Social function of Astrologers in a third world country such as Sri Lanka extends beyond predicting the future. They provide a system of managing one’s destiny amidst the amplified uncertainties of living in a third world country. Be it for avoiding suicide bombers, securing a promotion, overcoming mental/physical illness, entering your child into a “Good Colombo School” or surviving a life defining exam, “super natural” assistance is seen as a normal thing to do. Finding hidden obstacles/opportunities and acting on them via an Astrologer has the psychological effect of having a compass and map in the dangerous journey of a third world life.
The overall source of this uncertainty is something I have never been able to successful explain to first world friends without resorting to anecdotes. At a day to day level it means dealing with a scarcity of resources, a general lack of transparency in institutional process, and the unstable zero sum feudalistic politicking such situations create.
This “third worldness” makes as secular as dealing with institutions (public and private) a murky process. Success is a function of your insider connections and/or the bribes you can afford. Even interacting with the first world such as applying for a visa with a Sri Lankan passport is a murky process.
You are at the non-existent mercy of an opaque laborious bureaucratic machine. Asking a deity to clear the way is far easier to comprehend than shepherding a blizzard of paperwork through a maze of dingy government offices. Where nobody is paid enough to really do their job let alone pay deal with your pitiful little forms. Similarly access to information about opportunities and people are difficult to access on properly assess.
In the face of such known and unknown “unknowns” astrologers provides a very “practical” set of services. These cover two broad areas:
- Providing a personalised cosmological SWOT (Strength Weaknesses Opportunities Threats) assessment of your situation
- Devising activities for the client to take direct action to ensure a favourable outcome to what ever challenges and opportunities the future holds.
The prescribed activities will usually involve a customised religious ritual. The form of such rituals vary considerably — from Bodhi pujas at a particular temple, a visit to a shrine of a localised Hindu deity, a fully Hindu ritual, or a pilgrimage typically to Kataragama. In a few In extreme cases there will be some sort of exorcism.
Yet astrology is not considered a high status profession. Primarily because the “quality of service” varies considerably among practitioners.
Consequently, an Astrologer’s perceived status is similar to that of a plumber, an unlicensed electrician or a refrigerator technician. The work they do seems fairly standardised yet the quality if service varies significantly among providers. Another factor is that astrologers are consulted in times of stress, not joy. Typically in the face of looming worries, stressful situation, or when contemplating life changing plans. It is viewed as a very private matter akin to seeking medical advice for impotence. The only gauge of “quality of service” you can go by are recommendations of your Sri Lankan relatives/friend network.
Sri Lankan astrologers fall into two broad categories. Category one (the most common) provides purely consultative services. Category two astrologer is differentiated by the fact that they specialise in performing “corrective cosmological procedures”. To use a medical analogy, category one providers would family doctors or general practitioners. Category two providers are similar to neurosurgeons or orthodontists.
The most generic category one services are “readings” of palms and horoscopes. They prescribe further action and can recommend (or subcontract) relevant specialists.
Horoscopes constitute a bulk of the most bread and butter of category one astrological services. Such readings occur after the birth of offspring, to sign off on marriage compatibility and to pick wedding times. The last task is particularly tricky. The schedules of hotels and wedding sari “drapers” must be factored into the trajectories of auspicious planets. A tough job that requires cash payments in advance. Divorces are not grounds for refunds.
Corrective cosmological procedures performed by category two astrologers are essentially rituals meant to deflect/mitigate the influence of negative astrological influences and/or amplify positive ones. One a grimmer side it involves fiddling with restless spirits, and foul demons. At the very murky extreme (lets face it every industry has one) there’s the casting and repealing of malevolent curses and spells.
Crude western terminology might describe this class of service providers as “mediums” or “witch doctors” rather than “astrologers”. However they cover an unexpectedly wide spectrum of personalities. The university professor who can speak in tongues. The old grand mother who magically fills empty bottles with medicinal oils. The “buddhist monk” who “activates” talismans in a small “shrine room” adjacent to his consultation room. At the inevitable extreme, there’s the character who is called upon to slaughterer the chicken in the dead of the night. Quite a few may even refuse to even be called “astrologers”. However in the worried subconscious of their clients the term encompasses them all.
My encounters with astrologers/mediums/what-ever-you-want-to-call-them have occurred at the insistence and initiative of elders. Consequently these experience are restricted to my child hood of very early adult hood. Further removed are spooky stories eavesdropped off relatives. All to be covered in another post written the unforeseen future.