News flash: Mercury is in retrograde.
If you speak the lingo, you’re probably thinking that sounds about right. If you don’t, you’re probably rolling your eyes. The phrase, after all, is in reference to the fact that Mercury appears to travel backwards in its orbit three times a year, and those who believe in the Zodiac often associate these periods of optical illusion with great confusion and chaos. Sounds absurd, right?
As someone who considers her tarot deck to be her bible and the moon phases to be something of a guiding light, I call bullshit, too. And so do droves of other Zodiac devotees like myself, because this month isn’t the only one to be branded with worry. The pandemic was declared in Canada in March and is ongoing, a recession followed and while the Black Lives Matter movement reignited in May, it wages on and hopefully for much longer. There’s countless other things many would argue make 2020 a particularly bad year.
There’s no mistaking it: the position of the planets can’t predict tomorrow, next week or next year – sorry! Suggesting the moon and the stars should have seen the pandemic coming is foolish and trivializes the matters at hand. But in the same way many find religion to be grounding and their faith to be a guide, others turn to astrology.
Many are turning to online astrologers. Consider Astro Poets, a pair who do readings via Twitter, or the many Instagram accounts dedicated to showing “the signs as” every kind of meme or celebrity quote. Or even the popular Co-Star app, which offers real-time, personalized readings.
“In the past, yes, astrology was regarded as a science, but we have outgrown our need for the stars to function in this way,” writes my personal favourite astrologer Annabel Gat in her 2019 book The Astrology of Love & Sex. “I do not ‘believe’ in astrology. I use it as a tool. It is a language for understanding ourselves and our circumstances.
“I am totally comfortable with using something as a tool without ‘believing’ in it,” she continues. “I do not need something to be true or a science for it to be valuable for me – for example, art. I like art! You probably do, too. And, in the instances that I use astrology for divination, I am capable of suspending my logical mind for a few minutes of whimsy, for the sake of thinking about things in a different way.”
We’re in an age less motivated by predicting the future and driven more by self-reflection. However, that impetus has only come into light in recent months. And that’s because it’s really easy to read your horoscope and feel its often vague verdict that you’re going to find “prosperity” on Friday or “reconnect with your past” on Sunday is accurate.
What horoscopes offer is a canvas for projection. No matter how different all Virgos are, they can find something relatable in their latest Co-Star alert. We read these findings to assess and understand our individual experiences, desires and goals. At its root, astrology a simple and useful form of therapy.
So while many feel astrology might actually be useless for not seeing a pandemic coming, there’s also been a reckoning: astrology is there for us, just not in the way we first thought. It’s why Google Trends has seen a surge in “astrology” searches, and why many websites, including CafeAstrology, AstrologyZone, and horoscope verticals, like Refinery29’s and Bustle’s, have seen traffic soar since March.
People all around the world are in lockdown and have been for months. Many of us are feeling depressed, anxious and stressed. And with our futures more uncertain than ever, astrology remains an anchor and a way for us to frame our place in the world and narrative-ize it. Spending significant time alone and without exterior distractions, many of us are reckoning with the self more than we ever have before. But if you’re not someone who spends a lot of time thinking inwards, whether that’s through therapy or just being emotionally available with friends or family, it can be an uncomfortable process.
Instead, you can read your horoscope or take a glance at your cards to figure out just what it is you hope might happen to you soon or what you’re afraid will happen. Like a Trojan horse, in comes the mindfulness of astrology.
“I do not believe in astrology, but I do trust it, or rather, I trust the conclusions I have come to about myself – which do change over time, of course – that have developed through my study of it,” says Gat in her book. “You do not need to ‘believe’ in astrology or flush logic down the toilet to get something out of [it]… We need to leave behind the notion that you cannot be a scientific person while entertaining symbolic concepts. Do you like art? Books? Movies? Is music real to you? Then astrology can be, too. It does not matter that it is not a science that can be replicated in a lab.”
More than anything, astrology plays a psychological role. Ever present in our culture for decades, as our lives grow increasingly complicated and emotionally nuanced and we search for a way to decode it all, astrology begins to function more as a mental aid than a false prophet.
Each generation is more anxious than the one before it, and each has found their own way to adapt astrology to their lived experiences. Now, an Instagram story can be enough of a reading and, more importantly, enough validation for who we choose to be and how we live our lives.