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Stargazing

From Iraq to Jupiter, a Richmond astrology club peers into 2003

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He is Tom Roma, the guest astrologer who will issue his predictions for 2003. This is the man with the answers.

The members assembled are all women, with the exception of Roma and one young ponytailed man. They could be a club of book-readers or birdwatchers, until you overhear bits of conversations about Venus and Sagittarius.

Most already have an advanced knowledge of astrology, explains Ruth Barrett, the kindly astrologer who invited me here. They consider the daily horoscopes I read to be "sunshine astrology" — in other words, pure entertainment.

Roma, a student of astrology for 25 years, peppers his discourse with jokes, Dow averages and quotes from Mark Twain and Bill Maher. He quizzes the group like a professor. His predictions for 2002 were right on-target, says Edna Matthews, president of the 8-year-old local chapter. "It's unfolding, just like we were told it would," she says. Roma is not hesitant to assert his abilities. "How could I be so accurate?" he says. "Because I do my homework."

Today, Roma announces, we will examine the transits of 2003 and what they mean. Transits are the movements of the planets, sun and moon, as seen from Earth. "Astrology is the correlation of celestial events or alignments with events on Earth," Roma says. It is not absolute prophecy but "a predictive tool," he stresses. The basic process consists of determining the alignments that hung over momentous past events and then predicting the nature of events that occur under the same arrangements of stars and planets.

"There are quite a few alignments coming up this year," Roma begins, picking up a sheaf of papers inscribed with arcane numbers, charts and notes. The big one is a Saturn-Uranus trine, meaning these planets will form a 120-degree angle, Roma explains, as he inscribes imaginary orbits on the speckled wall.

The last time such a configuration took place was in the late 1970s, he says. The same trine was observed at the time of the Battle of Lexington, the assassinations of Lincoln and Garfield, the attempted assassination of Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 and the Watergate break-in. ("I would like to buy President Bush a Kevlar bodysuit for Christmas," Roma says.)

I'm guessing this trine thing doesn't bode well for 2003.

Roma passes out a sheet of paper marked with the dates and times of upcoming astrological phenomena. I learn some new words: retrograde, refranation, quincunx.

Listening to these detailed astrological assessments feels like plunging in and out of water. "Pluto's also squaring natal Venus. … hard-angle Saturn transits. .…" It all sounds like glub glub glub, except for the moments when Roma distills transits into plain-language predictions.

2003 apparently falls at the end of the Piscean Age, Roma says, which is a time of upheaval. War with Iraq will begin soon: "I feel they will go in in February," he says, "during the winter, in the Saturn-Pluto opposition." He warns that the conflict will be long and drawn-out.

"Sizable technological advancements" will arrive next year, Roma says, while oil drilling in the Alaskan wildlife refuge will not come to pass. The recession will continue "pretty strong" until July, Roma says. "The final blow of it will be in 2004." For investors, he recommends oil and drug stocks. And, he adds, we won't see another stock-market boom like the 1990s until 60 years have passed.

One more thing: It'll be a chilly winter, he concludes. "It's all in the Annual."

The Annual is the day planner/astrological guide Roma publishes each year (on sale for $14.95). He passes a copy around for us to examine. When I flip the pages back and forth, the planets illustrated in the margin of each page glide jerkily up and down — a feature Roma has trademarked as "The Declinator." Neat. I catch Barrett giving me a quizzical glance, and I quickly put the book down.

Roma ends the session by analyzing computer-generated birth-charts for those present. Looking at the planet-studded wheels, he dispenses advice as specific as warning one person to check the gas meter in her house, or telling another it's a good time to buy a home. His predictions don't sound like the pronouncements of an oracle, especially when he's chewing on a cookie. But people listen intently.

I want my chart done, too (hey, Roma typically charges $125 per hour for consultations, and this is free). But I have to guess my birth-time, as the best recollection my mother has is "Well … I remember they brought me a turkey sandwich, so it must have been around lunchtime."

Examining my chart, Roma tells me some interesting things: I was born under a Mars-Jupiter retrograde, meaning (he says) I have superpowers that emerge in trying times, and that I'm still resolving issues from my past lives. A node at 29 Leo is in Regulus, "the most benefic star in the heavens." And Jupiter's appearance in the 2nd and 8th houses means it's a good time for my finances — "I'd buy a lottery ticket," Roma says in utmost seriousness.

I pay close attention, but still I wonder. What if my mother misremembered the sandwich's arrival time, making my chart all wrong? Can the planets predict war better than the pundits? Should I give Roma half the money if I do win the lottery?

I get my list of predictions, anyway, and decide to wait and see.

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