ruled by Mercury; Cancer by the Moon; Leo by the Sun.
The first astrological column in a newspaper was written by English astrologer William Lilly in 1649.
Organisations, buildings, events such as the launch of a ship and the financial markets can all have birth charts and horoscopes.