I was born Aug. 25, which means my sun sign is in Virgo. According to the extremely scientific source astrology-zodiac-signs.com, that means I’m “analytical,” “overly critical” and “concerned about matters that nobody else seems to care much about” — in other words, exactly the type of person who would spend time painstakingly evaluating the merits of astrology.
(Note: my editor, who wrote an anti-astrology column last semester, is also a Virgo. Case in point.)
Astrology has seen a popularity boom in recent years, especially among millennials and Gen Z, and many think pieces have explored the reasons behind its resurgence. It’s a response to post-2016 election anxieties, says The Atlantic; it’s reflective of the narcissism caused by social media, says the New York Post; it’s due to a generational lack of religious belief, says Marketwatch.
I’m sympathetic to all of these claims. It’s true, millennials are stressed — the American Psychological Association reports that millennials are the most stressed generation, and in the absence of God, there’s something poetic about the idea of turning to the cosmos for comfort during times of distress and national upheaval.
However, many of these explanations gloss over a simple fact: You don’t have to “believe” in astrology for it to prove a useful tool for self-reflection and community building. In fact, a 2017 survey by the youth research firm YPulse found that only one in five millennials “believe” in it.
Horoscopes are a common site of scorn for detractors, but they’re only a small part of astrology. I don’t really care about predictions; I’m more interested in understanding the planetary signs that correspond to personality traits.
While most people are familiar with their sun sign, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Dig deeper into your natal chart and you’ll find moon, rising, Mars, Mercury, Venus and more. Don’t resonate with being a Capricorn? Maybe you’ve got a Cancer moon or something.
The further you go, the more astrology “works,” but it also offers more opportunities for introspection. At its worst, astrology is taxonomic, grouping us by our immutable characteristics. I agree with my editor: “Don’t use astrology as an excuse for personal failures” — but you shouldn’t use anything as an excuse for your personal failures, really.
At its best, astrology is a mechanism for deepening our understanding of ourselves and each other. It can help us recognize our deficits and attempt to remedy them. If you identify with your signs, they can become tools for communicating your emotions to a friend or partner.
If I’m on a date with someone who knows about astrology and say I identify with being a Libra moon, it functions as a shorthand for all the qualities that having a Libra moon sign entails. In many ways, it’s easier than saying outright that I’m indecisive and prone to flakiness. Using the shared language of astrology is an immediate way to establish common ground.
Pomona College politics professor Heather Williams said it best during a Humanities Studio seminar: “Astrology speaks to our desire to know intimate facts about strangers.”
In his 1957 teardown of astrology, “The Stars Down to Earth,” philosopher Theodor Adorno wrote, “[in] former periods, superstition was an attempt … to cope with problems for which no better or more rational means were available … Today, however, the incompatibility of the progress of natural sciences, such as astro-physics, with a belief in astrology is blatant. Those who combine both are forced to an intellectual retrogression which formerly was hardly required.”
But it’s precisely the deliberate act of “intellectual retrogression” that makes astrology so enticing.
In an age when Ben Shapiro’s cries of “facts don’t care about your feelings” reign, it feels exhilarating to embrace something as ridiculous as the notion that ancient planetary motions could be controlling our lives. My practical, rational — Virgo! — side knows it couldn’t possibly be true, but my feelings don’t care about your facts, Ben.
Astrology has been particularly embraced by queer people as a tool for community-building outside the confines of LGBT-exclusive organized religion, as documented by Vice, and as a lens through which we can understand our identities and emotions that have long been systematically shamed.
Straight, cisgender men are often averse to anything that could complicate the facts/feelings dichotomy, which is perhaps why they tend to be astrology’s biggest critics. But here’s the thing: When we talk about astrology, what we’re really talking about is ourselves and all of the gloriously messy, irrational things that make us human.
Comparing astrology to religion misses the mark of what makes astrology so great. Rather than approach astrology as a clearly defined belief system with supreme powers of predetermination, young adults are deconstructing its parts and refashioning them into a new whole. Belief isn’t even in the picture. We’re simply making astrology work for us, on our own terms, and it’s fun.
As a queer woman, there’s something about choosing to lean into emotion and absurdity, knowing I’ll be met with contempt and derision, that feels like a kind of liberation.
But maybe that’s just my Leo Mercury talking.
Schuyler Mitchell PO ’20 is a Pomona College Humanities Studio Fellow, and this article was inspired by a conversation in a Studio seminar. Add her on Co-Star: skye824.