The World of Astrology: An Ethnography of Astrology in Contemporary Brazil
Author: Luis Rodolfo Vilhena, translated by Graham Douglas
Series: Studies in Cosmology and Culture, Vol. 5
Publisher: Sophia Centre Press 2014
Price: £28.00 Paperback, 244 pp.
Sleeve Notes from Brazilian Edition
We see in the present century, after its relative decline in European societies in the seventeenth century, a return of astrology in modern urban centres, where the number of astrological consultants increases and the newspapers publish ‘horoscopes’ with predictions for the natives of each Sun sign. Astrology, the ancient divinatory system which has been experiencing growing popularity in large Brazilian cities in recent years, has rarely received attention in the social sciences.
This book analyses the beliefs and cultural constructions of their world in a group of individuals belonging to the middle classes in Rio and involved in the use of astrology. By means of research and interviews, the author, approaching the urban middle classes, takes the following question as his hypothesis: to what extent can we say that astrology contributes to the construction of [a] particular lifestyle?
‘The author begins his analysis from the main principles of the symbolic system of astrology and its divinatory practice, attempting to show that, in the same way as the structure of myth investigated by Lévi-Strauss, the structure of this system remains constant across its various versions. Despite this stability throughout its history, it is capable of receiving several different social appropriations. In the case of interest here, it is the appropriation made of it among sectors of the urban middle class in Rio de Janeiro, for whom psychotherapy is already an influence, and whose views are analysed in detail in the last chapter. Relating itself to varying degrees with psychoanalysis and religion, astrology shows itself to be a symbolic language capable of engaging the fragmentation of modern daily life. Thus it becomes clear that this little-known phenomenon of contemporary culture cannot be reduced to a mere irrational survival. This book is an original contribution to the study of the middle classes in Brazil, and of astrology as an “alternative culture”, an area little studied by the social sciences. In addition to discussing the classics and more recent anthropological works on the subject, the author examines the ambiguous relation which modernity has with astrology: ‘arising in its very heart, it presents a discourse marked by criticism of the values of modernity’.