When my daughter Frida first came into our lives, a friend asked me what her sign was. I told her I didn’t follow astrology but that she was born in July.
The friend replied, “but you’re a hippie!” Which, ok, maybe I am. My clothes, my generally laid back attitude (in public, anyway), the way my home is decorated, and my long hair all sort of indicate a modern-day hippie type—modern because I do shower and wear a bra and I’m way over 30.
Apparently women with a bohemian vibe are expected to believe that celestial bodies influence how they behave and how the world works.
It’s just that I’m a Bohemian type who was a science writer at a technology publication for a long time and I like evidence. I don’t write about science very often anymore, but I still think it’s the most trustworthy way to make decisions. And the scientific research on astrology says it doesn’t predict the future or your personality type any better than guessing. (Here’s a cool new thing that does, though!)
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To be honest, my working heading for this post was “F That: Astrology.” Astrology used to make me angry. I had to work at holding my tongue when friends talked about their weekly horoscopes and having their charts done or consulting a tarot reader—and it seemed like every event I attended came with a complimentary tarot reading.
Nevertheless, I am surrounded, both in real life and on social media, by tarot readings and natal charts—especially as 2020 begins.
Indeed, followers of astrology are on the rise. The New Yorker wrote in October of last year that many millennials see no contradiction between believing in astrology and believing in science. The article cited a 2017 Pew Research center poll found that found nearly 30% of Americans believe in astrology (I cannot find this study, please direct me to it if you can!). One can assume that many more than that know their sun signs and casually follow their horoscopes. The Atlantic recently wrote that the stigma once associated with astrology is dissolving. The Independent reported last year that the “mystical services market” is worth $2.1 billion.
For me, astrology falls under the same category as other things with no scientific basis people (myself included, unfortunately) pay money for. Like that time I tried reiki without even Googling it. I thought it was a type of massage, but to my surprise the practitioner did not touch me at any time during the “treatment” and then asked, “did you feel that?” No, I did not feel you not touch me. Or the time I went to a nutritionist who recommended a “homeopathy-supported” diet and I said but homeopathy isn’t supported by science and she said well it’s hard to prove anything with science and I was like, “Excuse me?”
But when it comes to astrology, I seem to have so many friends and acquaintances who follow it, either casually or quite seriously, that I’ve had to rethink my hostility. It has helped to consider my mother.
My mom believed in God and went to church and had faith that her parents and four brothers were in heaven and that she would join them there one day. Like astrology, there’s no scientific evidence showing her beliefs are based on truth. But believing was (and is, for many people, I’m sure) existentially comforting. And even though I didn’t share her beliefs, I never got angry with her for hers.
It occurred to me that astrology is a sort of faith that provides a sense of control, or at least a context and some measure of guidance to life in this increasingly insane world.
It’s the same purpose served by many religions, but Christianity is too off-brand for today’s young Bohemians—or old ones for that matter. Astrology is a less fusty centerpiece for a community, one that feels cool and free and stylish.
I talk the talk about being tolerant of all sorts of people regardless of where they’re from, the color of their skin, or their religion. So if someone chooses to believe that that mercury in retrograde is why they blew that important deadline why should I have a problem with it?
There is one thing that nags at me: the relinquishment of responsibly that religions and sometimes astrological beliefs can allow. In other words: “I couldn’t finish my work because mercury is in retrograde,” or “I can’t exercise this week because Saturn is in my twelfth house,” or “this guy on Tinder is an Aires and I’m a Leo so I’ll give him a chance even though he’s republican.”
It’s reminiscent of the reasoning behind this Canadian minister, who doesn’t believe in god, reprimanding her church’s moderator for his prayer for victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris. From The New York Times:
The prayer asked a Gracious God to ‘lead us to seek comfort, compassion and peace, in the face of escalating violence around the world.’
Ms. Vosper still considers the prayer ‘egregious.’
‘God is not the power that allows that to happen,’ she explained. ‘We have the responsibility to make that happen ourselves.’
It’s not always possible to control everything about our lives. This country is a tornado of social constructs and systems that individually or collectively can beat any of us down: skyrocketing real estate prices, rising healthcare costs, public education, immigration laws, voter disenfranchisement, and plain old racism and sexism, just to mention a few. It’s no wonder people are looking to astrology for something to blame it all on, for an escape, and for a community.
Still, relinquishing too much control and losing sight of personal responsibility scares me. It makes me think of when I was a kid and did something clumsy and my mom called me “a bull in a china shop” because I’m a Taurus. Or when she called me stubborn. I mean, I am sometimes. But it’s not written in the stars and I’m not a lot cause. Those years of therapy have helped me let go of some grudges, no doubt.
From what I’ve experienced, however, astrology doesn’t go as far in the control-over-life direction as religion sometimes does. I’m no expert but the concepts usually seem to encourage a certain amount of self-possession and open-mindedness. And I’ve yet to have an astrologer knock on my door with pamphlets on a Saturday morning.
So I’ve made an agreement with myself that astrology deserves my tolerance and understanding, even if I still cringe a little inside when someone asks me my sign.
Happy 2020, everyone!