They believe in astrology
Your destiny is in the stars
‘So, what’s your star sign?’ she asked her date.
It was an innocent attempt to warm up the conversation. But instead of a civilised response, twenty-three-year-old Emily Shoebridge Martin got a shrug: ‘Please don’t tell me you’re into that.’
By ‘that’, her date meant astrology, of course. And to some, it’s downright laughable to put any faith in it, the Spanish-Irish history student knows: she’s faced many negative reactions. ‘People can be dismissive, condescending, look down at you’, she says.
‘It was a first date. I didn’t want to give a negative impression, so I downplayed my interest in it because of the reaction I got’, Emily recalls. In reality, she’s a keen believer in astrology and checks her horoscope app regularly. ‘At least once a week. I find it reassuring to read it; getting notifications serves as a kind of little check-up on how I am doing.’
The app also allows her to form compatibility bonds with her friends. That is, connections based on how compatible your signs are perceived to be. ‘And I really enjoy getting a feel of how compatible your signs are when you start to date someone.’
Frivolous and silly
‘In general, I’m a casual believer’, she says. ‘I check the horoscopes, read birth charts, and I also do tarot card readings. I like to ask people about their star signs when I meet them. I think it’s another aspect of people’s personality.’
Getting notifications serves as a kind of check-up on how I am doing
Many people think astrology is a waste of time, though. ‘Some see it as very frivolous and silly, and think that it doesn’t have a lot of depth’, Emily says. ‘But I don’t think that’s true. Astrology can be fun, it can be a learning experience, it can be a tool for self-reflection.’
Even if you don’t believe in astrology, there is no reason to approach it with only judgment and negativity, she feels. ‘People are wrong when they dismiss you completely. Astrology wasn’t made up by people being silly. It has existed for a very long time, and there is some validity in that.’
All age groups
Emily is not alone either. In Western Europe, 20 to 30 percent of the population believe in astrology to at least some degree. That is even higher than the number of practising Christians in this region. ‘And it’s all age groups’, says professor of religious studies Kocku von Stuckrad.
Twenty-five-year old arts, culture and media student Alexandra Vasilescu from Romania is also part of that statistic. ‘For me, the most interesting parts are the characteristics of each sign, that’s what I most believe in. I spend an ungodly amount of time reading about it; the algorithm probably makes it pop up for me’, she explains. Even so, she thinks that in the end, the internet will only get you so far. ‘I want to get a full reading done; I don’t just believe some TikTok video telling me I’ll lose money on Wednesday.’
Then there is Inés Lu (23), who studies arts, policy and cultural entrepreneurship. In her home country of Taiwan, astrology is a common interest, passed down through generations. She actively follows a calendar launched by a Taiwanese astrology teacher, and takes note of what it has in store for her friends. ‘I will take a photo of it and send it to them when it says things like “pay attention to traffic today”. It’s another way to stay in touch with my friends, especially now that I am not in Taiwan.’
She also uses astrology as a way to deepen connections. ‘I’ve found that reading people’s birth charts makes me know them more’, Inés says.
It surprises her how astrology is often reduced to sun signs alone in Western society. ‘In Taiwan, people are aware of their rising sign, moon sign, and the movement of the planets and different houses. They have a broader understanding of astrology. Misconceptions arise when people think it’s solely based on twelve characteristics’, she says. ‘That’s why people think it’s stupid. They misunderstand.’
I’ve found that reading people’s birth charts makes me know them more
Von Stuckrad confirms that astrology is more than just easy predictions about twelve signs. ‘Most people who hate it have no idea what it’s about. The more they know, the more they tend to agree with it’, he says.
Astrology was there 4,000 years ago in Babylonian times, he explains, and it has held a different significance in people’s lives through history. ‘It was basically everywhere and it never went away.’
There are hundreds of types of astrology with different levels of complexities. ‘It is a multilayered knowledge system with a lot of nuances. What these different levels and forms have in common, is the notion that everything is part of cosmic rhythms, and that these basic rhythms can be read and interpreted from the stars.’
However, to many people, astrology is the antithesis of scientific thinking. Aren’t science and astrology mutually exclusive? ‘That really depends on what you call science’, Von Stuckrad responds. The modern, reductionist way of scientific thinking is a much more recent invention than astrology, he says. ‘Astrology is not irrational, it’s a different form of rationality.’
The most important allure of astrology is that of ‘meaning-making’, he says. ‘It has to do with self-actualisation, with wanting to inscribe your own life in bigger structures.’ It would be wrong, though, to call astrology a ‘surrogate religion’ – it predates modern religions and is an entity on its own, despite sharing attributes.
Emily, Alexandra and Inés completely agree. ‘I think it’s comforting, you have a certain destiny. However much you fuck up, the stars have something for you’, Alexandra says. ‘That sounds a lot nicer to me than that we are completely alone in the universe, that there is nothing out there for you.’
Astrology is not irrational, it’s a different form of rationality
‘Astrology is a good way to understand yourself, and to question some of your attributes’, Emily adds. When she is having a bad day, astrology provides a way of introspection.
Still, all three students leave room for doubt. ‘It’s definitely not all accurate’, Emily says. ‘I wouldn’t base everything I do off of it.’
Alexandra half-jokingly wonders: ‘There’s so many Leos, how could it be possible that all of us are going to have a bad day today?’ She found her own way around that, though. ‘This is the way I make sense of it: if the stars and the moon are so strong they influence the ocean; how insanely egoistic would it be to say they could never affect us? Is it so crazy to think they could also influence simple humans?’
None of them consider astrology a replacement for science, nor do they think they are mutually exclusive. ‘I know scientists who believe in astrology; I don’t think it has to be one or the other’, Emily remarks.
‘People have different beliefs; you should respect that. They believe other stuff or maybe nothing – it’s all fine by me’, Inés says.
Alexandra feels that astrology is often subject to unfair scrutiny. ‘People like to react as if astrology is sillier than it actually is. How is this any sillier than thinking there is a guy in the sky? In the end, these are all just ways to try to make sense of life and the world.’