“Cancer!” My sister shrieked, distraught as she barreled into my room at seven in the morning. “Of course he’s a Cancer!”
I blinked awake, slowly and painfully trying to wrap my head around what I was hearing. It took me a second to realize that she wasn’t, in fact, screaming about a deadly, tumorous disease, but about something almost as tragic in her seventh grade mind: her boyfriend’s horoscope. I—a rather cynical person myself—have always laughed at astrology and those who take it seriously. But over the past few years, the stigma of following your horoscope seems to have dissipated, leaving me gaping at the sparkling pink horoscope app in my sister’s hand and wondering, why?
Astrology is a so-called “scientific field,” claiming that the alignment of the planets at the time of your birth has some sort of influence on your life. According to my astrological chart, my Capricorn sun explains my tendency towards “pragmatism” and “logic,” while my Leo rising is to blame for my overly “bubbly first impressions.” My Aquarius moon, meanwhile, means I will be forever subjected to a life of “detached relationships,” wherein I “struggle to express my feelings.” At least, that is, according to my Snapchat Astrological Profile.
In a figure that seems astronomical—pun intended—the American Federation of Astrologers puts the number of regular astrology readers at a whopping 70 million. And you’d expect these avid astrologers to get their daily horoscope from magazines like Cosmopolitan or Teen Vogue, but horoscopes are hiding in pretty much every news outlet. If you scroll to the left of “White House proposes $1.8 trillion package to boost safety net” on the Washington Post website, you’ll find a glaring—and equally relevant—headline that reads: “What's in the stars today? Libra moons beware!”
It’s easy to dismiss astrology as a practice commercialized for self-absorbed Gen Z-ers, hormone-crazed teens who have to know if their crush’s sign is compatible with a Gemini rising. But this $2.2 billion industry must be rooted in some truth, right?
To some extent, of course, our reverence for astrology is caused by a human desire to self-obsess. Chani Nicholas is an astrologer with a best-selling book, a Netflix deal, and a new app named after her. She explained the absolutely startling, truly revolutionary idea that “people are deeply interested in themselves.” Astrology forces readers into a constant stream of everything-analysis, from your love life to advice on whether you should ask for that promotion. Nicholas asserts that astrology can “...feed self-knowledge.” I’d call it self-infatuation.
However, in some cases, astrology can be a helpful, or even therapeutic, practice. It allows us to connect with the stars that dictate everything from tides to seasons—and apparently, also dictate that I should wear the color red this month in order to “manifest my own success.” In all seriousness, though, many astrologers believe that we have a responsibility to look to the sky in order to find our destiny.
But, whether you use astrology for true self-improvement or as just another way to boost your own self-importance, we have to acknowledge the extent to which astrology has been commercialized. In a three-week-long experiment, I subscribed to every astrology site recommended by my friends. I followed seven of TikTok’s most famous astrologers, entered my birth date and time on Snapchat, and downloaded four of the highest-rated horoscope apps. Within days, I was bombarded with emails, texts, and notifications. All day, every day, I would read: “Today is the day for Capricorns to find power in thinking and creativity,” and then “A Venus in Aquarius might feel pressure with routine and self this week,” and finally that, “Your Jupiter in Leo will be responsible for a compromising situation.” That is, if you ask Teen Vogue, The Boston Globe, and The LA Times. From ridiculous to uncannily accurate, these messages inundated me with overtly vague predictions designed to apply to any of the 650 million Capricorns on the planet.
Chani Nicholas explains this phenomenon simply: “Capitalism commodifies whatever it can.” Ironically, Nicholas’s personal app continuously pings me even as I write this essay, asking whether I want to pay for premium horoscopes that will provide a “more detailed exploration of my unique birth chart” and a “lunar journal” to help me “reflect and manifest with every New Moon or Full Moon.” The Astrology Zone (A/Z) app sends me a notification informing me that in three days, Mercury enters Aries, at which point the Gemini-Pisces compatibility will jump to 22%. But if I want to know what this means for my Neptune in Aquarius, I should probably “purchase an Advanced Plus reading of my chart!” If that wasn’t enough, Co-Star, the highest-rated astrology app, encourages me to “Try SuperAstrology for two weeks, free!” if I want to understand what they meant by the recommendation of Capricorn “DO’s”: “heavy lifting, pillow fights, sweaty palms,” and DON'Ts: “soup, missed opportunities, legwarmers.”
Oh well. There goes my plans to eat soup in legwarmers.
Seemingly random facts like these—well, and the “Mercury is in Retrograde” memes sprawled across most Gen Z social media feeds—contribute to the stigma around astrology. They add to the image that astrology is simply a reason for entitled teenage girls to check their app to see if there’s “a new romance blossoming,” and then panic-scroll through Snapchat to see which of their boyfriends is a Sagittarius.
Astrology is often nothing more than the butt of a joke. It is dismissed by many as a ludicrous excuse for social media gurus to make money off their self-centered followers. But this stigma has receded in recent years as more and more people find comfort in the zodiac. Because, at its core, astrology is just another belief system—almost like a religion. Sometimes, I wish the sarcastic, cynical voice in my head would shut up for a second, so I could use a system like astrology to make sense of a life that is often confusing and seemingly random. I’m jealous of the true astrological devotees for whom astrology, like most organized religions, can provide a way to categorize all of life’s fast-paced ups and downs. It can help us come to terms with events we can’t control, especially in the wake of so much turmoil and uncertainty in the modern day. True, I can’t say whether or not your boyfriend was predestined to cheat because he’s a Taurus, or whether the pandemic was fated to bring us so much grief because it's the Age of Aquarius. But I can say with absolute certainty that, if believing in this system helps you handle it all, perhaps it was written in the stars.