How I spent my entire salary on an American Ephemeris
(Astrology in the USSR)
In 1982, when the author of these lines began to study astrology, acquiring an astrological ephemeris in the Soviet Union was no easy task. We didn’t even dream about personal computers then, never mind the Internet. There was not a single normal book on astrology in Russian! What we then called astrological books was a stitched pile of photocopies, usually of not a very high quality. Finding any material on astrology, and especially the opportunity to hear a lecture by a living astrologer, was considered incredible luck. Astrology was literally esoteric, i.e. unavailable to the vast majority of the country’s citizens.
The famous expression “Per aspera ad astra” (Through the thorns to the stars) describes the astrological educational process in those years pretty accurately. I will illustrate all this with an example from my own life. As I already mentioned, getting an ephemeris in the early 80s in Moscow was a great success. After a year of astrological training, possessing certain theoretical knowledge and skills, I could not apply them and erect a horoscope, since I did not have an ephemeris (Tables showing the positions of heavenly bodies on a number of dates in a regular sequence).
In the spring of 1983 quite suddenly someone brought the genuine Michelesen’s Ephemeris to Moscow directly from America. Personally, I received this ephemeris for only three days. But nevertheless it was a great chance! The question was how to use it.
Before bedtime I realized that I simply had no right to sleep. I had to rewrite the ephemeris all night long; or if possible to memorize them. This is not to say that I had some kind of phenomenal memory, but at school I could remember several pages of text by reading them only twice. Therefore, the idea of memorizing the ephemeris did not seem crazy to me. Hence, the next morning I went to work with a severe headache. Fortunately, the headache did not stop me from continuing to frantically come up with ways to take advantage of my luck. Just before lunch, I figured out that there is only way: Xerox. It may seem strange now that the idea of making a xerox-copy did not come to me right away. To appreciate the point you need to understand the status of xerox-copying in the USSR. Any reproduction of materials on the personal initiative of citizens was prohibited and punishable to the fullest extent of the law. At the time of the events described, Yuri Andropov, former KGB chief, had just become the contry’s top leader. Under his leadership opportunities for xerox-copying became even less available.
Using a copier for personal, and even esoteric, purposes was tantamount to storming a naval base with an axe. So I thought from the very beginning. But somewhere high in the heavens, apparently, a positive scenario was already being prepared.
In our research institute, one had to pass the copy department’s office in order to reach the dining room. Walking along this path past the revered door, I saw that at the very moment when I caught up with it, the door swung open and a nice girl, who looked a little like Brigitte Bardot, emerged. It even seemed to me that the girl smiled slightly at me. This was enough for me to feel the support of the Cosmos in my endeavor. And such support, as I understood much later, means oh how much.
I had never been very entrepreneurial, but at this moment I showed a miraculous amount of acumen and determination.
For starters, I convinced the head of my department of the need to photocopy some foreign magazine. Then, having secured his signature (and without this signature, to go photocopying was a risky venture), I went to the Xerox room. “My” girl was no longer there, but in her place was an equally pleasant young man. After copying the magazine, I confessed to this young man that for my dissertation I urgently needed to copy a large amount of material without a permission from the authorities. When the young man looked at me sternly, I, trembling with fear, but at the same time feeling that the Cosmos was still on my side, promised to generously reward him for the risk. The young man looked around and quietly said: “Where is the stuff?”
It was important here to show the material so that the first thing the copyist saw were the numbers, not the heading “THE AMERICAN EPHEMERIS.”
I have succeeded. “Ahhh, there are only numbers here,” the Xerox operator said almost happily, then thought for two minutes and said so quietly that at first I didn’t hear: “20 kopecks per page.” Perhaps it was not my hearing which was to blame, rather it was my brain, which refused to accept the reality of such a high price. In the 80s in the USSR a movie ticket cost 20 kopecks, and the book of ephemeris consisted of 600 pages. I was immediately deprived of 600 trips to the cinema. Since I went to the cinema no more than 10 times a year, this, in a sense, was tantamount to a lifelong film embargo.
On the other hand, 600 pages multiplied by 20 kopecks constituted just my junior research assistant’s nominal salary of 120 rubles (approx. forty dollars). And in this accuracy I immediately noticed a certain sign of Providence. Up in “the Sky” they were not obliged to know that after various state deductions, including one for childlessness, I received only 103 rubles per month. Therefore, I decided that bargaining was inappropriate.
And the next evening, skipping joyfully, I carried my first Ephemeris home. They served me faithfully for about 10 years; until my first purchase of a personal computer. But that’s another story.