Humans: we like explanations for things, and we like it when things are not our fault. To the stars! In The Baffler, Lauren Oyler writes with both great care and great wit about astrology, why we’re drawn to it, why it’s seen a resurgence in the past seven or eight years, and how we find identity (and social media content) in the skies.
It’s difficult to write about astrology—the idea was to write about astrology, to examine the nature of its trendiness right now—because the two questions the topic brings up most are “Is she serious?” and “Who cares?” A friend points out that my Gemini moon is likely to blame for my inability to settle on an argument here, but regardless: I don’t really know how to answer either question because the latter depends on the former, and because determining the seriousness (or not) of a person’s professed viewpoint requires a detailed checklist, one that takes into account author, subject, context, and micro-context (what jokes are popular on social media that day). The horoscopes women—mostly women—read today also take themselves pretty seriously; they’re much more elaborate and astronomically informative than the ostensibly personalized fortune cookies once found in the backs of newspapers and magazines, which were easy enough to justify as meaningless daily ritual. The authority of the contemporary astrologer is alternately expert (Susan Miller’s long-running Astrology Zone, Broadly’s Annabel Gat), speaking in friendly, straight-talking tones about things like Jupiter’s position and geometric aspects, or mystic-poetic (Astro Poets, The Cut’s Madame Clairevoyant), as if written by a medium in Los Angeles receiving garbled messages from Elizabeth Bishop. The popular Co–Star app—which uses your birthdate, place, and time to algorithmically generate lengthy, “hyper-personalized,” koan-like forecasts for you in each of ten (ten!) life-areas (transcendence, innovation, love & tenderness, thinking & communication, intense transformation, responsibility & limits, sex & aggression, ego & identity, emotional world, growth & progress)—combines the two. It also allows you to compare your natal chart—a diagram of the relationship of the sun, moon, and planets to your place of birth at your time of birth—with friends’ charts to assess your compatibility in all the life-areas. The daily horoscopes it produces are so long that I usually do not finish reading them, though they often contain gems like “The present moment is its own hellscape,” which it served me on my birthday when I had woken from a night of short, drunk, bad sleep in an un-air- conditioned apartment in Berlin, which was experiencing a heat wave.