New Age Astrology in the Time of Computer Technologies
Author: Anna Tessmann
Occult knowledge transforms itself quickly, responding to the technology and the commercial spirit of the time. One of the most obvious beneficiaries of the recent technological achievements in the occult sphere is astrology. The advent of a personal computer in the early 1970s in the US accompanied, above all, the transition from elite to mass astrology. Computer programs allowed everyone to tackle the complexity and multi-variety of the astrological chart and its interpretation and reduced errors in extensive calculating. This style of computerized astrology came into life as New Age ideas with their astrological symbolism of a new epoch in human history (the “Age of Aquarius”) spread across the United States, Western and Eastern Europe, and other countries of the world. Many inventors of astrological software were not only computer specialists but also inspired New Age activists and entrepreneurs.
The Aquarian Age and Computers
The first documented attempts to reduce the workload in generating an astrological chart (horoscope) utilizing computer technology can be dated back to the late 1960s (see André Barbault and his Astroflash in France). The introduction and development of portable calculators and micro- or home computers in the early 1970s led to a simple and time-saving machine-assisted calculation. In the US, one pioneer of computer-assisted astrology was the IBM systems engineer Neil Michelsen (1931–1990), who founded the Astro Computing Services (ACS, later renamed into Astro Communication Services) in 1973 in San Diego (Lewis 2003, 454). His company started producing tables of astrological ephemerides (pl. from εφημερίς “diary, a daily journal”), i. e. the calculations of the Sun’s, the Moon’s, the planets’ and some asteroids’ positions. Until then, these had to be manually calculated about astronomical data; thus, casting a horoscope had taken a lot of time. Michelsen’s astrological reference works for each decade of the 20th century (after 1990, continued by Rique Pottenger) were published many times and became famous worldwide.
Today we know that different countries experienced parallel developments in astrological programming from the beginning. Of course, it was linked at the same time to the mathematical and astronomical research assisted by electronic devices (see, for instance, Duffett-Smith 1979). An interesting case is an American mathematician James Neely (pseudonym), who since 1972 had experimented with manual astrological calculation methods and then, together with the late founder of Matrix Software (1977), Michael Erlewine, started developing one of the first astrological software. Erlewine, originally a musician, was a self-taught programmer and heavily interested in diverse esoteric practices (Erlewine 2011).
Hewlett-Packard published Neely’s and Erlewine’s early versions of astrological programs in its User’s Library (Pierce (no date)). In 1979, Robert Hand founded the competing company Astro-Graphic Services; they offered their first software for sale in 1980. In this way, according to the well-documented accounts of American astrologers, the late 1970s – early 1980s can be considered as a landmark in the history of astrological computer programming in the US.
This landmark had an important impact on astrology cultures worldwide. Articles on computer-assisted astrology in Matrix Magazine/Journal (1978–1992) and the Manual of Computer Programming for Astrologers (1980) written by Michael Erlewine, advising corporate stakeholders, had been read not only in the US but also in other countries. Since then, astrologers had incorporated ephemerides as well as a tremendous amount of diverse astrological variables (signs, (fictional) planets, asteroids, houses, etc.), techniques (transits, progressions, directions, etc.), and interpretations into their programs.
In the 1990s, the branch of astrological software became the stable segment of the esoteric market around the globe. To name just a few widely-sold Western programs (mainly running on Windows but with particular emulators for Mac OS): Kepler, initially developed by Cosmic Patterns Software (USA); Win*Star by Matrix Software; Solar Fire by Esoteric Technologies (Australia); Shri Jyoti Star by Andrew Foss, and so on. Now, almost forty years later, the number of astrological software packages – available for a charge, as shareware and freeware – is immense and continues to grow with the development of select apps for tablets and smartphones. Astrologers have attempted to record all existing (mostly American and Western European) astrological software. However, these records usually cover only a small part of them, neglecting current or expired regional projects (see some comprehensive references in Friedman 1984, 1998–2019 with about 80 reviews on astrological software and special “tests of accuracy”; Foreman 1992; Astrodienst 2019, etc.). Moreover, even though we can detect a large amount of astrological software in various other countries, there have been no scholarly attempts so far to investigate their histories. The (post-)Soviet developments are no exception.
Astrology Software in the (Post-)Soviet Era
In the late Soviet Union, officials did not approve a local individual quest for new forms of religiosity and self-improvement. Neither did they welcome the New Age imports from the US, Western, and Eastern (still socialist) Europe. Nevertheless, gradually these became popular. It seems quite clear now that the appearance of the PC gave astrology, numerology, Tarot, the pseudo-scientific theory of biorhythms, and other forms of occult practices further impetus. Тhe programmers often used them as entertainment applications. In terms of its content, the astrology of that time passed through a series of substantive transformations from a plain prediction to therapy and a psychological/spiritual practice in the sense of the New Age worldview (Hammer 2005, 857). The computer was the medium that fixed and transmitted those changes, offering both easy charting horoscopes and interpretations with psychological portraits. However, being just a tool for astrologers, the computer did not automate the essential part of astrological prediction – interpretation.
Whereas in the US, the “old school” astrologers hesitated to use computer programs (in Erlewine’s words being somehow “computer-phobic” (Erlewine 2011, 14)), the newly minted Soviet astrologers in the 1980s – mostly relatively young people aged 20 to 40 who were interested in a wide range of esoteric literature – were quite excited about computers and the opportunities for their use. Many experienced contemporary Russian astrologers, whom I have met in large cities of the former Soviet Union during my fieldwork, have initially been IT specialists or trained in the natural sciences. They argued that their knowledge of mathematics and their ability to work with algorithms and models helped them advance in astrology even before computers had become popular communication devices. The type of education and the professional background of Soviet “scientist” astrologers could perhaps explain the continuity of their astrological practices. This stability is in sharp contrast to other people’s experiences of undertaking many jobs to make ends meet during the hard times of the 1990s. So naturally, many programmers who collaborated with astrologers hoped to earn some money.
Post-Soviet software is an important source for understanding how astrological teachings developed and who were the big players in that milieu. It reveals possible syntheses and transfers between astrology and other occult and pseudo-scientific ideas, between local and global tendencies. For example, early post-Soviet astrology foregrounded Western classical systems, gradually enriching them with local supplements (compared with the so-called “traditional” Avestan Astrology), which has generated its own techniques based on Western astrological teachings interpretative modules). Another strong trend developed due to the economic crisis that had diminished the Russian society’s buying power. Since Russian astrologers could not purchase foreign astrological software, they had to use bootlegs or pirated copies (what was already complicated due to the foreign languages) or create software with a Russian interface. Typically, Russian programmers were not interested in software of other types of “traditional” astrology, such as Vedic Indian (Jyotish), Arabic, and Chinese astrology. Such programs were predominantly imported from Western countries.
Similar to the parts of Eastern Europe where New Age transfers from Western countries as well as the development of new technology in the private sector were somewhat delayed, the first versions of Soviet astrological programs written in BASIC programming language on PCs were developed in the mid-1980s (Prinke 1998), but first released only in the 1990s. Compared to Western European countries, where astrologers had written astrological programs as early as at the beginning of the 1980s, and astrological software had appeared on the market in the late 1980s (for Denmark, see, for instance, Munk 2016, 91), the release of Russian astrology software was a bit late. However, despite the traumatic transition to the market economy, this process was amazingly intense. This intensity accounted for a rapid catching up with the complexity and sophistication of American and Western astrological programs. These developments were mostly oriented towards the needs of domestic Russian astrologers and their institutions (the only exception is, perhaps, ZET Astrology Software released by Anatoly Zaytsev, which is well-known in the West).
The first published reviews of specialized astrological software in the Russian-speaking space can be found in Sergey Maslikov’s manual on Astrology and Computers as early as 1998. Maslikov analyzed six Russian programs: ADB-Prof, Uranus, Almagest, Star, AstroProf, and Skyworker. Other post-Soviet reference books on this topic were published later and focused on the major professional programs, such as Almagest, Star, TurboStar, Uranus, and ZET (VVG 2000; Kolesnikov 2003; Zhadaev 2010; Kolesnichenko & Abrazhevich 2015). Maslikov, an engineer from Tomsk, traced the early computer programs back to the “rebirth of astrology” in the late 1980s and early 1990s (Maslikov 1998). The idea of “rebirth” is a well-known topos among post-Soviet astrologers because the period between the 1930s and 1970s in the USSR lacks any documented evidence of astrological practices.
There are many versions of what we could spot as the first (“professional”) astrological software in the USSR. Astrologer Elena Schepanovskaia (Semira) associated it with the Laboratory of Biodynamics at the Polytechnic University in Leningrad. The lab was founded in 1983 and headed by parapsychologist Vadim B. Polyakov (1938–1996). It hosted a group of scientists interested in the paranormal. A few of them are well-known personalities. Today’s director of the St Petersburg Academy of Astrology, Sergey V. Shestopalov, has created an astrological calculating program (later incorporated into the series of Newa software). Astrologer Vitaly Vetash (pseudonym) elaborated his particular interpretative application (Schepanovskaia 2012, 64). According to another source, Askold and Vladimir Bogdanov developed the earliest Soviet astrological software Prima (see also its latest version 5.0 (2018) http://primasoft.net), as well as some previous versions of Uranus (Maslikov 1998). In the early 1990s, software developer Vladimir Bogdanov moved to the US, collaborating with Michael Erlewine on Matrix Software projects and published articles in Matrix Journal (see, for instance, Bogdanov 1992).
Early astrological programs geared to the needs of individual (post-)Soviet astrological schools and were sold to their students. For instance, Radix and AstroProf included particular techniques and interpretative modules of Avestan Astrology taught by Pavel Globa, but they were used actively by other “Westerners.” One of the current leading programs, Sotis, has a significant number of types for casting and analyzing horoscopes based on methods of post-Soviet astrological schools (Pavel P. Globa, Sergey V. Shestopalov, Mikhail B. Levin, Pavel A. Krivoruchko, and others). Astrological software in the post-Soviet space gradually evolved into a universal tool for different kinds of Western astrology. Originating in the late 1980s – early 1990s, professional software applications, written on the basis of Microsoft-DOS (for more information, see the repository http://old-dos.ru, ca. 86 hits), such as Uranus and Almagest, were supplemented and adapted to Windows OS.
Interestingly, the calculations of these software applications are based on different sources of astrological ephemerides (since 1997, most of them are based on the Swiss Ephemeris computed by Alois Treindl and Dieter Koch (Astrodienst AG)). Another distinction can be made. The software is divided into programs for beginners and students of astrology (Uranus), programs for advanced practitioners (ZET, Stalker), and professional applications for “astrology researchers” (Almagest without any interpretative modules) (Zhadaev 2010). This distinction shows that the astrological milieu in the post-Soviet space is highly specialized and hierarchical.
In this post, I have briefly touched upon the history of astrological software in Russia. The field of astrology and computer technologies, however, has much more to reveal. It covers not only the professional astrological programs I discussed above but also entertainment and educational software of the late 1980s and early 1990s, as well as free online services, which through the media’s influence, have made astrology a part of the modern computer leisure industry and post-Soviet mass culture. Starting in the 1970s, we can see a lot of data on how astrology worldwide has penetrated new technology and vice versa. Still, we lack accurate documentation of such developments, which is a crucial prerequisite for understanding their adaption mechanisms since astrological programs and their history are essential sources for the study of esoteric milieus in the late Soviet Union and thereafter.
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List of some (post)-Soviet astrological programs and their developers (in alphabetical order)
- Almagest (Алмагест) by Sergey Tarasov in collaboration with Yuriy Oleshko and Alphee Lavoie (USA)
- Altair (Альтаир) by Vitaly Krivodub and Elena Fedotova
- Antares (Антарес) by Vitaly Krivodub
- Apollo by Alexander Solodukhin
- Astera (Астера) by Igor Germanenko and Alexey Goloushkin
- Astra (Астра) by Igor Germanenko and Alexey Goloushkin
- AstroBase Professional by Vladimir Wolf and Sergey Maslikov
- Astro Clock (Астрологические часы) by Sergey Tarasov
- AstroFD (АстроФД) by Nikolay Yumanov, Andrey Suchkov and Alexander Astrogor
- Astro-Geography (АстроГеография) by Sergey Kurapov
- Astrological Constructor (Астрологический Конструктор) by Anatoly Bukovets
- Astro Professional by Albert Timashev
- Galaxy (Галакси) by Igor Germanenko
- Gemma+ (Гемма) by Konstantin N. Dovlatov
- Germes (Гермес) by Konstantin Marikutsa
- Goroda by Alexander Solodukhin and Alexander Nizhelchenko
- Locator by Igor Germanenko
- Junona (Юнона) by Elena Netsvetay
- Medas (Медас) by Sergey Kurapov
- Newa (Нева) by Sergey Shestopalov
- Phaeton (Фаэтон) by Albert Timashev in collaboration with Elena Schepanovskaia (Semira) and Vitaly Vetash
- Prima (Прима) by Askold and Vladimir Bogdanovs
- Private Astrologer (Личный астролог) by Ekaterina Daychik and Sergey Kurapov
- Radix (Радикс) by Mikhail Kornilov and Pavel Globa
- Scorpio (Скорпио) by Igor Piniutin
- SkyWorker (СкайВоркер) by Alexander Gromov, Danila Ezhkov, Alexander Ordin, Maria Khrutsheva and Roman Arnold
- Solaris (Соларис) by Alexander Gromov
- Sotis (Сотис) by Sergey Yashenin and Alexey Kazarin
- Spectrum (Спектрум) by Alexander Gromov
- Stalker (Сталкер) by Pavel V. Karev
- Star (Стар) by Fyodor Rozhansky
- TurboStar (ТурбоСтар) by Valentin Vyazovsky and Irina Timoshenko
- Uranus (Уранус) by Sergey Kurapov
- VegaSviri (ВегаСвири) by Pavel Sviridov in collaboration with A. Kumskaia, E. Moscheva, A. Nazarov, A. Ryzhkov, V. Sviridova, S. Trepalina, V. Fedorov
- Vesta (Веста) by Igor Germanenko, Alexey Goloushkin and Alexander Gromov
- ZET Astrology Software (Астропроцессор ZET) by Anatoly Zaitsev
This blog post in Russian
Cite this article as: Anna Tessmann, “New Age Astrology in the Time of Computer Technologies”, in New Age in Russia, 06/09/2019, https://newageru.hypotheses.org/1338