Birth charts are big business. In the rush of gifts bestowed upon a newborn, among the giant teddies and cute sleep suits, it's not uncommon for a grandparent, friend or auntie to pay for a reading of your new baby's astrological birth chart.
An invaluable tool, many say, for understanding your new person's nature, their needs and strengths, and equipping you with the knowledge to give them every chance of flourishing as they approach adulthood.
But what is a birth chart? And is it, in fact, a load of codswallop?
Many sceptics have been quick to laugh at the concept of a person's qualities and strengths being dictated by the alignments of the planets at the precise moment of their birth.
Yet an eminent astrophysicist disagrees. In his book The Scientific Proof of Astrology, Dr Percy Seymour, a former Plymouth University astronomy lecturer, states that the movement of the sun, moon and various planets undoubtedly hold an influence over us by interfering with the Earth's magnetic field.
So how does this affect babies as they enter the world?
The fluctuations of Earth's magnetic field are picked up by the nervous system of the foetus, says Seymour, which acts like an antenna, and these synchronize its internal biological clock, which controls the moment of birth.
But this doesn't explain the role of our genes – an argument that is often raised in the face of astrology. How does the character we're born with, passed down through our DNA, work with the magic of the planets?
Apparently, says Seymour, the tuning of a baby's magnetic antenna is carried out by the genes it inherits, and these to some extent will determine its basic genetically inherited personality characteristics.
While a multitude of scientists have been quick to distance themselves from Seymour's views, there have been other eminent believers, such as respected psychologist Carl Jung, who (pre-Seymour) said astrology cut through hours of analysis, highlighting healing crises and turning points, plus family tendencies and their inheritance.
Jung once said "Whatever is born at a particular moment in time takes on the quality of that moment... The stars incline; they do not compel".
Of course cynics abound and you may find the idea of horoscopes at best an amusing way to pass the time, but individuals whose experience of birth charts have been positive and useful are legion.
Lara Robinson, a clinical psychologist in her early 40s, had her son's chart reading done by astrologer Ysanne Lewis when he was 10.
Finding it enormously helpful in understanding his hyperactive nature, it informed Lara's educational choices for her son.
"He is a complex child," she said. "The insight I gained into his psyche and family ancestry have enabled me to guide him better than I might have otherwise".
Hugo Gough, a chartered surveyor in his 40s, had his daughter Zara's chart read – also by Ysanne - when Zara was born 17 years ago. He found the observations and interpretations about her character to be incredibly accurate.
"When matters popped up in her little life and at school, we were able to draw on that guidance that Ysanne had first given," he said. "A simple example was Zara's keen desire to be in the spotlight and at the front of every queue.
"Ysanne had previously suggested that we might like to help her with this by getting her to ask if other friends would like to go first, or stand in the front. It was a way of enabling Zara to fulfill her natural desire to 'show off her mane', but do it in a way that took account of other's needs as well as her own".
Hugh has recently re-listened to the original tape.
"I'm amazed at how familiar so much of what she first said now seems to us, knowing Zara's character as we now do," he added. "I am going to suggest to Zara that she listens to the tape herself now she's a teenager."
Ysanne, who has read birth charts for over 35 years, says: "I see the chart, based on full date, time and place of birth, as a mirror of the individual.
"Cycles set in motion at birth indicate timings of change and self growth, so we can use it like a psychic road map, with the different planets and zodiac signs highlighting the different parts of a child."
Many scientists are loathe to dismiss the concept of astrology altogether, simply because it's almost impossible to prove or disprove – and sometimes the strangest sounding ideas turn out to be true.
And there is no such thing as a bad chart, says Ysanne – it's all about knowing what potential a child has and nurturing it.
I confess that I had my eldest son's birth chart done when he was born 15 years ago, and it has proven astoundingly accurate in terms of his strengths (kind, considerate, sensitive and nurturing) and weaknesses (loves luxury, lazy, lacks tenacity).
This has been mighty useful for helping me choose activities to bring out the best in him when he was little, knowing how to support him when he was bullied, and motivating him now as his GCSEs approach.
A load of codswallop? I think not. The planets aren't just there to be gazed at, after all.
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