This article is a revision of one that appeared on October 25, 2000 on StarIQ.com. The original discussion was based on an inaccurate birth time, the bane of serious astrologers.
Skeptics usually dismiss astrology as misguided pseudoscience. A leading skeptic in today’s world is Michael Shermer, a university professor, prolific author and director of the Skeptics Society. Dr. Shermer has made a career of exposing and debunking the claims of mediums, psychics, bigots and practitioners of the paranormal. His recent books cover topics such as why people deny the Holocaust, why people believe weird things, how we believe, pseudoscience and the search for God in an age of science.
Professor Shermer graciously supplied his birth data for this article. Originally he believed that he was born at 4:30 am on September 8, 1954 in Glendale, California. When he finally located his birth certificate, he discovered that his birth time was actually 7:30 in the morning and he sent me an email with the newly discovered information. Although Professor Shermer may not believe in astrology, a look at his birth chart may help astrologers understand what goes on in the mind of a skeptic.
The Sun, the Moon and the Ascendant: Three Cornerstones of the Personality
Skepticism is deeply rooted in one’s personality. In astrology, the most powerful indicators of personality are the Ascendant, the Sun and the Moon.
The Ascendant represents the persona that we project onto the world. In the inaccurate 4:30 am chart, the sign Leo was rising on the eastern horizon, suggesting a person who is a natural performer, energetic, dramatic, feisty, fond of challenge and competitive in his interactions with others. Changing the birth time to 7:30 a.m. (as on his birth certificate) gives Shermer a Virgo Ascendant, which indicates someone who is typically mild-mannered, unruffled, calm and meticulous with details. Tiger Woods is a good example of a person with Virgo rising. Not knowing Professor Shermer personally, I cannot say which Ascendant, Leo or Virgo, better describes him.
The natal Sun signifies one’s core identity. Shermer’s Sun lies in Virgo, an earth sign and one of the most skeptical signs of the zodiac. Virgo is skilled at logical analysis, classification and the precise use of language. Virgo’s ability to parse complex matters into their essential details leads many natives of this earth sign into teaching, writing, editing and all forms of criticism. Virgos love to take things apart to see what makes them tick. Virgos also enjoy instructing others who may have overlooked the details that catch the discriminating Virgo eye. Most importantly, Virgo desires to be of service, to do something useful that will benefit others. With both his Sun and Ascendant in Virgo (making him a “double Virgo”), Dr. Shermer no doubt feels that he is providing a valuable service by protecting the public from the fraudulent claims of charlatans of the paranormal.
The final key to personality is the natal Moon, representing one’s emotional and security needs. In Shermer’s chart the Moon lies in Capricorn, which is an earth sign like Virgo. Psychoanalyst Carl Jung linked the element earth to the psychological function of sensation. Like doubting Thomas in the Bible, Jung’s sensation types are natural skeptics who demand hard evidence before they will believe anything. They pride themselves on their capacity to make objective evaluations and to analyze matters logically and critically.
To feel secure in the universe, those with their natal Moon in an earth sign feel a strong need for empirical evidence to shore up their beliefs. With his key astrological personality factors (Sun, Moon, Ascendant) all in earth signs, Professor Shermer is emphatically a skeptical Jungian sensation type who insists on indisputable reality-based evidence before he will assent to any proposition.
Angular Planets and the Personality
Any planet lying close to an angle in the birth chart has a powerful impact on the personality. The angles of the chart are formed by the horizontal (east-west) and vertical (north-south) axes. Shermer’s 7:30 am chart has threeangular planets: Mercury and the Sun in the east near the Ascendant, and Mars in the north near the I.C., or theFourth House cusp.
Mercury, which conjoins the Ascendant, was the wing-footed messenger of the gods. He has come to symbolize communication, writing, verbal ability, quick thinking, swift motion and intellectual pursuits. Mercury falls in Libra, the sign of balance and fairness, indicating that Shermer is a person who weighs all the evidence before reaching a conclusion.
The Sun and Mars by nature both partake of the element fire, which adds an energetic, pioneering and competitive spirit to Shermer’s basic earthy (skeptical) temperament (Sun in Virgo, Mars in Capricorn). The prominence of Mars and the Sun has a similar meaning to Leo rising, which was a factor in the erroneous 4:30 am chart. Shermer is a warrior (Mars) who does battle with false beliefs.
The Third House and the Mind
Mental functioning is shown by the Third House of the birth chart. In Shermer’s case, Scorpio, the sign of investigation and penetration, occupies the Third House cusp, indicating someone who studies matters deeply and seeks to bring hidden issues into the light of day. Scorpio is the sign of the detective, surgeon, psychologist and scientific researcher.
There are no planets in the Third House, so we look to the rulers of the Third House cusp for further information about his thinking patterns. Scorpio has a traditional ruler, Mars (the god of war), and a modern ruler, Pluto (the god of the underworld).
Pluto indicates, among other things, an interest in the occult and paranormal. Pluto, a ruler of the Third House of mind, lies in the sign Leo, suggesting someone who wishes to shine and be noticed for his intellectual achievements. Pluto also conjoins the cusp of the Twelfth House of spiritual matters and how we believe.
Mars, the classical ruler of his Third House of mind, lies in the earth sign Capricorn. This placement of Mars reinforces the earth/sensation-type theme and the strong inclination toward reliance on empirical data and skepticism. Mars also lies in the Fourth House of family, home and tradition, which suggests a significant interest in history and intellectual foundations. Third house ruler Mars closely sextiles Saturn in Scorpio (ruled by Mars), again suggesting an mind which prefers hard facts and cold logic.
It is instructive how a difference of three hours in the birth time changed the emphasis in the interpretation of Shermer’s chart, but kept the basic personality description the same.
Addendum (September, 2015):
When Dr. Shermer emailed me the newly discovered time from his birth certificate, I recall checking his solar return with the revised time to see if it matched the events of that year. Our correspondence took place in 2000-2001. His mother had died in the Fall of 2000 and I assumed that it would show up prominently in his return chart. Here is the solar return with Placidus house calculated for September of 2000.
When analyzing Solar Returns, I usually begin by studying the return chart, especially SR Ascendant sign and its ruler (sign, house and aspects), and also the sign, house position and aspects of the Sun. I then overlap the two charts to see where the Solar Return positions fall in the natal chart, and vice versa. The solar return and natal houses which share the same cusp become thematically linked during the year ahead. For example, Sagittarius rules the natal 4th house of home and family and governs the 2nd house of finances in the 2000 Solar Return. Thus, one would expect much activity with family financial affairs during the 2000-2001 solar return year. In fact, his mother died not long after the solar return, and he spent considerable time and effort dealing with her estate.
The Solar Return Ascendant lies in Scorpio, which rules the natal 8th house of death. The planet Mars, the traditional ruler of Scorpio, lies in the SR 10th house, which represents career but also the mother. Modern astrologers use Pluto as a co-ruler of Scorpio and regard Pluto as lord of the underworld and a general significator of death. Here Pluto very closely opposes Jupiter (ruler of the natal 4th of parents) on the cusp of the SR 8th house. The SR Sun forms a T-square with the SR Pluto/Jupiter opposition and 8th house cusp, suggesting that this configuration would be a dominant theme of the solar return year. Because it is a solar return, the aspects of the Sun are of great significance in the chart. Natally, the Sun rules Leo on the cusp of his natal 12th house of sorrow and mourning. The Sun also rules the SR 10th house of the mother.
SR Saturn in Gemini applies to the cusp of the 8th. Natally, Gemini governs his 10th house of the mother. Jupiter rules the natal 4th of family and endings. Natal Mars rules the 8th of death and occupies the Solar Return 10th of the mother. All in all, I thought that the Solar Return symbolism adequately described his recent loss, suggesting that the 7:30 AM birth time was fairly accurate.
To the best of my knowledge, Dr. Shermer remains quite skeptical about astrology, but he was gracious enough to supply his birth data for this article when it was first written (around 2001) and he seemed genuinely interested in following the evidence wherever it might lead him.