For astrology and divination in general, there is probably nothing more confusing than a self-fulfilling prophecy. Oftentimes, this is a word used by skeptics to explain away predictions. There are a few things that need to be considered in regard to these kinds of prophecies partly concerning their very nature and partly concerning their implications within the grand scheme of things. Many of these examples will be examples from media (mostly because this is typically where it used), but there will be some real life examples as well.
First, let’s talk a bit about what a self-fulfilling prophecy is. First, a couple of definitions:
“Whenever anyone tries to avert a prophecy, for good or ill, the end result of their actions is to bring the prophecy about.”
“A prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, by the very terms of the prophecy itself, due to positive feedback between belief and behavior.”
While slightly different in implications and word choice, the overall idea here is that the very existence of a prophecy in the first place is what causes the prophecy to be fulfilled. In other words, had our soothsayer in question kept their darn mouth shut, none of this would have ever happened!
This oftentimes will occur due to the prediction being somewhat vague. Cynics tell us that these kinds of set-ups call for a vague prophecy. If it’s too specific, the actions needed to avert it are clearer, thus making it very difficult to mess up and inadvertently cause it.
In media, this mostly ends up playing out in the negative mirroring a Taoist proverb that warns us “One meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it”. Take the King from the Oedipus Rex who hears his son will be the death of him and has him exposed only for him to be rescued. This leads to Oedipus never knowing he was adopted. When Oedipus hears of this prophecy later in life, he leaves his adopted parents (who he believes are his biological parents), only to kill his real father in an argument and marry his mother after he defeats the Sphinx. This essentially makes the king in this story the author of his own demise; in attempting to escape his fate, he sealed it.
That’s not to say that’s how it could have always have played out. It doesn’t seem like this is supposed to be the fault of the soothsayer in particular, had the king perhaps not have chosen such an extreme solution to his problem, the prophecy may have been averted. Though, you could argue that what makes the prophecy real is that the king was always fated to respond that way to his son’s future actions. Though, there are several other characters involved whose inaction in certain circumstances certainly attributed to this end. For instance, why couldn’t Oedipus’s adopted parents perhaps mentioned that they weren’t his real parents? Oh well, I guess we wouldn’t have a story without that.
The flip side of this, where a character purposely fulfills a prophecy due to their desire to have it fulfilled, is typically not explored as it lacks the emotional punch that the more normative approach provides. There appears to be something most gratifying in the idea of someone being hoist by their own petard.
Continuing our string of the usage of this idea in media, it often correlates to the work’s view concerning Fate vs. Free Will. This is one of those times where art imitates life as it’s that very implication that makes this such an important consideration. On the one hand, it is the characters choices (thus free will) that give the prophecy its validity. Without having known that there was a prophecy, the character is likely to have never known about it at all, thus wouldn’t have gone about either attempting to fulfill it or put a stop to it. No magic, no psychic powers, just good old making stuff up and counting on gullibility, naivety, fear, guilt, or pride.
Another view that could be had and works in many cases; fate had already had its say on what would happen, regardless of any of the character’s actions after the fact. The only thing that changes is the sequence of events that still lead up to the same end result. We’ll jump to Harry Potter for this one wherein the prophecy concerning the main character and Voldemort says that neither can live while the other survives and that one will have to kill the other. Dumbledore states that if this prophecy had not been told to Voldemort, it wouldn’t have meant anything. This is rather short sighted of the old wizard. While the specifics of the prophecy may have been different, the overall atmosphere of the series and the ensuing struggle during the war would have made it very likely that Voldemort and Harry would have faced one another one day.
Then there is also a third option wherein the character’s reactions upon hearing the prophecy were already predetermined anyway, effectively making it all a part of the plan. This one is a bit more difficult to pin down with a specific example. Mostly because any individual example has the ability to become this depending on the hardness of fate involved.
This third option was the typical view of things in the classical period and is basically the underlying movement of our previous example of Oedipus Rex. Typically you find that kind of set up more involved in time travel plots, wherein a character returns to the past to correct something to change the future, but their attempts to change it change nothing. Since time travel wasn’t really a concept known to classical Greek and Germanic legends and myths, they used prophecies for the same effect, switching only the “traveling to the past to change the future (then present)” to “changing the future by altering things in the present (the future’s past)”. Keep in mind that the Stable Time Loop theory (chicken and egg scenarios where attempting to change the future create the future in a “which came first; the future event or the past event”) and the Novikov Self-Consistency Principle (where the past can’t be changed because any attempts to change it are corrected by the universe through any self-correcting, convenient coincidences) are the modern, fancy physicist talk which basically say the same thing and are the most popular theories of the mechanics of time travel at the moment.
Moving over to real life and the considerations of these ideas in astrology, astrologers may often find themselves in this sort of problem. Since any sort of discussion on future events wherein the one hearing the discussion is an actor in those events can end up being a self-fulfilled prophecy, astrologers will have to figure out how real of a threat this is and how to work with it in their practice. Unfortunately, our practice almost exclusively deals with the actors as they work through their present and future which has the ability to make almost anything a self-fulfilled prophecy. Does this mean it would be better if the astrologer said nothing?
Obviously as astrologers, we have a duty to be honest to our clients and answer their questions as accurately as we can. What they then do with that information is ultimately up to them and their own beliefs.
Another side of this to consider is how the astrologer personally acts to predictions they make about themselves or loved ones around them. Getting too caught up in the worry of self-fulfilled prophecies can put a person into a logic loop. Is it better to not act on the prediction and allow it to happen? Or is it better to try to prevent it and maybe accidentally cause it? Now take these same questions and apply them to a client. This is partly going to come down to pre-established views of fate and free will, so for some it may not be that big of a consideration or logic trap. My advice on this one is to do what makes you feel best about the situation rather than trying to work out an unsolvable paradox.
Ultimately, I don’t really feel that there is such a thing as a self-fulfilled prophecy when it isn’t intended to be set up like one. Someone starts a rumor with the intent of getting the rumor to occur (saying there is a shortage of gasoline causing people to panic and fill up on gasoline, thus causing that shortage due to the sheer amount of customers trying to buy it at one time) would be an example of this.
Of course, as I mentioned above, this will have a lot to do with a person’s views of fate and free will (personally I tend to go with the third option, where a person’s reaction to a prophecy was fated from the start). The problem with considering self-fulfilled prophecies so seriously is that we often second guess the information we have in an effort to keep it from becoming self-fulfilling, thus either diluting or subverting the intended message. In other words, it’s difficult to give readings based solely on events that will happen to a person when the events that that person will cause or initiate are just as valid an area of prediction or forewarning.
It’s important to remember that we honestly don’t know what form of a universe we’re living in. This is a problem that fiction doesn’t have to wrestle with since the creator can decide that. We don’t have that blessing here in the real world, so nobody knows. Do we follow a stable or dynamic time model? Is the world mostly fated or do we mostly have free will? There’s no way to test it as any one event can just as easily be used as an argument for either side. This makes people who claim that self-fulfilled prophecies by their very nature disprove prediction just as correct as people who claim it doesn’t matter because it’s all fated anyway.