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The New Year Is in the Stars

The Times Square ball may have dropped, but many people are still looking up to the stars for guidance in 2003.

While some make New Year's resolutions, year-ahead astrological predictions are a must-read for many people.

Susan Anapol, 44, a Scorpio, said she swears by magazine horoscopes and even calls the phone number listed for more astrological guidance (spending about $20 per call).

"I write down the weekly horoscope information I get on the phone," she said. "It's frightening how true it all is."

Astrology's connotation as a witchy pseudoscience, jumbled with tarot card readers and embattled psychics like Miss Cleo, has vastly improved recently, according to some astrologers.

Kelli Fox, founder of www.astrology.com, said astrology is "unbelievably popular" today and her Web site is a reflection of this.

Her daily horoscopes are e-mailed out to millions all over the world. "We're very busy in January," she said. "People are looking for the year-ahead information, people want to be guided."

Susan Miller, astrologer and author of The Year Ahead 2003, said annual guides are popular because they "tell you where you've been, where you are now and some of the possible routes for the future."

Jennifer George, a devotee to Miller who consults her site www.astrologyzone.com often, uses predictions to help guide her daily decisions.

"I think everybody is looking for answers," George, 31, said in a phone interview from Petaluma, Calif. "I used to purely look at it for entertainment, but recently I've been looking at it more seriously. If you take the points that she lays out and actually make notes in your daily planner, it helps you go through the month in a more aware way."

But as always, there are many skeptics of these stargazers.

"You can't put too much stock in this," said Benjamin Radford, managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine. "The idea that you can tell future events by where planets are at a specific time … there's just no scientific evidence of that. Any of us can guess to some degree what will happen, like I predict in the next 10 years the Pope will die."

Nonetheless, there are many believers out there. Michele Promaulayko, executive editor of Cosmopolitan, said the magazine's annual "Bedside Astrologer" is highly anticipated by readers.

"It's a staple of the January issue and the only time during the year that we dedicate the top line of the cover to something other than a relationship article."

But the booklet, which features clues for the best days to flirt and a love-match section that details how one sign meshes with another, is mainly for fun.

"There's definitely entertainment value to it and generally no gloom and doom in there," Promaulayko said.

The pervasive good news is just one of the fishy things about astrology, said Radford.

"Many predictions are so vague, they can cover just about anything," he said. "They are really just common sense."

Still, Fox said the public's perception of astrology has drastically changed since she started in the field 15 years ago. For instance, Kepler College in Seattle, which is the only college in the country offering degrees in Astrological Studies, opened just three years ago.

"In the past, it was common to just take the advice of a family doctor, but people are now looking to astrologers, chiropractors and different forms of alternative medicines," Fox said.

Another reason for increased interest in astrology is easy access to the Internet. "Younger people are on the net now and astrological information, like a horoscope, is more accessible online," Fox said.

Georgia Lawther-Richmond, 25, from New York, said she can't start her day before she's read Fox's horoscope. "She's so right-on," she said. "Everything she says is so true."

But she is skeptical about year-ahead guides. "How can they possibly know what's going to happen the whole year ahead?" Lawther-Richmond asked. "They can keep track day to day, but a whole year? No way."

Miller counters that astrologers can easily guide beyond the next 365 days. "We use math and we have tables of where the planets are going to be well into the year 3000. I could write a forecast right now for the year 2045."

She also admits that astrology isn't exact.

"Astrology doesn't give you the answers, but gives you the tools to find the answers," Miller said. "I can give you a map and you can find your favorite route out of a tough situation."

And January is the time many people stop to think about what lies ahead for them, said Fox.

"A lot of people will see an astrologer when at a cross roads in their life and New Year's tends to bring that," she said. "It's like a support to know you're on the right track."